The Traitor’s Wife by Allison Pataki
Pub. Date: February 11, 2014
Source: Library (though I’ve ordered a copy ♥!)
Summary: Socialite Peggy Shippen is half Benedict Arnold’s age when she seduces the war hero during his stint as military commander of Philadelphia. Blinded by his young bride’s beauty and wit, Arnold does not realize that she harbors a secret: loyalty to the British. Nor does he know that she hides a past romance with the handsome British spy John Andre. Peggy watches as her husband, crippled from battle wounds and in debt from years of service to the colonies, grows ever more disillusioned with his hero, Washington, and the American cause. Together with her former love and her disaffected husband, Peggy hatches the plot to deliver West Point to the British and, in exchange, win fame and fortune for herself and Arnold.
Genre: Historical Fiction
Recommended for: Fans of biographical fiction, those curious about the Revolutionary War and the man who betrayed his country
Oh, this was lovely. Absolutely wonderful. I spent a little longer than I would have liked reading The Traitor’s Wife, but I wanted to savor it, to really get down deep into these characters’ lives. While I liked it when reading, the more I think about it since finishing, the more I love it – and I’ve already ordered a copy to keep on my shelves! That’s certainly saying something about this book; even when I love a story, I rarely – RARELY – purchase my own copy. The Traitor’s Wife is definitely a special story.
Peggy Shippen, the youngest daughter of the respected Shippen family, is the socialite. She’s beautiful, smart, and charming – and she knows it. While there are a few other debutantes in her Season, none are of Peggy’s caliber. Every night is spent at another dance and Peggy is never without a man happy to be seen with her on his arm. At seventeen she’s in no rush to settle down, though there are plenty of suitors who would love to have Peggy Shippen as his wife. Instead, she regularly breaks curfew, preferring to spend her time hidden in the shadows with John Andre, a Major in the British Army. She’s certainly attracted to him, but I wonder if Peggy’s rebellious nature didn’t also play a part in their relationship (Peggy’s father, Judge Shippen, refused to side with either the Colonists or the British).
While The Traitor’s Wife is absolutely, positively about Peggy, the story itself is told through the eyes of a young maid, Clara Bell. On her deathbed, Clara’s grandmother made arrangements for her granddaughter to have a position in the Shippen household. Once she arrives, Clara is told she’ll be the handmaid to the Shippen daughters…though, naturally, Peggy takes her all for herself. As a maid, Clara is virtually invisible, allowing her to hear every single secret whispered among the household.
When Andre leaves, Peggy is heartbroken, though she quickly finds solace in the much older Benedict Arnold. Over time, the two further their relationship, ultimately ending in marriage. Through it all Clara is right by Peggy’s side, from the first encounter with Arnold to the initial hints at something sinister to come.
I honestly cannot say enough about The Traitor’s Wife. I loved it while reading, I love it even more in retrospect. Everything about it was wonderful: the vivid details, the setting, the fantastic characters – both good and bad. Pataki’s characterization of Peggy was delightful. She’s definitely a character readers will love to hate. When we first meet her she’s a bratty, selfish teenager…and she really doesn’t change much at all. As an adult she’s still bratty and selfish, only thinking of herself and the gains she could make. When he first met her, Benedict Arnold had a limp from a war wound. Peggy led him on for months until announcing she would no longer have anything to do with him since he was old and couldn’t even dance. Arnold’s love for this girl was so great he all but overcame his disability, rehabilitating himself until he no longer needed a cane. Even still she refused to marry him until he could buy her one of the largest estates in America. He did, but it left him all but destitute.
While I’m not sure how much of the actual plot is based in fact, in The Traitor’s Wife, treason was entirely Peggy’s idea – and I completely believed it. She wanted wealth and a fancy title and would do anything she could to get them. I certainly don’t think Arnold was innocent, but he was definitely sympathetic here.
While I adored the characters (everyone, from the servants to George Washington himself, was absolutely perfect), there were two issues I had that could have been easily fixed and would have made this a five-star read (because it definitely was). I noticed a number of typos and errors. There was one sentence that stuck out in my mind where it read understand instead of understood. A quick edit would have eliminated these. The other issue was a factual error. There’s a scene where someone is hurt and the servants are told to check for a pulse. Not a single one has any idea what that means. Yes, they’re servants, but they can all read and write – they’re educated. I’m supposed to believe an entire household staff (who are no strangers to butchering the livestock for meals) wouldn’t know what a pulse was? Read up on medical history: doctors in the Middle Ages, China, Ancient Egypt were all familiar with pulses.
Apart from those two easily-corrected errors, The Traitor’s Wife was perfect. I loved every minute of it – even better, it gave me a fantastic starting point for further research on my own!