The Spy Lover: Book summary and reviews of The Spy Lover by Kiana Davenport

The Spy Lover

By Kiana Davenport

The Spy Lover
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  • Published in USA  Aug 2012,
    303 pages.

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Book Summary

Reminiscent of Cold Mountain or Daughter of Fortune, this extraordinary tale emanates from acclaimed author Kiana Davenport's own family history, and is a moving exploration of the horrors of war and the transcendence of love.

Thrust into the savagery of the Civil War, a Chinese immigrant serving in the Union Army, a nurse doubling as a spy for the North, and a one-armed Confederate cavalryman find their lives inextricably entwined.

Fleeing drought and famine in China, Johnny Tom arrives in America with dreams of becoming a citizen. Having survived vigilantes hunting "yellow dogs" and slave auction- blocks, Johnny is kidnapped from his Mississippi village by Confederate soldiers, taken from his wife and daughter, and forced to fight for the South. Eventually defecting to the Union side, he is promised American citizenship in exchange for his loyal services. But first Johnny must survive the butchery of battles and the cruelties inflicted on non-white soldiers.

Desperate to find Johnny, his daughter, Era, is enlisted as a spy. She agrees to work as a nurse at Confederate camps while scouting for the North. Amidst the unspeakable carnage of wounded soldiers, she finds solace in Warren Petticomb, a cavalryman who lost an arm at Shiloh. As devastation mounts in both armies, Era must choose where her loyalties lie - with her beloved father in the North, or with the man who passionately sustains her in the South.

A novel of extraordinary scope that will stand as a defining work on the Chinese immigrant experience, The Spy Lover is a paean to the transcendence of love and the resilience of the human spirit.

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Reviews

Media Reviews

"Starred Review. Giving resonance and impact to this story are the compelling characters who tap readers' emotions; the stark realities of battle; and the heroic men and women on both sides who persevered despite horrific conditions. Davenport, author of House of Many Gods (2006), writes from the heart, and yours will be moved." - Booklist

"Although at times Davenport's highly wrought prose threatens to overwhelm her narrative, she manages to channel it into a perfectly Romantic, tormented story." - Publishers Weekly

"Beautiful writing...a page turner...The novel emanates from Davenport's own family history, ancestors who fought in the War...as she tells the story of a woman and her lover, the conflict between love, conscience and determination...I have no hesitation in recommending The Spy Lover to anyone who enjoys stories of the Civil War as well as of genuine conflicts, love and dedication...It will go into a special niche of historical fiction and ...likely become a classic like Cold Mountain." - Martha Boltz of The Washington Times

"(In) The Spy Lover, (Davenport) pulls from her Alabama-born father's family history to tell a gripping Civil War story about three complicated, suffering people - a nurse who's spying for the Union behind enemy lines, a Chinese immigrant who escapes his conscription into the Confederacy to fight for the Union instead, and a wounded Confederate cavalryman. Davenport doesn't buffer the brutality of war, presenting a stark portrayal of its horrors and the damage it can inflict on body and soul in her well-researched tale." - Bookpage

"Davenport delivers a surprisingly heartwarming ending, which will please readers. Civil War buffs will also appreciate and be impressed by the author's intricate depiction of the conflict." - Bookloons.com

"A page turner, like Davenport's other fiction, The Spy Lover is full of suspense, yet it also plunges deep. With compassion toward all her characters, whether they fight for the North or the South, Davenport dramatizes the agony of divided loyalties and the brutalities of war...High drama, high tension, high romance." - Alix Kates Shulman, Bestselling author of Memoirs of an Ex-Prom Queen, and Menage

"This author does a fantastic job presenting the scenery, pain, and depth of the Civil War and how it truly split loved ones apart. Sometimes in horrific detail, especially the battle of Gettysburg, this author makes it feel as if the reader is actually on that field experiencing every death. Having these characters based on the very real souls of the author's own ancestors who came to America during the 1800s, made the story even more compelling, and is highly recommended."- Amy Lignor, author of Tallent & Lowery - 13 for Suspense Magazine

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Reader Reviews

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Rated 5 of 5 of 5 by Tracy B. (New Castle, DE)
The Spy Lover
I felt as though I was right there in the U.S. Civil war it was very descriptive, terrifying, lonely, elating & compelling. This made it necessary to put the book down now and then. Kiana's development of the 3 main characters was to head each chapter with their name, time & place a vivid past or present view of their life. I have found myself reading other books about the U.S. Civil War in each one there is a new piece of information, here it was the poppy fields and addiction. Thank you for introducing me to this wonderful author.

Rated 4 of 5 of 5 by Linda B. (Sheridan, WY)
The Spy Lover
This story showed a different side of the Civil War. The characters are believable and interesting. I had no idea that some Chinese participated in the war. It is interesting to read how the spy, a woman, is able to pass on her information without getting caught. Since it is based on the author's family history, I feel it should be considered a historical novel. Those who enjoy historical novels will enjoy this novel as well.

Rated 3 of 5 of 5 by Lisa B. (Denton, TX)
The nitty gritty of the Civil War
I liked many aspects of this book, such as the descriptions of the everyday lives of the soldiers and nurses during the Civil War. I think the title is a little misleading as it makes the book sound like a romance, which it really isn't. However, several historical inaccuracies took me out of the story, such as the use of gasoline described in an early scene and gasoline would have been a very unlikely commodity during the Civil War. However, the battle scenes and things like that seemed to be very well researched.

Rated 5 of 5 of 5 by Mary O. (Boston, MA)
A true delight!
I LOVED this book! Set in the Civil War, it portrays three main characters - a Chinese immigrant Union soldier, his daughter who is an army nurse in search of her missing father, and a Confederate officer who falls in love with his nurse. Beautifully written, it describes all the horrific aspects of war as well as the complications of love and human emotion. I highly recommend this book to all. It is an absolute pleasure!

Rated 5 of 5 of 5 by Judith W. (Brooklyn, NY)
Wish I could have read it in one sitting
I couldn't put this book down. Not only were the characters compelling and the plot engrossing, but I learned something new. I was not aware of the Chinese presence in the Union Army. My awareness of their history at that time was limited to the building of the railroads in the far west, so found this a good addition to my fund of knowledge. Will look for other books by this author as I love her writer's voice.

Rated 5 of 5 of 5 by Lora O. (Antioch, CA)
Beautiful Story from a Unique Perspective, but with a silly title
On this sesquicentennial of the Civil War, I thought no author could come up with anything new, but Ms. Davenport did just that. I have never read about Chinese soldiers, but apparently there many who honorably fought for both sides. This story is heartbreaking, from the point of view of the Chinese father fighting for the north and his daughter, of Chinese and Native American working as a nurse for the south, sharing secrets with the Northerners in order to find her father and avenge her treatment by the confederates who killed her mother, raped her and burned their village. Neither Johnny Tom or Era had any reason for loyalty to any aspect of America, and the cruel treatment of Era, as a non-white continued from coast to coast long after the war ended. The author does not sugarcoat the war, the battles or the horrific conditions in the field hospitals and the book is painful and disturbing to read. The authors depiction of how the war and the act of killing changes a man is especially well wrought in the character of Warren, the confederate soldier that loves Era. The three characters are grievously damaged by their experiences yet the author makes clear that underneath there is still an inner core of honor, decency and even a faint hope of beauty and meaning in the world. There is a wonderful section about Era and other southern women working in poppy fields hidden in the fields to make opium to treat the sick and injured soldiers. I was deeply moved by this story about inhumanity, the purported fight to end slavery, the cost of loyalty, the love and solidarity of soldiers taking care of each other, honor and love.

I do think however that the title is unfortunate. If I hadn't heard of the author, I would never look
at a this book, assuming it would be a cheesy romance or Bond type thriller instead of the lovely, profound, moving story that it is.

I think this would be a wonderful book for a discussion.

...32 more reader reviews

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Kiana Davenport is the author of the best-selling novels House of Many Gods, Song of the Exile, and Shark Dialogues, and two story collections, House of Skin and Cannibal Nights. A Native Hawaiian, her novels and stories have won numerous awards and have been translated into twenty languages.

Visit her at KianaDavenport.com

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