Book Review: Whippoorwill – A Southern Belle and her Northern Soldier

Whippoorwill

At Gettysburg, she’d held him in her arms, briefly. She wanted him so badly that there were occasions when she thought she saw him standing in front of her. A lone Union officer, in the midst of a Confederate camp.

Whippoorwill (Page 247)

The Plot

From Amazon: Barely fourteen, Ceci Prejean is a tomboy running wild in the hot Louisiana summer. After breaking the nose of a local boy, her father decides to enlist the aid of Hecubah, a beautiful Creole woman, with a secret past, who takes Ceci in hand and turns her into a lady.

Now, eighteen-year-old Ceci meets and falls passionately in love with a handsome young northerner, Trent Sinclaire. Trent is a cadet at the West Point military academy. He acts as if he knows Ceci. They begin a torrid affair, even as the southern states begin to secede from the Union.

Only weeks before their wedding, the Confederate army attacks Fort Sumter and the civil war begins. Trent is called to active service in the north, leaving Ceci heartbroken in the south.

Swearing vengeance on the union, after the untimely death of her family at the fall of New Orleans, Ceci meets with infamous spy master, Henry Doucet. He initiates her into the shadowy world of espionage.

After her failure to avert the catastrophe at Gettysburg, Ceci infiltrates the White House. There, she comes face to face with Abraham Lincoln, a man she’s sworn to kill. Forming a reckless alliance with the actor, John Wilkes Booth, she is drawn deeper into the plot to assassinate the President of the United States. A Confederate spy in love with a Union officer, her next decision will determine whether she lives or dies…

Writing Style

I was drawn into the narrative from the first page, because Mr Bartram’s writing style is so fluid and easy. Yet, there is a complexity in the characters which I often overlooked, meaning that the though the writing is easy to follow and enjoy, it is by no means simple.

I found a few minor errors, like repeated words or phrases, but nothing that broke the narrative or the reader’s immersion. I really enjoyed the turn of phrase used, especially considering that this is set, for a large portion of the narrative, in Louisiana. And southerners are known for their charm, manners and sass.

Hecubah stared at her. “Girl, when you stood in line for beauty, didn’t you notice there was a queue for brains?” (pp. 124-5)

I think that the author captured the idea that women were simply pretty adornments for men during this time, even if the women felt differently. I felt how Ceci struggled with this idea and knew that she was more but lived at a time when you were expected to play your part and look pretty doing it.

Ceci stiffened, the muscles in her jaw twitching. Exhaling sharply through her teeth, she marched into the centre of the ballroom, grasped her skirts and produced a breathtakingly faultless curtsey. She dipped so low her forehead almost touched the floor. (p. 24)

The Review

I had a great deal of fun reading this novel. And let me tell you, did I learn some shit! I’m not exceedingly familiar with the American Civil War, but I know enough to get by (as a non-American). This book was so enthralling at times, especially in its use of historical references, that I found myself taking time out to research aspects of the war, just to better grasp what the implications would be for the characters. As someone who loves to learn new things, and an historian by study, this made the story even more fun for me. That said, the average American reader will likely know far more than I do about the war, and not have to research mid-narrative!

I appreciated the delicate manner with which the author tried to approach the different sides of the argument, especially about a subject as controversial, difficult and divisive as slavery. The book didn’t try to make you decide who was right and who was wrong, because, at the end of the day we know the outcome of the war and the path that American history took. What I felt the book tried to do was show the reader how good people can have their hearts in the right place but still make terrible decisions. At times, the narrative was a bit idealistic but this is a work of fiction and that can be chalked up to creative license.

The characters were each wonderfully formed in their own way. Hecubah was decidedly the backbone of this narrative. Clearly wise beyond her years, having lived a hard life before joining Ceci’s family’s plantation. She is strong, sassy but her heart is too big to hide and can only be worn on her sleeve. Trent was such a genuine character. Very much the romantic hero, and believer in romance. He was often the voice of reason and rationality. Ceci was the character that I struggled with the most. She starts out bratty and immature, as she should have. She transforms into the perfect southern belle, as is expected of her, but her defiant and devilish nature peeks through every once in a while. Once the war starts, and Trent is pulled from her, she goes through yet another change. This was the moment when I truly started to enjoy the character. She makes bad decisions but she is hurt and angry, and needs to focus her grief on someone or something. This was fabulous to read and experience with the character. And then in the last few chapters she suddenly become extremely immature again. I don’t know if the author meant for this to be a show of her overwhelming love for Trent but she went back to being the 19 year old, almost airhead, thinking of nothing but sex and marriage in the middle of manhunt. With all the development that the character underwent, this was jarring.

The ending was a bit soft for me. I don’t think that Trent understood the gravity of what Ceci had been doing, and how different she was after the war. After her training, and life changing involvement in the war, it boiled down to her donning her mantle of perfect southern belle, and painting a pretty picture of a woman for him to come home to. I feel like the characters matured separately from each other and their reunion didn’t fully illustrate how different they each were, and how war changes everyone.

That said, novels (like film) are a forma of escapism. I would definitely recommend this to history lovers, and those of historical fiction.

My rating: 3½/5

Whippoorwill is available from Amazon (UK).

This review was requested by the author.

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