Published: March 25, 2014
Genre: Historical Fiction
Source: TLC Book Tours
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.
Why have I never heard of Elizabeth Van Lew before? Chiaverini has chosen quite the woman for this book and, well, I'm now a fan. Here is a plucky, unmarried woman who took on the Confederacy and, frankly, played a measurable role in the Civil War! Chiaverini has done her research and I feel that she truly capture's Van Lew's spirit in this book. She was a woman who knew the danger of her actions, but went ahead and followed her conscious. She is someone I would love to have as a friend, but would be terrified to have as a frenemy. She is part Southern Belle and part steel-cored spy.
Besides the main character, there were many things about this book that I appreciated. Chiaverini does a great job of capturing the ambiance of war-time Richmond. When she describes the oppressive summer air, I could almost feel it--and it made me homesick for my days in Virginia. While not overt, Chiaverini also does something that rarely happens in wartime historical novels--she acknowledges that both good and evil can be found on both sides of the battle lines. Just due to the nature of this book, the sins of the Confederacy are on the display. However, there are mentions not only of the good among the Confederacy, but also the fact that the Union is guilty of some of the same sins as the Confederacy.
While this is a very history-heavy book, it is more novel-like than Chiaverini's Mrs. Lincoln's Dressmaker and, because of that, I found this to book to have a wider appeal. That being said, a reader will have to work through loads of historical details--which can be a positive or negative depending on the reader.
I do heartily recommend this book, but I would probably be a bit careful about who I would recommend this to. If you are a historical fiction fan, this book is for you!
Jennifer Chiaverini is the author of the New York Times bestselling Elm Creek Quilts series, as well as five collections of quilt projects inspired by the novels. A graduate of the University of Notre Dame and the University of Chicago, she lives with her husband and sons in Madison, Wisconsin.
Connect with Jennifer on her website, elmcreek.net, and on Twitter @jchiaverini.
I received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. I received no other compensation for this post.
Monday, April 28th: Tales of a Book Addict
Thursday, May 1st: Literally Jen
Friday, May 2nd: Kritter’s Ramblings
Monday, May 5th: Fiction State of Mind
Tuesday, May 6th: Reading Reality
Wednesday, May 7th: From the TBR Pile
Friday, May 9th: Mom in Love with Fiction
Tuesday, May 13th: Passages to the Past
Wednesday, May 14th: Broken Teepee
Thursday, May 15th: Words for Worms
Friday, May 16th: No More Grumpy Bookseller
Monday, May 19th: Daily Mayo
Tuesday, May 20th: Bookchickdi
Wednesday, May 21st: Peppermint Ph.D.
Thursday, May 22nd: Must Read Faster
Friday, May 23rd: Fiction Addict
Tuesday, May 27th: The Most Happy Reader
Tuesday, May 28th: Books a la Mode – author guest post
Thursday, May 29th: Lit and Life
Thanks to TLC Book Tours, I am able to giveaway one paperback copy of The Spymistress to one of my readers! Please use the Rafflecopter form to enter. This giveaway is open to readers in the US (no PO Boxes) over the age of 18. The giveaway ends at midnight (Pacific time) on May 15th. Good luck!