"The Sentinels of Andersonville"

"Near the end of the Civil War, inhumane conditions at Andersonville Prison caused the deaths of 13,000 Union soldiers in only fourteen months. In this gripping and affecting novel, three young Confederates and an entire town come face-to-face with the prison’s atrocities and learn the cost of compassion, when withheld and when given. [...] As these three young Rebels cross paths, their stories intertwine and compel them to action. If they're caught, their plan—a Yankee prison break—could hang them all for treason." (excerpted from inside flap)

Now available in hardcover, "The Sentinels of Andersonville" is a historical fiction novel {sneak peaks: read chapter one or watch the book trailer} by critically acclaimed and Christy Award-winning author Tracy Groot.

The story centers around Andersonville Prison, also known as Camp Sumter, and three central characters—a "Southern belle", a Confederate prison guard, and a Confederate soldier—whose lives become entangled not only with each other but also in the fate of thousands of prisoners and the question of how to help them. The characters' compassion and desire for justice and mercy is inspiring, certainly, and after a rather tedious first half, the plot does gain interest as the individuals become more involved and take action. The book overall is eye-opening: Groot tactfully, yet honestly uncovers a saddening aspect of this country's past that I and likely many readers were unaware of, and the descriptions of the horrible prison conditions that resulted in thousands of deaths from starvation and exposure are based on the diaries, letters, and documents of "those who lived it" (p. vii).

However, while "The Sentinels of Andersonville" seems well-researched, it is not particularly well-written. The writing, especially the dialogue, feels forced. Perhaps it was the attempt to write "Southern speak", but nevertheless, what the characters say often sounds unnatural and too "written". Also, the writing is confusing because of frequent head-hopping {when point of view shifts among characters in the same scene} and, further, because the plot involves a lot of information on the North and the South and various historical figures, such as generals, who are often referenced. The most "frustrating" confusion is the characterization; dialogue aside, the characters are not clearly fleshed out, their actions sometimes come as a surprise, and even who-likes-who is hazy. The story would have been one-hundred percent more enjoyable had I felt I could really know, "get into", and believe the characters.

"The Sentinels of Andersonville" is an interesting, enlightening historical novel. Though it is somewhat slow-paced and lacks clarity and believable characters, Tracy Groot nevertheless provides enough description and underlying message for the book to be thought provoking and inspiring. Whether in the 1800's or present-day, there is injustice within our reach if we're willing to see, and there are actions within our means if we're willing to respond. "When the opportunity to help arises, if it's a lemon, if it's just a lemon, if that's all we can do—let us do it" (from the Afterword).

Disclaimer: This book was received for free from Tyndale House Publishers in exchange for my review.

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