Archive | 9:13 AM

Book Review: The Rebel Wife by Taylor M. Polites (2/5)

8 May

I heard about Polites from an essay collection I read a while back, Knitting Yarns. I really enjoyed Polites’s essay and remember him talking about knitting a dog sweater (the collection was authors who knit so this is very in line with the collection). I added this novel to my TBR and there it sat for two and a half years. I found an audiobook copy of it and decided to give it a go.

Cover image via Amazon

The Rebel Wife by Tyler M. Polites

Summary from Amazon:

Augusta Branson was born into antebellum Southern nobility during a time of wealth and prosperity, but now she is left standing in the ashes of a broken civilization. When her scalawag husband dies suddenly of a mysterious illness, she must fend for herself and her young son. Slowly she begins to wake to the reality of her new life: her social standing is stained by her marriage; she is alone and unprotected in a community that is being destroyed by racial prejudice and violence; the fortune she thought she would inherit does not exist; and the deadly fever that killed her husband is spreading fast.

Augusta needs someone to trust if she and her son are to escape. As she summons the courage to cross the boundaries of hate, The Rebel Wife presents an unforgettable heroine for our time.

I started this audiobook as I was making a long drive. Usually, this is a great time for me to pay attention to a book and dive into it. Something about the beginning of this book confused me and it started us off on the wrong book and we never made it back. I was confused about all of the characters, who was alive or dead, and who was family, friend, or servant. I was then focused on sorting all of those things out and didn’t really grasp what was going on in the story for a while. This made it hard for me to be invested in Augusta and her search for Eli’s money and left me confused about the two different stories she was being told. In the end, it was hard to get into since nothing really felt explained.

I think a lot of the folks in this story were good reflections of their time and location. The economy of the South went through huge changes following the Civil War and the anger, confusion, and hostility we hear from the characters felt very real. I think the different voices we hear, Judge and Simon especially, really highlighted how bad things were at the time and what a long road it was going to be for that region to see any real change.

I didn’t particularly like any of the characters in this book. Augusta bothered me the most so having her as a narrator was frustrating. She starts the book off having resented her husband and everything he did to her and behaving as if she has the true ‘rebel’ mentality we see in her friends and suspect her family held. It was confusing to me what changed her mind in the story. It didn’t seem really believable to me that she would have such a shift in opinion and moral guide without much having moved her in that direction. I thought maybe I missed something for a while. I think it was too sudden and extreme to really seem believable.

There are some aspects to what Augusta was going through that resonated with me. I think there are a lot of folks of my generation today that see a change in opinion about gender and sexuality. I’m thinking back to the “OK, Boomer” fad and the concept that the ideas that some generations hold are written off by younger ones as being outdated. Augusta seemed to feel that Judge (and possibly her parents) were too stuck in their ways and they should embrace the changes that were happening and find a new way forward.

Taylor M. Polites
Image via Amazon

There wasn’t a part of this book I really liked, honestly. When I wasn’t confused, I was sad for the characters and what they were experiencing. I thought some of the scenes with the society ladies were a bit more light hearted and liked those more, but I still never got to a point with this book that I would say was a stand out favorite.

The beginning of this book didn’t get me off on the right foot, and that made it hard for me to read the rest of the story. I wish there’d been a little slower introduction to all the people in the house and maybe a little less chaotic start to the story. I didn’t know who was dying and who was killing a snake and if the two things were related.

The audiobook was narrated by Johanna Parker. Honestly, I wasn’t a big fan of her reading, but I don’t know much of that was that I wasn’t a fan of Augusta. Augusta seemed weak more than once and it Parker put a waiver in her voice when she was scared or meek that frustrated me. For having a mind-shift that seemed very modern, her ability to stand up for herself was quite in line with the times. Her accent and voice differentiation seemed right to me, but I’m not from that part of the country so I can’t say too much about how accurate she was to Alabama.

Losing the Civil War was a huge blow to the South. The end of slavery made their agrarian economy a delicate system that couldn’t continue. Folks like Judge suffered economically and blamed everyone but themselves. This isn’t a transition I remember learning a lot about in school which is probably my Northern bias. I can see why there was so much tension at the time and I thought Rachel and John were smart to pack up and get out. I think this is a time ripe with tension and made for an interesting backdrop for the story.

Writer’s Takeaway: Writers are always advised to start the story with action and to make things move from the start. Polites did this with a very action-packed scene with a lot of folks involved. I think the number of people introduced was too much for the opening chapters. I was confused about who was dying, which made it hard for me to understand who was sad and who was unaffected. By the time that was sorted out, I was trying to figure out who I had missed being introduced to while I sorted out who was dying. I’m not sure there needed to be so many folks in the house or visiting the house so early and I think slowing that down could have helped with the confusion.

I struggled to get into this book and that kept me from being able to enjoy it. Two out of Five Stars

This book fulfills the 1800-1899 time period of the 2023 When Are You Reading? Challenge.

Until next time, write on.

You can follow me on GoodreadsFacebookTwitterPinterest, and Instagram. I’m available via email at And as always, feel free to leave a comment!

Some of the links on this post may be affiliate links. Taking on a World of Words is a participant in affiliate programs designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by linking to products. If you purchase a product or service through an affiliate link, your cost will be the same but Sam will automatically receive a small commission. Your support is greatly appreciated.