Thursday, July 7, 2016

A new book review

Ganzglass, Martin R., 2016, Blood Upon the Snow, A novel of the American Revolution, Peace Corps Writers, ISBN 978-1-935925-72-9, perfect bound paperback, 344 pages,

There's no doubt in my mind that Blood Upon the Snow could have been sold to a commercial publisher. The quality of writing and the plotting are both superlative. The writing is descriptive, but also personal, when Ganzglass gets inside the heads of the characters. Of course the details of the Revolutionary war are well known, but it is no mean feat to weave real and imagined characters together to tell a gripping story, as the author has done with Blood Upon the Snow. This is the third in a series of four novels about the Revolutionary War. The primary viewpoint character is Will Stoner, a corporal when the book opens and later a sergeant in the American artillery. He and a few other characters are imaginary, but almost nothing else is. This novel sticks to the facts, but that's not all it does. Ganzglass has a gift for turning what could've been a dry, factual account of the war into a riveting story of personal travails and successes that is also a factual account of the war.

Ganzglass skillfully uses the technique, familiar from fat bestsellers, of switching from one viewpoint to another to give the reader a more full and sympathetic understanding of what all of the major actors are up to. These characters include a Hessian soldier, an American traitor working with the British, one of the famous rifleman who fought with devastating accuracy against the British and Hessians (armed with more primitive weapons), and Elizabeth, the woman Will has been courting since part way through the first book.

The story begins with the taking of Trenton, in which the rebels recapture the city from the British and their Hessian allies, at the end of 1776. A lot of the book concerns the battles in which Ganzglass's protagonist participates, because he is, after all, a soldier. The struggle between the British and Hessians and revolutionaries, between the armies that want to stand and fight versus those that can't afford to, is a matter of historical record. However, Ganzglass's descriptions of these battles bring them to life like no American history book that I was forced to read in school. I would have enjoyed the textbooks a lot more if they were written like this! There is also a lot about daily life, both urban and rural. I particularly liked the raising of a bridge and the building of a mill entirely by hand. The descriptions were very clear, and fascinating.

During the course of this novel, Will is reunited, briefly, with Elizabeth, the object of his long-distance affections. Because they don't get to spend much time together, their romance progresses slowly, but it does progress. In the latter part of Blood Upon the Snow, Will overwinters with General Washington's army at Valley Forge, and that's where we leave him, anticipating spring.

I highly recommend this book. You don't have to be particularly interested in Revolutionary War history to enjoy it. It is more novel than history, despite the author's care to avoid factual errors. I have one quibble. The book could have used careful copy editing. This is obviously something that the Peace Corps press does not provide. It's a shame, because typos and other small errors can disrupt the flow of the narrative. I hope the author takes it upon himself to get his next book edited on his own.


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