Helms, E Michael. Of Blood and Brothers:Book One. Koehler. 2013.
Helms, E. Michael. Of Blood and Brothers: Book Two. Koehler. Mar. 2014.
This superbly enjoyable historical fiction features a simple and quite skilfully written story centered on family, the Civil War, and lost love. In 1927 Northern Florida, rookie reporter Calvin Hogue stumbles upon the two elderly Malburn brothers, who fought on opposite sides of the Civil War. It’s easy to get the two talking, but not together. Daniel, the older brother, and Elijah don’t speak to each other, but each tells Hogue his life’s story over the course of many meetings that the reporter dutifully transcribes into a weekly newspaper series. The two ended up on opposite sides inadvertently when young Elijah was captured and forced to work for the North as a scout. He eventually, and reluctantly, led a raid on his home valley of Econfina. The books chronicle seven intense years, from battles in Georgia to Reconstruction in Florida. The genuine, homespun voices Helms uses for the brothers (e.g., “Laying there under that hot sun I soon got powerful thirsty”) work perfectly as they potently recount harrowing battlefield experiences (e.g., “A yell went up like the bowels of Hell had busted open and ten thousand screaming demons was set loose”) and tell of sadnesses—including both falling for the same girl. The chronicle continues into the 1870s after Daniel returns home on foot from a Northern POW camp and Elijah is branded by some as a traitor. The young, excitable Hogue is also a well-drawn character; he coughs through sips of offered moonshine and obsesses about honoring the two brothers with the “whole story.” Helms’s steady intensity and pace keep the three narratives on track with little frittering away of precious pages. Both books are quick and pleasurable reads. VERDICT Helms’s (Proud Bastards) fiction carries the ring of truth.
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