As I indicated yesterday, I'm going to review a book by an independent press today. I'm also cross-posting this review at Indie Market Place.
Shades of Gray is a romance, but it is not a category romance. It is, instead, the sort of sweeping romantic fiction that asks the reader to look back to days gone by. Set in the American Civil War, it is the story of Andrea, a Union Army scout and sometime spy, and Alexander Hunter, a Confederate officer who is modeled on real life Confederate hero Colonel John S. Mosby, leader of Mosby's Rangers.
I am not typically a fan of Civil War novels, and I admit that I was not really looking forward to reading this one. However, I am glad I changed my mind. The author, Jessica James, clearly took the time to understand the complexities involved in the conflict and she was able to convey that in the narrative without interfering with the story itself. In particular, she was able to capture the sense of inevitability of the conflict for those who were involved because of their location – in this case, the Virginians.
As the books opens, Andrea, the heroine, dresses as a boy and acts as a scout in the Union army. She is headstrong, reckless, and at times, seemingly suicidal – for reasons alluded to, but not entirely explained. Her identity is known only to her commanding officer, who also happens to be her cousin's husband. He is uncomfortable with the situation and attempts to protect her, mostly to no avail. Andrea's actions repeatedly bring her into conflict with daring rebel commander Alexander Hunter, who vows to capture her. When Hunter finally does capture Andrea, after a complicated series of events, he brings her to his estate, Hawthorne, in Virginia.
It is at this point that the author's talent for writing dialogue really shines. The conversations between the two main characters are charming and at times, reminiscent of some highly entertaining regency romances. I was particularly impressed with James' ability to convey the fine nuances of Andrea. She was an educated woman of breeding and privilege, who, for reasons not made clear until well into the story, donned trousers, delivered messages, and drank whiskey with the Union army. She was also born in the South, and when necessary, was able to fulfill the role of the perfect Southern Belle.
Perhaps the above description sounds like a stereotype from a romance novel, but I found in Andrea rather more. In fact, I thought Andrea to be a good portrayal of a Southern woman because the Southern women I know have always been this way. They do what they need to do, regardless of what it entails. The Andrea created by Jessica James does just that.
All in all, I found Shades of Gray to be one of the best novels of the Civil War I've ever read. I highly recommend it.
Title: Shades of Gray
Author: Jessica James