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The Clouds of War
Across the Great Divide
Michael L. Ross
The Clouds of War
Publish Date: May 19, 2019
Available: Paperback, Ebook, Audiobook

Lexington, Kentucky, 1859. After saving John Hunt Morgan from a puma attack, fifteen-year-old farm boy Will Crump joins Hunt’s militia, the Lexington Rifles. Morgan mentors Will and enrolls him in the local university, where he hopes to study law. As tensions rise between the North and South, Will is torn between his loyalty to Morgan and his love for his family. Will’s father, sisters, and sweetheart follow the Union, while Morgan and Will commit to the South. As part of Morgan’s band, Will participates in ambushes and unconventional warfare until his first real battle at Shiloh. He fights bravely, but increasingly questions what the war is accomplishing, and whether his devotion to honor has led him astray. And where is God in all this killing?

Will’s sister Albinia, friend of the Clay family, becomes increasingly aware of the plight of the slaves. When she finds Luther, a slave she knows, trying to escape, she must decide between her conscience, and her friends. She becomes involved in the Underground Railroad, helping slaves to freedom – but will it cost her love and her freedom?

Will’s other sister, Julia, is approaching spinster status and despairs of ever meeting a man who can give her more than life on a farm until she meets Hiram Johannsen, a son of immigrants who owns a steamship company. They marry and she makes a new life in the North. When Hiram answers the call to fight for the North, Julia runs the steamboat company in her husband’s absence and uses her boats to help Albinia ferry escaped slaves to freedom. Her business relations put her in the perfect position to spy for the North. When the Confederates capture her, will she survive?

Luther is one of the first slaves Albinia helps flee the South after his master cruelly abuses his mother and sister. He escapes with his family, and when war breaks out, he fights for the North as an auxiliary of the Third Ohio Cavalry, alongside Julia’s husband, Hiram, and against Morgan and Will. Luther has to confront the demons of his past, an abusive master, and a slave catcher that kills his little sister. Will the desire for revenge destroy him?

Throughout the war, Will is forced to examine and question everything he believes in—his faith in God, his love for his family, his loyalty to Morgan, and his worth as a human being.

Will and his family must somehow mend the torn fabric of relationships to find peace, and reach Across the Great Divide.

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The book is well-written, and the various plot lines are easy to follow. The historic details ring true as an engaging story without sounding “textbook.” The faith of the characters is expressed genuinely and woven naturally through the narrative. The backdrop of the story is the events leading up to and throughout the Civil War. But the characters and their interactions – family, friendships, people working or fighting for common goals, romances, and the individuals’ personal thoughts and feelings – take center stage, rather than the war itself. There are of course descriptions of the movement of troops and various skirmishes, but the main focus is on the personal impact of those events on the characters involved.
Though the protagonist fights for the Confederates, his reasons for doing so show how some could have done so perhaps in the genuine desire to fight for their homes, without malice, or in direct defense of slavery. But all types of Confederate soldiers and sympathizers are depicted, showing the various motivations of those who fought for the South. Other strong characters give the counterbalance of the Union perspective, as well as the slaves’ point of view. I felt it was a good overview of the Civil War in general, not flinching at the depiction of slavery and its evils, nor the horrors of war, without being gratuitously graphic in either case.
It was interesting to read this book about the U.S. Civil War in June 2020. The passages about slavery, especially the extreme abuses, were difficult to read. This would be true at any time, but with the current racial tensions still persisting in our country, to be reminded of the background of today’s issues is jolting. History needs to be remembered, not stifled, in order to not be repeated. Also, as a Christian, I find personal encouragement that no matter what events transpire in the culture around me … God still has a plan. There will always be a way for me to live out my faith, whether in grand heroic deeds or in small kindnesses to people I meet along the way.”
Ellen M

“The plot takes the readers along on a journey through the rough harsh realities of being young in a country on the verge of the Civil War. Ross is an incredibly capable and gifted writer. He delivers beautiful sentences, although sometimes inconsistent in tone and language usage. A pithy staccato is often juxtaposed with a more lyrical prose style.”
Dianna Rostad, author of You Belong Here Now