Historical Fiction: Manassas, by James Reasoner

Manassas (Civil War Battle Series/James Reasoner, Bk 1) The Brannon Clan
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Manassas is the introductory volume of an 8 part Civil War series, built around the Brannon family of Culpeper, VA. Their scion died several years earlier, leaving Will, the eldest of 4 brothers and a sister, to keep the farm running and the family prospering. Will is also the county sheriff, a position that his dour, Bible-toting-and-quoting mother, Abigail, abhors. Will has his hands full trying to stop the ne’er do well Fogarty clan from tearing up the county, and they’ve responded by inciting a blood feud against the Brannons. After they shoot younger brother Titus, Abigail holds Will accountable, a stance that her other children cannot understand. When war breaks out, Will chooses to enlist on the Southern side.

While the first half of the novel focuses on the Brannons’ domestic life, the second part deals mostly with Will’s experiences as new recruit who is quickly promoted to officer status. He gains firsthand knowledge of new General Thomas Jackson, before he became known as “Stonewall”.

Manassas is an uneven novel. While the characters are likable, some of them, especially Abigail, are mere caricatures. Reasoner’s writing is simplistic, repetitive, and, at times, banal. When the battle of Manassas finally is joined, he fails to illustrate the devastation that befell soldiers on both sides. But he handles well the generalized naivete and idealism that propelled the many thousands of young men who enlisted with the belief that they could readily beat the “damn Yankees”, putting an end to the dispute.  It will be interesting to read the next few volumes to see how those fantasies were dashed.

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