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Weak Third Entry in a Weak Series
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.