The Extraordinary Lucy!
A superb historical novel which embodies the courageous spirit of fictional protagonist Lucy Tessier. Set in the first half of the American Civil War, the blurb tells us: "Gone for a Soldier is the story of a real Civil War regiment and a fictional girl." A fictional young woman who, I think, represents many real life sisters-in-arms.
Kathy Garlock has inextricably intertwined the factual historical details of the First Minnesota Regiment with a few fictional characters and events. She has thereby managed to bring history so to life that it practically jumps off the pages. Her research seems to me to have been thorough and accurate. Her characters are painfully real. The incidents which seemed to me most likely to have been fictional turn out to be real, while those I accepted as most unremarkable in the context are Garlock's invention!
Lucy Tessier is a magnificent character who made me want to weep, laugh, and dance for joy. The story opens with Lucy, left alone and unprotected in the world, being sexually assaulted. She fights back with a knife and wins. Lucy resolves to take responsibility for herself, and to become her own protector. Fearful that she will suffer the fate of Ann Bilansky (a real historical character) and be hanged for murder, she decides to hide in plain sight by disguising herself as a man and joining the army. Lucy marches, works, fights and serves alongside the men of the First Minnesota Regiment, at Bull Run and elsewhere. Increasingly, she is called to assist with nursing the sick and the wounded.
Life in the Regiment is vividly experienced as it was at the time. The battle and action scenes are enthralling and convincing. The pace of the story is good throughout. Some modern readers might wish for a slightly faster pace in the first half of the story, but I felt that it was perfect for the literate historical novel it is.
Through her career as a soldier Lucy does find love, although the journey of her heart is as tangled as it is for most of us. Lucy's love story is a significant part of the book, but not to the extent of overpowering the historicity and the exceptional balance of the story. The romance is extremely well done, never sentimental but very moving all the same.
The writing is literate, easy to read and enjoy; in fact this is one of the very best-written books I have read in the last year. Editing and presentation is of the same professional standard as that of a commercial publisher.
The concluding material first gives closure to the story and then explains exactly what was historical and what was fiction, and crowns this outstanding work as a queen of historical novels.
I don't think I can recommend this highly enough, to anyone. It was absolutely wonderful!