4 out of 4 stars
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“Here, in the dread tribunal of last resort, valor contended against valor. Here brave men struggled and died for the right as God gave them to see the right.” -Adlai E. Stevenson
Decker Brown travels back home to Richmond, Virginia intending to start a new business with his father. He had spent two years learning about rocketry from his uncle in Boston. Now reunited with his sweetheart, Paula, Decker's goals not only include a new enterprise but also asking her father for her hand in marriage. Unfortunately, the timing is not right. The American Civil War starts, and Virginians clamor to enlist with the army to defend their “peculiar institution.” Not a believer in slavery but still a Son of the South, a war begins within Decker on where his loyalties lie. Having to pick a side, he makes a choice and learns how cruel war really can be. No one comes out unscathed.
Brian Kaufman’s Dread Tribunal of Last Resort is historical fiction like none other. Not shying away from darker themes, Kaufman touches upon every aspect of the war that could affect a person and their surrounding environment. The book shows the harsh realities of combat, doctors cutting off limbs for a lack of better treatment, and people rioting over a war that carried on far too long. Decker’s struggle with killing men who were once his countrymen was moving and deeply saddening. Kaufman also expresses through his characters how racism and slavery come in many forms. Some may have wanted freedom for African Americans but showed contempt for other ethnicities. Women had their own bondage as well with the social restrictions of that era. Quite unique also, is the use of new technology and how it plays out in the Civil War. Decker’s fascination with rocketry helped bring to the forefront how science was progressing during this time.
All the characters were well drawn out. As the main character, Decker was the most complicated. Hailed as a genius one moment, and then later seen as a madman. My opinion ran all over the place on what to think of him throughout the story. He was a flawed man who made some flawed choices. This is what I think makes his character great. He was not perfect.
This book covers before and after the Civil War. With that broad of a period, the author does a great job of keeping the pace steady. There are a lot of twists and turns to the plot that will keep you guessing. I will admit, I was hoping for a different ending. This is not a complaint from me though. Life sometimes does not turn out the way we want it to, and we need to make the best of it. Decker’s life exemplifies that.
My history-nerd self was most excited about how the author fuses history and fiction together. I saw renown men from the past show up in the story like President Lincoln and General Lee. Something I never thought about before until reading this book was how the economy was affected postwar. A sudden surge of ex-slaves looking for work caused a shortage of jobs for everyone. I love it when a book teaches me new things.
I have nothing but love for this book. I only found a few grammatical errors in it, and it looked professionally edited. I give Dread Tribunal of Last Resort 4 out of 4 stars. Anyone who loves historical fiction would want to read this one. My only cautionary note would be (aside from the darker subjects aforementioned) that there are mild profanity and violence throughout.
Dread Tribunal of Last Resort
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