The adventures of Belle Boyd, real-life Civil War scout and spy, come alive in this blend of fact and fiction that takes readers for a ride on the Confederate side.
Filled with hatred for the Union after the man she intended to marry is killed, 17-year-old Isabelle “Belle” Boyd quickly finds revenge by shooting the soldier who raids her house and assaults her mother. News of her notorious act quickly spreads from her hometown of Martinsburg, Va., through Rebel and Union camps alike. While caught between forces, Belle nurses the wounded in the local military hospital—a vocation that ostracizes her from “polite society” even before she moves on to work as a courier, a scout and ultimately a spy for Turner Ashby of the 7th Virginia Cavalry. Along with her keen mind and a rare courage that leads her across battlefields and on midnight rides, Belle finds a crucial asset in her curvy figure, which beguiles many a soldier and officer into giving away Union plans. The fictional narrative moves swiftly along, following well-established facts about the “War Between the States,” and Hamit offers insight into both sides, as well as the perspectives of the African-Americans over whose freedom the war is ostensibly fought. Particularly engaging is Belle’s servant, Eliza, who becomes no mean spy in her own right. The author built this compelling tale from what scanty facts exist about the real Belle Boyd, imbuing believability and gravitas to much of what must be only conjecture. The depictions of ragged, oft-drunken units awaiting orders, the frustrations and disloyalties of angry civilians, and the meetings of exhausted officers within hastily erected tents are so credible, readers feel a bit like spies themselves, listening in. And although the innocence of Belle and her female cousins may initially read as young-adult fiction, this impression slides into an adult sensibility, just as Belle, by necessity, grows stronger, harder and worldlier. She may view her ruined reputation with chagrin, but she wisely turns it to her favor, as her skillful methods of seduction—there’s nothing young adult about these racy scenes—yield valuable information that she successfully smuggles between breasts and under hoop skirts.
Historical fiction at its most enlightening and entertaining; a must-read for American history buffs.