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There have been many books about the US Civil War but probably none of them with such an original vision of the war seen through the eyes of a woman fighting for the Union. This book was a great surprise for me - and a good one, especially as it was told in Laird Hunt's plain, evocative and delightful prose that took you into the heart of the character and the heart of the war and its impacts on society.
"I was strong and he was not, so it was me who went to war to defend the Republic". The first line of the book graphically tells us so much of what the book was about. Constance and Bartholomew Thompson agonised over how to support the Union and it was Constance (renamed Ash) who put on a man's uniform and joined the war. Ash was able to fit in the army because with her slender build she looked like the many teenagers, too young to shave, who had also joined the fight.
Ash has the instincts of a man but the emotions of a woman. We see the war through her eyes, brutal, dirty, bloody, deceitful, and horrid. She is a great warrior but needs to prove herself so that she can hold her head high and go back to Bartholomew. She survives in battle, is captured and escapes and eventually gets exposed and imprisoned before she can make her way home.
The story is really more about Ash than it is about the war. She is not a hero but someone struggling to survive in very difficult times. There is no sexual content to the story, despite her friendship with his/her Colonel (later a General), and a potential sapphic relationship with a nurse who befriended her.
Laird Hunt's writing made this unbelievable story about an androgynous Union soldier believable. It is a very different gem of a book that kept me absorbed from the beginning to the end.
My thanks to Net Galley and the publisher for an advanced copy of this book for review. It is scheduled for publication on 9 September 2014.