Finally, I’m getting to my review of Songs of the Shenandoah Michael K. Reynolds. This was my first book for the 2014 Empty Shelf Challenge. Though I’ve not read the previous books in this series, I really enjoyed getting to know the Hanley family siblings in this one.
Songs of the Shenandoah (B&H Books) is a sweeping saga of family, forgiveness, and triumph set against the backdrop of the Civil War. The third and final novel in the “Heirs of Ireland” series, it follows the Hanley family siblings as they are involved in various efforts on both sides of the war. Immigrants from Ireland a little over 10 years earlier during the infamous Irish Potato Famine, at the start of the novel the Hanley siblings are spread throughout the United States in different vocational pursuits. The main characters are siblings Clare, Seamus, and Davin, while Caitlyn Hanley, another sister, is a supporting character.
Eldest sibling Clare, now married to Andrew Royce, is a reporter for her husband’s inherited New York Daily newspaper. The mother figure of the family, she feels responsible for her brothers and sister even now, having brought them from Ireland. As Clare witnesses battles firsthand as a journalist, the dangers of the war become credible threats for her and her family.
Seamus Hanley is a discouraged preacher recently returned from ministering in the Sierra Mountains during the California Gold Rush. He travels to New York City with his wife and daughter, Ashlyn and Grace, to reunite with his siblings before assuming ownership of Ashlyn’s family plantation in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia. He hopes to avoid any renewal of his Pastoral calling, believing that he has failed to fulfill his mission in the gold fields. His reluctance does not matter, however, as he is faced with a dilemma and must choose to serve as a chaplain to the Confederate army. Seamus struggles with finding his calling and maintaining his place in serving the south, no matter his personal feelings about war politics. On top of his other struggles, his decisions as a young, inexperienced soldier years earlier in the Mexican-American War still haunt him and have potential unforeseen consequences.
Youngest sibling Davin Hanley became very rich in the California Gold Rush and is recently returned to New York City. Through a series of misguided and unwise relationships, Davin finds his only reasonable option is to join the war efforts. He fights for the Union army in an Irish battalion. Brash decisions of his past concerning the treatment of his brother Seamus haunt him and cause him to question his worth and past decisions. In the turmoil of war, a beguiling nurse, Muriel McMahon, challenges Davin’s heart and his character in ways he cannot anticipate.
Reynolds successfully tells a story spread over several years’ time, without making the reader feel overwhelmed. The story is blended seamlessly through years of war and struggles. It moves swiftly and concisely while explaining key battles and scenes essential to the storyline with great detail.
The perspectives of different war participants offer depth to the story. The novel delves into the trials and triumphs of Irish regiments in the Union army, as well as immigrants in the Confederate army. The reader experiences the war through the eyes of a chaplain, private, news reporter, and nurse. With the various viewpoints explored, the reader sees that both sides of the conflict are seeking the will of God. The perspectives of each character evolve through the course of the novel, emphasizing things that truly matter, such as family, forgiveness, and redemption.
Thank you to the publisher for providing a complimentary copy of the novel in exchange for my honest review.