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Will Martin
Will Martin, author
Surrection is an historical novel, set in the border lands of Missouri and Kansas immediately before and during the Civil War. Prior to the war, a state of violence known as the border war existed between proslavery Missourians (called Border Ruffians) and antislavery settlers in Kansas. The fictional protagonist, Jabez Cooper, is the son of a Border Ruffian, and is drawn to the southern cause by circumstance. During the Civil War, Jabez joins a pro-Confederate guerrilla group and participates in their terrorist attacks against Unionists in Missouri and Kansas. The guerrilla gang includes historical characters such as William Quantrill, Bloody Bill Anderson, Arch Clement and (future outlaws) Jesse and Frank James. Jabez is shocked by the brutal terrorist actions of his gang against Federal troops and Unionist civilians. He is torn between his loyalty to his comrades and his evolving sense of morality. The woman he loves helps him understand that he must choose and that his failure to choose is itself a choice. In the dramatic conclusion of the novel, Jabez makes a fateful choice. The novel speaks both to the historical events it recounts and to the crises and divisions of our current day.
Martin’s debut historical fiction blends a coming-of-age story with Civil War drama. In 1856, fourteen-year-old Missouri-born Jabez Cooper learns two skills from his father: blacksmithing and a hatred for anti-slavery, pro-Union interlopers at the Kansas border. Once his father dies, Jabez joins the pro-Confederate Bushwhackers, a band of brutal men hellbent on destroying abolitionists, whether soldiers or just civilians. Over the course of nine years, Jabez witnesses massacres and now yearns to escape the violence, but the ruthless leader Bloody Bill Anderson kills anyone who dissents. After bonding with a thoughtful Union hostage soldier and aiding his escape, Jabez defects, only to live in hiding as Anderson tracks him down.

History buffs will appreciate Martin’s vivid accounts of notorious American antiheroes like John Brown, Jesse James, and William Quantrill. Poetic detail breathes life into the skirmishes: “Three men on horseback trailed bolts of calico behind them in a cascading stream of color as they raced through the main street.” As a character, Jabez’s role is to bear witness to violence, and save for his moral indecision he’s not especially compelling, especially as shifts in viewpoints over a half-dozen characters distance us from his plight. Nonetheless, these multiple perspectives and strong period dialogue paint a thorough picture of the secessionist struggle.

What this book does best is expose the depraved tactics of fighters on both the Union and Confederate sides: Bushwhackers dressed in Union uniforms earn a farmer’s trust before murdering him; men take part in revenge-driven ambushes; hostage-taking is rampant, and more. The Bushwhackers’ pro-Union counterparts, the antislavery Jayhawkers, may be on the right side of history but prove no more pure. Jabez’s story of being captive among sociopaths in a bloody war of attrition stirs sympathy for all involved, both victims and indoctrinated perpetrators. American history fiction fans will value Martin’s transporting look at an era of terror.

Takeaway: A vivid dramatization of the turbulent “Bleeding Kansas” period of American strife that will fascinate history buffs.

Great for fans of: Daniel Woodrell’s Ride with the Devil, Jim R. Woolard’s When the Missouri Ran Red.

Production grades
Cover: N/A
Design and typography: A
Illustrations: N/A
Editing: A
Marketing copy: A