By J. D. R. Hawkins
On Christmas Eve, 1862 David Summers and his family learn of the terrible news of his father’s death, presumably at the hands of Yankee soldiers, at the battle of Fredericksburg a week earlier. The following spring, on a mission of revenge having waited until his eighteenth birthday, David enlists in the Confederate Cavalry with his best friend Jake Kimball. Together they set off on a trek that will lead them from their northern Alabama homes to Virginia where they join J.E.B. Stuart’s Cavalry.
Once in the cavalry, and having seen the elephant at Chancellorsville, and Brandy Station, the chivalric nobility of war has lost its luster and David’s lust for revenge begins to wane. He has suffered a personal loss, and discovers that war is a brutal and bloody business, full of pain and suffering, as he sees those around him cut down, one after another, in the heat of battle.
“A Beckoning Hellfire,” is the first published novel of author J. D. R. Hawkins. Though there is much to like about her novel, but it has its problems as well. Sadly, Ms. Hawkins novel lacks originality, in both its structure and its content. She tells her story in a linear narration, and her plot is very predictable. Before their departure, Jake’s fiancé, Callie Mae Copeland, pulls David aside to tell him if Jake dies that she will marry him. David and Jake both take their own horses to the Confederate Cavalry, David’s, and Indian pony mix named Renegade, and Jake’s a nag named Ole Stella. Putting these two pieces of information together early on in her novel, Ms. Hawkins reveals too much of her plot to her readers too soon. There is little surprise for Ms. Hawkins’ readers when Jake’s horse dies of exhaustion, forcing him to join the Confederate Infantry and Jake’s own death in turn at Chancellorsville. Ms. Hawkins also relies a bit too heavily on the tried and true of Civil War fiction, case in point, when Jake and David enlist in the Cavalry, Jake’s father instructs him to put a piece of paper with the number eighteen written on it in his shoe so that when the recruiting officer asks him if he is over 18 he can honestly state yes. Scenes like this appear in many Civil War novels and movies (nearly this exact scene takes place in the 80’s television miniseries “The Blue and the Gray”).
Having said that, Ms. Hawkins does a very good job of developing David’s character arc; transforming his revenge driven exuberance to kill a few Yankees into the suffering and pain of seeing death and destruction all around him. Ms. Hawkins also does an exemplary job with her battle scenes, though brief, they are very well done, and she pulls no punches when it comes to showing her readers the blood and gore of a Civil War battlefield.
On the final page, after David, having received what seems to be a mortal wound at Gettysburg, alone and bleeding in a barn, came my biggest disappointment when I read the words: “To be continued…” For “A Beckoning Hellfire” is not a complete novel, but rather a half, or a third of one, as Ms. Hawkins has published on her blog, she has already written two sequels. As I anxiously await the continuation of David Summer’s story, I can’t help but wish it could have been told between the covers of a single volume.
ISBN 978-0-595-43531-9, iUniverse, © 2007, Paperback, 196 pages, $14.95