William R. Forstchen, . . Forge, $21.95 (192pp) ISBN 978-0-7653-0114-7

What could have been a moving tale of a man's progress from slave to free man to battle-scarred veteran of the Union Army is here reduced to a pedestrian ramble through the Civil War. Samuel Washburn, a slave who grows up on a Kentucky plantation, loses both of his parents by the time he is 12 years old. In the early stages of the war, his master is killed in battle, leaving the master's cruel son Ben—no more than a boy himself—in charge. Sam and his cousin Jim assault Ben in self-defense; believing him dead, they take flight and, with a bounty on their heads, eventually make it to Indiana. They volunteer for a Negro regiment being formed to join the Army of the Potomac in Grant's campaign against Petersburg, Va. Sam's personal narrative builds to the disastrous Battle of the Crater, where conflicts of command not only thwarted a plan that could have ended the war months earlier than it did, but also orchestrated the wholesale slaughter of Federal troops as orders and strategies were countermanded and confused at the last moment. The book, by the author of the Lost Regiment series, is exceedingly well researched; however, Sam's character is unconvincing in vernacular and circumstance. The role of Negro troops in the Civil War is still a subject not fully explored, but the novel descends into a highly idealized and exceedingly narrow history of the intrepid heroics and courage of the men who served and sacrificed themselves for the Union cause. (Dec.)

Forecast:This title is better suited to young readers and should sell well to libraries. Advertising is planned in the Civil War Book Review, but hardcore genre buffs will not be impressed.