During the Union retreat from the American Civil War battle of Port Republic, Virginia, two soldiers from opposite sides find themselves alone in the ruins of an old mill. In the tense moments of their meeting, the wounded Union sergeant, Able Jenkins, experienced in warfare and guile but troubled by the thought of men coupling with men, must scheme for his survival, while the vulnerable Rebel private, Josh Hardy, inept at war but known by men, is beset by temptation. Both men survive the encounter, but neither does so unmarked. And what they each think is a shameful end to their forced relationship is destined to become anything but that.
The first thing that came to my mind after finishing this book was that not once did I have the impression that this book was a short story, in fact, I am quite surprised that the author was able to tell so much in such a short book.
There is a very interesting study of character here. You know exactly where the two protagonists come from, their backgrounds, what happened to them, what their nature is, what they think, and their reactions when faced with very specific situations.
Able Jenkins is a Yankee town boy, who isn't twenty one yet. He doesn't have to go to war and he doesn't really want to end up like his father, so when an opportunity presents itself he takes it; even if it means accompanying Heinz who is being sought on charges of debauching a young man in town. Able is not naive but he is still pretty innocent. Then he sees something disturbing and it's an awakening with very mixed feelings, something that he doesn't want to think about... for now.
Josh Hardy is younger, a Southern farmer son, too sensitive, too vulnerable, and too easily manipulated and that's an understatement. He's such easy prey that everyone takes advantage of him of course. He is not innocent anymore but he is so naive. I can't say I disliked him but frankly it's very difficult for me to accept his behavior (maybe because I'm an aggressive female).
Neither one nor the other wanted to fight, it's the fortunes of life and circumstances that will lead them on the battlefield of Port Republic, Virginia.
I'm not generally a big fan of war scenes and I get easily bored but Dirk Hessian's description of historical facts combined with what happen to Able and Josh is done with great skill and finesse, everything is very fluent and never overpowering. It was like a movie to my eyes.
Life has its own way of always taking care of things. At the end everything that happened to them, good or bad, made them stronger, wiser, and able to make the right choice. That was all at once interesting, disturbing, exciting, and original. I give 5 stars.
Publisher: Barbarian Spy