If you’d asked me last year, I would have said I wouldn’t be interested in reading a novel about soldiers in the American Civil War, much less enjoy it, but then I hadn’t read Shaun Ivory’s Duty and Dishonor. I’d read and very much enjoyed a previous historical novel by him, Friends of My Father, set in early 20th century Ireland (his native country), so I thought I’d at least give it a shot (sorry for the pun, suggested by the appealing, grainy, historical cover image).
Once started, I couldn’t put it down, and quickly realised there was still an Irish connection, as the protagonist is an emigrant, born in mid-Atlantic – a great starting point and an indicator that this boy is set for an interesting and challenging life. ( The series name is “America Made Me”, which I really like.)
As the author says in his preamble, you know the outcome of the Conor O’Farrell’s adventures, because this first in a planned trilogy opens with his suicide, before pitching you into his early innocent years at the start of a string of adventures, well told, that culminate in his taking on the first of many alias identities in classic Wild West tradition.
Sensitive Storytelling with an Eye for Detail
Ivory is a terrific storyteller, weaving historical detail and context effectively into his tale, so that even for someone like me who is pretty ignorant of the facts about this part of US history, it’s easy to appreciate and understand without intruding on the story. He cleverly includes real life figures – I loved the part in which Conor becomes a personal friend of Abraham Lincoln, whose home life we’re allowed to glimpse. Through Conor’s enlistment and military service, he examines the human impact of war on the individuals, movingly demonstrating its tragedy and futility without ever being sensationalist or gratuitously violent.
Ready for More Now
I’ve already downloaded the sequel, Killing Kiowas, which has an equally beautiful cover, this time featuring a native American on horseback, and I’m looking forward to seeing where Conor’s adventures take him next in this gripping, poignant and enjoyable novel in the picaresque tradition.
For more information about Shaun Ivory and his writing life, visit his website: www./shaun-ivory.com