One of the trends in tradebook publishing in the past two decades has been the strong growth of historical fiction, particularly those books aimed at women. Combining plots that strongly emphasis character development and personal interrelationships with believable historical situations and settings, these books generally sell very well and appeal to a broad audience. Some, like Cold Mountain, have become best sellers that have cut across across wide genre of readers.
The most recent addition to this segment of the book industry comes from a Gettysburg author, Jessica James. Shades of Gray: A Novel of the Civil War in Virginia (ISBN 978-0-9796000-0-5, softback, 524 pages) is a worthy addition to the line up. Published by Patriot Press, the novel concerns the growing relationship between a Virginian who is a ardent secessionist and Confederate advocate. The lead female character, by contrast, is a devoted Unionist. The interplay of their divergent beliefs, coupled with the backdrop of the growing war, is well written and sustaining. Crisp, well flowing, and with a storyline that holds your attention, James shows off her talents as a novelist, as well as revealing a solid understanding of the Civil War era.
Her powerful prose is both descriptive and evocative, vividly painting a word picture that draws the reader into the action. For example, in a passage concerning the bursting of an artillery shell that kills the heroine’s horse, James writes, “Justus, startled by the thunderous clamor, reared high in the air, throwing Andrea backward and off balance. She heard an appalling thud, a loud crack, the sound of iron consuming flesh and bone. She leaned forward, grabbing erratically for a handful of mane to regain her balance. But there was no mane to grab. The strong, well-muscled animal between her legs had dissolved. Disappeared. He was gone.” Similar strong passages dot the book.
I trust that Jessica James will continue to share her talents in future books. Her work stands out among the best of the historical novelists, and is a worthy addition to the Civil War fiction line-up. Huzzah!