Gideon’s Call, the award winning debut novel by Peter Leavell, takes us to the South Carolina coastal islands during the Civil War. There we meet Tad, a young slave whose adventures will lead us through overcoming the scars of slavery, through learning that all white Northerners can’t be trusted, through learning how to survive as a freedman, through being a soldier and fighting with the 54th Massachusetts at Fort Wagner.
Leavell’s thoroughly researched novel is accurate without being a lecture. He successfully avoids the trap of including all his research, just using that which is relevant to his story. He introduces real historical people as three dimensional characters, not just stick figures to show how well he researched the story. There are times when the story has a Forrest Gump feel as Tad interacts with political and military figures in South Carolina, Washington and Boston. He serves as a runner for Major Robert Gould. He meets President Andrew Johnson. To Leavell’s credit, these encounters flow naturally with the story without the sense of being contrived or manipulated.
Tales of lost or unrequited love among the historical figures as they live out their dedication to their beliefs give the book a real sense of the difficulties and hard decisions faced by many people during the war. Through figures such Edward Pierce and Laura Towne, we get a real sense of the sacrifices made for the Union and for freedom.
Leavell presents a balanced picture of North and South, not afraid to show the racism, manipulation and cheating on both sides to use the blacks for their own ends. Tad fights against both sides as he strives to achieve his goals. He succeeds in business by becoming a trader.
Tad’s dream is to be a soldier, own his own land, and marry Peg. Peg won’t marry him if he becomes a soldier. He joins because he wants to do all he can to secure freedom for himself and his people.
One of things I most appreciate about the story is that Tad is frightened in battle. Our hero is flawed. And he must overcome this as part of his inner journey.
Leavell does an excellent job of fully developing his characters, showing their dreams, ambitions, selfishness, fear, biases and prejudices as they face the reality of the Civil War and what it does to the country and the people, both black and white.
I recommend this novel to anyone seeking historically accurate fiction set in the Civil War. The author takes the dry statistics and facts of history and weaves an enthralling story filled with characters we can cheer with and feel pain with as we deepen our understanding of what happened in those years.
I give the novel four stars.
An advanced reader’s copy of the novel was provided by the publisher.