Enemy Women by Paulette Jiles

Enemy Women by Paulette Jiles is set during the U.S. Civil War in Missouri, which is torn apart by Union ties and Confederate rebel robberies and mischief.  Adair Colley’s father is taken by Union militia on suspicion of helping rebels, and the union soldiers have ripped through their home and taken many of their belongings.  Following the capture of her father, she and her sisters walk to inquire about their father’s imprisonment and to possibly barter for his freedom.  However, along the journey, Adair’s tactless mouth gets her in trouble and she is imprisoned in St. Louis and her sisters flee to relatives.  The novel is about the civil war peripherally and directly and how it impacts Adair and her life.

“There will be trouble in Missouri until the Secesh are subjugated and made to know that they are not only powerless, but that any attempts to make trouble here will bring upon them certain destruction and this . . . must not be confined to soldiers and fighting men, but must be extended to non-combatant men and women.” (Page 1 from beginning correspondence)

Jiles peppers the beginning of each chapter with “authentic” correspondence and dispatches from union and confederates alike, as well as from ordinary people.  On some occasions, these passages speak directly or indirectly to the action in the chapters they precede, but on others they do nothing more than offer additional background to the war and its terror.  They do provide a certain authenticity to a novel that is more fanciful in nature as Adair seems younger than her 18 years.  She sees the world as a young girl who believes that justice always prevails, and despite the challenges she faces, she seems unable to let go of her naivete.  She often is surprised by how people act and react, which she finds extremely disappointing.  Unfortunately, not much changes with Adair’s character throughout the book.  At times, she can be cunning and quick to make decisions that are beneficial, but at other times, she’s fumbling around and unable to be courageous.

“Do you not want out of here? He said.  He seized up the papers.  You think perhaps you care for me.  Would you care for me if you were not here? And dependent on my good will?” (page 126)

Jiles does have her moments where she demonstrates the changes in Missouri from farmland and traditional ways of life to a more industrialized and modern society.  Questions also are raised about whether Adair would have fallen in love with a union soldier had the war not taken place and they were not thrown together.  Readers may enjoy the plight of Adair, but they also may grow frustrated with her lack of growth and the plodding nature of the prose throughout the book.  War scenes only occur once or twice in the book, and while most of the book is about Adair and her journey, there are a couple of chapters thrown in that focus only on Major Neumann after he is sent to the war front from the St. Louis prison where Adair is held.

Enemy Women by Paulette Jiles illustrates the transitions Missouri and its people endured as a result of the war and its aftermath, and the harsh conditions the war brought to union and confederate alike is well depicted.  However, dialects and uneducated speech are not done well, and there are no quotation marks at all.  Moreover, the characterizations falter in several points in the book, and there are some convenient plot devices used to get Adair where she needs to go and to save her from discovery.  The ending left a great number of unanswered questions given the cryptic prose used by Jiles in the final moments of Adair’s story.  While Enemy Women by Paulette Jiles didn’t work most of the time, readers interested in the social impact of the U.S. Civil War might enjoy the story.

Please do check out the discussion for the read-a-long on War Through the Generations if you’ve read the book.


This is my 47th book for the 2011 New Authors Reading Challenge.



This is my 2nd book for the U.S. Civil War Reading Challenge 2011.




  1. I enjoyed this one more than you did, but I don’t remember it that well. I also liked her more recent novel, The Color of Lightning.

    • Patti, I’m glad that you enjoyed this book more than I did. I’ll have to check out another of her books at some point, and maybe I’ll like it better.

  2. I’m not sure I was reading the same book as the rest of you, I felt she did react like she’d learned something. Remember she lead a very sheltered life prior to all of this. War is ugly .

    • I know that she had a sheltered life, but I’m not sure how much she learned, if anything. Her actions and reactions to things that happen to her are very naive in most instances. I just don’t think Jiles did a good job of showing her evolution or character growth. I’m glad that you enjoyed the book.

      War is indeed ugly, no matter where.

  3. This one sounds really good. And from a perspective one doesn’t normally see. I think I found a new one to add to my list.
    2 Kids and Tired Books

  4. I didn’t even think about whether or not Adair evolved over the course of the novel. I couldn’t wait to be done and just wanted to finish the review, LOL. But the more I think about it, I’m not sure all that she’d seen or done changed her much. That’s not even touched upon. I did like her character; she had spunk. But I was more interested in Neumann and his scenes were few. Ah, well. You win some, you lose some.

  5. Hmm, I just finished a book in which the main character was also Adair, only it was a guy. Must be the new hot name of the moment!

    Re CW books that talk about the impact on the home front, I’ve got 1861 by Adam Goodheart on the top of my wishlist. It’s nonfiction, but/and it’s supposed to be terrific.

    • You’ll have to let me know how the nonfiction home front book is on the CW. I’m not big on nonfiction war books unless they are well done and not like textbooks.

      Maybe Adair is the hot name, though Enemy Women is an older book.

  6. The lack of quotation marks would bug me no end. Between that and the poor dialect, I figure this book isn’t for me.

    • This was a tough one for a read-a-long because I couldn’t keep focused on it at all. It was a weekly struggle to get through the chapters.

  7. This sounds like an interesting premise, but I like to see a protagonist grow … the sad fact is, a lot of people in REAL life don’t grow either! 🙂 Thanks for the review!

    • I also like protagonists that grow. I couldn’t connect with Adair at all and the story was too full of “plot devices” that were not necessary and disrupted the flow of the novel for me.