Published by Delacorte Press on June 23, 2020
Genres: Historical Fiction, Young Adult Fiction
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FTC Disclosure: I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher via Netgalley. All opinions are my own.
I was drawn to Veronica Rossi’s new novel Rebel Spy because although I love historical fiction and read it often, I’ve not read much in the way of fiction that focuses on the American Revolution. I was especially intrigued by Rebel Spy because the rebel spy in question is actually a woman, which was definitely new information to me. Aside from those who went on to become First Ladies, the only other female figure that even comes to mind when I think of the Revolutionary War is Betsy Ross. Needless to say, I was thrilled to learn that there were actually female spies in George Washington’s intelligencer networks and that they played a vital role in the war.
Rossi’s novel follows a woman identified in our historical records only as Agent 355 “Lady.” Agent 355’s true identity remains unknown to this day and all we know of her is that she was a woman of high society in New York and that she worked as a part of Washington’s Culper spy network. In her novel, Rossi has used her imagination to fill in the gaps and reimagine Agent 355’s life.
In Rossi’s reimagining, Agent 355 is Frannie Tasker, an orphaned young woman who lives on Grand Bahama Island with her abusive stepfather. Frannie dreams of a new life free from his abuse, and when her stepfather announces that he wants to marry her, Frannie becomes all the more desperate to get away from him. A timely storm, a devastating shipwreck with no survivors, and the body of a young woman who drowned in the wreck and bears a striking resemblance to Frannie provides her the escape she has been looking for. With her quick thinking, Frannie switches places with the young woman, thus assuming her identity. She learns that the young woman has lost her entire family in the shipwreck and the plan is now to put her on the next ship to New York, where her new guardian is located. The story follows Frannie as she takes on this new identity, learns to behave like a proper lady of society, and begins her life anew in New York City. It is while she is on the journey to New York that Frannie meets a young man who puts the idea of rebelling against the Crown into her head and sets into motion her journey to joining a spy ring. Frannie’s new position as a lady of society in New York gives her a prime vantage spot for intelligence as there are constantly British soldiers milling around at events she attends.
Rebel Spy is definitely a character driven story in the sense that while we do see Frannie in action as a spy, the spy ring and the Revolutionary War itself are very much in the background. This is a story about Frannie, the life she has left behind, the new life she embraces in New York, the new friends and more-than-friends she meets along the way, and then finally her introduction to the world of spying. As much as I enjoyed reading about Frannie’s life and what a resourceful and principled young lady she was, I would have rated this book even higher if we had gotten to see a little more of the actual spying and the war up close.
Even with that little quibble, I still found Rebel Spy to be a quick and satisfying read and one that has definitely made me want to learn more about the women who played a role in the American Revolution.