In honor of Independence Day, I’d like to recommend a great Revolutionary War read: The Traitor’s Wife by Allison Pataki. Historical fiction is my favorite genre so I’ve read quite a bit of it over the years – and this is TOP SHELF stuff. Seriously, don’t miss it!
A riveting historical novel about Peggy Shippen Arnold, the cunning wife of Benedict Arnold and mastermind behind America’s most infamous act of treason . . .
Everyone knows Benedict Arnold – the 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 Andre, 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 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 Andre. 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 love 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.
I can’t believe this is Allison Pataki’s debut novel! In just two books, she’s become one of my favorite authors (The Accidental Empress is also fantastic). The Traitor’s Wife is a masterpiece! The story is gripping, the history is fascinating, and the characters are so vivid they leap off the page. Through Clara’s eyes, we see the many sides of her new mistress unfold from their first encounter. A young Patriot from the country, Clara is both appalled at the violent, changeable emotions of Miss Peggy yet charmed by her lady’s growing dependence on her. The Shippen family and the servants of the house are all fully developed, possessing complex emotions and loyalties. While Clara is subject to the whims of her employers (and Miss Peggy’s suitors), she also develops a life of her own through her friendships with the servants of the house, including a handsome stable boy named Caleb.
The historical events are riveting in and of themselves, and this is a tale finely told. Pataki stays within the supported historical evidence but adds the story of Clara, a protagonist readers can root for as we watch the demise of Peggy and the subsequent destruction of Arnold. Pataki doesn’t portray Arnold as a cold-hearted villain, however. He is a man who feels betrayed by the cause he’s given everything for. A man who is completely blinded by his love for his manipulative young wife.
Pataki intersperses the narrative with flash forwards to the day the Arnolds’ treachery is revealed, which acknowledge the inevitable conclusion. Yet this is a book that will keep you turning the pages to the very end. The compelling story is that of Clara, as she comes to know herself and develops into an intelligent, capable woman who realizes that she has rights of her own – including the right to be happy. The outcome of her story is what will keep you glued to the page, because we all know how the rest of it plays out. You will not be able to put it down!
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