My dad gave me this book to read, saying it was “excellent,” and the awards and accolades certainly imply that others felt the same way. Let me start by saying I know very little about the American Civil War excepting what I learned from Harry Turtledove. I know more about House Stark and House Tully than I do about General Longstreet and A.P. Hill. So I went into this not knowing who any of the main characters are, with the exception of Robert Lee, who of course is so famous he has schools and roads and even a 1969 Dodge Charger named after him.
It wasn’t until I sat down to write this review that I learned this was actually the second of a trilogy. Reading the first would have helped a lot. As it was, I constantly had to flip back and forth between wherever I was and the beginning of the book, which gives short bios and descriptions of the main characters and more importantly tells which uniform they wear.
The book is filled with maps, though I can’t say that the maps helped very much. They ought to have helped. They should have helped. But with the exception of the final battle, I found that every time I looked at them and studied them, I thought “Nope. Clears up nothing.” Maybe it’s me.
Highlights of the book: the author gives you a good picture of the characters of the men, as well as what it was like to actually be in a battle. If you are familiar with the story, and if you have actually been to these battlesites, this effect will likely be heightened. The fact that it’s based on a true story, real actual events, is very cool.
Drawbacks of the book. I didn’t much care for the writing style. The characters’ internal monologues were peppered with disjointed sentences and random observations that didn’t add much. For example, one of the generals had just lost his wife and children, which was mentioned in his initial mini-bio, and when that general came on the scene, the fact that he missed his wife was repeated. But there were so many characters, the dead wife was the only thing I remembered about him, and I didn’t get a sense of him beyond that. I was struggling so much trying to remember where each person was located on the battlefield and what side they fought for and where they were moving and if they led a cavalry unit or an infantry unit that I couldn’t be bothered with them going on and on to drive home the one thing I knew about them.
It should have helped a lot, to have these internal monologues clarifying the man’s personality, but since their personalities were all pretty much identical, and their back story didn’t really much impact their immediate actions, it just got in the way. I could see what he was trying to do, that he was trying to make these generals more than just names, to make them real men with hopes and dreams, but it didn’t really work for me. With the exception of the relationship between Chamberlain and Tom, most of the character building came across as just noise. It didn’t really build the character beyond the initial bio, and there were so many people it was hard to keep them straight, so throwing in something about Mira Hancock just frustrated me. Who is she? Do I know her? Is she important? Meh, skip it and go back to the battle.
I think if you aren’t a civil war buff, and you read this book, you’ll learn more than you used to know about the battle of little Round Top. If you are a civil war buff, and you come into this book with a deep understanding of the events leading up to and past this battle, you might appreciate the characterizations. Basically, reading this book was like a fat-free, high-fiber organic version of one of the Game of Thrones books. This wasn’t as enjoyable, but it’s probably better for you since it’s real.