December 22, 2013

Reviewing "The Spymistress"

    "The Spymistress" by Jennifer Chiaverini is a very well researched historical novel based on the life of civil war heroine Elizabeth Van Lew. Even though she was born to a wealthy slave holding family in Richmond, Virginia,  "Lizzie" held very strong Union sympathies and dedicated herself to caring for Union prisoners of war during the Civil War.  She also gathered military intelligence, helped construct the Richmond Underground and aided prisoners escaping from the Confederate Libby Prison.
     I was drawn into the book right away and found the first half of the book to be very interesting and enthralling.  Lizzie took many risks to help the prisoners, including risking her own life. There was also a lot of drama taking place in the Van Lew household as the family struggled to hide their Union patriotism while staying true to their beliefs.   About halfway through the book I started to feel bogged down with details.  Chiaverini obviously did a huge amount of research in preparation for this book and it is apparent in the extreme attention to detail. While the first half of the book felt like a novel, a some point in the middle, I started feeling like I was reading a history book. I would have enjoyed more character development in place of the involved explanations of the battles and prison scenes.  That said, if you are a history buff, this book would probably be right up your alley. And if I was a history student, I would have definitely chosen to read a book like this over (or to supplement) a typical history book.   I would recommend this book for readers who enjoy highly detailed historical fiction and Civil War fiction based on real events and characters.

Disclaimer: I received this book for free from Dutton books in exchange for an honest review.

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