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3.9 out of 5 stars
3.9 out of 5 stars
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on December 10, 2002
Cornwell's terribly disappointing Civil War series (Rebel, Copperhead) here continues the trials and triumphs of Nathaniel Starbuck, Northerner turned Confederate rebel. The story here concerns Nate's rise in the ranks, along with the stunning transformation of the drunkard Col. Swindon, while his old best friend Adam finds refuge in a Yankee cavalry unit. The battle sequences-most notably Cedar Mountain and the second Manassas-are typical Cornwell, blood, guts, smoke, terror, and mayhem everywhere. But ultimately the series falls flat because the characters aren't very compelling, and thus we don't really care about them. Some readers seem to find Starbuck a wonderful creation, a troubled soul, struggling with his Northern heritage, God, morality, and soforth. I personally don't get it, Starbuck is a spoiled teenager turned soldier mostly as an act of reflexive rebellion against his father, and there's little to recommend him as a hero-he's certainly no Sharpe.
Another problem is that characters from previous books seem to wax and wane to the point of inconsistency. For example, Nate's archnemesis, Gen. Faulconer all but disappears from this book, as does Nate's Sgt. Harper substitute Sgt. Treadwell, not to mention any of the ladies who figured so prominently in the two previous books. Meanwhile, Nate's father gets a much more prominent role, and new characters are introduced, like the black servant Lucifer, and the nasty Billy Blythe, who is a virtual reincarnation of Sgt. Obediah Hakeswill from Cornwell's Sharpe series. One the whole Cornwell's writing is just a bit sloppier and more careless in this series. For example, in all three books he's had Starbuck spy a young soldier in battle reloading an unfired rifle and stop him, giving him a dead soldier's rifle instead. I mean... come on!
In any event, the series is far below Cornwell's Sharpe series, but I suppose I'll keep reading just to see if it improves.
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on September 19, 2000
As I said to my father when we were discussing the Starbuck series, "Ah well, at least we can rely on Bernard to give us a good battle".
The Starbuck books are good, and had anyone else's name appeared on the cover they might even qualify for an excellent rating. But they're not worthy of Bernard Cornwell. The problem really is Nate, the lead character. Or maybe it's with me and my dear old dad: neither of us can get a handle on him. Nate Starbuck's a ditherer who is also a fine leader. He's certainly confused morally. His position as a Northerner in the Southern armies wasn't all that unique as to raise as much rancour as it does...
Not the best book Cornwell's written, by a long chalk. There are only two bright spots: the battle scenes, which are vintage Cornwell; and I love the appearance of Sharpe's son. I'd love to know a lot more about his adventures!
No - give the American Civil War / Starbuck series the elbow, and write to Bernard Cornwell asking for more Sharpe.
Or pretend to yourself that someone else wrote the book... You'll enjoy it a lot more.
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on March 30, 2002
I continue to read and enjoy Cornwell's Civil War series. I do however, have problems with these books in two areas: 1) the same themes recur to the point of monotony; and 2) Cornwell is not all that competent historically.
With respect to the latter, he makes several errors in _Battle Flag_. These seem not so much due to ignorance, carelessness, or convenience, as to a desire by Cornwell to re-characterize history to fit his own prejudices.
For example, he attributes to Jackson an active role in troop management during the battles at Cedar Mountain and Second Manassas. The truth is quite the opposite; Jackson remained largely passive during both of those battles. That was one of his few notable weak points during the entire campaign.
Cornwell's treatment here is odd, in that he supposedly based the historical portions of this novel largely on John Hennessy's fine history, _Return to Bull Run_, which details Jackson's passivity during those battles at some length, calling his performance "mediocre".
If a bit of gratuitous generosity on Jackson's behalf can be excused, the unnecessary swipe Cornwell takes at Longstreet in the Historical Notes section is not so easily forgiven. Cornwell makes the statement that "Lee's victory might have been more complete had Longstreet attacked [sooner]." Hennessy explicitly expresses the opposite opinion: Longstreet and Lee independently choose the exact same moment for the attack, and it was at that precise moment when the Union forces were at their most vulnerable.
Cornwell is, in essence, another Jackson/Lee groupie who thinks all faults belong to Longstreet -- and he's willing to re-write history in order to advance his prejuduces. Stuff like that is fine for arguing about over beers, but it's dishonest.
Corwell's books are fun to read though.
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on April 19, 2000
"I think I died and went to hell. Maybe that's it Colonel. Maybe none of this is real. We're all in hell"
I cannot rate this book without talking about the brilliance of the whole series. Cornwell takes you from your reading room, and teleports you back to a simpler time. And you find out that it's not so simple. Set against the backdrop of the Eastern Theatre in the American Civil War, he portrays the massive carnage and greatest bravery in minute detail. You actually hear the cannons, and smell the rotting flesh of the wounded. Yet, the main plot does not take place amongst the gunfire outside. But, rather, within. It is a story of a soul, and his struggle with God, man, who he is, and what he stands for. Amidst the shouting, crying, blasting, and a poor heart, searching for peace. I found Cornwell's protrayal of Nate Starbuck to be no less than perfect. I found myself rooting, questioning, hoping, and praying for this fictional character. For, I saw myself in Nate. The same questions, fears, and desires. When done, I walked away from this story with a different outlook on life, liberty, and what's truly important. As will you.
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on August 29, 2002
This serise is the best thing to happen tocivil war fiction since "The Killer Angel's". Nate and his crew suffer much in this book, but in the end they come out on top just like always.
This book has something for everyone, from the old Cornwell fan to the new Inductee. You get humor, great batttles and even some musing on the meaning of life.
Overall-Wonderful story, wonderful serise
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on June 18, 1999
BATTLE FLAG is not one of Cornwell's best efforts, it suffered from spotty dialogue and weak characterization. I ordered it a couple weeks ago from amazon along with the new WWII novel THE TRIUMPH AND THE GLORY, and have to say that the new writer, Rustad, won that round hands down. But I still have the highest espect for Bernard Cornwell's work. I guess one can;t produce a winner every time.
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on April 12, 1997
This series is just getting better and better. Although I though it started out quite weakly this third installment is gripping. The characters are developed now and the descriptions of the battles are awesome. Overall, not only is it a very good read but highly informative as well. A kind of Flashman on the civil war but without too much humour
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on July 26, 2001
Thoroughly enjoyable historical novel. Battle scenes are gripping and dialogue rings true. I've never read this genre before but I'm hooked now. I've also read Rebel, Copperhead, and am now beginning The Bloody Ground. Keep 'em coming!!!
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