Tag Archives: American Civil War

Review of Whirligig: Keeping the Promise – Book 1 of Shire’s Union by Richard Buxton

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I do have to declare an interest – Richard was one of my Creative Writing students before he went on to take an MA in Creative Writing at Chichester University and I did see one or two early extracts of this book. However I was not involved in editing it and have not read any other versions.

Shire leaves his home and his life in Victorian England for the sake of a childhood promise, a promise that pulls him into the bleeding heart of the American Civil War. Lost in the bloody battlefields of the West, he discovers a second home for his loyalty. Clara believes she has escaped from a predictable future of obligation and privilege, but her new life in the Appalachian Hills of Tennessee is decaying around her. In the mansion of Comrie, long hidden secrets are being slowly exhumed by a war that creeps ever closer.

This is a story about two young people who didn’t fit the roles offered by their small village community in the heart of England. Clara leaves first, beguiled by the dashing young American who spends a summer visiting, ready to cross the ocean and start a new life as his bride. However, in the wake of a tragedy, Shire discovers a terrible secret that will embroil Clare in a scandal. So he sets off to cross the States and find her before it is too late – the complicating factor is that America is busy tearing itself apart fighting the Civil War and Shire gets involved in the fighting, while trying to work his way to Clara.

It’s a cracking premise – a young schoolmaster and part-time stable hand sets off, determined to save the reputation of the lively, high-spirited girl, who despite her noble birth and material advantages, has indifferent, somewhat neglectful parents. And it also takes a fair amount of writing chops to pull it off, too.

I loved it. Richard manages to depict the society of the time very effectively without holding up the pace with long explanations or too much description – it’s always a tricky line to negotiate which is why historic adventures are so demanding to write. However, for me, the highlight of the book are Shire’s experiences during the Civil War as he finds himself fighting for the Union. Going from being the scapegoat who can’t march, cannot shoot and is the butt of every prank going, he steadily gains in experience and aptitude, which is just as well. Civil wars are always savage affairs and this one was no exception. The amount of painstaking research is evident in the wealth of small details that add to the narrative and Richards’s own account in the Afterword. But at no time did I find myself skimming over the descriptions or action.

There is plenty of pace, strong characterisation and lots of action. The climax works wonderfully well and though I saw some of the elements coming – there were also plenty of twists to keep me turning the pages long after I should have been asleep. If you enjoy your historical adventures laced with the terror and excitement of battle, then this one comes very highly recommended.
9/10

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Review of ‘Convergence’ by Thomas Settimi

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If you enjoy alternative histories, then this interesting addition to the genre could well be for you.
Lieutenant Nathaniel Booth couldn’t know how his life was about to change as he and Lincoln Hayes completed their air mission in June 1968 over Laos and headed back to aircraft carrier USS Enterprise. Thirty-five years later, when Professor Roger Atwood and his assistant find Hayes’ flying helmet inside a Confederate footlocker from the American Civil War, they find themselves untangling a mystery spanning a time discontinuity of 105 years – from Vietnam to the Battle of Gettysburg.
This is an engaging read – once you get past the first fifty-something pages. Settimi is an experienced technical writer with an extensive knowledge of military history and hardware. And it shows. There is far too much technical information crammed into those vital, opening pages where the story and characters should be connecting with the reader – rather than frightening her away with the eye-boggling detail that holds up the action. If I hadn’t been reviewing the book, I’m not sure that I would have persevered. And that would have been a shame. Because, once Settimi gets into the swing of the story, the pace picks up and draws the reader in.
That said, this is definitely a plot-driven book. The characters are there to serve the narrative – not the other way around. Whilst I am aware that the current fashion is for character-driven stories, there is a solid readership out there for well-written, interesting plots that whisk you along. And once you get past those first fifty pages, this book certainly delivers a fast-paced story with some intriguing twists that had me guessing right up to the end.
Settimi gives us a vivid picture of life and conditions for a Confederate prisoner of war and the character of Nathaniel Booth is by far the most detailed and heroic protagonist in the book. And his penchant for using a series of details to build his scenes comes into its own as we follow Booth’s attempt to save Abraham Lincoln from assassination in this alternate version of American history.
By the manner in which the book concludes, I’m guessing that Settimi intends to write a sequel. If so, I strongly urge him to find an editor with a thick red pen to assist him in cutting out unnecessary technical detail.

5/10