The First Lady and the Rebel

Sourcebooks Landmark. Oct. 2019. 400p. ISBN 9781492647089. pap. $15.99; ebk. ISBN 9781492647096. F
The American Civil War tore apart friends and families, with brother fighting against brother—and sister against sister. Higginbotham’s novel introduces Mary and Emily Todd as young girls in Kentucky; their family, like many others, keeps some slaves. The story quickly shifts to Springfield, the new capital of Illinois, where Mary, always of a political bent, finds the man she wants to marry—Abraham Lincoln. Emily also journeys to Springfield, but her heart lies closer to home, with a Mr. Helm. Though Lincoln and Helm have respect for each other, they, and therefore the sisters, are on opposite sides of the Great Conflict. The war shapes their lives and their private joys and tragedies as well as the public ones. Like Jennifer Chiaverini’s Mrs. Lincoln’s Dressmaker, this work pays meticulous attention to historical detail while weaving an enthralling tale of the private life of Abraham and Mary Todd Lincoln, as well as the ups and downs of Mary’s relationship with Emily.
VERDICT This page-turner will please those who enjoy Civil War–era settings. This may also appeal to readers of Higginbotham’s previous historicals (Margaret Pole: The Countess in the Tower), though they are set much earlier and for the most part in England.

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