Publication Date: 10/01/2013
Publisher: Penguin Group
Genre: Historical Fiction
(Received for an honest review from Dutton)
Purchase: Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Book Depository, IndieBound
Jennifer Chiaverini on the WEB: Website, Blog, Twitter, Facebook, Goodreads
Excerpt from The Spymistress, courtesy of the author's website.
New York Times bestselling author Jennifer Chiaverini is back with another enthralling historical novel set during the Civil War era, this time inspired by the life of “a true Union woman as true as steel” who risked everything by caring for Union prisoners of war — and stealing Confederate secrets.
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.
Jennifer Chiaverini has had a highly successful writing career with her Elm Creek Quilts series. Only last year Chiaverini wrote her first historical novel entitled Mrs. Lincoln's Dressmaker, a novel chronicling the friendship between Mary Todd Lincoln and her dressmaker, a former slave, Elizabeth Keckley. Chiaverini now takes on the story of famed Union Spy, Elizabeth Van Lew in her latest book, The Spymistress. Chiaverini's strong sense of time and place is evident in everything she writes and her portrayal of Civil War era, Richmond is exceptional. The historical detail is vivid and brings history to life in a way that would make most authors envious.
Jennifer Chiaverini is one of those authors that has a knack for making the reader feel like they have been transported back in time to a different era. Chiaverini was able to do this so successfully in her book, Mrs. Lincoln's Dressmaker, that the reader got a very distinct and historically accurate portrayal of Civil War Era, Washington D.C. In the Spymistress, Chiaverini once again takes the reader on a historical journey, this time to Civil War Era, Richmond, Virginia. The city is seen through the eyes of main character Elizabeth Van Lew, who has always been a part of the Richmond social elite. The everyday happenings in this secessionist city will captivate the reader and make them see things in a very different way than you might expect. Van Lew may have been a wealthy woman, but she found herself on the wrong side of a deadly conflict.
Lizzie Van Lew was a loyal southern woman, but when Virginia succeeded from the Union, she knew she could not support the southern regime. Most southern women who did not believe in the war, would have kept quiet and held their beliefs close, but not Lizzie. Chiaverini shows readers a woman who was undaunted by the fact that she was taking her life into her own hands. Van Lew quickly started to gather secrets for the Union at her own personal peril. She helped Union soldiers recover from injuries, harboring them in her own home. She organized and carried out rescue missions that helped Union soldiers escape the Confederate Libby Prison and she helped organize and build the Richmond Underground railroad. Chiaverini shows readers a remarkable woman who wanted to serve her country in a very troubled and time in our nations past.
Chiaverini's characterization of Elizabeth Van Lew is somewhat different from what other historians have said about her. Most call her "Crazy Bet", a name Van Lew supposedly got by appearing daft so that she could learn Confederate secrets. Chiaverini does not depict Van Lew in this way at all and believes that history does not support those claims. I liked the fact that Chiaverini stood her ground here and wants to change the perception of this historical character, that takes guts even in today's writing climate. I liked her version of Van Lew and it certainly made a lot more sense that the norm. Van Lew successfully worked through the war with a large ring of spies who sent information to the Union in remarkable and ingenious methods. I think there had to be a lot more to it than playing dumb.
This is a novel that history fans will adore. There is a lot of meat here, but the prose flows so well and reader becomes so entranced by Elizabeth Van Lew's courage and grace, that they forget they are also being educated about a woman who did not receive accolades for her spying abilities until after her death. It is an engrossing novel that will keep readers turning the pages, just to see how Lizzie will manage to get her next spying goal accomplished.
The supporting cast of the novel was also interesting and Chiaverini takes the time to give background on each person involved. The reader will be able to see the scenes play out in their minds eye, almost as though seeing them on a movie screen. Chiaverini's attention to detail is just that in depth. I loved the fact that she left nothing to chance, but describes everything so that the reader can literally see into that era and time period. It's just a wonderful read! I can't recommend it enough to historical fiction fans.
The Spymistress is available NOW from your favorite bookseller.
I'm giving this one 5 out of 5 apples from my book bag!
About the Author:
JENNIFER CHIAVERINI is the author of the New York Times bestselling Elm Creek Quilts series and Mrs. Lincoln’s Dressmaker. A graduate of Notre Dame and the University of Chicago, she lives in Madison, Wisconsin, with her husband and two sons.
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