Alternate history stories have long been a favorite of mine. When I first saw “Andersonville” by Edward M. Erdelac, the novel promised an alternate history of the Civil War with a horror twist so I was immediately interested in the novel. I started the book with the hope that it would provide a fresh take on the Civil War as well as an intriguing horror novel that would entertain and scare.
Camp Sumter, Georgia, had become hell on Earth in 1864. As a Confederate prison for Union soldiers, no one would expect it to be comfortable accommodations but no one outside of the prison knew just how bad it really was. With cruelty and death lurking in every shadow, the prisons could only hope that they would someday be able to leave alive. Some found the place terrifying enough to attempt escape in spite of the promise of a painful death when, not if, caught. In spite of all of this, one man had purposefully sought out the prison, called Andersonville, and did everything he could to become an inmate. Some may call him crazy. Barclay Lourdes, however, had a mission to complete and a secret to hide from everyone around him. It was this secret that may not only win the war but also save the entire world.
Lourdes is not prepared for the conditions that he finds himself thrust into when he reaches Andersonville. The head of the prison, Captain Wirz, rules the camp with an iron fist and his particular brand of cruelty is enforced by the brutal Sergeant Turner. Inside the camp, a group of thugs called “The Raiders” terrorizes the prisoners and takes anything that it wants. Lourdes finds that the camp is particularly cruel to a black prisoner like himself and that his life is in constant danger. But there is something much bigger going on at Andersonville. That is what Lourdes is there to uncover and to stop from spreading even if it costs him his life.
I was a little surprised when I started “Andersonville” as the book opens almost as a straightforward historical fiction novel. There were hints that there was something brewing in the background but the story focused on Lourdes and the trials that he faced in getting to and surviving in the prison. The events of the novel were horrific but due to the cruelty of the shallow-minded men rather than normal horror themes. This is not to say that I did not enjoy the novel but just that it did not take the route that I was expecting it to take and that was a pleasant surprise. Erdelac takes time to develop the story and set the stage for the events that are to follow and this makes the characters and the setting much stronger than they would have otherwise been.
The supernatural and more standard horror themes do come into the story as it progresses but Erdelac still keeps these on a relatively quiet scale and focuses more on the human aspects of the story. This is one of the strengths of the story. While there is something much more at play than just the survival of prisoners in the hellish Andersonville and even the Civil War, the novel is at heart a story of one man’s triumph in the face of everything. It is a very human story that has a beating heart throughout and had a strong impact on me. This story had an emotional impact on me and that is something that is not all that common. I really cared about what happened to Lourdes and could cheer and grieve along with him. “Andersonville” may not have been the book that I thought it would be when I started, but it became more than I had hoped for. I would highly recommend this book for fans of alternate history fiction novels as well as for fans of quiet horror. The book is a little off of the beaten path but well worth the journey for those who give it a chance.
I would like to thank Random House Hydra and NetGalley for this advance review copy. “Andersonville” is scheduled to be released in August.