HALL WAYS REVIEW: The structure and premise of Ghostly Bugles, written by San Antonio author Max L. Knight, are compelling. Readers are introduced to the main character, identified only as “the old man,” and are then immersed and held captive in his thoughts.
“The Alamo was and always would be personal for him.”
The old man has admittedly been fascinated with the Alamo since he was a young boy and has never lost interest, so his vast knowledge is believable and for this Texan, even enviable. Via the old man’s ruminations, we get not only a factual history of the site and restoration of the Alamo, but also a nostalgic history of San Antonio and its bygone days. However, it’s by way of the old man’s dreams that readers are transported into the stories of the people on either side of the walls of the Alamo.
“He intimately sensed the presence of the souls of the deceased; he envisioned the circumstances under which they lived and died, even felt their pain at the moment of their demise. Rather than dispel these ghosts, he reached out to them.”
With the old man’s visions sometimes having him “soaring over” events, the story is able to be told from an omniscient point of view. The chapters alternate between the here & now of the old man’s observations and the then & there of the days leading up to, through, and after the Battle of the Alamo. It’s established early on that whatever’s unfolding on the pages is known to the old man, be it from his book knowledge or from the voices of the dead. But there’s also a layer of added information that goes beyond the characters’ experiences. In Ghostly Bugles, it’s Knight’s next-level attention to detail that engrosses, fascinates, and chills the reader.
I have never professed to be a student of history, and even as a Texan, I only recall the big picture of the Alamo and minimal details learned in school, so many years ago. Reading Ghostly Bugles is eye-opening because it shares not only the stories of the Texians, but also of the Tejanos and Mexicans who fought. One of the things Knight does well is to provide a wider lens, and he puts the battle in a context I hadn’t thought of before: the soldiers of the Mexican Army were fighting for their homeland and trying to put down an insurrection within. *Texan mind blown by the obvious*
“It was cruel psychological warfare.”
The level of detail in Ghostly Bugles is mind-boggling, which is a nod to the author’s research and clear expertise in the subject of soldiering. Specifics of munitions are provided down to the finest detail, but so are the horrible consequences of the trek to the battle lines, living in unhealthy conditions, and of course, the gruesome deaths. To Knight’s credit: he doesn’t glamorize a thing, nor does he downplay the flaws of the leaders on both sides. Travis and Bowie are slave owners; David Crockett struggles with his alter-ego, Davy; Santa Anna is a sexual predator.
Once again, Max Knight educates and entertains his readers through historical fiction, and leaves us with much to consider, not only from the story pages but from his Afterword and even acknowledgments (thank you). Ghostly Bugles feels thoroughly authentic, and I’m glad I read it.