This is, as the subtitle indicates a novel of the Civil War in Virginia. The title of it makes a clever reference at what a complicated set of ethical and moral choices that the Civil War presented to those whose tragic misfortune was to be caught in the middle of it. This was not the sort of Civil War of popular fiction like “Gone With the Wind”; faultless Southern chivalry against conniving and brutal Yankee machinations, or conversely the stainless moral crusade against the brutal practice of chattel slavery. If it were all that simple, that uncomplicated a set of choices, then there would not have been so many states, so many families and so many individuals torn apart.

Robert E. Lee was short-listed for command of the Union Army at the beginning of the war, Mary Todd Lincoln had brothers fighting with the Confederacy, West Point classmates faced each other on the battlefield… and so did brothers. Shades of Gray postulates that a pair of lovers did also, in the form of Captain Alex Hunter, dashing commander of Confederate irregular cavalry, and Miss Andrea Evans, an equally daring courier and spy for the Union.

There are any number of classical elements encompassed herein: the constant Beatrice-and-Benedict contest of wills and words, Jane Austinish parlor contests of wit over the teacups, alternated with very real and bloody skirmishes and a bittersweet ending. More Shakespearean is the convention of the woman disguised as a boy. Andrea wears mens’ clothes for her courier errands, when she first attracts the initially professional interest and enmity of Captain Hunter. Fate puts her into his control as a paroled prisoner in her female guise – and there matters take the expected course. Tediously, they seem to spend a good chunk of the book at cross purposes after a rather contrived misunderstanding. And it is rather a talky novel and at better than 500 pages, a pretty substantial read.

As a reader, I would have better liked to have known more of Andrea’s imprisonment in Libby Prison and more about her adventures as a spy, rather than her parlor sparring with Alex Hunter., But still, those conversations illuminate the various issues, the range of opinions sincerely held about them by honest men and women, and something of the sense of honor and duty that led them to take completely opposite sides.

Shades of Gray is available at the publisher, Patriot Press, and through Barnes and Noble, and Amazon.

Sgt. Mom is a free-lance writer and member of the Independent Authors Guild who lives in San Antonio and blogs at The Daily Brief. Her current book “To Truckee’s Trail” is available here, and her upcoming “Adelsverein Trilogy” will be available in December, 2008. More about her books is at her website www.celiahayes.com

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