*I received a free copy of this book, with thanks to the author. The decision to review and my opinions are my own.*
Blurb: Barely fourteen, Ceci Prejean is a tomboy running wild in the hot Louisiana summer. After breaking the nose of a local boy, her father decides to enlist the aid of Hecubah, a beautiful Creole woman, with a secret past, who takes Ceci in hand and turns her into a lady.
Now, eighteen-year-old Ceci meets and falls passionately in love with a handsome young northerner, Trent Sinclaire. Trent is a cadet at the West Point military academy. He acts as if he knows Ceci. They begin a torrid affair, even as the southern states begin to secede from the Union.
Only weeks before their wedding, the Confederate army attacks Fort Sumter and the civil war begins. Trent is called to active service in the north, leaving Ceci heartbroken in the south.
Swearing vengeance on the union, after the untimely death of her family at the fall of New Orleans, Ceci meets with infamous spy master, Henry Doucet. He initiates her into the shadowy world of espionage.
After her failure to avert the catastrophe at Gettysburg, Ceci infiltrates the White House. There, she comes face to face with Abraham Lincoln, a man she’s sworn to kill. Forming a reckless alliance with the actor, John Wilkes Booth, she is drawn deeper into the plot to assassinate the President of the United States. A Confederate spy in love with a Union officer, her next decision will determine whether she lives or dies…
Whippoorwill is two different books in one.
The first half is the slow taming of wild-child Ceci by the wise and witty Hecubah, and the high-speed romance that follows between Ceci and the dashing Trent Sinclaire. Throughout all of the familial banter and blistering chemistry of this storyline there runs a dark undercurrent of fear, as Ceci is unable (despite everyone’s exhortations) to forget the glimpses of slavery she gets, or ignore the gathering storm clouds between North and South as a historic civil war gathers steam.
Midway through the story the tone suddenly changes as Ceci’s world is ripped from under her by the very political actions she has dreaded, and suddenly she is off to train under great privations as a spy, with the intention of taking on the enemies who destroyed her family, despite the man she loves being one of them. This second half is all espionage and high danger – very edge-of-your-seat!
What holds the whole together (and helps us to suspend disbelief at coincidental moments) is the love story. Oh, not the one between Ceci and Trent, spicy though that is! What had me hooked was the wonderful characterisation of Ceci and Hecubah, and the relationship between them. From the first dialogue between them I found myself smitten on their strong familial/friendship bond and their dry humour in demonstrating it.
This led to another great strength of the story, which was the depiction of private conversations between women. In a time and place where being ladylike was prized in public (and by men), to read about women discussing men, sex and lust in open, candid terms between themselves was refreshing. Likewise the openness about female sexuality and desire fitted well with the theme of women having the power and impetus to affect events big (the Bird spies) and small (the various extra-marital liaisons).
The ending doesn’t wrap up every question in a neat bow, but it does show us one last glimpse of Ceci at her indomitable, incorrigible and downright ornery best, and I finished with a laugh and a fond smile.
I would highly recommend Whippoorwhill for fans of female-centric historical adventure and romance. Also for anyone who just enjoys a good story!
“Did you hear that Elizabeth Ewing?” Hecubah remarked, as they drove back to the plantation. “I love weddings. I like them better than dancing.” She shook her head. “That girl should stick to dancing. The closest she’s ever gonna get to a wedding is yours. God almighty, I never seen a plainer pair of girls than Armenia Ewing’s daughters.”
“That’s cruel,” Ceci chided. “So was suggesting they sew blue flowers on my dress.”
“You heard them,” Hecubah reminded her. “White’s supposed to be for chastity. Don’t reckon Queen Victoria was chasing Albert round the garden before she got married.”
“You don’t know that,” Ceci pouted. “Besides, it’s the thought that counts. Don’t you ever get tired of making fun of me?”
“Not hardly,” Hecubah was happy to admit. “Let’s face it, when you’re married, I’ll have to think of some other way to amuse myself.”
– Robert Bartram, Whippoorwill