Sisters of Shiloh by Kathy & Becky Hepinstall
ARC, e-book, 256 pages
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
March 3, 2015
Genre: Historical Fiction
Source: Received from publisher for review as part of HFVBT Tour
In a war pitting brother against brother, two sisters choose their own battle.
Joseph and Thomas are fresh recruits for the Confederate Army, daring to join the wild fray that has become the seemingly endless Civil War, sharing everything with their fellow soldiers—except the secret that would mean their undoing: they are sisters.
Before the war, Joseph and Thomas were Josephine and Libby. But that bloodiest battle, Antietam, leaves Libby to find her husband, Arden, dead. She vows vengeance, dons Arden’s clothes, and sneaks off to enlist with the Stonewall Brigade, swearing to kill one Yankee for every year of his too-short life. Desperate to protect her grief-crazed sister, Josephine insists on joining her. Surrounded by flying bullets, deprivation, and illness, the sisters are found by other dangers: Libby is hurtling toward madness, haunted and urged on by her husband’s ghost; Josephine is falling in love with a fellow soldier. She lives in fear both of revealing their disguise and of losing her first love before she can make her heart known to him.
In her trademark “vibrant” (Washington Post Book World) and “luscious” (Atlanta Journal-Constitution) prose, Kathy Hepinstall joins with her sister Becky to show us the hopes of love and war, the impossible-to-sever bonds of sisterhood, and how what matters most can both hurt us and heal us.
The Civil War is an era of which I have not read widely, however I have always been intrigued by the stories that I have heard of women dressing as men and enlisting or partaking in military engagements. Sisters Becky and Kathy Hepinstall bring us a unique take on this tale by interweaving a tale of sisters who join and experience the war in different ways. I am curious as to their writing practice together – with two sisters writing the story of two sisters, I wonder if each chose one of them to write from the perspective of.
One of the strengths of this novel is the evocative descriptions rendered. A notable example that I marked during my reading:
“They passed a man’s head lying in thistles and covered in ants. The smell of gunpowder and spoiling flesh hung in the air, punctuated by the neighing of loose horses and the cries of the wounded men. Shells had torn farm animals apart, and the flesh of burst pumpkins had slid down the sides of the walls” (loc. 378, e-arc).
Wow! I can virtually see and smell that scene!
I found the introduction to the novel to be a little bit awkward and hurried to get into the meat of the story. I did not feel like I got to know the sisters very well and for quite some time had problems identifying the differences between the two of them. I think with a little more introduction, this issue would have been resolved for me. While the novel had a seemingly slow start, the story took off upon the girls enlisting in the army. At this point, the two girls developed their distinct identities – one set on revenge, and another set on trying to save her sister from it. The lengths that they went to in order to preserve their secret identities and the drama that ensued because of those measures made for excellent reading.
I have heard that the two sisters are working on another novel together and I am excited to see what comes of it as they have created a great work together.
You can check out this interesting article about the authors, Sisters of Shiloh, and their upcoming work in progress.
Reviews of this book by other bloggers:
Also by Kathy Hepinstall:
Prince of Lost Places
The Absence of Nectar
The House of Gentlemen
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