James Alexander Thom's Saint Patrick's Battalion is a stirring and evocative work of historical fiction, based on a true story, and vividly reimagining the circumstances under which a band of Irish and German Catholic men defected from the American forces during the Mexican-American war to fight instead for the opposing side. This exquisitely rendered novel tells a sweeping tale of tragedy, loyalty, love, and war.
The relative youth of main characters Paddy Quinn and Augustin Juvero is skillfully emphasized by voice actor William Dufris, whose expressive performance draws out very neatly their uncertainty in this period of complicated allegiances.
It is June 1845, and Paddy Quinn is a camp boy for the American army which, by order of President Polk, is bound for Mexico. A young man with journalistic aspirations, Paddy writes letters for illiterate soldiers and learns that, like him, many are Irish, including the enigmatic John Riley. Riley rattles camp hierarchy when he rails against the brutal treatment of Irish soldiers, but he soon goes further, sneaking away at night to switch sides. Riley is not alone. Fed up with mistreatment and drawn by a Catholic bond, Irish, German, and other soldiers join Mexico. Led by Riley, a corps of Irishman called the San Patricios in English, St. Patrick's Battalion fights for the enemy in the war's major campaigns. But when they are captured, their resolve is tested in the extreme, as are Paddy's loyalties to his country and to the man he most admires.
Alternating between Paddy's account and that of Augustin Juvero, a Mexican soldier, nationally best-selling author James Alexander Thom constructs an enlightening novel about war, duty, and loyalty, and draws intriguing parallels to our current conflict in Iraq. This is his most powerful and relevant novel since Follow the River.
"With its eerie parallels to modern-day warfare, this fine novel makes for gripping listening." (Booklist)
"Not only a striking (and often horrific) account of pre-Civil War army life, Quinn's narrative beautifully conveys the boy's coming of age against a backdrop of eerily familiar war and rebellion." (Publishers Weekly)
When I saw the title, I was excited to hear something about the St. Patrick Battalion that went over to Mexico. Yet, the story is so crudely told (lots of unnecessary details about sex and sex abuse that could easily be indicated in a more mature manner) that I gave up in the first chapter.
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If you only ever read one story of war, it should be this well and uniquely crafted piece of historic fiction. This is the story of a war that the victors would prefer to forget or, failing that, to remember differently. It is written by a soldier-historian from the point of view of both sides. In short, war is hell but one side’s devil can be other guy’s saint. If, after reading this, you do not immediately check Google to determine if any or all of the events or players are accurately portrayed, it can only mean you do not have access to the internet.
1 of 2 people found this review helpful