Saint Patrick's Battalion

James Alexander Thom, Author . Ballantine $24.95 (279p) ISBN 978-0-345-44556-8

In June of 1845, a group of immigrant Americans—called the San Patricio's, or St. Patrick's, Battalion—deserted Gen. Zachary Taylor's army and fought on the opposite side in the Mexican-American war, under the leadership of the elusive, charismatic James Riley. Thom (Panther in the Sky ) has taken this forgotten incident from an almost forgotten war and turned it into a stirring tale that does everything that smart historical fiction ought to do: illuminating the past while throwing new light on the present. The story of this motley band of mostly Irish and German Catholics, driven to rebellion by the endemic racism and capricious cruelty of their officers, is told from two points of view. Augustin Juvero, a Mexican soldier speaking years later, provides essential context, but most of the novel is taken up by the journal (complete with vivid pencil drawings) of Paddy Quinn, a camp boy. Guerillas, gangs of rancheros that kill Americans on sight, torture, border disputation—all are portrayed with brutal and unsentimental simplicity in Quinn's voice. Not only a striking (and often horrific) account of pre–Civil War army life, Quinn's narrative beautifully conveys the boy's coming of age against a backdrop of eerily familiar war and rebellion. (Aug.)

Reviewed on: 06/19/2006
Release date: 08/01/2006
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