Review: I Shall Be Near to You

i-shall-be-near-to-you“An extraordinary novel about a strong-willed woman who disguises herself as a man in order to fight beside her husband, inspired by the letters of a remarkable female soldier who fought in the Civil War.
   Rosetta doesn’t want her new husband Jeremiah to enlist, but he joins up, hoping to make enough money that they’ll be able to afford their own farm someday. Though she’s always worked by her father’s side as the son he never had, now that Rosetta is a wife she’s told her place is inside with the other women. But Rosetta decides her true place is with Jeremiah, no matter what that means, and to be with him she cuts off her hair, hems an old pair of his pants, and signs up as a Union soldier.
With the army desperate for recruits, Rosetta has no trouble volunteering, although she faces an incredulous husband. She drills with the men, proves she can be as good a soldier as anyone, and deals with the tension as her husband comes to grips with having a fighting wife. Rosetta’s strong will clashes with Jeremiah’s while their marriage is tested by broken conventions, constant danger, and war, and she fears discovery of her secret even as they fight for their future, and for their lives. Inspired by more than 250 documented accounts of the women who fought in the Civil War while disguised as men, I Shall Be Near To You is the intimate story, in Rosetta’s powerful and gorgeous voice, of the drama of marriage, one woman’s amazing exploits, and the tender love story that can unfold when two partners face life’s challenges side by side.” – Publisher Summary

Mere days after Rosetta and Jeremiah Wakefield are married, Jeremiah leaves their new home to fight for the Union in the War Between the States. Left behind, Rosetta attempts to fill his absence with busy-work and visits with family, but after a violent encounter with a childhood rival, she comes to a decision: her place is with her husband, regardless of where that is. Rosetta haphazardly cuts off her hair, hems an old pair of Jeremiah’s pants, and sets off down the road in the direction he had last been headed.

Before long, Rosetta is a full-fledged Union soldier and is being introduced to her battalion. Jeremiah recognizes her instantly – as do three childhood friends. After fighting – and winning – against Jeremiah’s protests, Rosetta begins drilling with the men each day, proving she can hold up with the best of them. When orders come to march, she marches proudly alongside her husband and friends, hoping that they will not send her away if they come upon a battle. Along the way, despite how hard she tries, more than one person discovers her secret – surprisingly, each swears themselves to secrecy.

Battle comes upon the group, and death abounds. Peaceful men are forced to kill. Innocent men die. Rosetta bravely volunteers to assist with the dead and dying in the nighttime battlefields, and with the others injured after each battle. Jeremiah follows closely behind, helping her – and trying to protect her. Little does Rosetta know that there is to be yet one final battle in the war for her – one last fight for her life – before she will be forced to leave the Army. The horrors that Rosetta and Jeremiah witness here will change them, as well as their marriage, forever.

I Shall Be Near to You by Erin Lindsay McCabe is the second novel I have read in mere weeks about women fighting in the Civil War. Some records show that over 400 women fought and/or died in the War Between the States, and this is McCabe’s version of one of their stories. The character of Rosetta Wakefield is based on real-life Civil War soldier Sarah Rosetta Wakeman; McCabe drew upon letters of Wakeman’s as well as other records as inspiration.

This was a great story, but it felt as though it was simply that: a story. It did not have the grit and rawness of Neverhome, did not bring home to me in the same way the horror and damage these men and women suffered. Despite this, I did enjoy watching the relationship between Rosetta and Jeremiah evolve throughout their wartime experience. It pleased me to experience the other friendships and relationships that Rosetta formed in the Army, and the roles that she filled for others.

I Shall Be Near to You is a heartfelt love story with little sugar-coating in regards to war. Wakefield is a feisty and strong heroine, sure to inspire laughter and grudging respect. You will certainly find your thoughts turning to those hundreds of women who disguised themselves so long ago and fought alongside their country’s men, and wondering – where did they find the courage, the strength, the tenacity? We need only to look upon our country’s fighting men and women today to find our answer.

I Shall Be Near to You by Erin Lindsay McCabe. Go and get you some.

4 stars

Source: Crown Publishing {via NetGalley}

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