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A Strong Brotherhood in Blood by Brian L.J. Keator Sr.- A Novel Review
Keator has done an amazing job with this work
Whenever I read a novel with the intent to review it, I scour for shoddy work right away, within the first few pages. If I find preventable mistakes and poor quality within, say, the first ten percent of the work, I stop there and drop the thing like a wet cigarette. But if I'm impressed right away with good work and engaging writing, I feel it's proper to point that out. Here, I am pointing this out. Here, you should know directly that this is something exceptional.
The fantastic novel by Keator comes so well recommended. Starting as a period piece taking place in Pennsylvania at first and through various times, from shortly after the turn of the twentieth century (where introductions begin with sour moods and weather) and going back to during the onset of the Civil War, the reader is regaled with lush, detailed character of those times, from our numerous characters and the very different world they live in. While here Keator brings us a complex introduction to what follows, he also delights the reader by immersing us in the time with convincing period vernacular and even hints to the accents and euphemisms. You can't help but to be there.
This writing is rich and well-crafted, with the scenes abundant with so much for all the senses. Further, Keator is clearly uninterested in cutting on detail for the sake of moving forward, confident that we'll get there soon enough. We're taking the time to see the boys find their place in their world and with one another, and the pretentious Emerson can just hang on and calm down.
There is genuine Americana here. Several of our characters, when young men, make a close pact with one another before sneaking off in order to pursue their destinies as they run alongside the destiny of their nation. They join the Union army to stand by their nation against those Rebs, but experience so much more than just warfare, and more than that than imagined.
While this unique tale is written in the third person, it isn't as though we peer in from afar, but from over various shoulders. Keator brings us in close enough to smell the dust and tobacco but yet gives us a generous portion of the life of the common folk of the time. It wasn't easy and it could be so hard, but it could be good. Good enough to drive on. And we see several characters grow from boys to men through tremendous adversity and loss, but also character and determination.
First Sergeant O'Malley is there to guide the pack through their battles for the Union, but Keator isn't giving a Hollywood version of blazing muskets and raging soldiers. Instead, we often see our boys suffering from exhaustion and confusion within the cacophony of battle, but the heinous nature is there. The blood, the bodies, the wounded, and so much insanity afflicting the men beyond war, occasionally from their own misbehavior. Letters home to mothers tell of sickness and disease, pestilence and ravages of exposure, and hanging by the thumbs. War is Hell.
War is Hell and always was, but Keator illustrates that the Civil War was unique in and upon itself in our history and does so through these characters. One must consider the limited technology of the time combined with Americans fighting separatists, some of which might be relations. The Union fought the secessionists, with each side being particularly bitter with the other. Thus, the crimes of war. Our characters are submitted to and involved in things nobody should witness. Keator brings us these issues through his characters, with each of the boys seeing it their way. Yet further, these characters enjoy a slightly greater Hell as they must answer for one another to those they know when one of their own is lost. Keator tells of unique situations under various leaders and generals, with some faring better than others. While this is a historical novel, it is a novel on its own and harbors its uniqueness for us to experience. It doesn't take a feat of the imagination to recognize 1862 was a difficult year.
One fascinating aspect of this novel is the unique way in which Keator chose to format the writing. While it isn't well beyond the normal parameters of everyday work, there are aspects to the style hitherto never seen by this reader until here. Perhaps the style is indicative of the era, but Keator does not state as such. But this style does not interfere with the readability; it's just that readers must recognize Keator's choice and proceed from there. I can say it is consistent. I don't want to spoil anything, but take note of the title and the names of our main characters. To offer accolades to the author, Keator's significant background specializes in military history of the era in question. The writer spent a long, long time researching and seeking education leading to the creation of this novel. This is not a whim, and it paid off.
It just so happens that I finished reading the last ten percent of this novel (I read the eBook) while in Winchester, Virginia, and then later in the day drove through Fredericksburg, Virginia heading south. I couldn't help but keep in mind the stark, drastic differences in what I experienced moving through this region (in a few hours, in sub-freezing temperatures, in the comfort of a Peterbilt and over paved roads) compared to those brave soldiers from approximately 150 years ago. Keator makes it clear we understand the nature of the suffering, the senseless bloodshed, the determination of those involved, and the resilience of the American spirit. It's vital to remember our fallen heroes, and it is exceptional novels such as this that remind us those heroes go back a long time.
What the Strong brothers endured should never be witnessed by America ever again, but yet today's rhetoric and political climate tell well of a country yet again divided. It saddens those who truly love their country when those among us discount and shrug away the sacrifices of our prior generations. May we pray they never have to pay for their attitudes in ways so many did within this book.
Keator's grand knowledge and background come together well to create a work of fiction all seekers of the truth should study. So, for those who enjoy a great read filled with action and the strength of the human spirit, here you have found what you are looking for.
Roddy J Dryer is the author of The Egocentric Predicament and Tangled in Climbing Nightshade. He was born and raised in the north but has lived in the south for more than twenty-five years.