Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Review: "Mrs. Lincoln's Rival" by Jennifer Chiaverini

As promised last week, today I am reviewing Mrs. Lincoln's Rival by Jennifer Chiaverini. I received an advanced copy from the publisher via NetGalley.

I mentioned last week that I love seeing Civil War fiction on the market. Since my own "Rebel Heart" was set during the same time period and I was generally told by agents and publishers alike that the era is tough sell, I'm glad that some novels set during this period are getting through. Personally, I think novels with anti-slavery protagonists are considered PC enough for publication while novels that tackle the gray areas of slavery get overlooked. Yes, I'm talking about my own novel. But I digress.

Mrs. Lincoln's Rival is based upon real historical characters (for the most part). The main protagonist is Kate Chase, one of the leading society hostesses in Washington in the years preceding the Civil War. Her father, Salmon P. Chase, was an accomplished politician who tried on several occasions to become president, but he was never able to clinch the nomination. Kate is the consummate politician herself, though she does so in the ways afforded to women of the time period. She was a beautiful, witty, accomplished intellectual who with single minded tenacity,
Kate Chase in 1861
sought to forward the political ambitions of her father. But being a paragon often leads to some difficult to swallow character traits. I had a love/hate relationship with Kate. While I admired her determination to excel in a world dominated by men, she could be petty, vain, and prideful. Many of her personal decisions and reactions were lamentable, though she was always spot on when it came to dispensing political advice to both her father, and later, her husband.

The novel itself is fast paced and slow in turns. The first fifty pages dragged along in attempt to bring the reader up to speed on Kate's past. Often the narrative was bogged down with tedious political maneuverings and play-by-plays of daily events. Still, I found myself staying up well past by bedtime on many occasions.

As the ending played out, I found myself wondering why the book was even called  Mrs. Lincoln's Rival as the lady in question rarely appears throughout the novel. She is much talked about, and Kate was clearly her rival in the social world of Washington, but to name the entire novel after a trumped up rivalry was a bit of a stretch. The novel could have stood along on Kate's merits. Nonetheless, I thoroughly enjoyed the novel (even if the Civil War was forced into the background and was rather sanitized in its depiction) and recommend it to lovers of American and women's history.

No comments:

Post a Comment