The Spymistress by Jennifer Chiaverini-a review
ABOUT THE BOOK: Release Date October 1, 2013
Born to slave-holding aristocracy in Richmond, Virginia, and educated by Northern Quakers, Elizabeth Van Lew was a paradox of her time. When her native state seceded in April 1861, Van Lew’s convictions compelled her to defy the new Confederate regime. Pledging her loyalty to the Lincoln White House, her courage would never waver, even as her wartime actions threatened not only her reputation, but also her life.
Van Lew’s skills in gathering military intelligence were unparalleled. She helped to construct the Richmond Underground and orchestrated escapes from the infamous Confederate Libby Prison under the guise of humanitarian aid. Her spy ring’s reach was vast, from clerks in the Confederate War and Navy Departments to the very home of Confederate President Jefferson Davis.
Although Van Lew was inducted posthumously into the Military Intelligence Hall of Fame, the astonishing scope of her achievements has never been widely known. In Chiaverini’s riveting tale of high-stakes espionage, a great heroine of the Civil War finally gets her due.
5 out of 5 for this reader folks!
So if you have read my reviews before, you will know I am a bit of history lover. I am fascinated by the Civil War between the North and the South of America and this book just so happens to be the focal point of a non fictional character that braved the odds, fought for what she believed in and put her life on the line to make whatever difference she could in this war.
The Spymistress by Jennifer Chiaverini is a page turning, compelling historical fiction based on the efforts of real life Elizabeth Van Lew. I enjoyed this read so much, that I actually researched more about this incredible woman. I was pleasantly surprised to find Jennifer write this piece of fiction around facts and true life historical events and kept Elizabeth as precise as she could. I have much respect for an author who can make a piece of real history come to life and make it completely believable! WELL DONE JENNIFER CHIAVERINI!
Ok, let’s get on with the review!
This book opens just as Richmond, Virginia has voted on seceding with the South in 1861. Elizabeth’s family is aristocratic and slave owners but her mother and her have come to believe that is no longer the future. Legally blocked by her father’s will, the Van Lew family are not allowed to free their slaves, but they sure make life bearable by granting them papers to live as free as they can (the slaves have to check in for legal purposes). Absolutely disgusted with the state of Virginia and the people who have flipped in agreement with secession (they realize that nothing but bloodshed and angst will come if war is declared … and they were right), they decide to do what little they can to fight against their own confederate army.
Throughout this novel, Elizabeth (Lizzie) and her band of ladies (my personal nickname for them ..lol) Mary Jane Bowser (her coloured friend who gives up her freedom to serve as a servant and spy in Confederate leader Davis’s home), Eliza Van Lew (Lizzie’s beautiful hearted mother) and Eliza Carrington (a family friend who is as brave as Lizzie) work together as Union sympathizer’s. Realizing they are being watched and potentially cast as traitor’s, these woman take it upon themselves to outwardly show support for the Confederacy while internally they are spying for and supporting the union. They visit underground and aid Northerner’s in escaping, visit prisons and use the guise of being humanitarian to receive and pass on messages that aid the Northerner’s to success and go as far as hiding people in their own home. All of this is done right under the nose of the confederate army and at any time they can be caught and killed for espionage and treason.
Of course there are many other supporting characters and major events on both sides, men and women, North and South, that contribute to all the emotions you will experience while reading this book. So many in fact that I could easily write a four page review. LOL! I will not spoil anything, especially if you are not familiar with this part of history. Know however, that Jennifer Chiaverini writes all her characters with so many complex layers that they become clearly believable. Not many characters are written black and white, but very much shades of grey. You read many internal struggles and I can only imagine how hard it had to be to pick a side you believe in when outside influence greatly affects your way quality of life or even if you will live that life.
An absolutely fantastic book by a wonderful author. I am anticipating reading more of her books that follow this genre. If you are a history buff and/or this era is interesting to you, please have a read of The Spymistress. It most certainly has it all, from mystery, suspense, page turning anticipation, heart, and character.
Copy supplied by Netgalley
Reviewed by Rachel T.