The Spy Lover
About the Book:
Thrust into the savagery of the Civil War, a Chinese immigrant serving in the Union Army, a nurse doubling as a spy for the North, and a one-armed Confederate cavalryman find their lives inextricably entwined.
Fleeing drought and famine in China, Johnny Tom arrives in America with dreams of becoming a citizen. Having survived vigilantes hunting “yellow dogs” and slave auction- blocks, Johnny is kidnapped from his Mississippi village by Confederate soldiers, taken from his wife and daughter, and forced to fight for the South. Eventually defecting to the Union side, he is promised American citizenship in exchange for his loyal services. But first Johnny must survive the butchery of battles and the cruelties inflicted on non-white soldiers.
Desperate to find Johnny, his daughter, Era, is enlisted as a spy. She agrees to work as a nurse at Confederate camps while scouting for the North. Amidst the unspeakable carnage of wounded soldiers, she finds solace in Warren Petticomb, a cavalryman who lost an arm at Shiloh. As devastation mounts in both armies, Era must choose where her loyalties lie—with her beloved father in the North, or with the man who passionately sustains her in the South.
I am so awestruck by this story that it is hard to find words. The tale is phenomenally well-researched, but the reader doesn’t feel overwhelmed by the facts – they are simply the backdrop for this passionate epic. Kiana Davenport describes the brutalities of war (and life in general in the mid-1800s) in beautiful, horrible, sometimes extremely graphic detail.
Here are just two of the many things I learned about the Civil War from this book:
- Black people were not the only slaves – Chinese and Native Americans were also kidnapped and sold into slavery.
- Southern women grew poppies to supply opium to their troops since the Union was blocking shipments at the ports.
The Spy Lover highlights the senselessness of war, the choice of hope and courage in the face of insurmountable odds, and especially the question of what to do with the terrible things you’ve witnessed when your life goes back to normal. Era and Warren’s mismatched romance and Johnny’s “fish out of water” experiences help to humanize a story that I had only read before in history books or Gone with the Wind.
My rating: I give The Spy Lover five hard-tack biscuits. A must read!!!