It seems like there’s been a proliferation of novels in recent years that feature women who masqueraded as men so they could fight in a war. Some are better than others, and I will mark Neverhome by Laird Hunt as one of the better efforts.
We first encounter Ash Thompson as a green recruit training to engage in action during the Civil War. Hunt elects not to dwell on the methods Ash uses to disguise herself, and instead focuses on Ash’s personality and strength. We come to see early on that Ash is not a typical 19th century woman, and we learn why as the story progresses. Indeed, Ash and her husband really have, in many ways, flipped their roles…but it works.
Ash distinguishes herself early on in battle, and in sharpshooting. She also earns the nickname “Gallant Ash” when she gives up her own coat to cover the nakedness of a woman cheering on the regiment as it passes by. As the story progresses, though, we come to understand that Ash is not a saint, but despite all the horrible things that happen to her, she remains steadfast and true to herself.
Hunt’s writing is evocative and skillful, and his character development is spot on. His ability to tell this story of the “woman in disguise” and make it interesting, readable, and, ultimately, heart-wrenching places him at the top of his field. An author who can take me all the way through a book and lull me into thinking I know how it’s going to end, then punch me in the gut and tell me I was wrong is an author I will watch. Laird Hunt is one of those authors. Recommended.