Saturday, February 4, 2012

Book Review--The Shenandoah Spy

Hamit, Francis. The Shenandoah Spy: Being the True Life Adventures of Belle Boyd, CSA, The "Confederate Cleopatra". Brass Cannon Books. 433 pages, ISBN 9781595959027, $22.50.

For a young woman of her time Belle Boyd can surely be called unusual based upon the traditional view and role of women. Her actions during the Civil War cemented this view of her.

In his entertaining fictionalized account of real life Confederate heroine Belle Boyd author Francis Hamit has done her a favor. He has brought her to life in a way that will appeal to those not normally inclined to read fiction. His work will also bring a real life character to those who only read fiction perhaps inspiring them to research her life further.

The Shenandoah Spy covers the time frame from July 1861-July 1862. In this brief time frame Boyd kills a Union officer who insulted her mother, is cleared of this due to the officer's actions, takes a job as nurse which was considered outlandish for a woman, delivers messages to Confederate military leaders both in person and through coded letters, helps run a hotel, has an affair with a Union officer, and more.

In addition to the story of Boyd, the work also shows the interplay of black and white. Belle has a devoted slave whose views on freedom at the hands of northerners show the mixed feelings some slaves had and the devotion that could be shown between slave and master. The book neglects what for many/most slaves were the harsh or brutal conditions that they dealt with on a daily basis.

Belle Boyd
Library of Congress
Belle was not above using her sexuality to get the information she wanted. While not considered a traditional beauty it appears that she had no problem attracting men. She particularly caught the eye of Union Captain Daniel Keily who she carried on an affair with and from who she gained much intelligence. This openly sexual attitude however cost her dearly as readers of the book will discover. There are several graphic scenes in the book so readers who are averse to this should take note.

Hamit has done his research that is clear. However at times it seemed that things were added just to prove this research. An example was the scene involving "Stonewall" Jackson. He of course had to have his lemons. Some may call it historical authenticity I thought it just seemed out of place at times. Really a minor quibble however.

I did not know much about Boyd before reading this book. While a fictionalized account, this seems to be a good introduction to her life. Overall well written and quick moving this is a book that would appeal to those who enjoy historical literature/romance and to many that study the Civil War.

*Thank you to Mr. Hamit for providing a complimentary review copy.

**While self published, the book is available in a less expensive Kindle version for those who prefer e-books.

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