By John Jakes - Hardback - 885 pages - ISBN 0151544964
Part II of Jakes' Civil War trilogy--following the pre-war years (North and South, 1982) with over 1000 pages to cover the Hazard and Main families from 1861 to 1865. As before, the plantation-owning Mains of South Carolina do the bulk of the suffering here. Orry Main will at last marry star-crossed love Madeline--but after her octoroon secret is revealed (thanks to doomed monster-villain Elkanah Bent), Orry is ostracized by his Confederacy colleagues in Richmond. . . and will die ingloriously, shot by a scurvy Yankee prisoner. Orry's young cousin Charles excels as a scout (he recoils from officer-dom), falls in love with feisty farm-widow Augusta, but is hopelessly torn between Love and War--with heartbreak (Gus' death in secret childbirth) ahead. As for Orry's evil sister Ashton, she's filthier than ever--cuckolding her husband, profiting from profiteering, conspiring to assassinate Jefferson Davis. (The scheme is foiled by Orry.) And shipbuilder-brother Cooper Main, unhinged by the drowning death of his little son, becomes a bloodthirsty fanatic for a while--but settles down in time to take over the Mains' demolished plantation at war's end. Meanwhile, things are slightly less tragic for the iron-monger Hazards of Pennsylvania. George, beloved friend of Orry Main since West Point days, reluctantly takes his ordnance skills to Washington--where governmental corruption (including that of slimy brother Stanley) revolts him. Young brother Billy fights under mcclellan (whose leadership he doubts), sees ""horror beyond believing"" at Antietam, becomes a tortured POW, and is rescued by his beloved old pal Charles Main. Plain sister Virgilia Hazard, an abolitionist caricature (complete with lust for black males), goes into nursing under Dorothea Dix, allows a Southern prisoner to bleed to death, then becomes the mistress of an ambitious, married congressman. Billy's wife Brett, née Main, lives up north through the war, learning to respect blacks--but eventually insists on returning to the Main plantation. And so it goes--with everything ultimately set up for Part III. . . wherein the Mains are sure to suffer mightily under Reconstruction (thanks in part, no doubt, to vengeful Virgilia). Contrived, coincidence-ridden melodrama? Absolutely. Stiff dialogue, corny clichés, stereotypes and over-simplifications? To be sure. But Jakes is energetic and unpretentious in keeping his dozen plot-lines going simultaneously; his historical backgrounds and famous cameos are unromanticized, sometimes refreshingly offbeat (military railroads, War Dept. feuds); the dollops of sex and soap are kept reasonably tasteful. So those who waded through North and South certainly won't be disappointed by this hectic panorama--even if it has neither the character-pizazz of GWTW nor the rich authenticity of more serious Civil War fiction.