Cold Mountain is narrated in the third-person past tense by a skilled wordsmith who is acutely sympathetic to the goal of the protagonists, Inman and Ada, to be reunited on Cold Mountain. The narrator follows their day-to-day activities--the one trekking through forests and flatlands, avoiding contact with hostile Home Guards and meeting a variety of characters, sympathetic and not and the other learning to survive on a farm after being raised a perfect gentlewoman who is also privy to their inner thoughts.
The novel is filled with rich with detail about rural mountain life in the era of the American Civil War. Frazier makes the landscape come alive as Inman treks through forests, lowlands, foothills, and mountains to return to the land of his birth and his heart's longing. Frazier also shows the world of farming through the eyes of Ada, a transplanted city girl wishing to learn about nature, and Ruby, at 25 a hardened mountaineer. Indian lore and Protestant mysticism both contribute to the picture of a world removed from the fighting but touched by its violence.