Published by William Morrow on April 14, 2020
Source: the publisher
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The critically acclaimed, bestselling author of News of the World and Enemy Women returns to Texas in this atmospheric story, set at the end of the Civil War, about an itinerant fiddle player, a ragtag band of musicians with whom he travels trying to make a living, and the charming young Irish lass who steals his heart.
In March 1865, the long and bitter War between the States is winding down. Till now, twenty-three-year-old Simon Boudlin has evaded military duty thanks to his slight stature, youthful appearance, and utter lack of compunction about bending the truth. But following a barroom brawl in Victoria, Texas, Simon finds himself conscripted, however belatedly, into the Confederate Army. Luckily his talent with a fiddle gets him a comparatively easy position in a regimental band.
Weeks later, on the eve of the Confederate surrender, Simon and his bandmates are called to play for officers and their families from both sides of the conflict. There the quick-thinking, audacious fiddler can’t help but notice the lovely Doris Mary Dillon, an indentured girl from Ireland, who is governess to a Union colonel’s daughter.
After the surrender, Simon and Doris go their separate ways. He will travel around Texas seeking fame and fortune as a musician. She must accompany the colonel’s family to finish her three years of service. But Simon cannot forget the fair Irish maiden, and vows that someday he will find her again.
Incandescent in its beauty, told in Paulette Jiles’s trademark spare yet lilting style, Simon the Fiddler is a captivating, bittersweet tale of the chances a devoted man will take, and the lengths he will go to fulfill his heart’s yearning.
I received this book for free from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.
Simon is a musician, traveling around playing his fiddle for anyone that will listen. The Civil War has been going on for years now and he has managed to avoid being forced to fight for either side because of his youthful look and his ability to lie and run. All of that changes when, at the very end of the Civil War, he is caught and made to join the Confederacy. He fights during the last land battle of the war, way down in South Texas. Simon ends up getting put in jail after the war ends because fights a Union soldier that has stolen all of his belongings, including his beloved fiddle.
Simon has two big goals in life: to buy some land and to find a good wife. It is while he is playing music for a Union officer’s party that he finds THE GIRL: Doris Dillon. She is beautiful and Irish, and she has stolen his heart. The thing is, she is indentured to Officer Webb, bound by agreement to work for him for three years. Simon has decided to wait for her and during this time, he travels around Texas with some of the other members of the Regimental Band he played with during the war. He plans to keep saving up his money so he can buy that land and he can live happily ever after, with Doris.
I completely nerded out while I read Simon the Fiddler. I still am, actually. If you read and loved Mrs. Jiles’ last book, News of the World, you may remember that Simon was one of the characters in that story. Not one of the main characters, but his role was very important. Well THIS story focuses on Simon as the center of the story and actually takes place a few years before News of the World. So we essentially get to see how Simon got to the place he was when we met him first.
For a book-lover, this is one of the best things ever!! It’s like two worlds collide, except both stories occur in the same place: Texas in the 1800’s, after the Civil War, when the United States flag once again flew over Texas. There is a general post-war “uncivilized” feel to the place. The countryside is hot and overrun with bandits and thieves, the terrain war torn in some places. It is across this Texas that Captain Kidd journeyed to bring Johanna home in News of the World, and it is across this same Texas that Simon and the rest of his band play their songs for money. Money to be saved so Simon could buy his land.
The thing that I loved most about this story is the post-war feel to it. Ms. Jiles is super-good at setting the scene, and while I was reading Simon the Fiddler, I felt almost a little bit off-balanced here and there. What I mean is that there is confusion in the entire area about how things should be now that the war is over. Life hasn’t quite gone back to the way things were before the war started, and some places still don’t have accurate, up-to-date news. I love that I could read and put myself in this place, just imagine how uncertain that may have been for people. Back before the time of the internet and news that comes in-real-time. I remember feeling this with News of the World too, but this story takes place earlier, in the immediate time after the war, so I think that confused feeling was slightly more pronounced and accurate.
I also love the setting. LOVE IT. The story feels hot and sweaty and sandy. It feels lawless. It feels like saloons and pubs, like wagons and horses. It feels like old, worn-out war uniforms all over the place because those were the clothes that many people had. It feels like most of the country is still trying to figure out what to do to make life go back to normal.
The story is plenty different, though. While Captain Kidd and Johanna met up and joined for travels early in News of the World, in this story it takes a good while for Simon to meet up with the lovely Doris. Life is not easy for either of them and there is patience required. Simon still travels around (loved that!) but it felt like his travels were a little bit slower because it takes him a while to connect with Doris. This story actually feels a little bit slower all around, probably because saving money takes a while. I’m not entirely sure that Simon’s story punched me in the heart the way Captain Kidd and Johanna did, but that would have been difficult for him to do. An older, rugged man and a young orphaned, kidnapped girl together was bound to pull at my heart. It is for this reason that it isn’t exactly fair to Simon to compare his story to that of Captain Kidd and Johanna (like I’m clearly doing here).
But, listen, I loved this. I loved it so much. I can’t wait for my husband to read it next, because we have shared Paulette Jiles’ books in the past. You certainly do not have to have read the previous book before this one, but it made me infinitely happier and more excited to find out that I knew Simon already.