Friday, September 7, 2012
A Soldier's Secret
Source: Received an e-ARC via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.
I requested this book because I love the history of the American Civil War and I was not familiar with any stories about women disguising themselves as men in order to serve as soldiers although I knew that it had happened.
In this case, we have a novelized version of the story of Sarah Emma Edmonds, undercover as Frank Thompson from even before the war. She fled an abusive father and forced marriage in Canada, exchanging petticoats and corsets for the freedom of pants and lived as a traveling salesman before managing to enlist in the Army of the Potomac. Her story is unique in several ways: most of the other women who enlisted were following husbands or fiancees, giving them a person to confide in-Sarah did not have that. She also served not just as a soldier but also as a nurse, aide, and spy. Thirdly was the time spent as a man before serving-most of the others took up the disguise only upon war breaking out.
These three unique factors along with Sarah's remarkable bravery and patriotism help her stand out. This book takes her story, drawing heavily from her memoir to weave a new narrative for today's audience, incorporating contemporary pictures.
I love the idea behind this as well as the setting. Some of the most exciting moments were when Frank went undercover as a spy as well as seeing her craftiness in tight spots. There are some lags as the army sits around under various vacillating generals, true to the spirit. I had some trouble following the month/year although certain battles serve as touchstones for me. I am more familiar with the end of the war so to get to read more about the beginning was good for me.
But I had a lot of trouble connecting with Sarah/Frank, mainly due to her disguise and her conflicting feelings about gender. She's happy not to have the constraints of a woman's costume but she also falls for a fellow soldier, putting him in a tight spot. She also strongly stereotypes other women as dumb and boring, which surely some are but surely others had the same capacity to do cool things as Sarah if not possessing the nerve and motivation to actually do them. I guess I struggled with the mostly negative way she thought about womanhood as I am someone who has always felt very comfortable being female.
Overall: A cool, little-told story-how many fantasies have you read where the girl masquerades as a boy? And here we have one grounded in historical fact-it can be done! But drags a little and I had trouble connecting with the MC.
Cover: I think this cover is really well-done-I love the mix of masculine top with skirt bottom.