by E. Michael Helms
To say this is the second in a series is a little bit of a stretch. It is, however, the second half of a single novel. Helms frequently refers back to events from his first book with no exposition of those events. A reader not having read the first book would not pick up on these queues nor understand their inferences. Consequently, “Of Blood and Brothers: Book Two” is merely a continuation of the original story and not a stand-alone book.
That aside I thoroughly enjoyed catching up with the stories of the Malburn brothers. Daniel, fighting on for the Confederates and Elijah fighting with the Union Army during the Civil War, their reunion and the fiery aftermath of the early stages of reconstruction in the South.
The war is not the only thing dividing the Malburn brothers. The love of a woman also pits Daniel and Elijah against each other in a love triangle. We already know that Elijah is the brother who won Annabelle “Annie” Gainer’s hand in marriage, now we find out how that happened and what the fallout from that event was. Needless to say the Malburn’s reunion at the war’s conclusion does not bring forth only tears of joy but tears of anguish as well.
Calvin Hogue, the newspaper reporter who brings the saga of the Malburn brothers to the readers of his uncle’s newspaper, is noticeably absent during most of this book. His interactions with the brothers and other members of the extended Malburn family were part of the driving narrative of the first book in this series. In this second installment he only appears in the beginning of the book, to restart the story, and at the end of the book, asking what became of the rest of the family.
Taken together, the two parts of “Of Blood and Brothers” is a great retelling of the Civil War, from both sides (though Eli is not a willing volunteer for the Union Army) and shows the horrors of battle and its aftermath, as well as life in the Northern Confederate Prison Camps. In an interesting twist to the Civil War Fiction genre, Helms demonstrates that the conditions in Northern Prison Camps was just as bad as those in the South, such as Andersonville and Libby, which are overly portrayed in Civil War fiction.
Helms’ writes in a smooth, easily read style, and the story of the Malburn brothers is a compelling page turner. I just wish it had been published as one book instead of being split into two, as each is weaker without its other half.
ISBN 978-1938467509, Koehler Books, © 2014, Paperback, 274 pages, $17.95. To purchase click HERE.