Description (from cover):
‘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 know. In Chiaverini’s riveting tale of high-stakes espionage, a great heroine of the Civil War finally gets her due.’
This book was truly riveting and rich in historical detail. I normally tended to not read Chiaverini’s books before, but this is the second one that I have read and I have to say that she has a rich voice in the historical fiction genre. This book features the life of Elizabeth Van Lew and her actions during the Civil War in Richmond, Virginia. Elizabeth is a staunch Unionist and when Virginia secedes from the nation to join the Confederacy she is devastated that the state that she loves so much could join a cause that she detests to the bottom of her heart. She passionately believes in the rights of slaves and is determined to do all that she can to help further the Union cause in a world surrounded by people who oppose everything that she believes in.
Elizabeth decides that she will help the Union prisoners of war who are being housed in prisons in Richmond. No one understands why she would want to help the enemy and she faces being shunned by friends she has known all of her life. Not to mention, she has to avoid being named a spy or traitor to the Confederate army which is all around her. Elizabeth is determined to do the right thing at no matter what the cost. Soon she has built up a network of Unionist believers who help slaves and Union prisoners. Soon friends and family come under suspicion and Elizabeth must use her wits to help those around her survive the treacherous turmoil of war.
I really enjoyed reading this book. I thought that the plot was powerful and wrought with suspense. I was always concerned for Elizabeth’s safety and how things would turn out. I found it even more interesting to learn that Elizabeth Van Lew was a real person and really did the things that the author describes in this book. I think that this was a wonderfully written book about a woman who help shape the course of the Civil War.
Overall Rating: 4.5
Title: The Spymistress
Author: Jennifer Chiaverini
Publication Date: October 1, 2013
Genre: Historical Fiction
Get It: Amazon; Barnes & Noble
Disclaimer: This book was given to me by the publisher, through Netgalley, in exchange for my honest review. I reviewed this book without compensation of any kind. All thoughts and opinions are solely mine.
One thought on “Review: The Spymistress by Jennifer Chiaverini”
You would like the non-fiction book Liar, Soldier, Temptress, Spy. It tells the real story of Elizabeth Van Lew and other women who risked their lives for both sides during the Civil War. I already knew the story before I read this book so I found it mostly slow going. I really liked Dear Ellen Bee :A Civil War Scrapbook of Two Union Spies, but the research is not as great as more current scholarship. There are also books about Mary Jane. I also recommend The Runaway Quilt by Jennifer Chiaverini.