Widow’s War

The Widow’s War

by Mary Mackey

I’m Kim Alexander and this is Fiction Nation, with smart reviews for modern readers on Sirius XM Book Radio. The book is The Widow’s War by Mary Mackey.

I love reading about secret histories, even though I often feel kind of foolish for not already knowing what I’ve just read. (I know, that’s why it’s secret.) Although in many cases, it’s not secret at all, just — I guess the word might be underreported. In the case of The Widow’s War, the lessons I learned were about Bleeding Kansas. Did you know about this? (Actual residents of Kansas, Missouri and maybe Nebraska are exempt from this question.) For seven years before the beginning of the Civil War, Kansas was the scene of bloody and violent civil conflict over the question of slavery. Apparently in Kansas you didn’t need to be a resident to vote, so great hordes of pro- and anti-slavery folks with axes to grind and guns to fire raided towns, burned down cities and murdered each other at a very contemporary rate. There was even an epic beat down over this on the floor of the senate. You probably know the names — John Brown, Quantrille’s Raiders — but do you know their stories?

In The Widow’s War, Mary Mackey reminds us of our own history. This is the dangerous and divided world that young Miss Carrie Vinton enters upon her marriage to Mr. Deacon Presgrove, after an idyllic childhood spent collecting orchids in Brazil. The romantic entanglements of Carrie, her truly awful husband, her missing lover and their families is too convoluted to relate right now, and as is so often the case, honestly the problems of two people don’t amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world. I cared about Carrie and I wanted her to be reunited with her boyfriend, but I cared about her a lot more when she took up arms against the pro-slavery forces that divided her family and murdered her friends. Making the big picture personal, making history intimate is the gift of historical fiction writers, and Mary Mackey does an excellent job of bringing those painful and shameful times back into the light.

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