Book Reviews

Book Review: Love and War by John Jakes

This novel is the second in Jakes’ Civil War trilogy. Love and War picks up the lives of the Main and Hazard families right where North and South left off.

The Mains are rice planters in South Carolina. The Hazards are steel manufacturers in Lehigh Valley, Pennsylvania. The Civil War is just beginning. Brett Main has just married Billy Hazard.

The families are linked not just by their marriage, but by the strong friendship forged between Orry Main and George Hazard while attending West Point. This bond transcends even the worst moments of the War as the families reach out and help one another on numerous occasions.

In the Afterword, Jakes compares his writing of this novel to Gone With the Wind. He admits to loving the story, but laments the fact that the slaves are depicted as content to be slaves, and also with comic relief – social values that really don’t hold up any longer. Even the war is depicted without too much blood and guts mostly referred to on cue cards. The only true impact of suffering is the depot scene showing a seemingly endless sea of wounded men.

This novel shows that war is pure hell. Particularly notable is the change in Charles Main throughout the book as what he witnesses and experiences change him. The evolution is not swift or abrupt, but very gradual. It makes it totally believable. The battlefields are described in great detail giving the reader the feeling that they are experiencing it right along with the characters. Everything in Jakes’ writing rings so true that I felt as if I were reading a biography of these two families.

Instead of focusing on the notable parts of the War, such as the battle at Gettysburg, Jakes takes us to Carolina and Liverpool shipyards, Libby Prison, Confederate encampments, and the politicking in both Washington D.C. and Richmond, VA. This gives the novel more depth than focusing just on the more infamous parts of the War.

Neither side is exempt from special interests or those who seek to profit from the blood of others. Both families have people who are up to no good. In the case of Ashton Main – Brett and Orry’s sister – she is inherently evil here. While trying to help her husband rise politically in Confederate circles, she joins a group at first attempting to take control of the government. In the process, she almost destroys Orry’s marriage and his good name, is responsible for the drowning of her nephew, and still carries a great deal of anger at being rejected by Billy Hazard in favor of her sister.

Of course, no Jakes novel would be complete without the evil man harboring a grudge due to some slight years ago. Here it is Elkanah Bent. Bent seems to spend the majority of the novel scheming about how to get back at the two families, all the while managing to mess up every chance he has in his own life. Much is made of his parentage here, but though it is hinted at, it is never revealed. It is one bit of frustration I really would have liked to have been resolved.

In this novel, slavery is not depicted as a happy existence. As the war presses on, many of the slaves at the Mains’ plantation runoff. Orry’s wife Madeline goes to great lengths to try and make it better for them, even beginning a school. Her belief is that they will be freed and need their education. This is a believable way to show the feelings of loyalty some of the slaves – and freedmen who live at the plantation – have for the family.

In the North, Brett works with black children at an orphanage started by George’s wife, Constance. Having the opportunity to interact outside of the plantation with the black children and adults causes Brett to rethink her own beliefs she has had all her life. It also gives her a good direction and sense of purpose, rather than sitting in a house through the whole novel worried about her husband.

The families are not exempt from tragedy. Several lives are lost. There is nothing pretty about the four and a half years contained in the novel. Jakes has gone to great lengths to write a well-researched and non-glamorous view of this terrible war. If you’ve never read it, it’s definitely worth a look.

Previous book in the series (link):

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