A powerful new novel about Nathan Bedford Forrest, the most reviled, celebrated, and legendary of Civil War generals. With the same eloquence, dramatic energy, and grasp of history that marked his award-winning fictional trilogy of the Haitian Revolution, Madison Smartt Bell now turns his gaze to America’s Civil War. We see Forrest on and off the battlefield, in less familiar but no less revealing moments of his life; we see him treating his slaves humanely even as he fights to ensure their continued enslavement; we see his knack for keeping his enemy unsettled, his instinct for the unexpected, and his relentless stamina. As Devil's Dream moves back and forth in time, a vivid portrait comes into focus: a rough, fierce man with a life full of contradictions.
After tackling the Haitian slave rebellion in a three-book series, Bell uses a smaller stage to create a captivating portrait of Confederate general Nathan Bedford Forrest. The novel plays effortlessly with time and structure, shuttling between 1845 and 1865 as Forrest marries Mary Ann Montgomery, becomes a guilt-stricken slave trader and, during the Civil War, is targeted for destruction by General Sherman. Despite his aggressive actions on the battlefield, Forrest struggles with the demands of a complicated family: tensions between Mary Ann and Forrest's black mistress take a personal toll, while the rivalry between his sons Willy and Matthew (the illegitimate child of a long-ago affair with a slave) creates distraction. Meanwhile, his addiction to gambling and his attraction to his mistress send Forrest into a contemplation of the forces that control him. Many of the war sequences are delivered via Henri, a Haitian wanderer who joins Forrest's troops and possesses the ability to communicate with the ghosts of those killed in battle. The unconventional structure and supernatural twist expand the narrative into an engaging examination of what it means to be free, a question that haunts Forrest through his life.