From Publishers Weekly
After tackling the Haitian slave rebellion in a three-book series, Bell uses a smaller stage to create a captivating portrait of Confederate general Nathan Bedford Forrest. The novel plays effortlessly with time and structure, shuttling between 1845 and 1865 as Forrest marries Mary Ann Montgomery, becomes a guilt-stricken slave trader and, during the Civil War, is targeted for destruction by General Sherman. Despite his aggressive actions on the battlefield, Forrest struggles with the demands of a complicated family: tensions between Mary Ann and Forrest's black mistress take a personal toll, while the rivalry between his sons Willy and Matthew (the illegitimate child of a long-ago affair with a slave) creates distraction. Meanwhile, his addiction to gambling and his attraction to his mistress send Forrest into a contemplation of the forces that control him. Many of the war sequences are delivered via Henri, a Haitian wanderer who joins Forrest's troops and possesses the ability to communicate with the ghosts of those killed in battle. The unconventional structure and supernatural twist expand the narrative into an engaging examination of what it means to be free, a question that haunts Forrest through his life. (Nov.)
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*Starred Review* Bell’s magnificent Haitian trilogy, focusing on the rebel leader Toussaint Louverture and concluding with The Stone That the Builder Refused (2004), established his bona fides as a superb historical novelist. In his most masterfully choreographed fact-based tale yet, Bell returns to his native ground, Tennessee, to tell the tale of Nathan Bedford Forrest, a feared Confederate general of profound contradictions, strategic brilliance, and outrageous valor. Bell conceives of Bedford as a sharp-tongued, virile, dangerously charismatic, and seemingly invincible slave trader who treats the people he “owns” with respect and compassion, and an equestrian who loves horses yet rides many to death in audacious cavalry maneuvers. Irascible rebel Bedford loves his white wife, black mistress, and all his children, legitimate and otherwise. Bell subtly contrasts America’s Civil War with Haiti’s slave revolt via his narrator Henri, a Haitian with “the sight” who gets drawn into Bedford’s orbit. Exciting and authentic, Bell’s novel of a world in violent transition is flush with action and ravishing evocations of forests and fields, heat and rain, the muddy churn of hungry troops, and fleeting moments of respite as tragedy is leavened with sensuality and mystery. Will Bell’s Bedford, who so perfectly embodies the cruel paradoxes of race and war, ride again? --Donna Seaman