When the winds of war blow across the United States in 1861, independent spinster Elizabeth "Lizzie" Van Lew cannot fathom that her beloved state of Virginia would secede from the Union. To her, it's simply unthinkable. In spite of her skepticism, however, Virginia does just that, leaving Lizzie stranded in Richmond, the capital of the Confederacy, in the midst of people whose ideas, particularly those about slavery, are diametrically opposed to her own.
While she longs to shout her views from the rooftops, doing so would surely land Lizzie, her mother, brother and his young family in hot water. As much as it pains her, she learns to shut her mouth and keep her views to herself in the face of vocal and violent threats to her life. In spite of the danger, though, she is determined to do what she can to aid the Union and support the President who she believes in so strongly.
"Peppered with interactions between Lizzie and well-known historic figures, Jennifer Chiaverini’s latest bestseller will thrill Civil War buffs and anyone who loves reading about American history and the contribution of women to the momentous events that formed this country."
Unfortunately, even Lizzie's own family isn't free from the taint of slavery. Her father owned slaves and created his will in such a way that prohibited her mother from releasing them after his death. To get around the restriction, Lizzie and her mother allow the slaves to come and go as freely as possible, while still adhering to the letter of the laws that govern slave ownership.
As the war gains momentum, local gossip causes many eyes to turn toward Lizzie and her mother as possible Union supporters. Unable to bring themselves to flock to the aid of the Confederacy, as do all of the women they know, they must find a way to appear sympathetic to the cause while staying true to their own beliefs. That's when Lizzie comes up with a plan.
Using Christian charity as her excuse, Lizzie seeks permission to tend to the captured Union soldiers in Richmond. When she is initially rebuffed by those in command, she perseveres until she gains permission to visit the prisoners, taking them food, tending to their wounds and bringing them reading material, all at her own expense.
Before long, these visits embroil her in intrigue that would brand her a spy and cost her her life if it were to come to light. Eventually, food and books aren't the only items she’s transporting to and from the prison. She's carrying coded messages to and from those in power in a bid to help the Union and end the war. Will she be able keep her actions quiet, or will her behavior bring death and dishonor to herself and to those whom she loves?
THE SPYMISTRESS brings life to the story of a woman who most of us have never heard of. In it, we see the courage and bravery of an ordinary individual who digs deep to perform extraordinary acts. Peppered with interactions between Lizzie and well-known historic figures, Jennifer Chiaverini’s latest bestseller will thrill Civil War buffs and anyone who loves reading about American history and the contribution of women to the momentous events that formed this country.
Reviewed by Amie Taylor on November 22, 2013