cover image Mrs. Grant and Madame Jule

Mrs. Grant and Madame Jule

Jennnifer Chiaverini. Dutton, $26.95 (352p) ISBN 978-0-525-95429-3

Against the backdrop of the Civil War and Ulysses S. Grant's rise to power, historical fiction writer Chiaverini's latest (after 2014's Mrs. Lincoln's Rival) imagines the fractured relationship between Grant's wife, Julia, and an enslaved woman named Jule, who had been a constant in Julia's life since childhood. Raised in Missouri by a slave-holding family, Julia Dent unexpectedly falls for her brother's northern friend. Though he attended West Point, Ulys is a humble soldier who just wants a quiet life as a mathematics professor. He and Julia endure a long courtship as the military often keeps him from her, a way of life that doesn't stop after they marry and the Civil War begins. Chiaverini does a good job of conveying the conflicting nature of Julia and Jule's relationship; despite their closeness, they will never be on even footing. Jule longs for a shot at happiness with groom Gabriel, a fellow slave. Important promises are broken, and Jule's resentment toward Julia grows. When the opportunity arises, Jule flees her former friend, which Julia sees as a betrayal. Careful not to cross paths with the Grants, Jule tries to make a life for herself with her hairdressing skills and keeps tabs as Ulys ascends the ranks of the Union Army. Since the story is filtered through a modern lens, some thoughts and actions occasionally seem anachronistic, but this doesn't detract from an engaging and informative book. (Mar.)