I absolutely adore reading - my love for books has had a huge impact on my life! I'm going to grad school to be a children's/YA librarian.
Everyone knows Benedict Arnold—the infamous Revolutionary War General who betrayed America and fled to the British as history’s most notorious turncoat. Many know Arnold’s co-conspirator, Major John André, who was apprehended with Arnold’s documents in his boots and hanged at the orders of General George Washington. But few know of the integral third character in the plot; a charming and cunning young woman, who not only contributed to the betrayal but orchestrated it.
Socialite Peggy Shippen is half Benedict Arnold’s age when she seduces the war hero during his stint as Military Commander of Philadelphia. Blinded by his young bride’s beauty and wit, Arnold does not realize that she harbors a secret: loyalty to the British. Nor does he know that she hides a past romance with the handsome British spy John André. Peggy watches as her husband, crippled from battle wounds and in debt from years of service to the colonies, grows ever more disillusioned with his hero, Washington, and the American cause. Together with her former lover and her disaffected husband, Peggy hatches the plot to deliver West Point to the British and, in exchange, win fame and fortune for herself and Arnold.
Told from the perspective of Peggy’s maid, whose faith in the new nation inspires her to intervene in her mistress’s affairs even when it could cost her everything,The Traitor’s Wife brings these infamous figures to life, illuminating the sordid details and the love triangle that nearly destroyed the American fight for freedom. (source)
This book is everything that I look for in a historical fiction novel. It's well-researched, it's well-written, it covers a fascinating but often over-looked aspect of history, and it brings infamous figures to life. I'm so glad that I saw this in the "new" section of my library and picked it up to read - this is one of the best books that I have read this year.
Although this story is told from the perspective of a maid, Clara Bell, its main character is her mistress, Peggy Shippen Arnold. Peggy is a character who I loved to hate. In many ways, she reminded me of Scarlett O'Hara. She's spoiled, selfish, conniving, manipulative, beautiful, has a sparkling yet terrifying personality, and is both likeable and despicable at the same time. I do think that Pataki's portrayal of Peggy is more malicious than Scarlett, however - while Scarlett is ultimately driven by a need to survive in a harsh world (though her selfish desires certainly play a role in her actions as well), Peggy is driven purely by greed. I think that this is why Peggy is less loveable than Scarlett, but it didn't make her any less fascinating to read about.
Although Clara is not the main character, I was really happy that Pataki chose her as the lens through which the reader gets to see Peggy. Clara provides an outside view of the situation, but she is close enough to Peggy and, in time, Benedict Arnold that she's able to offer a reliable explanation of why they choose to do the things that they do. Clara is not merely a voice for the story, however; she has her own story and her own personality that are just as developed as Peggy's. Clara acts as the moral voice for the story, but Pataki wrote her in such a way that she comes off as very human, rather than as a prissy, overbearing, self-righteous judge. Clara, at times, is just as tempted to make wrong choices as Peggy is, but she has different motives and a more developed sense of right and wrong.
I was very impressed by Pataki's ability to make this story come to life. Though I am very familiar with the American Revolution, I am not as familiar with the story of Benedict Arnold and Pataki was able to give historical insight in a way that was neither confusing nor demeaning. She gives accurate information without treating her readers like dunces and she is able to show the many sides to this seemingly black-and-white story of a man who betrayed his country. As a side note, when looking at this book's goodreads entry, I noticed that it's classified as Christian fiction and Christian romance. While I don't think that there's anything that Christians would necessary find fault with, I don't think that this book really has any qualities that would define it as such - in fact, I don't recall it discussing religion at all. So if you're looking for Christian literature, while this book is very enjoyable, I don't think that it'll be what you had in mind.
I was very happy with this author's debut work and I will most definitely be looking for more from her. If you're a fan of historical fiction or you're just looking for an exceptionally good book, I highly recommend that you give this a try.