Born into southern aristocracy yet loyal to Lincoln, Elizabeth Van Lew had an innate skill for gathering military intelligence during the Civil War. Her covert spy ring was vast and her methods ingenious, but what did it ultimately cost her? Meticulously researched, Chiaverini's historical novel reveals Elizabeth's riveting story---of espionage, danger, and bravery! 368 pages, hardcover from Dutton.
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First: I especially appreciated Jennifer Chiaverini's writing style, a style that fits the period in history when her characters lived. When you read old letters and journals and books from former times, you find a certain articulate reservation to their thoughts and speech, which is preserved here in the prose of this novel. When I find a historical fiction author whose writing fits the time she's writing about, I cheer. It shows that they have immersed themselves in research, so that you can immerse yourself in story.
Reading The Spymistress lets you feel like you're living right in the turmoil of Richmond with Lizzie and her family.
And what a family it is! There are enough different characters, each seeing the world through their own eyes, that the reader is allowed to experience the war through multiple nuanced perspectives.
A few of those perspectives include:
Mary Jane, the young woman whose incredible intelligence and near-photographic memory is ignored because her skin is a beautiful coffee color. Mary Jane is like a younger sister to Lizzie.
John, Lizzie's brother. Union loyal but wed to Mary, who supports the Confederacy. The tension is palpable as John tries to aid the sister he loves and at the same time live out his vows to the woman who stands for everything they're striving against.
And Lizzie herself. Our protagonist is a woman who all girls should be introduced to. Lizzie fears...but she pushes herself on through the fear, living the true definition of courage. She knows that she does not act in her own strength, but in God's through Christ. She is a person like the rest of us, who finds pockets of love and happiness even in the middle of great struggle. She mourns the love she lost years before that left her a spinster, but her heart is open and giving, and her family means the world to her. She is indeed a heroine who we can admire and learn from.
This is a novel of suspense, of espionage, of war. This is first of all a novel of humanity. Human love and loyalty, human choices and human emotion shine from these pages.
Whoever professed that history is boring needs to meet Jennifer Chiaverini and The Spymistress.