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Thursday, December 10, 2015

A CHAIN of THUNDER: A NOVEL of the SIEGE of VICKSBURG (audiobook) by Jeff Shaara



Published by Random House Audio in 2013
Narrated by Paul Michael
Duration: 22 hours, 5 minutes

Just to establish where I am coming from - I am a huge Civil War buff. I have over 100 books on my shelf. Although I live in Indiana, I have managed to make it to three Civil War battlefields in the last two years (Murfreesboro, Fort Donelson and Chickamauga) and I just bought my father the original Shaara Civil War trilogy (the one based around The Killer Angels ) for Christmas. I own Shaara's World War I and World War II series as well as his original Civil War series and his Mexican War book.

I am a fan.



Confederate Lt. General John C. Pemberton
(1814-1881)
But, I am not a fan of this book.

I have no problem with the authenticity of the book and there are parts that are amazing, intense and just about perfect.

But, the first half of this book feels like it is trying to be "The Great American Novel" and failing at the attempt. There is so much repetitious introspection on the part of General Pemberton (the Confederate commander at Vicksburg) and Bauer, a Union front line soldier who is brought into a new unit against army protocol in an effort to promote some continuity in the series, that I just wanted to yell at the narrator to get on with the story. There is a shockingly ham-fisted attempt to address the evils of slavery, a lot of description of marching (in rain, in mist, in heat and than we get descriptions of sitting in rain, heat and mist and then sleeping in rain, heat and mist) and a seemingly never-ending discussion about the proper duties of a Civil War general. 


Mostly, though, I was disappointed that this book just did not have the pop and sizzle of A Blaze of Glory , the first book in this series.

But, at about the halfway point (8 or 9 hours into this book - I continued listening only because I am a fan and I refused to believe that it would stay this bad throughout the whole book), the story finally gets into stride and tells the awful story of the siege of Vicksburg and tells it well. The awful details of a field hospital, the strange one-on-one fight of sniper vs. sniper in the middle of a battle of tens of thousands, the secret world of spies, the power of secure supply lines, and the danger of rivalry and politics among the generals. The conversations between Sherman and Grant feel so right that I cannot imagine that they would go any other way than how they are described in the book.


Audiobook narrator Paul Michael was good. Of course, he can only do so much with bad text and he made the better parts a joy to listen to. 

So, I give it 3 stars as an average score - 1 star for the first part, 5 stars for the last part.

This audiobook can be found on Amazon.com here: 
A Chain of Thunder: A Novel of the Siege of Vicksburg (the Civil War in the West)

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