THE SPY LOVER is a legendary and enlightening Civil War story with important historical implications for minority soldiers. The book focuses on an era when immigrants and American natives of different backgrounds endured unthinkable expressions of violence and racism, many being forcefully conscripted to serve in the Confederate Army and held in prison camps while they fought for the cause of slavery. At its core, this powerful love story is also a serious historical and an important tribute to the many under-recognized minorities who served as “nameless” soldiers.
The tale spans the 10-year period from 1862 to 1872, and is based upon a good half-decade of exhaustive research. The focal points here are the various camps and battlegrounds where thousands of men and boys perished. Those who survived ceased to be human. The content is true to life: violent and uncensored. War scenes are frequent, penetrating, ominous and ferocious. This is a picture of a lost humanity and a nation at a turning point.
"It is a tender love story that arouses emotion but is far more true-to-life and significant than any ordinary romance.... This amazing book details a clear injustice that centers on a key point in American history. I recommend THE SPY LOVER freely as one of the best war stories I’ve ever encountered."
Interspersed are thoughtful moments of peaceful reflection and expressions of simple beauty, and a quiet love that stirs the heart. As a whole, the book is pure, genuine and emotive. Kiana Davenport is simply ingenious in the way she writes and tells her story --- based on two of her ancestors who fought on opposite sides of the war. Her design of plot and characters showcases key Civil War experiences and landmarks.
The male interest here is Warren Petticomb, a young Southern man serving in the cavalry, an honorable, kind fellow if not for the fact that he fights for “the losing side.” Warren believes in honor and homeland, and, like his cohorts, is enraged by the North’s invasion. He intends to get back to fighting with the cavalry unit as soon as is humanly possible, despite losing a limb. He is brave and upholds his own principles, but hasn’t considered the greater implications of slavery. His grievous wound tests his will to live while he recuperates in a dirty hospital camp, contending with endless infections, exposure, malnutrition, starvation, tainted food supplies, hopelessness and daily deaths.
While the Confederate army lives in a state of misery, the few available nurses attempt to keep wounded soldiers alive. Despair drives many to madness. Warren is lucky to be carefully attended by a skilled nurse with whom he quickly falls in love. Era happens to be of mixed heritage, and he finds her beguiling, quiet and beautiful --- the daughter of a Chinese immigrant and Creek Indian native, which she discloses and he accepts without question. But Warren is unaware that her place in the war is as a spy for the Union.
Era’s love for Warren forces her to question her loyalties and decide whether her daily betrayals could ever be excused on principle alone. Torn between her love for a Southerner and dedication to her father and her people, Era nonetheless believes the Union cause is the only cause she can support. She toils through the long war, torn while nursing her lover back to health and gathering useful information for the North, trying not to think about how it might hurt Warren. Meanwhile, she searches for news of her father, Johnny Tom, a quick-witted, charming Chinaman who had been taken by the Confederate armies as a slave, conscripted to fight while being held in a prison camp where many of his friends perished. Having escaped, Johnny Tom now fights for the North and wonders what has happened to his wife and daughter.
THE SPY LOVER features incredible imagery focusing on a nation in its most formative years and includes some amazing and disturbing scenery. The book spans the geography of much of America and is quite the read. It is a tender love story that arouses emotion but is far more true-to-life and significant than any ordinary romance. The statements made here and the writing make it a piercing, glorious and unsettling novel that you are unlikely to ever forget.
Kiana Davenport is an award-winning author who has created an unforgettable picture of a brutal war. Near the close is a disturbing account of the Battle of Gettysburg, detailed microscopically and ending in a battlefield bathed in blood and limbs. Thousands of starving Confederate troops fought barefoot and desperate there, ending in the known aftermath of General Lee’s retreat and the 17-mile-long wagon train carrying away the wounded and dying. Many of the soldiers were only boys. This amazing book details a clear injustice that centers on a key point in American history. I recommend THE SPY LOVER freely as one of the best war stories I’ve ever encountered.
Reviewed by Melanie Smith on November 9, 2012