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War is a morale sapping thing. The longer it goes on for the more likely people are going to become against it. This has happened in Iraq as people now realise that it might take more than a couple of weeks to sort out the region. The extension of war is not a new thing as any historian will tell you. Contemporaries of the period thought that WW1 would be over by Christmas it was, just Christmas 4 years later. These extended wars have the habit of ripping countries apart and this is no better seen in a civil war. The American Civil War went on for longer than many thought and many people died, not for slavery, but for their pride filled ideals. The Starbuck Chronicles looks at the tragic waste that was this war.
Starbuck returns in his last and bloodiest encounter of the American Civil War. The South is on the attack and is trying to reach the richer Northern cities. Before they can achieve this they must fight against a defending army. It seems unlikely that Starbuck will be present at the battle as old enemies have conspired to send him back south to retrain a battalion nicknamed the Yellowlegs due to their penchant for running from battle. Starbuck, along with his friend Lucifer, must fight against internal corruption, as well as the Northern forces, if they are to reach what was to become one of the bloodiest battles of the war.
As the title of this book suggests The Bloody Ground is a grisly book. Cornwell is well known for filling his novels with battle scenes that include gore in vivid detail. However, this is probably his most intense to date as the whole second half of the book narrates the most tragic battle of the war. In my opinion it is this that prevents it from being one of the better Cornwell novels as it is hard to push a narrative forward when there is so much battle to describe. However, if you are a fan of well written and informative battle scenes then this could be your Mecca.
There are other areas of the book that work better. The initial storyline of Starbucks return to the South is entertaining enough; it is just the payout that is lost in the fog of war. In Starbuck, Cornwell has created a sympathetic character that fights for what he believes is right. He is developed a lot in the earlier parts of this book as he begins to believe that his confidence is going. This makes for an interesting take on how soldiers were treated who suffered from the mental fatigue of war. I was not a huge fan of the direction Cornwell took here, but I can see how it made the character grow.
The other roles in the book are populated by sympathetic and well realised creations. Starbucks friends are great foils. It seems that Cornwell is a lot more cavalier with the fates of these people than the likes of Harper and Co. This means that the entire book has a sense of tension as you dont know who may die. This leads into the enemies in this book. They are the usual cowardly and mean lot that populate all of Cornwells novels and therefore feel a bit déjà vu. It is to Cornwells detriment that he has written so many good baddies that the average ones fade into none existence.
My main criticism of this book is with the fact that it is currently the concluding part of the series. This was written back in 1996 and, therefore, I assume it is unlikely for Cornwell to go back to it after a decade. Most people will read this knowing it is the concluding part and therefore expect closure. They will get none. It is obvious from the end of the book that Cornwell had planned on more titles, but perhaps his publishers showed him a pie chart or Venn diagram of how much more profit was made with the Sharpe series? The book ends with a damp plop and left me craving more. There is no closure as to what happens to Starbuck and this is after you have spent the entire novel thinking that there would be.
Despite the many flaws with the book, The Bloody Ground is a pacey and exciting read. I would not recommend it as one of Cornwells best but for completeists it is a must. I had the feeling from the book that too much was unresolved and also I felt that too much emphasis was placed on the end battle and not the characters story. Overall, an average read, especially by Cornwells standards.
Author: Bernard Cornwell
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United States of America. Nathaniel Starbuck, the northern preacher's son who fights for the rebel South, is given command of a punishment battalion, a despised unit of shriekers and cowards. His enemies expect the appointment to be his downfall. To prove them wrong, Starbuck must lead the ramshackle unit against thenorthern garrison at Harper's Ferry and then across the frontier to the bank of the Antietam Creek. There he will fight in what will prove to be the bloodiest battle of the Civil War.