cover image Sons of Fire

Sons of Fire

Max McCoy, Author Doubleday Books $15 (179p) ISBN 978-0-385-42030-3

One brother wore blue. One brother wore gray. One brother just ran away. That could serve as the synopsis of this very readable but unoriginal new novel by McCoy ( The Sixth Rider ), which uses the by now hackneyed idea of divided loyalties within families during the U.S. Civil War. In 1860, Kansas is violent and about to explode. Abolitionist Jayhawks raid farms of slaveholders in Missouri to emancipate slaves; pro-slavery gangs retaliate against those who help free the blacks. The Fenn family becomes involved in the era's murky politics and shifting allegiances when they help an injured escaped slave elude his pursuers, though they act out of humanitarian reasons rather than from any conviction against the peculiar institution. When the war begins, Frank joins the Union army and is commissioned, Zachary signs on with the infamous Confederate raider William Quantrill, and Patrick heads for the hills. Their personal struggles and enduring family ties form the emotional core of the novel, but its main interest lies in its portrait of Quantrill, a morose and mercurial figure whose motivations remain obscured in history's shadows. Other historical personages share the stage as well, as Bill Anderson, James Henry Lane and the Younger brothers play roles in this otherwise fictional telling of events in ``Bloody Kansas.'' (Jan.)