The Hidden Valley

Written by Jeanne Williams
Review by Sarah Johnson

These novels, the first to appear from Spur-award winning author Jeanne Williams in six years, form the Beneath the Burning Ground trilogy: an epic saga of several families’ struggles to survive the Civil War years along the Kansas/Missouri border.

The Hidden Valley begins just before war breaks out. Sixteen-year-old Christy is in love with Dan, and he with her, though he refuses to marry her and possibly leave her with child while he’s at war. Christy’s brother Charlie, in disbelief that Mr. Jardine would let him marry his daughter, reluctantly sides with the Confederacy for their sake. In war, Dan encounters a greater evil than he ever faced before, not even in Ireland during the famine. At home, the Wares and Jardines lose their belongings, livestock, and several loved ones to the war and Quantrill’s Raiders, and turn scared eyes to the future.

The beginning sections of the first book proved difficult, since they introduced too many new characters at once, and some conversations seemed designed to feed the reader historical detail. Despite these slow bits, this is an engrossing trilogy about the physical and emotional damage wrought by war, and how war forces people to make decisions they don’t fully agree with. The author describes the Civil War experience from all possible angles: Union and Confederate; black, white, and Indian; rich and poor; in battle and on the home front. Williams’ Arizona Saga remains my favorite among her work, but these novels should prove worthwhile reads for family saga and Civil War fans.