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The Spy Lover

3.86  ·  Rating details ·  514 ratings  ·  100 reviews
Thrust into the savagery of the U.S. Civil War, a Chinese immigrant fighting for the Union Army, a nurse turned spy, and a one-armed Confederate cavalryman find their lives inextricably entwined.

Johnny Tom, a Chinese immigrant, is promised American citizenship if he serves with the Union Army.
But first he must survive the carnage of battles and rampant racism among the ran
Paperback, 299 pages
Published August 28th 2012 by Thomas & Mercer (first published 2012)
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Average rating 3.86  · 
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Jeanette (Again)
American Civil War fiction is not a genre I seek out, but when I saw Kiana Davenport's name on this one, I couldn't resist. She always provides fresh angles on old stories. I can count on her to teach me something new, with facts as well as points of view.

I didn't know that Chinese immigrant men had been kidnapped and forced into service as Confederate soldiers. I also didn't know that women in the South grew opium poppies hidden among their other crops, providing opium "bull's-eyes" to their f
I was amazed again by this writer’s ability to cast a multicultural set of characters into the furnace of a violent chapter of American history and wrench my heart with the challenges for them to forge a path of survival and courage. Moral conflicts collide with dreams and redemption and force them to draw on inner strengths borne from love and family bonds. My experiences with her “The Shark Dialogs” and “Song of the Exile” were satisfying explorations of similar themes, both family sagas of Na ...more
Aug 28, 2012 rated it it was amazing
"The Spy Lover" by Kiana Davenport is an extraordinary book. It blew me away with its richness. Johnny Tom is a Chinese immigrant who has an amazing story even before he leaves China. His daughter, Era born from Johnny Tom and her mother, a beautiful Creek Indian, becomes a nurse and a spy during the war. Warren Rowan fights for the South loses his arm and meets nurse and becomes her lover.

Now you have a very short glimpse of the story which was inspired by author Kiana Davenport's search for he
Nov 17, 2018 rated it liked it
A mostly meh historical novel with fairly flat characters. There were some interesting aspects (POV of a Chinese immigrant, opium usage by soldiers, etc) but throughout the vast majority of the novel, I really didn't care about any of the characters. I was also a bit ticked that many civil war details were lifted directly from the Ken Burns civil war documentary series which I watched for the second time a week or so ago. Maybe it's a coincidence but I felt like I was reading a summary of the sh ...more
Ruth Hill
Sep 30, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: historical, romance
I have to admit that I struggled to know how to rate this book. I will be up front--this is a very hard book to read. The writing style is fantastic. Kiana Davenport is a very descriptive writer, and you feel as though you are right there experiencing the action as it happens. But that is also what makes this a difficult read. Read on, and you may understand what I mean.

First of all, the story has very little profanity, and it does have some sex scenes (that are not graphic, thankfully). But the
Lorraine Dusky
Oct 02, 2012 rated it it was amazing
THE SPY LOVER brings to life the blood and guts of the Civil War in a vivid, unforgettable way. A few decades ago, high praise for her writing would have been: she writes like a man, because the Civil War was bloody awful and Davenport does not shy away from depicting it as such, blood, guts and gore. The first chapter plunges you right into that reality, and those who would turn away should read on. There is so much to admire here.

The writing is raw, the images searing, the insights profound.Da
Jul 17, 2013 rated it it was ok
When most of us think of the Civil War we don't think of Chinese immigrants. This book takes a look at the war through the eyes of a Chinese woman, Era Tom, whose father was in the Union Army. In order to find out information about him she is required to spy on the Confederates. So she does. But this novel never resonated with me. It was well read. The accents sounded natural not forced or caricatures. But at the same time, I never found the story that interesting. That said, if the Civil War fa ...more
Shellie (Layers of Thought)
Sep 10, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: historical fiction lovers & US civil war buffs
Recommended to Shellie (Layers of Thought) by: Carol
Review by John originally posted at Layers of Thought.

4.5 stars actually.

A fascinating, gritty and brutal story about relationships and human resilience set mainly during the American Civil War. Learn about some of the awful history behind Chinese immigration in America. And don’t be deceived by the cover – this is not a cutesy love story.

About: Johnny Tom is a Chinese immigrant in the US during the mid-1800s, and like most Chinese is subject to the most brutal and horrendous racial discriminati
I didn't hate it but I wouldn't really recommend it either. It was definitely not what I thought it was going to be based on the blurb and reviews I read. The graphic war scenes didn't bother me as much as the disjointed writing. I kind of felt like the author wrote the first half of the book, put it down for a long time and then picked it up and finished it. The first half was very clipped and chopped sentences and then the last half was beautifully fleshed out ideas and thoughts. It was a very ...more
Teressa Morris
Sep 21, 2012 rated it it was amazing
I am so awestruck by this story that it is hard to find words. The tale is phenomenally well-researched, but the reader doesn't feel overwhelmed by the facts - they are simply the backdrop for this passionate epic. Kiana Davenport describes the brutalities of war (and life in general in the mid-1800s) in beautiful, horrible, sometimes extremely graphic detail.

Here are just two of the many things I learned about the Civil War from this book:

Black people were not the only slaves - Chinese and Nat
Asha Pena
Sep 04, 2012 rated it it was amazing
I was greatly moved that this has pieces of Kiana history, she was able to create a moving and engaging story that complese you to keep reading. As Era is a spy for the Union and is in love with a Confederate soldier, she has to stands both physically and metaphorically changes in a new land. Era is heart torn that she is withholding the truth from Warren. Yet, she cannot bring herself to admit who she really is. Her situation echoes the true cost of this war… of many wars. War's that forces man ...more
Feb 22, 2013 rated it really liked it
4.5 stars. I loved this book. The story was unpredictable and educated me on aspects of the Civil War I was not aware of in regards to the role that non-whites played in battles, the utter gruesomeness of the battles and the role of field hospitals and the various peddlers, etc. that followed the troops. The story though disturbing in its graphic details was ultimately a beautiful tale of love that surpasses the ravages of war and this world. The characters were well developed and I can't imagin ...more
Val Wilkerson
Aug 31, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2012-books-read
If I could give it more then 5 stars I would. Kiana Davenport is one of my favorite authors. This was the first book of hers I have read that did not take place in Hawaii. This was about the civil war. Three main characters, Johnnie Tom, Era and Warren. Johnnie Tom is chinese, the father of Era. He is fighting in the war. Warren is fighting on the opposite side of Johnnie Tom. Era is a nurse on the battlefields. The characters have stayed with me since I finished the book about a week ago. Kiana ...more
Feb 03, 2015 rated it really liked it
back and forth between main characters was at first disconcerting, but became smoother. some historical liberties.
Lisa Perkowski
Jul 09, 2018 rated it it was amazing
As a voracious reader if Civil War fiction, I have never come accross a book of this nature. Davenport has spun a unique story and has added pieces of our American history few people probably even realized existed. Her description of the battlefields is moving and graphic, but in a realistic way that brings the full horror of this part of our history to life. Presenting life on both sides of the battlefield is done remarkably well. While many might find the ending contrived and predictable, I fo ...more
Mar 22, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Never has a book kept me so enthralled and broadened me so much. I was naive to every part of history Davenport wrote about and I've told the plot to twenty people or more in the past four years. The writing fully captures the gruesome history of the time and the complete passion of three people surviving at all costs. This book changed me and I'm so glad it did.
Mar 28, 2018 rated it really liked it
Don''t let the title and cover fool you. It is not a romance, though there is a love story as part of the book, and it is not a spy novel. It's historical fiction about the U.S. Civil War and it isn't for the faint of heart. Lots of violence. It is well written, though.
Dec 28, 2018 rated it really liked it
This was set during the Civil War in America. I loved the way the author intertwined the lives of the characters. It was a fascinating book. A quick read and enjoyable.
Apr 14, 2020 rated it liked it
interesting story, but doesn't hold a candle to "Shark Dialogues", "Song of the Exile", "House of Many Gods"
Kathleen Valentine
Aug 30, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Winston Churchill said that history is written by the victors. Because of that we too often suffer from the delusion that our side (whatever side that is) were the good guys and their side (whoever they are) got what they deserved. This is rarely true. Ever since I discovered Kiana Davenport's writing back in the early 1990s I have been mesmerized – sometimes painfully so – by her writing and her new novel, The Spy Lover, epitomizes that experience.

Though I am not particularly interested in Civi
Sam Sattler
Sep 03, 2012 rated it really liked it
Shelves: civil-war
Kiana Davenport’s The Spy Lover is a Civil War novel with a twist. What makes this one different is its focus on the wartime contributions of Johnny Tom, a Chinese immigrant, and Era, his copper-skinned daughter. It is common knowledge that a large number of immigrants participated in the American Civil War, but amateur historians generally think of countries like Ireland, Germany, England, and Scotland as their countries of origin. Few would ever consider China in this context.

Johnny Tom did
Don Wallace
Nov 09, 2012 rated it it was amazing
America's Opium War

A Chinese soldier and his mixed-blood daughter are at the center of this unflinching novel of the Civil War


[from the Honolulu Weekly]

Let us now praise the woman warrior. For too many years–centuries, actually–writing about war has been a man’s game. And for too many years, reading war fiction has been about as deep an experience as watching a couple of boys play with toy soldiers. Aside from the diligent recreation of Gettysburg in The Killer Angels
Carole Rae
Aug 08, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Like earlier stated I read this and reviewed this for CMN. However, I would have tracked this down myself and read on my own if CMN never offered this.

This novel was divided into three POVs: Era's, Johnny Tom's (Era papa), and Warren (the Confederate solider). I loved each POV and I could barely put this book down because I was in desperate need to find out what would happen next. I especially loved Johnny Tom's POV because it was such a different view of the Civil War, a Chinese foot-solider's
First, let me say that as far as narrative goes, I very much enjoyed this book. It hurt in all the right places, and I think it did an excellent job of depicting the divided loyalties and the bone-deep exhaustion and pain that accompany war. Further, it did an excellent job in depicting the plight of non-white peoples caught up in the U.S. Civil War-- from Era to Johnny Tom, Raindance and Zebedee. My heart hurt for the characters.

However, I have a few major quibbles with this book. Let me prefa
Jan 18, 2015 rated it really liked it
From the time I was a kid, I have been fascinated by the Civil War and have read a lot of books, visited a lot of battle sites, took in a slew of Hollywood's visions, and felt I had a pretty good knowledge of things. Then I read The Spy Lover and I was knocked off my feet by the grim realities ensconced in the lyrical magic of Kiana Davenport's writing.

Granted, it's easy to get lost in the mythology of the war, as inundated as America is to this crucial moment in our history from Gone with the W
Dec 30, 2012 rated it really liked it
One would think that with all of the books that have been published about the Civil War there would be nothing new to say. One would be wrong. Kiana Davenport has written a fascinating novel based on her family history about a Chinese Civil War soldier named Johnny Tom. He was forced to enlist in the Confederate Army, escaped, and signed up to fight with the Union. Like the real life John Tommy, he lost his arms and legs at the Battle of Gettysburg, but remarkably survived another three and a ha ...more
Aug 30, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: civil-war, audiobook
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
May 20, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
This book was fascinating! First of all, the title is terrible. The title, along with the image on the cover, are totally deceiving. I thought at first glance that this was a harlequin romance novel or something of the sort, when it fact it is a historical fiction, set alongside the Civil War, and chronicles the major Civil War battles from both the north and south's perspectives. The novel does this through three characters - a young woman, serving as a nurse in the south so she can spy for the ...more
Sep 29, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Living in the deep South, usually, when I think “Civil War” I picture white men in either blue or grey uniforms, Abraham Lincoln and Emancipation Proclamation, or the antebellum homes in my area that are still standing. However, Kiana Davenport’s novel “The Spy Lover” has added a whole new dimension to the Civil War for me. Her story follows the journey of Johnny Tom, a Chinese man who is kidnapped into the Confederate army and later defects to the Union side, his daughter, Era, a spy for the Un ...more
Aug 25, 2012 rated it really liked it
First I want to say what a amazing book this was. There was so much research put into this book and with it based from Kiana Davenport’s ancestor Warren Davenport, named Warren Petticomb in the book I have no doubt that it will be a best seller.

This is not a book I would have chosen to read as I am not really into war and historical books but I am glad I did read it. It was very interesting, I learnt a few things I did not know about. So it was educational for me too.

There are three main charact
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KIANA DAVENPORT is descended from a full-blooded Native Hawaiian mother, and a Caucasian father from Talladega, Alabama. Her father, Braxton Bragg Davenport, was a sailor in the U.S. Navy, stationed at Pearl Harbor, when he fell in love with her mother, Emma Kealoha Awaawa Kanoho Houghtailing. On her mother's side, Kiana traces her ancestry back to the first Polynesian settlers to the Hawaiian Isl ...more

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“He thinks of all he has seen and learned: that the universe is indifferent to our human endeavors, that what gives our lives meaning is the passion that invades our hearts and burns in us, and maybe even destroys us.” 3 likes
“Since history, war has always been the same. Old men talking, young men dying.” 0 likes
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