I received this book free from the Publisher in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.Sisters of Shiloh by Becky Hepinstall Hilliker, Kathy Hepinstall
Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt on March 3rd 2015
Genres: Civil War, Historical Fiction
Source: the Publisher
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A best-selling novelist enlists her own sister to bring us the story of two Southern sisters, disguised as men, who join the Confederate Army—one seeking vengeance on the battlefield, the other finding love.
In a war pitting brother against brother, two sisters choose their own battle.
Joseph and Thomas are fresh recruits for the Confederate Army, daring to join the wild fray that has become the seemingly endless Civil War, sharing everything with their fellow soldiers—except the secret that would mean their undoing: they are sisters.
Before the war, Joseph and Thomas were Josephine and Libby. But that bloodiest battle, Antietam, leaves Libby to find her husband, Arden, dead. She vows vengeance, dons Arden’s clothes, and sneaks off to enlist with the Stonewall Brigade, swearing to kill one Yankee for every year of his too-short life. Desperate to protect her grief-crazed sister, Josephine insists on joining her. Surrounded by flying bullets, deprivation, and illness, the sisters are found by other dangers: Libby is hurtling toward madness, haunted and urged on by her husband’s ghost; Josephine is falling in love with a fellow soldier. She lives in fear both of revealing their disguise and of losing her first love before she can make her heart known to him.
In her trademark “vibrant” (Washington Post Book World) and “luscious” (Atlanta Journal-Constitution) prose, Kathy Hepinstall joins with her sister Becky to show us the hopes of love and war, the impossible-to-sever bonds of sisterhood, and how what matters most can both hurt us and heal us.
‘Twenty-one. The number of men who would pay for his death. As a woman she loved the poetry in that equation; as a man she loved the rage.’
Libby and Arden are newlyweds but a mere month into their lives together, the Civil War breaks out and Arden leaves to join the ranks of the Confederate army. When Libby hears that a massive battle took place nearby involving Arden’s unit she sets out to verify his survival. Her older sister Josephine travels with her and after they split up to search is the one that finds Arden with a massive hole in his stomach, dying slowly. By the time Libby finds them, Arden is still warm but long gone. Filled with a foreign rage, Libby cuts off her hair intent on joining the Confederates. She swears to take twenty-one Yankee lives for the twenty-one years that Arden was on this earth. Josephine, finding out her intentions, resolves herself to go with her if only to protect her from her dangerous plan.
The writing team for this novel is two sisters; one is a bestselling novelist and the other possesses a history degree. The result is a fluid story that is not just poignant but leaves you feeling well-informed of this time period. Sisters of Shiloh is written primarily from the point of view of Libby and Josephine who become Thomas and Joseph when they enlist. It reflects their struggles from being simple teenage girls to adapting to life as a soldier not only with the constant fear of dying but of keeping the secret of their gender safe. Josephine only joined the army to protect her sister and has no intentions of doing harm to anyone if she can help it. She’s a simple girl who has never been in love but slowly finds herself falling for Wesley Abeline (and he begins falling for “her” although his feelings remain conflicted as he’s not aware of her true gender). Libby’s mindset becomes darker as the book progresses with her hearing Arden’s voice in her head, urging her in the battle to kill again and again. She eventually begins to actually see him as well, with his stomach still bleeding and flies that cover the wound. At first, it was hard to differentiate the sister’s voices but by the end, they had developed their own separate identities so much that each section was clearly definable. Josephine remained sorrowful at her inability to save her sister from her own mind and Libby remained in conflict with her true nature and the impressionable effects of her husband even after death.
‘Arden, though, was more than a name. He was a presence, an exhortation, the heaving breaths of his spirit keeping up with her, his voice shouting that unearthly Rebel yell right along with her.’
Women that conceal themselves as men and join the war effort (typically in the Civil War) seems to be a new trend in literature these days as this is the second release I’ve read recently. I Shall Be Near to You was the previous one I read and is told from the point of view of a woman that joins the Union army, rather than the Confederates. Both books succeed in presenting a side of the war that was apparently quite common but vastly absent from the history books. Reading about these women that sacrificed their safety and voluntarily went into battle (even when they weren’t allowed to) was shocking and impressive even if it wasn’t exactly smart. Libby and Josephine went into the war not knowing how to shoot a gun yet they persevered and lasted a whole eight months in the war when some men didn’t last a few weeks. This may be considered an ‘unconventional’ side of wartime but it’s a side that is truly admirable that I’d love to see more of. Other related reads I intend on picking up include Neverhome by Laird Hunt, Liar, Temptress, Soldier Spy by Karen Abbott and This Side of the River by Jeffrey Stayton.