Fates and Traitors: A Novel of John Wilkes Booth

Written by Jennifer Chiaverini
Review by Jo Ann Butler

We’ve all heard of John Wilkes Booth, the actor who assassinated President Lincoln, but who knows much about Booth beyond that? In Fates and Traitors, the latest historical novel by bestselling author Jennifer Chiaverini, four intriguing witnesses escort us through Booth’s meteoric life.

In 1838 John Wilkes Booth is born out of wedlock to Mary Ann Holmes and Junius Booth. The sixth of seven children, John has giant footsteps to follow, for his father and two brothers are world-famous Shakespearean actors. John Wilkes Booth yearns to surpass their achievements, but fame is more easily sought than acquired. Who better to witness his struggles than his mother and his sister Asia?

By the fateful presidential election of 1864, John Wilkes has found the success he craves, and he frequently performs in Washington, D.C. He woos Lucy Hale, but their relationship seems doomed because she is the daughter of a New Hampshire senator and Booth staunchly upholds the Southern Cause. Plus, Booth is an actor, with all the scandalous overtones that profession carries. Can Lucy’s father’s resistance be overcome?

A Confederate widow hanged as a conspirator in Booth’s plots, Mary Surratt may be almost as familiar to readers as Booth. But was she truly an accomplice in the assassination which sent her to the gallows?

I couldn’t have enjoyed reading Fates and Traitors more. The prolific Ms. Chiaverini does a terrific job of recreating Booth’s world and depicting the tensions he bore – illegitimacy, failure and fame, and abhorrence at seeing his country brought to ruin. Her characters are rich and complex, and so is her highly recommended story.