Book Review: Manassas

I’m reading whatever awful thing I want to this month, and what better way to do so than to read a historical fiction about the bloody first battle of the Civil War? I don’t know, so stick around to find out!

The Book

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Author: James Reasoner
1999
Amazon Link

I was researching a different Civil War battle – Chickamauga – for one of my books, and I found that Chickamauga was the 8th of a 10 book historical fiction series set in the American Civil War.

Well, since I’m (sort of) working on a Civil War historical fiction with a slice of magical realism on the side, I thought I’d at least start this series and see if I wanted to read all the way through to Chickamauga. I worry a lot about how historically accurate I need to get, since those Civil War reenactment people are INTENSE.

Non-Spoiler Review

This is going to contain some spoilers for the book. I don’t know how I’m going to get around it. I’ll keep the main spoilers in the spoilers section, but, you know, fair warning.

When I started this book, it seemed quiet and good enough. It was about a white family in Culpepper County, Virginia, which is too close to Manassas for the community to be unaffected by the battle. There is a backdrop of looming war, but the main story is about the sheriff of a town shooting a man in self defense and, to assuage his southern mother’s heart, joining the confederacy as penance. He has 3 brothers and 1 sister who live on the farm with their widowed mother, and they run around getting into social trouble and fostering ideas about horse races.

Extended sequences focused on a lone stallion that jumped fences back at the farm, luring away mares and running off when he was done. He was un-tamable, strong, free. One of the brothers dreamed of catching this wild horse.

After about half of the book focusing on this sheriff who unwillingly killed a man, this horse which refused to be caught, an upcoming horse race, and an impossible passel of corn pone and various pies, I asked the question:

Is this a cowboy book?

So I looked up the author. James Reasoner is one of those people who usually writes in the genre I call ‘bad cowboy books.’

And that’s genuinely what this book was.

To be honest, with a book named Manassas rather than Bull Run, I already went in worrying it was going to be a southern apologist story (battles are named after the nearest town/city in Southern histories, after the nearest river in Northern histories). A cowboy story isn’t the worst thing that could have happened, but it’s pretty darn close.

1/5 Discoball Snowcones

1 Discoball Snowcones

SPOILERS REVIEW

For a while, I had it in my head the Fogarty fixation of Will Brannon was going to be interesting. There were hints at a greater Northern conspiracy to kill off a crack shot before the war started, but it fell completely flat. The mystery was nothing, just silly, as it does turn out to be the Fogarties who backstab Will during the battle. Using the cover story of Yanks being the killers, they pursue Will and end up getting killed by the sharpshooting ex-sheriff himself.

The actual battle only happened in the last couple chapters, and the preparations leading up to it didn’t make much sense. I didn’t look it up, but I have a hard time believing supply lines were so bad right at the beginning of the battle. Some of the Southern honor culture just felt off, since it tipped into cowboy honor more often. There was just a lot wrong with this book.

Next week:

Next week is the 5th Monday in the month – stay tuned for something fun and bonus!

6 thoughts on “Book Review: Manassas

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