Of Blood and Brothers is a captivating story of a family torn apart by the Civil War, a war that truly forced friend against friend, father against son and brother against brother. Initially mysterious and increasingly emotional, Of Blood and Brothers will immediately lure you in with the promise of exploring deeply conflicted family relationships and revealing the unfortunate circumstances that nearly tore a family asunder. This story never lets you down. E. Michael Helms, a combat veteran himself, beautifully scripts the story of the Malburn family and successfully evokes all of the pain and heartache you would expect to feel under such distressing circumstances.
This particular journey follows the lives of brothers Daniel and Elijah Malburn, beloved brothers who fought as enemies during one of America’s most trying times. Their story is uncovered when, in 1927, a young reporter named Calvin Hogue is assigned to cover the Malburn family reunion. Is there that the depth and heartache of the Malburn family history is revealed. After interviewing Daniel and Elijah, Hogue learns that Elijah became a prisoner of the Union army after he was captured while working in the salt mines. After his capture Elijah, facing imprisonment, reluctantly agrees to work as a Union scout and lead a raid on his hometown of Econfina Valley. It was a crushing yet inevitable decision. Elijah’s turmoil and guilt over his decision is portrayed perfectly by Helms and the reader connects with Elijah’s conflict on a deeply emotional level.
All aspects of this book are deeply emotional, historically accurate and southern without being cliché or offensive. Helms knowledge of the Civil War and the impact of war on the emotional and mental health of veterans is genuine and heartfelt. The details of the war are realistic without being overly dramatic. The emotional toll the war takes on both Daniel and Elijah is agonizing yet factual and honest. The brothers are broken men, not just by the Civil War but also by personal trials, betrayal and the mutual love of a beautiful woman. It appears as though these brothers are simply destined to oppose each other in battle in all things whether it be for country, for pride or for love.
It is challenging to pick a side in this war of brothers. Daniel and Elijah are well-developed characters both with admirable qualities and tragic flaws. They each have lived the life they were forced to live given the circumstances, regret mistakes made before, during and after the war and are quite complex despite their simple southern nature. Each brother seeks redemption and reconciliation but a tragic past stands in their way and continues to divide the family even after the war has ended. Can the past be overcome? It’s a question that lives on well beyond Book One of this southern historical novel.
A deeply complex story full of anguish, ambition and the desire for atonement, Of Blood and Brothers is a book worth reading. It is a remarkable journey through one of the most challenging times in America’s history. It is the story of a family divided by secrets and tragedy who are desperately seeking to be reunited. If Book One is any indication this is going to be a must-read series.
Review by Ashley LaMarClosed the Cover