Book Review: The Sands of Pride


by William R Trotter

Plume 2003. 768 pages . Dimensions (in inches): 1.61 x 8.42 x 5.50 . $10.50 . ISBN:0452284422

The Sands of Pride is a Civil War novel set on the North Carolina coast. Although North Carolina was a secondary theater in the Civil War, it was still important to the Confederate war effort. The fighting there was on a smaller scale than the huge battles in Virginia and Tennessee, but it was at times desperate, and produced its share of dramatic moments. William R Trotter uses this unusual setting to tell an epic tale that follows a large cast of historical and fictional characters through the first three years of the war.

Trotter is no stranger to military history. He is the author of A Frozen Hell, a history of the Russo-Finnish War, and a three volume history of the Civil War in North Carolina. He knows his subject well, and it shows. Trotter gives us a detailed and convincing portrayal of life in Wilmington, the port city near the mouth of the Cape Fear river where much of the book takes place. The Sands of Pride takes the reader up and down the North Carolina coast, as well as to Virginia, Nassau, and even Britain, but Wilmington is the real center of the action, and especially Fort Fisher, the massive Confederate fort that guarded the entrance to the Cape Fear.

It’s tempting to say that Trotter has written the first ever Civil War technothriller. At times The Sands of Pride feels a bit like Red Storm Rising fought with steam ships and black powder. Like a technothriller it has many characters, and takes a good deal of time to set up all of its various plots and subplots. Like a technothriller, it weaves a good deal of factual information about the weapons involved into its battle scenes. Trotter can take the reader inside a coastal fort or a blockade runner the way Tom Clancy can take him inside an Abrams tank or a fast attack sub. At times there is a lot of exposition on the performance of various types of coastal and naval guns, and the problems of ironclad construction, much as a technothriller might spend time on the performance of fighter planes and cruise missiles. The Sands of Pride features land and sea battles, duels between warships and coastal forts, daring raids, blockade running, guerilla warfare, and spy missions. It’s big, it’s fun, and with some judicious editing it would make an enjoyable miniseries.

Trotter takes a few liberties with the historical facts, and says so in the book’s acknowledgments. Some of the place names are fictional, and other details have been changed as well. These changes were, as Trotter puts it, “intended to bring alive the spirit of the times and the people who lived through them.” Trotter’s inventions are mostly minor, and are within the license allowed to historical novelists.

This book has a virtual army of characters. A helpful list at the start of the book tells which are fictional and which are not. A historical novelist may sometimes find that historical figures are so much larger than life that any author’s invention will pale by comparison. In fact, the most interesting characters in The Sands of Pride are all historical figures , and Trotter gives us believable characterizations of them. The two best characters in the book are Lieutenant William Cushing, a daring Union Navy officer who led a number of near suicidal commando operations, and Augustus Hobart-Hampden, a Royal Navy officer and spy for the Crown turned blockade runner. Neither man would be believed as fictional characters. Cushing’s exploits may be worthy of a movie themselves. Other historical characters in The Sands of Pride include Union Generals Ben Butler and Ambrose Burnside, Confederate General Chase Whiting, and Confederate Colonel William Lamb, the ingenious architect and commander of Fort Fisher.

With so much going on, the Sands of Pride is a long book, and even at 754 pages Trotter only gets us to mid-1863. A second installment, The Fires of Pride, is scheduled for release in November. For some inexplicable reason, the publisher does not make this clear an

Reviewer: Burke G Sheppard   

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