Son Holland and Hugh Allison escape together from a prison in Louisiana in an opportunistic and unplanned series of events that includes killing a prison guard. With Son struggling to recover from a gunshot wound, they flee into Texas, where the Mexican army is skirmishing with General Sam Houston’s troops, and various Indian tribes make up a plurality of fighting factions. It’s a lawless land, whose chaos does help Son and Hugh stay lost, but the brother of the murdered prison guard is on their trail. The older, more experienced Hugh (a friend of James Bowie) acts as a big-brother figure to the younger Son, who’s had his share of violence and hard times but retains some innocence and some righteous virtue, both for better and for worse. The two pick up an Indian woman, Sana, along the way, who will turn out to be an ally.
Son and Hugh decide to join Houston’s army as a defense against being recaptured and thrown in prison. Even if the tortures of their earlier incarceration weren’t unbearable enough, a return would mean certain slow, painful death. They catch up with Houston and spend several fateful months in the General’s camp, and are there during the battle at the Alamo, as well as Houston’s final defeat of Santa Ana’s Mexican army at San Jacinto.
My little paperback copy of this novel does not include any notes from Burke to tell me how much of this story is fiction. I surmise that Son and Hugh are entirely fictional characters. Certainly, the battles at the Alamo and San Jacinto are a part of history, as are the many big names Burke drops: Houston, Austin, Fannin, Milam, Bowie, Crockett, and more. But I think the story of these two men is Burke’s creation.
I enjoyed this quick read. At only 148 pages, it took me about a day in my free moments. It offers Burke’s usual fine descriptive writing, and I thought both of the main characters were well drawn: they had personality; they felt real; I was invested in their personal outcomes. The battle scenes and the rough edges on the soldiers, Houston’s ragtag troops, and the outlaw character of Texas at the time were all visceral and (in my embarrassingly limited knowledge) true to history.
An easy read with poignant characters and a good, readable (if cursory) history of the Texas Revolution, in Burke’s usual fine writing style.
[If you're concerned: there is some blood-and-guts in the battle scenes, to be sure (how could there not be?) but it's fairly conservative.]