Tuesday, June 5, 2012

A Blaze of Glory by Jeff Shaara - a review


First things first, and I don't mean this tongue in cheek: what a lousy title. No serious work of fiction should ever instantly remind the reader of a Jon Bon Jovi song. Never. Ever.

None-the-less, with A Blaze of Glory Jeff Shaara has returned to the cornerstone of his family's literary legacy, the Civil War. This time its a visit to the Battle of Shiloh, with Albert Sidney Johnston and William Tecumseh Sherman as the primary focus of the bloody two-day affair, with a few lower ranking voices tossed in for good measure.

At times the novel slides out of the world of fiction and summarizes the days events to move the action forward, a necessary but cumbersome device that jars you out of the 'here and now'. I also felt shortchanged by his treatment of the second day, when the Union counterattacked and won the day. Yes, there is more drama to a surprise attack and the tense hours when the battle was in doubt, but I still hold that the second day could have been given more space in the novel and a better effort than what was put forth.

Those are minor quibbles. Overall I enjoyed the book immensely, as I have with most Shaara novels. He can certainly grab your emotions with his depictions of warfare: during a scene where a Union captive was threatened with torture, my heart screamed in rage, and I remember thinking that we were far too lenient of a nation at Appomatox.

If a work of fiction can get you that fired up about a 150 year old battle, then brother the author did something right.

Grade: B+

Book #41 of the year





1 comment:

Netherland said...

The novel's weaknesses are two: the two lesser characters -a Yankee foot soldier and a Confederate cavalry sergeant--come across as stock types more than flesh and blood and Shaara shifts narrative focus among too many characters: it's difficult to become invested in them. These are minor criticisms, though, in a generally successful novel that captures both the grand strategy of the battle, the confusions that derailed or transformed it, and the reality of on-the-ground combat with its many false starts and moments of terror.