The Widow's War
by Mary Mackey


Berkley Trade, 2009. ISBN 978-0-425-22791-6.
Reviewed by Penny Leisch
Posted on 09/03/2009

Fiction: Historical; Fiction: Romance

The first sentence uttered by Carrie Vinton is, "Nine days ago, I shot my husband." Before I finish the first page I see a wanted poster for a twenty-five year-old white female. In 1853, shooting her husband might not be enough to justify a wanted poster for a white woman. That is unless she crosses someone very powerful. What did Carrie do, or more precisely, to whom? Her opposition to slavery is a crime. However, she is still just a woman. Someone with a lot of money and power wants to find her. Who? Why? What will happen when he finds her?

Carrie is a strong woman with ideals and a desire to act upon them in a time when women are not supposed to think, much less act upon their beliefs. Part of her strength comes from growing up in Brazil with more freedom and fewer conventions than girls raised in the States. Carrie is steadfast in her devotion to William, the man she has loved since they met as children. Like most strong women throughout history, Carrie makes choices that are not always socially acceptable.

When her fiancé's stepbrother, Deacon, convinces Carrie that William is dead, she decides to have their baby alone rather than marry for a name. Deacon pleads with her to let him take care of her and his beloved brother's baby. Carrie wavers and eventually succumbs to the wily Deacon. He is overjoyed with his victory and settles in to enjoy the spoils. However, when he takes her money and child, his deception triggers a chain of events the fortune hunter never anticipated. His country is fighting the Civil War, but he is headed for his own private war with a woman who does not intend to lose.

The characters are well developed, as is the entire plot and story line. There is steady action. There is also war, intrigue, romance, and adventure. War is never pretty, and Mackey does not sugarcoat the realities of life, death, and war in the 1800's. Her descriptions are picturesque and detailed. The historical research and story flow are impeccable too.

The interaction is so realistic that readers may forget this is a fictional novel. Because the story wraps around the romance and the trials endured by William and Carrie, there may be a stronger appeal to the female audience. However, many men will enjoy it for the historical framework. This story sped along and kept me reading way past bedtime for days. I know I will read this book more than once.

The Historical Note and Chronology sections that precede the The Widow's War are a help to readers who are not history buffs. They also provide a point of reference for the reader.


Mary Mackey is related to Mark Twain through her father's family. She graduated from Harvard and received her Ph.D. in Comparative Literature. She lives in northern California with her husband and is Professor Emeritus of English at California State University. Visit Mary's website.

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