Title: A Blaze of Glory: A Novel of the Battle of Shiloh
Author: Jeff Shaara
Publisher: Ballantine Books of Random House Publishing; New York; 2012
Best Price/s: Amazon.com – $14.40
Jeff Shaara’s A Blaze of Glory is an excellent example of historical fiction, i.e., story-telling at its best. He continues to utilize his unique writing style, as he has in many other books, to tell a story in history in a new and interesting way for a public that can often be jaded. Here he begins a new trilogy of books about the Civil war and the people who experienced it first hand, beginning with the battle of Shiloh.
Shaara is not the first author to write historical fiction by any means. In fact, only he knows how much influence his father Michael (who wrote The Killer Angels which was made into the movie “Gettysburg”) actually had in his choosing to write in this style. Thankfully he has done so, for we are all the richer for his story-telling skill.
I have read numerous histories over the years of different events, people, etc. and some of them have been very dry. They tell the events, the names of people and places, and the dates, the basic “who, what, where, when, and how” of the story. The better histories will also seek to explain the “why” by “connecting the dots” in the relationships between events and people.
Historical fiction goes one step further and tries to get into the minds and thoughts of the participants. Good historical fiction studies all of the historical events, documents, letters, etc. and then tries to tell a story through the characters. Good story-telling always involves imagination and this is often expressed through conversations or actions that may have occurred, but history doesn’t record every detail. Believability combined with accurate historical facts makes for great historical fiction and Shaara is a master of this genre!
That said, this story of the battle of Shiloh revolves around some well- known characters such as Wm. T. Sherman, A. S. Johnston, Nathan B. Forest, U.S. Grant and others, as well as some characters, are known only by name and a letter or two. We, the readers, experience this battle through the men who fought in it. We experience their confidence, frustration, anger, horror, the sights and even the smells of the field of battle are conveyed.
In the end, we have the sense of a better understanding of how the battle was fought, rather than just the bare facts. We feel that we know the characters better and the reasons for their successes and failures. We understand the mistakes, the exhaustion, and the chaos which prevented victory when it seemed within reach and allowed others to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat. The author has done his job well of helping us feel the impact of these events.
Though I am not normally a fan or reader of much fiction, I would recommend this book and several others that Jeff Shaara has written.