Faith in Fiction Friday: The Spymistress

December 27, 2013 Book Review, reviews 2

Faith in Fiction Friday: The SpymistressThe Spymistress by Jennifer Chiaverini
Published by Dutton on October, 2013
Genres: Fiction, Historical
Pages: 368
Source: complimentary review copy
AmazonBarnes & Noble

… [for] my loyalty am I now to be branded as a spy—by my own country, for which I was willing to lay down my life? Is that honorable or honest? God knows.

Elizabeth Van Lew, 43-year old society woman of Richmond, Virginia and staunch supporter of the abolishment of slavery became known as the most valuable spy for Union General Ulysses S. Grant during The Civil War.  The Spymistress takes the historical figure of Van Lew and humanizes her fall from Richmond society while becoming a renowned spy for the Union Army.

Elizabeth Van Lew  known as Ulysses S. Grant greatest source for Richmond during The Civil War.

Elizabeth Van Lew known as Ulysses S. Grant greatest spy for Richmond during The Civil War.

Elizabeth, along with her mother and several trusted friends, petitioned Officers in the Confederate Army for permission to nurse the Union soldiers confined to an old tobacco factory in Richmond.  While all of Richmond’s society ladies were nursing the Confederate soldiers, Elizabeth pursued assistance for the Union soldiers.  Van Lew and her consortium would nurse the sick in the extremely overcrowded prison along with taking food and books to help the prisoners cope.  Elizabeth appealed to the Christian conscience of the Confederate Officers in order to provide the much-needed food, blankets and nursing care to the Union soldier prisoners.  Using her family fortune in order to nurse, feed, and sometimes even shelter prisoners of the Union Army, Elizabeth seemingly fell into spying.  But she took to it like a pro!

The Spymistress recounts Elizabeth’s dedication to the Union Army, her passionate belief in freedom for slaves and slowly reveals how one woman could make all the difference in the world ~ even when women could not vote, their property was owned by their father/husband/etc., and women were believed to be too delicate & stupid to have an original thought.

I thoroughly enjoyed reading this fictional account about such a strong woman in history.  At times the story would drag a bit and seemingly be more of “and this happened, and then this. . .then this.”  Kind of like telling the reader rather than showing the reader.  I wanted to be fully invested in Elizabeth’s campaign, but I just couldn’t make that connection. She had a quiet passion for her mission and seemed to be a spit-fire when advocating for rights for prisoners and for slaves ~ but it was kind of like reading a history book rather than an adventure.  I still enjoyed The Spymistress ~ probably because I knew it was based on the true story of Elizabeth Van Lew and it revealed the difference one person, one woman can make in the world. . . .

Recommended for those who enjoyed Mrs. Lincoln’s Dressmaker, The  House Girl, or The Aviator’s Wife.


Faith in Fiction Friday is a feature at The Novel Life highlighting and discussing those novels with a faith element ~ anything from flat-up Christian fiction, to a Pulitzer Prize literary novel, or a suspense/thriller with a compassionate character.  I invite you to join FiFF!  FiFF is open to anyone who has a review or discussion to share of a novel with a faith element.  Simply grab the button and leave a link to your post in the comments.  Join me in delving deep!

2 Responses to “Faith in Fiction Friday: The Spymistress”

    • Stacy

      oh Sarah do let me know what y’all think! As I was reading all about Van Lew both in the book and online I was contemplating how far women have come in not that long of a time period. Yes, 150 years is a long time but for women’s rights. . .it’s really just a millisecond. Would love to hear what your mom’s book club has to say about it!
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