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A Sinister Splendor: A Mexican War Novel    by Mike Blakely order for
Sinister Splendor
by Mike Blakely
Order:  USA  Can
Forge, 2019 (2019)
Hardcover, e-Book
* * *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

If you enjoy military historical fiction, then you will appreciate Mike Blakely's A Sinister Splendor. First of a series, it delves into the Mexican-American War, that erupted in 1845 after Texas joined the Union. The novel moves back and forth among a large cast of characters, to tell the story from a fascinating variety of points of view. In an introduction, Blakely tells us that 'the Mexican War served as a training ground for many future generals of the Civil War.'

Soon after the novel opens, newly elected President James K. Polk (with expansionist ambitions) sends troops, led by 'Old Rough and Ready' Zachary Taylor, to the Texas border. Readers meet him 'on the verge of an all-out war with a foreign nation possessed of an army superior in numbers and experience to his own.' As the war progresses, readers follow the exploits of many in his train.

Twenty-four year old Second Lieutenant Ulysses 'Sam' Grant gets engaged to be married before the war starts. He had 'never intended to become a soldier' and hopes for a quick resolution to the conflict. Texas Ranger Samuel Walker volunteers to head an elite spy company of Texas mounted rifles, that proves very effective in tracking enemy movements and as a cavalry. Feisty army laundress/cook Sarah Bowman keeps up spirits, helps the wounded, and even fires a gun when necessary. Colonel Jefferson Davis plays a strong role.

Irish patriot John Riley, once a gunnery officer, enlisted in the army to fight the British, but ends up facing fellow Catholics. He and his fellow immigrant soldiers are undervalued and cruelly mistreated. Hundreds eventually join the Mexicans, and Riley commands a company of Irishmen. Infamous Mexican General Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna fools Polk into helping him return from exile to Mexico, regains power, and heads his army.

Readers follow these characters, and quite a few others, through many battles (described in credible, often horrific detail), some well executed, while others are outright blunders. This book ends after the surrender of Monterrey and before the invasion of Veracruz, with Sam Grant still dreaming of peace, home and his fiancée. Despite the number of characters being at times confusing, A Sinister Splendor is well worth the read, as it spotlights a little known corner of U.S. history.

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