The Gettysburgs and Bull Runs of other novels set in the U.S. Civil War are a different theatre from this novel, set further west. The Red River’s confluence with the Mississippi is nonetheless vital to Confederate survival, the route through which cotton and sugar must flow from plantations to markets in Europe to fund the Southern army. Onto this stage, Nagle sets her three main characters: Marie, the beautiful, young Creole mistress of a thousand slaves; the poor, handsome Texan artillery lieutenant by whom she is pregnant to give her older, sterile husband an heir; and Nat, a man sailing the rivers for the North in gunboats and ironclads.
The book suffers from many of the ills, such as lack of unity, that a series installment has difficulty overcoming. I presume that if I had read earlier volumes, I would have more investment in Jamie the Texan’s losses. I craved a deeper feeling for the Creole; a gris-gris bag and French phrases seemed mere veneer to me. Battle scenes seemed lackluster as well. Where real history was dealt with, my interest often flagged. The troubles of the slave couple Little George and Sarah are only reported by other characters, robbing them of the impact they might have had. On the other hand, there are some fine and moving domestic scenes: the death of Marie’s husband and her attempts to deal with the evil overseer and a crumbling market for her plantation’s products, for instance.
Readers who enjoyed the first books in this series, or those with a passion for the history of Texas/Louisiana/Mississippi shipping or for the intricacies of the Civil War will find this book worthwhile.