Robert Walton’s Dawn Drums, a Civil War historical novel, is nothing short of superb. Perhaps this is because “historical” is truly an apt description of the work, coupled with compelling, unforgettable characters right out of history, and other characters so true-to-life that readers will be shocked to discover they are fictional.
May of 1864 was perhaps the Civil War’s most terrible month. Dawn Drums begins at this crucial time and its action coincides closely with the sesquicentennial of the events it depicts. Told by the voices of Abraham Lincoln, Clara Barton, Almira Martin, General Grant and a host of other Civil War participants, including a small group of black “contrabands,” Robert Walton’s narrative offers an utterly unique and riveting view of the Civil War’s last year.
The idea of combining real-life characters with fictional ones is brilliant and was superbly accomplished, enabling the author to include information and material that might otherwise have been neglected – important information often lacking in history books. Doing so also personalizes the historical characters, giving the author the opportunity to delve into the personalities and personal lives of these people.
The story, told from the viewpoint of five major characters, is never confusing, as one might think it would be. The author keeps the point-of-view of each character in check, and he masterfully handles the different speaking patterns of each character.
A wonderful quality about this book is the attention to detail that is often, if not always, overlooked in historical books. Walton places two of his female characters in the battlefield hospitals. No one reading of the heinous medical treatment of wounded soldiers will ever think of war, any war, as an opportunity again regardless of how advanced current battlefield emergency care may now be.
Another appealing quality of this novel is that it is entirely suitable for young adult readers. And as a former teacher, Walton knows what he’s doing in this regard. The novel’s historical information is compelling and completely accurate, and the storyline is not only extremely engaging, but also highly educational. Having a novel like this available to supplement a high school history class cannot be recommended enough.
Walton supplies a substantial bibliography which adds to the historical authenticity and credence of the book.
Enough cannot be said about this truly remarkable Civil War novel. Young adult readers and adults alike will find the book riveting, informative, and an eye-opening look at a war too often glossed over.
Dawn Drums will enable readers to clearly understand the appalling war that divided a nation. Despite the Civil War’s horror and savagery, the main characters of this truly gripping historical novel emerge as heroes who, even today, remain inspirational and noble.