Not sure what I was expecting precisely from The Rebel Wife by Taylor Polites, but it's not what I got. Which, honestly, isn't really a bad thing; this story is certainly more complex, and definitely more thought provoking than the one I'd anticipated. I just wish I hadn't spent half the book frustrated with Augusta's shallow blind devotion to her cousin Judge.
The Rebel Wife is the story of August Branson, proud daughter of Southern roots who made the fatal mistake of marrying a Union sympathizer (for money and security and at her family's urging) after the Civil War. It's ten years on and Gus now has a young child when her husband Eli dies unexpectedly of a mystery illness. It's at this point that Gus discovers, through her very controlling cousin Judge, that Eli's money is mostly gone or tied up in the mill he owned. Gus is a lot of things, but a woman with a backbone she is not; she listens to Judge and his equally smarmy son Buck, and believes that her dead husband was blackmailing and misusing many of the townspeople. Though it seems apparent to the reader that Judge is attempting to take Gus's money, she doesn't see it for a loooooooong time; until, that is, Simon, one of her servants, starts revealing Eli's past, slowly bringing Gus to the realization that she can stand up to Judge. Maybe.
There is a mystery involved: sometime around the time Eli got sick, a saddlebag containing $5000 disappeared, and Simon is determined to find it for Augusta and himself. Judge seems equally determined, and even Gus's ne'er do well brother Mike wants it. As time passes, Gus finds herself aiding Simon and listening more and more to her servants who have seen what's been going on and are determined to escape the prejudice of former slavery. I just wish she'd figured things out sooner...because up until the last 70 pages or so, I was seriously thinking she needed a good whop upside the head.
Minor spoiler.....The final climax is very thrilling, and well worth the frustration of the earlier pages; Gus finally, FINALLY comes into her own and takes charge. The Rebel Wife? What on earth did she rebel against for the first two thirds of the book? And her husband never really seemed much of a Rebel for the south, either. Oh well. I never did buy Simon in general; he seemed pretty shady and his speech was highly unrealistic for the time period. And it's written in present tense...which I detest, particularly in historical fiction. But Polites has definitely done his research and the entire book is filled with historical accuracy for the period. That coupled with the climax bumps this review up to 4 stars from the 3 I'd originally planned.