I don’t normally post reviews in this blog, but this isn’t really a review. I acquired a galley of A Soldier’s Secret by Marissa Moss because I have a longtime fascination with crossdressing characters in fiction, particularly women who dressed as men – I’ve created more than one crossdressing character. But I also love to read about the real women who could, and did, do the same throughout history, risking a lot more than their reputations if their real sex was discovered.
Here’s the blurb on the book:
Historical fiction at its best, this novel by bestselling author Marissa Moss tells the story of Sarah Emma Edmonds, who masqueraded as a man named Frank Thompson during the Civil War. Among her many adventures, she was a nurse on the battlefield and a spy for the Union Army, and was captured by (and escaped from) the Confederates. The novel is narrated by Sarah, offering readers an in-depth look not only at the Civil War but also at her journey to self-discovery as she grapples with living a lie and falling in love with one of her fellow soldiers.
The story is fictionalized somewhat, but seems to be based as much as possible on what historical information is available about Edmonds. Edmonds is the first-person narrator, and her story begins with herself as a child, essentially being treated as a son by her abusive father, at least until he sees potential profit in selling her into marriage. She then flees her home in Canada and, after holding a few different jobs, enlists in the Union Army during the early stages of the American Civil War.
What I particularly enjoyed was how Moss addressed the various difficulties that Edmonds would have faced, and how she might have felt about them. Many romantic adventure stories with crossdressing heroines skim over those aspects; it was good to see the emotional power that such exploration can have in the course of a story.
I know it’s illegal to masquerade as a man. The law condemns it as “an infringement on the Rights and Privileges of the lords of creation.” In plain English, men hold a natural position of superiority and women should stay in their place. I may have been breaking the law, but I’ve never felt more right about anything. I’m as capable as any man and deserve the same respect and liberty. Since they aren’t granted to me as a woman, then I’ll take them as a man. I’ve tasted freedom and I’m not giving it up. Why should I? Isn’t this what Pa had said I could do all my life–fish and hunt and ride as hard as any man?
…living in close quarters with thousands of men, I’ve put myself in a position where I can easily be found out. What if I get shot in a battle and a doctor tears open my shirt? What if I slip one day, talking to Jerome, and say something that gives me away? It’s odd for me, this comfort and closeness, this kind of sharing. I’ve never had a friend like Jerome, and it scares me that I’m not as vigilant with him as I should be. I worry that he can tell I’m hiding something. The more time we spend together, the more troubled each of us grows, for our own different reasons.
Jerome doesn’t know what it is, he can’t put his finger on it, but I can tell he thinks there’s something odd about me. We’ll be thick in a conversation when suddenly he’ll hesitate, stare at me strangely, then continue in a faltering way until he relaxes into our friendship again. It makes me newly wary and I put on my best manly show, spitting and grunting, scratching at my crotch the way Damon constantly does. He can’t possibly suspect a woman of such behavior. The cruder I am, the safer I feel.
I really liked the way Moss thought through a lot of the potential issues, and I think this book would be a good resource for romance writers who are thinking of creating a classic crossdressing heroine.