A Sinister Splendor: A Mexican War Novel

Written by Mike Blakely
Review by Jeff Westerhoff

In 1845, General Zachary Taylor and his American army arrive at Corpus Christi, Texas. Taylor has been ordered by President James K. Polk to begin a Northern Campaign and drive the Mexican Army south of the Rio Grande, reestablishing the border between the two countries. Cries of Manifest Destiny from the American public influence President Polk to continue moving South into Mexico and force the Mexican government to negotiate the acquisition of the lands west of Texas, including California.

The Mexican Army attacks Fort Brown, and battles ensue there and at Matamoros along the Rio Grande. The American army then moves further south to battle the Mexicans at Monterrey and Buena Vista. Led by General Taylor, other American combatants include Lt. Sam Grant, the Texas Rangers, Irishman John Riley and laundress Sarah Bowman, wife of one of the soldiers.

The novel highlights the plight of the Irish soldiers and their ill treatment by officers who dislike the Irish, the meanest being Lt. Braxton Bragg. Many will desert to join the Mexican army, feeling that because of their Catholic religion, they can side with the Mexican cause.

Rich in historical detail, the author’s research is unimpeachable. I’ve read nonfiction books on the Northern Campaign of the Mexican War, and I found this fictionalized account (specifically the dialog) really clarified the campaign from both sides. This is a wide, ambitious sweep of a novel that follows major characters from both sides of the conflict. The author’s narrative is like that of Jeff Shaara in depth and detail, and his battle scenes are well-documented, providing the reader with a feeling of being on the battlefield. An exceptional work that I plan on reading again.