Fates and Traitors, Jennifer Chiaverini: Book Review

Four women share their unique perspectives on the infamous John Wilkes Booth.

fates and traitors jennifer chiaverini book review
Fates and Traitors: A Novel of John Wilkes Booth Book Cover Fates and Traitors: A Novel of John Wilkes Booth
Jennifer Chiaverini
Historical Fiction
Dutton Books
September 13th 2016
Hardcover
382

The New York Times bestselling author of Mrs. Lincoln’s Dressmaker returns with a riveting work of historical fiction following the notorious John Wilkes Booth and the four women who kept his perilous confidence.

John Wilkes Booth, the mercurial son of an acclaimed British stage actor and a Covent Garden flower girl, committed one of the most notorious acts in American history—the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln.

The subject of more than a century of scholarship, speculation, and even obsession, Booth is often portrayed as a shadowy figure, a violent loner whose single murderous act made him the most hated man in America. Lost to history until now is the story of the four women whom he loved and who loved him in return: Mary Ann, the steadfast matriarch of the Booth family; Asia, his loyal sister and confidante; Lucy Lambert Hale, the senator’s daughter who adored Booth yet tragically misunderstood the intensity of his wrath; and Mary Surratt, the Confederate widow entrusted with the secrets of his vengeful plot.

Fates and Traitors brings to life pivotal actors—some willing, others unwitting—who made an indelible mark on the history of our nation. Chiaverini portrays not just a soul in turmoil but a country at the precipice of immense change.

In Jennifer Chiaverini‘s historical novel, Fates and Traitors, the story of the infamous John Wilkes Booth receives a twist by being told by the four women who loved him. We follow Booth from childhood to demise through the lenses of women who saw him as their son, brother, lover, or last hope.

Though Booth is indeed the focal point of this novel, the personal stories of the women, including Mary Ann Booth, Asia Booth, Lucy Lambert Hale, and Mary Surratt, are a source of fascination by themselves. We see sheltered Mary Ann, the mother of Booth, give up everything to be with a charismatic actor. We witness intelligent Asia, his beloved sister, settle into a marriage she didn’t necessarily want. We experience the highs and lows of his new love with Lucy, who is the daughter of a senator and an abolitionist. Lastly, we uneasily observe Mary as she becomes entangled in a dangerous plot against the president that will throw her life into chaos.

Watching Booth’s assassination plot on Abraham Lincoln unfold from several unique points of view wasn’t the only thing compelling me to keep on reading, thought it was definitely the main reason I was drawn to the book in the first place. I kept telling myself “just a few more pages” as innocent Mary Ann got her heart stolen from the charismatic – and alcoholic – stage actor, Junius Brutus Booth. Though I could see why some readers might wonder why the love story of John Wilkes Booth’s parents is included, I think Chiaverini made the right move by including a more in-depth backstory on the Booth family.

In my opinion, Asia Booth was granted one of the more weaker sections of the book. Asia herself seems like a compelling woman, but her story lacked a certain spark. Her storyline is the most transparent when it comes to tracking the whereabouts of Booth, and, for some reason, her personal story doesn’t seem as developed as the others. I would have enjoyed learning more about Asia, who was not only the sister of an infamous assassin but a gifted writer and perceptive woman in her own right.

Lucy Lambert Hale was my favorite character in the book, though reading about her getting sucked into Booth’s lies and deception was a bit frustrating. As a member of a prestigious political family that is strongly against slavery, Lucy is an intelligent young woman who seems to brim with promise. Then walks in Booth, and the two are thrown into the frenzy that is new love. Undoubtedly, Lucy deserves so much better. This is one love story that no reader wants to see get a happy ending.

Then there is Mary Surratt. To me, Mary is pretty much the polar opposite of Lucy. She has strong Southern sympathies, and, though she does run her own boarding house, seems utterly dependent on others and has trouble thinking for herself. Honestly, she was a bit of a bland character to me, but her section is where the reader gets their first real glimpse at Booth scheming to harm Abraham Lincoln. Watching one of the most tragic moments in U.S. history come to fruition gave this section of the book a backbone.

The assassination of Lincoln, of course, engulfs the ending of the book and is written in such a way that you will most likely have a highly emotional response. You will have to read it for yourself to see what I mean.

By giving each of the four women an interesting story to spin, Chiaverini successfully crafted a novel that will engage the imagination of any reader. Those with a weak spot for historical fiction will enjoy reading this one of a kind novel.


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Written by Alicia LeBoeuf

I'm currently a college sophomore majoring in English. I love everything book-related and I'm a passionate writer.