Black Cloud Rising

David Wright Faladé. Grove, $27 (304p) ISBN 978-0-8021-5919-9

The story of the African Brigade, a unit of Black freedmen who fought for the Union during the Civil War, gets its due in this superior adult debut from Faladé (after the YA novel Away Running). The brigade’s efforts to hunt down Confederate guerrillas in North Carolina in the fall of 1863 are conveyed by Richard Etheridge, a historical figure who was born into slavery on Roanoke Island and fathered by his master, and whose white half-sister taught him to read and write. That upbringing left him with some ambivalence after he was freed; having enlisted in the Union Army “to help destroy” the Confederacy and its dehumanizing culture, Etheridge still retains some fond memories of the time before his liberation. As the brigade prepares for military action in hostile terrain, Etheridge flashes back to his past and to his time with Fanny Aydlett, the love interest he left behind to join the fight. Those recollections alternate with taut combat sequences as the unit struggles to pacify the area. Etheridge is made a fascinating figure, well suited to serve as the focal point for Faladé’s exploration of the complexities of Etheridge and his comrades’s rapid shift from powerlessness to armed military duty. Engrossing and complex, this will have readers riveted. (Feb.)