The Spymistress by Jennifer Chiaverini

The Spymistress

Elizabeth Van Lew is horrified when Virginia secedes from the U.S.  Refusing to stand by and do nothing, she risks censure to provide aid to Union prisoners. This leads to providing information vital to the war. The question is whether this untrained spy mistress has enough intelligence, instinct and resources to survive…

Elizabeth “Lizzie” Van Lew is not portrayed as perfect which makes her feel real to the reader. She is brave, but at times too outspoken which puts her into danger. She is compassionate: giving aid to prisoners, mourning the human cost of war for both sides and helping those around her such as the wife of a servant. Sometimes, though, her compassion is overcome by loyalty for the Union resulting in reluctance to aid Confederates needing assistance. She is fervently loyal to the Union, but this at times limits her to seeing that the Union is not perfect. Her good traits and imperfections make her real and this makes the reader want to see how her story will end. Other characters also draw the reader into the story: tenderhearted but brave Eliza Carrington, daring Erastus Ross and Elizabeth’s wise mother. Chiaverini does a good job creating a suspenseful but informative plot which pulls the reader back into the Civil War. For instance, the reader learns of the flow of the Civil War to and away from Richmond. They wonder with Lizzie if Union forces will take the city and what will happen next. The Spymistress paints a harrowing picture of Richmond during the Civil War: fierce confidence transforming into worry as people died, food became scarce and false alarms turned into real battle. The Spymistress is a possibility for readers looking for a portrayal of Elizabeth Van Lew, female protagonists and/or a story of the South during the Civil War.

Want other reads like The Spymistress?

Only Call Us Faithful: A Novel of the Union Underground by Marie Jakober presents another portrayal of Elizabeth Van Lew.

The Widow of the South is another Civil War story featuring strong female protagonist Carrie McGavock. Carrie McGavock is horrified by the carnage of the Battle of Franklin and turns her plantation into a cemetery to honor the dead…

Books such as Elizabeth R. Varon’s Southern Lady, Yankee Lady: The True Story of Elizabeth Van Lew provide more information about the protagonist of The Spymistress.


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