22 January 2009

Review: Rebel by Bernard Cornwell

My Summary: Under the influence of his abolitionist preacher father, Nathaniel Starbuck reached young adulthood with an unhealthy fear of hell and not much firsthand knowledge of the outside world. Thus the young Bostonian is ripe for the pickings when a pretty actress is looking for someone to escort her from Connecticut to Virginia. Richmond is not a good place for a Yankee in April 1861. The South has just captured Fort Sumter, and Nate is beaten up, robbed, and accused of being a spy. Only the intervention of his best friend's father, Washington Faulconer, saves Nate from being tarred and feathered.

Faulconer, like many rich Southerners, has romantic notions of leading brave men into war and defeating the North in one or two glorious battles. Nate, who is too afraid of his father to return home, joins Faulconer's Legion to become a soldier. Starbuck will eventually have to face some tough questions: Can he shed his abolitionist upbringing and fight against his fellow Yankees? Will he be able to kill another human being? How will he feel when he sees the Stars and Stripes on the other side of the battlefield?

My Thoughts: Rebel is the first of the four-book series The Starbuck Chronicles, covering the U.S. Civil War. Although Cornwell takes up familiar themes—including brother fighting brother and shattered dreams of battlefield heroism and glory—he also explores the theme of rebel in several forms: young men vs. their fathers, young women vs. their lovers, individuals vs. their own natures, and soldiers vs. the army leadership of their new country.

It is clear that this novel is the first in a series. Cornwell spends most of the book setting up the characters and the conflicts and alliances among them. Nate Starbuck's transformation from naive seminary student to a young man facing the destruction of his nation is at the center of the story, but we also see how the impending war affects other fathers and sons, rich men and ordinary schoolteachers, outlaws and rogues, and women of all social classes. By the end of the book, Starbuck has made difficult decisions and found his place in the war.

Even if you already know the outcome of the First Manassas, the battle scene is exciting, and the specific experiences of the characters cannot be predicted. We see how battle breaks some men but brings out the best in others, and we're left wanting more.

The book finishes with an author's note that discusses the very few liberties Cornwell took with history. Although the main characters are fictional, the principal details of the battle and the events leading up to it are based in fact.

Photo and Battle: The image is of Federal cavalry at Sudley Ford (near Manassas), where some of the action in the book takes place. The photo is in the public domain and was taken by George Barnard in March 1862. I could find no photo from the time of the battle (July 1861). For additional contemporary pictures of the battlefield and surrounding area, click here. For information about the battle see the National Park Service's website here.

Audio: I listened to this unabridged recording read by Tom Parker. Parker does a fine job differentiating the characters and with the various accents. His rendition of women is not the strongest but is definitely adequate. The reading was engrossing, and I had a hard time turning off my MP3 player.

Challenges: I read this book to meet a number of challenges (listed below). To learn more about them and to see what other participants are reading, click on the name above the progress bar in the left margin.

Audiobook published by Blackstone, 2001
ISBN-13: 9780786119325
Challenges: Winter Reading, Civil War, A-Z Title, Support Your Library, 100+, 999, Audiobooks
YTD: 6
Rating: B


Michele at Reader's Respite 1/22/09, 10:21 AM  

I love Bernard Cornwell, although I haven't tackled the Starbuck Chronicles (yet!). His new novel Agincourt is about to be released and I can't wait to read it. He's a marvelous writer!

Literary Feline 1/22/09, 12:32 PM  

I am not too familiar with Bernard Cornwell's work. This sounds like an interesting series, something my husband would definitely be interested in and maybe even me. :-) Thanks for the great review.

Margot 1/22/09, 3:04 PM  

You had me intrigued a week ago with your teasers but now you have me hooked. I suggested this to my Civil War buff husband but this one sounds like something I'd like to read. Your review was just plain excellent!!!

Beth F 1/22/09, 3:12 PM  

Michele: if you like BC, you'll like this. As I said in my review, the action takes a while to build, but the character development is good, as you'd expect.

Wendy/Literary: if you're an HF fan, you'd like this. There is plenty going on besides just the Civil War (at least in this novel).

Margot: Thanks for your kind words. I was thinking that maybe this review was too long and your comment came at just the right moment! You really can't go wrong with Cornwell.

bermudaonion 1/22/09, 3:55 PM  

That really sounds good. I've just started listening to audio books and would love one that is hard to turn off.

Jessica James 1/22/09, 9:16 PM  

I've heard a lot of good things about Bernard Cornwell and love the Civil War. Thanks for the review.

J. Kaye 1/23/09, 10:41 AM  

This is one title that fit under a lot of challenges! Love when that happens. Love the progress bar! You are really doing well. :)

Marta 1/24/09, 6:58 PM  

I've never heard of this author before, but I'm definitely looking this one up. I really love anything historical. This was a great review..


Ladytink_534 1/24/09, 11:13 PM  

I'd probably enjoy this one.

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