Fiction Review: The Shenandoah Spy

by Jessica James on November 15, 2008 · 2 comments

The Shenandoah Spy: Being the True Life Adventures of Belle Boyd, CSA, the ‘Confederate Cleopatra’

By Francis Hamit

In his novel, The Shenandoah Spy, Francis Hamit weaves facts and fiction around the espionage activities of the legendary Confederate spy Belle Boyd, creating an entertaining storyline that includes her real-life encounters with other well known historical personalities.

As Hamit points out in his Foreword, “this book is fiction, but closer to the truth about her (Boyd) than many a history written about her.” This is probably true. I’ve read many stories about Belle Boyd – and then many other stories discounting the ones I had read. That she was a spy and vehemently loyal to the South cannot be disputed, but the liberties both sides took after the war in describing her actions make the details of her war experiences murky at best.

Nevertheless, Belle’s life as a spy and her interactions with such notable Confederate heroes as General Turner Ashby and General Stonewall Jackson make a compelling and interesting read. The most notable story, that of Belle running through a hailstorm of lead during a battle, serves as the central event of the novel, and offers insight into her courage and devotion to the Southern Cause. It is clear that Hamit has done his research, even weaving in real bits of dialogue that are documented as having occurred.

The cast of characters in The Shenandoah Spy provides a history lesson in and of itself, but I am sad to say I cannot recommend it as a teaching tool due to the explicit sex scenes. As I have noted in other reviews, I am perhaps overly old-fashioned, but I find such scenes in historical fiction extremely distasteful. As an author, I also found the use of multiple points of view confusing, but many readers are not bothered by this in the least.

Overall, this novel gives a good glimpse into the lives of civilians who were thrust into war and the choices they made to stand up for what they believed in. It should especially appeal to readers who enjoy Civil War espionage and strong, heroic, female characters.

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{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

jmnlman November 15, 2008 at 11:14 pm

Sounds interesting although I’m slightly baffled by the title wouldn’t Mata Hari make more sense than Cleopatra? Or am I missing something?

Reply

Francis Hamit November 17, 2008 at 10:07 pm

Well, I appreciate the review. The reason for the sex scenes is the published libel of Belle as “an accomplished prostitute” in the New York Herald by the reporter William Clark in the week after the Battle of Front Royal. It was a creative choice that not everyone is happy with, but one I stand by, given that the seduction of and by Captain Keily is essential to the narrative line. Were it not for that Belle would not have had the opportunity to spy on the Union Army staff meeting and tell Ashby of the Union plans to trap Jackson.

I don’t write for children. Sex was part of the mix, as were Victorian attitudes about love and marriage. Belle’s sacrifice here cost her reputation and any hope of a “normal” life after the war.

As for Mati Hari: That’s World War One. As incredible as it may seem now, Belle’s role as a spy was well know and widely published and she was reputed to be as beautiful and seductive as Cleopatra. That “Confederate Cleopatra was widely used as a short hand description of her.

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