Copperhead by Bernard Cornwell is the second book in the 4-book series referred to as the Starbuck Chronicles, the first being Rebel. The series is set during the American Civil War and follows the story of Nate (Nathaniel) Starbuck, a plucky young man born to be a soldier, who is a Northerner fighting for the Confederacy. The series vividly depicts the era and its characters, as well as providing a surprisingly nuanced exploration of the issues and ideologies that drove the conflict.

Nate, son of a prominent abolitionist preacher in Boston, is forced to join the Confederate army after being falsely accused of theft and finding himself in dire straits. In the first book Nate quickly learned that the war is not what he thought it would be, and he struggled to reconcile his beliefs with the reality of the conflict. In this second book we find him desperate to re-join the Southerners and fight for the rebellion against the Yankees.

As the war rages on, Nate finds himself embroiled in various battles including the Battle of Bull Run and the Siege of Richmond. Along the way, he meets a cast of colourful characters, both Union and Confederate, and navigates the complex politics and alliances of the era. The relationship between his brother, his friend Adam and the masters of espionage spreading false rumours, to either shorten or prolong the war, are the most enjoyable parts of the story. The actual battle sequences are not as powerful as in the first book and after being rather ‘battle weary’ after the Sharpe books it was difficult for me to be emotionally invested in the outcomes.

It was fun to see a notable easter egg for Sharpe fans in Copperhead in the form of a French cavalry officer sent to observe the civil war. Patrick Lassan begins the story as an observer in the Northern army but crosses the lines with Nate Starbuck (who was across the battleline as a spy) and rides with the Confederates. Lassan is described as tall and dark haired with a scarred face and an eye patch. As he describes his lineage, we learn that he is Richard Sharpe’s son and he even carries his father’s heavy cavalry sword!

Image by Kim Shaftner from Pixabay