Review: Enemy Women

“Through the shutters, Adair could smell the latrines. It was like the Female Seminary of the Netherworld. A ladies’ academy in hell.” – Paulette Jiles, Enemy Women

Enemy Women by Paulette Jiles
321 pages
Published by Harper Perennial, 2002
Genre: Historical Fiction, Western
Re-readability: This book was enjoyable, but it’s not worth revisiting for me.
Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars

Reviewed by Pete
Spoiler-free review

After reading Paulette Jiles’s News of the World, I knew I’d be reading more of her works—the fact that her characters appear in multiple books only intrigued me more.

Enemy Women has a premise very different from News of the World. Jiles examines the consequences of the Civil War on civilians from both sides, and those who remain neutral like the Colleys of Missouri.

Adair Colley has watched the Union militia take everything from her: her home, her father, her horse, and her freedom. When she is locked away in a women’s prison, she resolves to break free and find her father, if he still lives.

The setting of this is story intriguing—Jiles knows her stuff, and the details of the lives of those displaced by Union soldiers in the south painted a grim picture. I found Adair to be an entertaining character with a lot of agency — she has a way of taking control of most situations. When Adair is in the women’s prison, another prisoner grabs her and commands her to read to the room. Adairs response:

“You let go of me or I’ll kill your dog when you aint looking.”

She’s a terrifying character, and only through her tenacity and quick-thinking is she able to escape several dangerous situations.

There’s a romance that is slightly surprising at first, though well written. However, I never felt that it made sense for Adair, and I was surprised that she could think about marriage while fighting for her life and for her family. It just didn’t quite fit.

This was a book that I enjoyed the whole time. It had a handful of powerful scenes, and it moved along quickly. However, I didn’t feel incredibly attached to the characters, in part because this is a book primarily about one character and the story’s only relationship wasn’t that interesting. It was a good read, but one that won’t stick with me.

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