Book of the Year 2015 (see all)
Andersonville by Edward M. Erdelac is a secret history story focussed on the hellish Confederate prison, Camp Sumter, during the American Civil War. I am by no means a history buff (I knew enough about the American Civil War to have heard of Andersonville and Camp Sumter prior to reading the book), so I can't speak authoritatively about the accuracy of this story, but the story did withstand both the power of my Google-Fu, and the power of my history buff friends. It is obvious that Erdelac did a lot of research for this novel, so when you combine this with his flair for all things strange, mystic and wondrous, what you get is one of the best books I have read this year.
The story follows Barclay Lourdes, a black man on a secret mission to investigate the alleged war crimes being committed by Confederate soldiers on Union prisoners at Camp Sumter in Andersonville. Able to keep a low profile because of the colour of his skin, Barclay begins poking and prodding into areas where he should not be concerned, to the point where his skin colour stops being a valid excuse. What Barclay finds is disturbing, an intricate scheme being played out by supernatural beings with the most dire of consequences.
As I stated in the opening paragraph, Andersonville is a secret history story that is able to use the events at Camp Sumter and the greater American Civil War as a framework for the story Erdelac wants to tell. What differentiates a secret history from an alternate history is that all the events in the book happen exactly as the history books say they happened, and what Erdelac is doing is filling in the historical knowledge gaps with his own story about Voodoo and Christian mysticism. The way in which Erdelac executes this story is subtle and clever, keeping all the fantastical elements on the down-low for the majority of the story, before pulling back the curtains, dropping the readers into the deepest parts of the fantastical elements, and asking them to swim against the torrent to reach the end. It means that start is a little slow, but the feelings of dread and suspense that permeate through the book allow Erdelac to deliver an almighty bang at the end, and that more that makes up for the slow beginning.
Barclay Lourdes is a fictional character surrounded by many real historical characters that played important roles in the real story of Camp Sumter. While Barclay may have been fictional, the use of African-American spies by the Union during the Civil War was very real, and history suggests that there were many men and women just like Barclay who were carrying secret missions on behalf of the Union given their unique ability to wander amongst the most sensitive areas of the Confederacy without receiving so much as a raised eyebrow. Erdelac uses this knowledge to his advantage, and characterises Barclay as a skilled leader of men, someone who is adept at the arts of secrecy and subterfuge, and someone who is able to show a measured empathy to the prisoners of Camp Sumter despite the persecution he has faced from these prisoners his whole life. Barclay is a compelling character, the type of person who always gets the job done despite the cost, and while Andersonville is a standalone story, I hope we get to see him again in another Erdelac story in the future.
Simply put, Andersonville seamlessly blends the historical and the fantastical to create a magnificent story that entertains and educates without pushing any particular world views or beliefs on the reader. This is a book has gone the extra mile to cater for all readers with varying levels of familiarity with the American Civil War. I loved this book, and I highly recommend it to all fantasy and historical fiction readers.
Review by Ryan Lawler
Edward M. Erdelac is the author of nine novels, including the acclaimed Lovecraftian/weird western series Merkabah Rider and Andersonville. His fiction has appeared in dozens of anthologies and periodicals including most rece [...]
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