”Daughter of a Daughter of A Queen,” by Sarah Bird, St. Martin’s Press, 2018, $27.99

Cathy Williams was a true American heroine that you’ve probably never heard of. She was the first woman to serve as a soldier in the peacetime Army. Sarah Bird heard two cowboys talking about this woman who served in the Buffalo Soldiers masquerading as a man. She figured it was a tall tale, but Bird’s research helped her to make Cathy human and plausible.

Though born a slave on a tobacco farm in Missouri, Cathy Williams was never allowed to consider herself a slave. Her mother insisted she was a captive of noble birth with warrior blood. She became fearless, in this heartbreaking account by Sarah Bird.

Gen. Phillip Sheridan took the rawboned woman into service as a cook, but at war’s end she made the decision to refashion herself as a man. She adopted a clever name, William Cathay, and joined the Buffalo Soldiers. She was determined to search for her mother and little sister.

Now she finds herself alone in a man’s world, fighting for freedom, respect, and independence. Sarah Bird brings this woman to life in this fast-paced action packed tale. Her bravado is energized by her love for a Yankee soldier, Wager Swayre. This is an actual American heroine that Sarah Bird brings to life, a tale about one woman’s fight for first independence, then respect and freedom.

The novel’s first few sentences reveal the spirit of the story. “The first thing you need to know about Miss Cathy Williams: I am the daughter of a daughter of a queen and my Mama never let me forget it. That’s right. Royal blood runs, real African blood. Not that tea water queens over in England have to make do with.”

Some question whether a white author can become African-American and tell the story of a black person in first person. Bird says she hopes her writing will be judged by its words. She thinks her novel will give all young women a picture of courage, an example of a female warrior. This novel is a carefully researched reminder of a forgotten part of women’s history, lost for far too long. Publishers Weekly gave the historical novel a starred review, calling Cathy Williams an American warrior.

JoAn Watson Martin is an educator.

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