Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Read for fun: Killer Angels

My dad loves this book and he knew that I liked reading about history so he gave it to me. This is a novel about the American Civil War, specifically the Battle of Gettysburg. As I understand it, Mr.Shaara used primary sources, such as Longstreet's journal, to reconstruct events. I will examine plot, characters and polish and then assign a grade.


The book is structured by rotating between the Union and Confederate armies chapter by chapter as the three days of the battle unfold. This means that there is no single protagonist. Instead, Longstreet and Chamberlain form deuteragonists with other chapters provided by other characters such as Lee and a spy. This means that both sides have their chance to say their piece which naturally provides more holistic information than either side alone could provide.

The narration is on no one's side. I find that professional and also impressive. This is not a historical textbook built on facts and figures. This is a historical novel built on emotions and motivations. Mr. Shaara makes everyone sympathetic, and if not sympathetic, then at least understandable from where they stand.

There's one guy in the story itself who plans to write a book about the battle and General Lee's tactics and he is blatantly in favor for the Confederacy. I find that a funny contrast with the character's own author.

Much of the action in the book is dialogue. There are two or more people talking before and after the various battles. This is because a lot goes into battles and not just strategy meetings or rousing speeches, but I was nonetheless surprised.

Another impressive thing is how Mr.Shaara sets up the battle. Looking backwards, it's difficult not to think of the Battle of Gettysburg as a Union victory, and a smashing one at that. However, Mr.Shaara's work on the context of the battle makes it seem unlikely if not impossible, and the three days of battle are touch-and-go. "Fix your bayonets and charge" is an awesome moment.


There is a large cast of characters here. The two that get the most focus are James Longstreet, a Confederate general, and Joshua Chamberlain, a Union Colonel.

Longstreet is portrayed by Mr.Saara as an Only Sane Man. He repeatedly tries to tell Lee and others about wiser tactics and strategy but is either ignored or denied. This leads to him lamenting the old school chivalry of the Confederate army and unknowingly predicting the outcome of Pickett's charge.

Chamberlain sounds like an Action Survivor. In contrast the professional soldiers around, he's less experienced and not so much in the soldier culture. However, as a college professor and master of language, he gives a great speech. Me and Dad consider his defense of Little Round Top to be the highlight of the story.

One thing that surprised me was Lee's depiction. Mr. Shaara writes him as this fragile old guy; both physically due to illness and also emotionally. Longstreet hesitates to argue or contradict him at times, like he's this glass idol. Also, he has a heavy reliance on army morale even when the enemy holds a superior position. Perhaps it is due to the narrow scope of the book but I do no understand why Lee is so highly regarded. I'll look it up some where else.


It's a clipped tone; the narration often has short and brief sentences. I took this to be Shaara representing the thought pattern of what ever view point character he was using at the moment. It's definitely an emotional tone, be it somber, incredulous, hopeful or despairing.

There's a number of maps spread out through the story. They're helpful for visualizing the progress and movements of the two forces. Although it was sometimes hard to match who was with whom; maybe it was just me.

Trickster Eric Novels gives Killer Angels a B+

Click here for the previous book review (also not a review request): Heaven is for Real

Click here for the next book review (for fun): Arrogance - Rescuing America from the Media Elite.html

Brian Wilkerson is a independent novelist, freelance book reviewer, and writing advice blogger. He studied at the University of Minnesota and came away with bachelor degrees in English Literature and History (Classical Mediterranean Period concentration).

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