Hell on Earth
Apart from developing a deep and abiding passion for all things speculative in my mid teens, another thing that I developed a deep interest in was History. To me, it wasn’t just about past events but all the different layers, intricacies and dynamics that went into influencing and shaping those events. Whether that was from a social, economic, political and cultural or a personal perspective, History just sparked my interest in whole range of different topics and subjects. As much as I enjoyed reading about history when it came to reading historical fiction my interest fizzled out. It just felt superfluous to read about fictitious characters and events set against the backdrop of history when there was already a surfeit of richly detailed and interesting stories waiting to be told.
Take for example Camp Sumter, or as it became known, “Andersonville”, a Confederate prisoner camp located in Georgia during the American Civil War.
Overcrowded with squalid and unsanitary conditions disease, brutality, starvation and death were constant companions for the tens of thousands of Union soldiers imprisoned there throughout 1864 -1865. If ever there was a distillation of how monstrous humanity can be in times of war, it was this place. A forerunner of things to come in the early twentieth century, Camp Sumter was the true definition of horror. To create a novel that weaves elements of demonology, religion, sorcery and Old World horrors into the fabric of reality without demeaning it takes a rare set of skills. And that is precisely what is on display with Edward M. Erdelac in his novel Andersonville.
At the centre of the story is Barclay Lourdes, a free black man on a secret mission to investigate alleged war crimes being committed by Confederate soldiers in the aforementioned camp under the leadership of the enigmatic and mysterious Colonel Wirz. As Lourdes discovers, the mistreatment of prisoners of war is but a piece of a far more disturbing and intricate puzzle that will have repercussions far beyond the perimeter of the camp. From the word go, the overriding atmosphere is tense, grim and uneasy. This is no small part due to Erdelac’s skill at painting a vivid picture of the brutal and squalid reality faced by the thousands of prisoners crammed into the confines of the stockade. Where having something as simple as boots can be the difference between life and death, compassion is an illusion and violence is king. Andersonville is a seething, primal and raw existence for the inmates and the personification of man’s evil
A sense of perpetual menace and a brooding and tense atmosphere permeates the first two thirds of the book as Lourdes infiltrates the camp and its hierarchy in an attempt to understand just what in the hell is going on. The overwhelming brutality, casual racism and violence of the place dominates proceedings as Lourdes encounters a variety of compelling characters in his quest to discover why the death rate is so high within camp. The focus on the brutal reality of the camp diverts your attention away from the fact that there is something far more insidious and sinister at play. Erdelac subtly weaves in clues that the real evil is lurking just out of reach and over the course of the novel layers these dark elements until they erupt into a maelstrom of sorcery and old world horror that makes reality look tame by comparison.
So should you have a read? Well if history, intrigue, espionage, voodoo, sorcery, religion, demons and magic don’t float your boat then this is probably not going to tickle your fancy. If however those words have got you mildly interested then what you have in Andersonville is a richly detailed, atmospheric and grim slice of alternate history storytelling. As the saying goes, the devil really is in the details…
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