‘I shall be near to you’ by Erin Lindsay McCabe

I shall be near to you

★★★★

Yesterday, I came back to my flat from uni., sat down on the sofa and opened this book for the first time. I did not leave that sofa for the next five hours, not until I had finished this tender, immersive story. After I had finished, I was so heartsick that I had to pour myself a glass of wine. I am not good with sad endings, okay!

McCabe has written an intelligent and well-researched story about one of the many women who served as soldiers during the American civil war.  I shall be near you follows Rosetta Edwards, who enlists in the Yankee army to fight beside her husband Jeremiah. When her husband leaves for the war, she decides dress as a boy and enlist as Ross Stone (yeah, the Rosetta stone) so that she can stay near to him. Jeremiah is not happy about his wife’s sudden appearance at all; he cannot keep her safe from being killed in action or imprisoned for going against regiment regulations. But Rosetta is stubborn and stays. During her childhood in rural New York, Rosetta was always bullied for her tomboy-ways. She preferred fishing with the boys and working on the farm to gossiping with other girls and learning to embroider. So, she is not afraid of living in a man’s world. Rosetta trains with the other men and soon enters battle with them. I thought she was awesome! But Rosetta is no superwoman; she is often afraid, and she does not always make the right decisions. However, she is determined to do her duty, keep her husband safe and use her and his pay to buy that farm they have always dreamed of.

 I shall be near to you depicts the horror and confusion of battle (including the stink of rotting bodies and infected wounds) but also contains a great love story. Jeremiah and Rosetta have great chemistry and I could easily believe that these are two people have known and trusted each other for a long time. I was cheering for them throughout the story and I think any others who read this book will as well. However, their relationship is not perfect, and the couple spend a lot of the book being angry at each other. And they both have good reasons for wanting to tear the eyes out of the other: Rosetta is angry (rightfully, in my opinion) that Jeremiah goes of to war without really taking her opinion into account, and Jeremiah is furious with Rosetta for putting herself and her company in danger by enlisting (apparently, women in the army faced not only the risk of death in battle but also prison if their identities were discovered).

McCabe has filled her story with details of the practicalities of army life. What was cooking, getting water, hygiene (or lack thereof), keeping warm and passing time like in an army camp? Rosetta shows us. I have read several books in which a woman turns soldier and I always had one burning question when reading them: What do those women do when they are menstruating? I mean it is one thing hide that you pee sitting down and quite another to clean crimson rags after use without anyone noticing. Talking about periods often makes people uncomfortable, but is that a reason for leaving it out of a book altogether? No, it is a bloody(!) huge plot hole in my opinion. I love that McCabe addresses such issues as periods and birth control, of course a woman would have to deal with that stuff as well as learning to load a rifle.

I only really have one criticism: McCabe hints about the ending all through the book, which annoyed me a bit because it spoiled the ending for me a bit. But still, it is one of the best historical romances I have read this autumn.

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