I recently read The Traitors’ Wife by Allison Pataki. I mentioned this book in my previous post about observers in historical fiction, but I’m going to cover the overall story in deeper detail. I give this book a 3.5, mostly due to the issue mentioned in my previous post, which I’ll explore again. This is a read intended for those interested in the American Revolution and the women involved. We often hear of men like George Washington and Benedict Arnold, but less often we hear about their wives, the women who helped support their causes. The Traitor’s Wife follows the story of Peggy, Benedict Arnold’s wife.
Peggy is not a character you want to root for, quite the opposite. But that works well in this story since otherwise the ending would be tragic instead of satisfying. It’s not often I see a main character who I dislike but want to keep reading about. Peggy is a fascinating woman as is her sly plotting. This book gave me a whole new perspective on her, albeit a negative one. The book also gave some insight into Philadelphia during the Revolutionary War as it changed between British and American hands. I don’t want to give away too many spoilers about Peggy, but she was if anything a stubborn woman set on getting her way, making for a great villain.
The issue of Clara, as mentioned in my previous post, is what weakened the story for me. Clara is Peggy’s maid and the story is told through her eyes. The problem being her role in being there purely to give us an outside perspective on Peggy is too obvious and it makes Clara a stiff, inactive character. She can’t interfere with the story and having to explain her inaction interrupts the story, and she could have been replaced with many other women without the story changing. Unfortunately her own story paled in comparison to Peggy’s, and so I found myself rushing through any parts about Clara’s life outside of Peggy. This book is a case where we are give the story of a famous person through the eyes of someone close to them not quite working as intended. The true story of this book is about Peggy, not Clara, making Clara an unneeded main character and one I didn’t like or connect to.
If you can look past the issue of Clara not making for a compelling main character, Peggy’s life is a thrill to read about. I wish there were more historical novels about the American Revolution and the women involved. Since Peggy was Arnold’s wife, this book also gives readers a glimpse into Benedict’s dark side and the reasons for him betraying America to join England. According to the story in this book, Peggy played a rather large role in that decision. Personally I felt the story ended too soon. I wanted to know more about Peggy’s life after her husband became a turncoat, but the book was already quite long by the time the ending was reached. I really wish Clara’s character had been cut and the story had been told from Peggy’s perspective instead of letting us overhear her important conversations through Clara.
Overall while the writing itself didn’t impress me, I got caught up in Peggy’s story and that kept me reading. If you aren’t a fan of books in this time period or on the fence about the book, I suggest skipping it. However if you are interested in Peggy’s story, this read is worth it to learn more about her.