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Friday, October 26, 2012

Shades of Gray: A Novel of the Civil War by Jessica James

Title: Shades of Gray: A Novel of the Civil War
Author: Jessica James
Publisher: Patriot Press
Genre: Historical Fiction
Pages: 468
ISBN: 9780979600005
How I Read It: Kindle edition purchased by me.
My Rating: 2 Crowns

Synopsis: Honor & conviction clash with loyalty & love in this award-winning romantic Civil War novel that pits brother against brother.

This is the tale of Colonel Alexander Hunter, a dauntless and daring Confederate cavalry officer, who, with his band of intrepid outcasts, becomes a legend in the rolling hills of northern Virginia. Inspired by love of country and guided by a sense of duty and honor, Hunter must make a desperate choice when he discovers the woman he promised his dying brother he would protect is the Union spy he vowed to his men he would destroy.

Readers will discover the fine line between friends and enemies when the paths of these two tenacious foes cross by the fates of war and their destinies become entwined forever.

*Synopsis taken from Amazon

My Review: I had high expectations for this book, so many people seem to enjoy it and I really thought it was going to be a great look at life and love during the American Civil War.  I’m sad to say I was sorely disappointed and I wish this book had been at least a hundred pages shorter.  I found myself skipping so many parts, either because they were repetitive or irrelevant to anything that furthered the plot.  Such a disappointment!

Possibly the hardest thing for me was that I felt like Andrea was excessively difficult to like, which breaks my heart because to me, there’s nothing worse than a main character that I dislike.  Before we know her true identity, she was an interesting character that I thought would make for an interesting story.  Once we find out the truth, and get into the real meat of the novel, she was so irritating and I spent most of the novel wanting to smack her.

Alex isn’t much better – we’re introduced to him initially as the villain of the book, and spend the rest of the novel trying to change our minds about him.  This attempt was slightly more successful, I didn’t leave the novel despising his character, but I still don’t necessarily think he was someone I would fall in love with.  Not the greatest endorsement for your hero.

This is billed as a novel about the Civil War, and that is definitely a huge backdrop to the main plot in the story, but I really felt like the war itself existed merely as a plot device to provide conflict between our two main characters.  Andrea is for the North, Alex for the South, so of course the best plan is to argue endlessly, for pages and pages, about which cause is the more noble.  Add to that fact that they’re situated in Virginia, which is really presented as only having joined up with the South because the state was invaded, and it really brings a boring argument that I thought would never end.

Just when you think the arguing IS going to end, we’re brought into a battle of throwing each others words back over…and then more regret over misinterpretations and mistakes that could simply have been avoided if either of these characters had ever bothered trying to really communicate.  I felt like they would both be people who enjoy hearing the sound of their own voice so much that there’s almost no point to anyone else being around.

We’re also consistently reminded that Andrea is a horribly wounded soul, but by the time we learn enough to figure out why this is the case, I had stopped caring.  Regardless of the fact that her childhood wasn’t the greatest, at some point part of the maturing process is about learning how to move on from things.  Andrea is so determined to avoid “getting hurt again, or hurting him” that she simply stops talking and refuses to explain anything about her actions, past, whatever.  To me, Andrea is a character who never manages to find herself outside of whatever man is currently in her life, all while thinking she’s doing things for herself and being so independent.  She spends so much time doing things because it’s against her upbringing, and then stuff that’s against the wishes of her cousins husband, then finally either doing things against or with Alex.  All the while, seemingly every man who touches her is set on fire by her touch, and is in love with her instantly, which made less sense to me than sitting down to watch a game of baseball.

The only parts of this novel that were at all redeeming for me were the actual pieces of the war that they talked about sporadically.  Battle is horrible, and this doesn’t glorify it at all, but I think gives a good idea about what battle was like in this time period.  I think we tend to forget how many brave American lives the Civil War took, and how heart-wrenching it must have been to participate at all.  We know from history how it all would end, and this story is not about the end of the war, but about how things are week to week during the actual war.  To read examples of brothers fighting on opposite sides, women having to constantly worry that their men won’t come home – that all brought me to tears.  I wish this book had contained a lot more of that, and a whole lot less of the rest of it.

I would highly recommend reading a handful of good and bad reviews before you decide to jump into this one.  It was borderline exhausting to me, so if you’re expecting more talk of the war and less doing nothing, I don’t necessarily think you should pick it up.  I wanted to like it, I just couldn't get there.

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Heather R said...

I was pitched a chance to review this one a while ago I think - and it just didn't suck me in through the samples I read. I'm glad that I didn't pick it up then. I have a hard time reading long books, especially if they seem to drag. Thanks for the review.

Mystica said...

Thanks for an honest review