Author(s): Erin Lindsay McCabe
Published by Broadway Books on 01/28/2014
Genres: Fiction, Historical Fiction
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Rosetta doesn't want her new husband Jeremiah to enlist, but he joins up, hoping to make enough money that they'll be able to afford their own farm someday. Though she's always worked by her father’s side as the son he never had, now that Rosetta is a wife she's told her place is inside with the other women. But Rosetta decides her true place is with Jeremiah, no matter what that means, and to be with him she cuts off her hair, hems an old pair of his pants, and signs up as a Union soldier.
Rosetta drills with the men, prepares herself for battle, and faces the tension as her husband comes to grips with having a fighting wife. Fearing discovery of her secret, Rosetta’s strong will clashes with Jeremiah’s as their marriage is tested by war. Inspired by over two hundred and fifty documented accounts of the women who fought in the Civil War while disguised as men, I Shall Be Near To You is the intimate story, in Rosetta’s powerful and gorgeous voice, of the drama of marriage, one woman’s amazing exploits, and the tender love story that can unfold when two partners face life’s challenges side by side.
I received this book for free from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.
I Shall Be Near To You brings historical fiction to an interesting yet not often talked about occurrence from the 19th Century, women pretending to be men in order to enlist. Erin Lindsay McCabe manages to make the subject both historically interesting while presenting a story that was interesting and moving.
Something many may not know is that woman masquerading as men to enlist was a real event. In the Civil War alone there are many recorded cases of it happening, and almost certainly many more that were never recorded. It is clear that McCabe did solid research not just of Civil War battles but of the home life of the time. Everything beat felt historically right, which is something I often feel is missing from much of the historical fiction I read. This book also manages, with one exception, to avoid the trap of having the book involve major historical figures or sit in the middle of major events. While there are a few major events it is clear they are on the periphery of it. With the exception of the appearance of Clara Barton, which while I get why she was included feels a bit like the historical fiction version of name dropping, this book manages to make the story feel like part of a world as opposed to attempting to be the center of it. That makes the book feel that much more intimate and real.
The other thing that really worked is that while this is essentially a love story with a historical setting it doesn’t slide into being a romance title. McCabe holds the book firmly in the realm of fiction, a feat so many of her contemporaries can’t seem to manage.
The characters are for the most part really likable. While some of them are a bit overly aggressive it doesn’t reach the point of being unbelievable. Rosetta is a really likable spitfire and you can’t help but root for her. While there is no direct antagonist, even those characters that challenge Rosetta aren’t all that unlikeable.
The pacing is the only place where I could really find a quibble with this book and that isn’t even so bad. While there are some long drawn out points the book generally moves fast enough that those moments are not terribly distracting.
I Shall Be Near To You is an excellent example of what historical fiction should aspire to be and manages to also work as a stand along piece of fiction. All in all an excellent read.
Review by Travis Starnes