Civil War Tales | Fiction Reviews

A narrative approach to the incomplete history of Varina, a lesser known historical figure and wife to a Confederate President with a powerful personality; a vivid telling of life in the times of the American Civil war, told from alternating perspectives, a must for Civil War buffs

redstarFrazier, Charles. Varina. Ecco: HarperCollins. Apr. 2018. 368p. ISBN 9780062405982. $27.99; ebk. ISBN 9780062406002. F

Frazier reprises his Cold Mountain success, this time focusing on a less familiar historical figure from the Civil War: Varina, wife of Confederate president Jefferson ­Davis. Varina’s unconventional opinions and attitudes, contemporaneously perceived as less than fully enthusiastic toward her husband’s lost cause, probably accounts for this gap in popular knowledge. Frazier tells her story in the form of an imagined oral memoir, in which she recounts her story to a black man, “­Jimmie Limber,” whom she rescued from the streets of Richmond, VA, when he was abandoned as a toddler. Focusing on events following Lee’s surrender when she and her children fled the Confederate capital, and bouncing between pre- and postwar events, this narrative approach succeeds after a slow start. The unveiling of Varina’s sad story piques the reader’s curiosity. Much of what Frazier imagines is consistent with the incomplete historical record surrounding Varina, and he fills in the blanks to reveal a powerful personality that, while of her times, has much to say to us today in respect of how the impact of great events on individuals can affect the history of those events. VERDICT Highly recommended for general readers as well as anyone interested in American history. [See Prepub Alert, 10/5/17.]—Vicki Gregory, Sch. of Information, Univ. of South Florida, Tampa

Gear, William. This Scorched Earth. Forge. Apr. 2018. 704p. ISBN 9780765382368. $27.99; ebk. ISBN 9781466886933. F

On the eve of the American Civil War, Philip “Doc” Hancock, a newly minted surgeon, travels home to his family in Arkansas: his Paw and Maw; his brilliant scholar brother, Butler, a rising in influence in the state government; his beautiful teenage sister Sarah, eagerly waiting to be introduced into Little Rock society, and his youngest brother Billy, a hunter. But the war changes the dreams and fates of the Hancock family. In alternating chapters the siblings provide a perspective on life before, during, and after the Civil War. Seeking escape from the horrors they experienced during the war, they all eventually move west. VERDICT Through vivid scenes of combat and dynamic characters, best-selling author Gear (writing as W. Michael with his wife, Kathleen O’Neal Gear) has penned a gripping and epic historical novel. Civil War buffs will eagerly follow the ­Hancocks from the battlefields and homefront to the bars, brothels, and railroad towns of the West.—Emily Hamstra, Seattle

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