Welcome to the next post in my Anticipated Books series for the second half of 2013. This is the second half of my historical fiction list. There were just so many books that caught my fancy that I split them in two. For some of these I already have an (e)ARC or review copy, so they’ll definitely be read and reviewed. And for the rest, I’ll have to see whether I get the chance to get my hands on them!
Mirko Bonné – Ice-Cold Heaven (Overlook)
August 1914. While World War I rears its head across Europe, Sir Ernest Shackleton begins a daring expedition to be the first man to cross the Antarctic on foot. With him on his ship Endurance are twenty-eight crew members, sixty-nine sled dogs, a gramophone, a bicycle–and Merce Blackboro, a seventeen-year-old stowaway hidden amidst oilskins and sea boots.
Their journey into the ice is by way of the sub-Antarctic island of South Georgia. But the Antarctic summer is short, and their passage remains resolutely closed to them. In the Weddell Sea the Endurance is trapped for months in pack ice and finds itself delivered up to an uncertain fate.
Richly imagined and gripping right up the very last page, Ice-Cold Heaven traces Shackleton’s legendary and heroic adventure through the ice and explores the relationships between these men who were lost to the world for 635 days.
Jennifer Chiaverini – The Spymistress (Dutton)
Born to slave-holding aristocracy in Richmond, Virginia, and educated by Northern Quakers, Elizabeth Van Lew was a paradox of her time. When her native state seceded in April 1861, Van Lew’s convictions compelled her to defy the new Confederate regime. Pledging her loyalty to the Lincoln White House, her courage would never waver, even as her wartime actions threatened not only her reputation, but also her life.
Van Lew’s skills in gathering military intelligence were unparalleled. She helped to construct the Richmond Underground and orchestrated escapes from the infamous Confederate Libby Prison under the guise of humanitarian aid. Her spy ring’s reach was vast, from clerks in the Confederate War and Navy Departments to the very home of Confederate President Jefferson Davis.
Although Van Lew was inducted posthumously into the Military Intelligence Hall of Fame, the astonishing scope of her achievements has never been widely known. In Chiaverini’s riveting tale of high-stakes espionage, a great heroine of the Civil War finally gets her due.
Laurie Graham – The Liar’s Daughter (Quercus)
When Nan Prunty’s mother kept an alehouse in Portsmouth she renamed it The Duchess of Prunty, the title she claimed would have been hers had Lord Nelson lived. He was her lover. She saw him die at Trafalgar, or so she says. The details vary according to the amount of drink she’s taken.
Nan makes her own determined way in life, but always haunted by the wish to know the truth about her father. From the ageing seamen at the Greenwich Hospital to the battlefields of the Crimea, Nan discovers the world is full of people with a story about Nelson.
There are questions we can never hope to answer. It doesn’t stop us asking.
Robert Harris – An Officer and a Spy (Hutchinson)
January 1895. On a freezing morning in the heart of Paris, an army officer, Georges Picquart, witnesses a convicted spy, Captain Alfred Dreyfus, being publicly humiliated in front of twenty thousand spectators baying ‘Death to the Jew!’
The officer is rewarded with promotion: Picquart is made the French army’s youngest colonel and put in command of ‘the Statistical Section’ – the shadowy intelligence unit that tracked down Dreyfus.
The spy, meanwhile, is given a punishment of medieval cruelty: Dreyfus is shipped off to a lifetime of solitary confinement on Devil’s Island – unable to speak to anyone, not even his guards, his case seems closed forever.
But gradually Picquart comes to believe there is something rotten at the heart of the Statistical Section. When he discovers another German spy operating on French soil, his superiors are oddly reluctant to pursue it. Despite official warnings, Picquart persists, and soon the officer and the spy are in the same predicament…
Narrated by Picquart, An Officer and a Spy is a compelling recreation of a scandal that became the most famous miscarriage of justice in history. Compelling, too, are the echoes for our modern world: an intelligence agency gone rogue, justice corrupted in the name of national security, a newspaper witch-hunt of a persecuted minority, and the age-old instinct of those in power to cover-up their crimes.
In 1437, after years of regency, the pious and gentle Henry VI, the Lamb, comes of age and accedes to the English throne. His poor health and frailty of mind render him a weakling king – Henry depends on his closest men, Spymaster Derry Brewer and William de la Pole, Duke of Suffolk, to run his kingdom.
Yet there are those, such as the Plantagenet Richard, Duke of York, who believe England must be led by a strong king if she is to survive. With England’s territories in France under threat, and rumours of revolt at home, fears grow that Henry and his advisers will see the country slide into ruin. With a secret deal struck for Henry to marry a young French noblewoman, Margaret of Anjou, those fears become all too real.
As storm clouds gather over England, King Henry and his supporters find themselves besieged abroad and at home. Who, or what can save the kingdom before it is too late?
HRH Princess Michael of Kent – The Queen of Four Kingdoms (Constable)
At the age of nineteen, Yolande of Aragon is sent away from her family, her friends, and everything she knows, to marry the young Duke of Anjou, King Charles VI’s first cousin. Their marriage has been arranged to form an alliance between the previously warring kingdoms of Aragon and Anjou, and is politically fraught in a time of great danger and unrest. Yet the union between Yolande and Louis becomes not only a great love story, but also sets in motion events which will change the course of history.
As Louis spends more and more time and money fighting in Italy for his claim to the Kingdom of Naples, Yolande is left alone with their six children to govern their lands. But through her charm, fierce intelligence and the clever use of her spies, she becomes the saviour of not just her kingdoms but also of France.
Jennifer Laam – The Secret Daughter of the Tsar (St. Martin’s Griffin)
In her riveting debut novel, The Secret Daughter of the Tsar, Jennifer Laam seamlessly braids together the stories of three women: Veronica, Lena, and Charlotte. Veronica is an aspiring historian living in present-day Los Angeles when she meets a mysterious man who may be heir to the Russian throne. As she sets about investigating the legitimacy of his claim through a winding path of romance and deception, the ghosts of her own past begin to haunt her. Lena, a servant in the imperial Russian court of 1902, is approached by the desperate Empress Alexandra. After conceiving four daughters, the Empress is determined to sire a son and believes Lena can help her. Once elevated to the Romanov’s treacherous inner circle, Lena finds herself under the watchful eye of the meddling Dowager Empress Marie. Charlotte, a former ballerina living in World War II occupied Paris, receives a surprise visit from a German officer. Determined to protect her son from the Nazis, Charlotte escapes the city, but not before learning that the officer’s interest in her stems from his longstanding obsession with the fate of the Russian monarchy. Then as Veronica’s passion intensifies, and her search for the true heir to the throne takes a dangerous turn, the reader learns just how these three vastly different women are connected. The Secret Daughter of the Tsar is thrilling from its first intense moments until its final, unexpected conclusion.
Julian Stockwin – Caribbee (Hodder & Stoughton)
More than a decade ago, Thomas Kydd and Nicholas Renzi were in the Caribbean as sailors before the mast in the old Trajan. Now Kydd, a storied hero of Trafalgar, holds the glory of being Post-captain of the 32-gun frigate, L’Aurore. His almost unbelievable feat of self-advancement is the toast of his own crew… but the envy of others less blessed than he.
After unremitting war a Caribbean posting seems a welcome respite. But, in addition to the balmy warmth and turquoise waters, Kydd and Renzi find themselves facing a familiar threat as the French imperil Britain’s vital sugar trade.
When more and more merchantmen begin vanishing from the sea, fear spreads. Before long, the sugar ships refuse to set sail at all. Now Kydd and Renzi must embark on a dangerous game of espionage, seamanship and breath-taking action in order to destroy this new and terrible danger to the Empire.
Indu Sundaresan – The Mountain of Light (Washington Square Press)
By the time Queen Victoria slipped the Mountain of Light diamond on her wrist, claiming it for England, the gem had traveled around the world, changing hands over the centuries from one ruler to another in Persia, Afghanistan, and India.
The fascinating story of this 105-carat diamond opens in 1830, when the Indian Maharaja and founder of the Sikh empire Ranjit Singh takes possession of the massive jewel that has been passed from man to man, king to king, and emperor to emperor, through bloodshed and destruction, since the 1200s. But India in the nineteenth century is a very different place. Now the British Empire has claimed territories all across the country and the colonization of India takes root. When Ranjit Singh dies, four of his sons are slaughtered in wars with the British, and the diamond is left to Prince Dalip Singh, a six-year-old child. The British governor-general orders that the Mountain of Light be secreted out of India in 1850, and the teenage-king Dalip Singh follows the diamond to London to officially present it to the queen as a spoil of the Sikh War. He is feted and petted by the British monarchy for a long while—until he realizes that all that Britain gives him cannot make up for the loss of his country and its celebrated diamond.
Princess Agnes of France is thirteen when she marries the heir to Byzantium, an empire unmatched in wealth, power – and glamour.
But once she sets foot in the Queen of Cities, a decadent world where dazzling luxury masks unspeakable cruelty, she realises that her husband is a deluded mother’s boy with mighty enemies and treacherous allies.
As emperors rise and fall, Agnes learns to play the City’s game – until she falls for a handsome rebel and finds that love is the most perilous game of all.
Glittering parties in marble palaces soon give way to bloody revolution, shipwreck and exile and Agnes discovers there is no limit to what she will do to survive.
But only when crusading knights from her homeland attack the City, does she finally understand what is truly worth fighting for.
Paul Fraser Collard – The Maharajah’s General (Headline)
Jack Lark barely survived the Battle of the Alma in Crimea, and his future seemed bleak. But now he’s found a way to get back to war, masquerading as a captain who died of his wounds. Arriving in India, Jack finds new enemies to fight, but this time they’re on his own side. Unmasked as a fraud, he escapes with the chaplain’s daughter, and in desperation, they seek refuge with the Maharajah the British Army is trying to defeat. The Maharajah sees Jack as a curiosity, but recognises a fellow military mind. In return for his safety, Jack must train the very army he came to India to fight. And one day soon, the two sides must meet in battle…
Essie Fox – The Goddess and the Thief (Orion)
Uprooted from her home in India, Alice Willoughby is raised by her spiritualist medium aunt in Windsor. There, both Alice and her aunt under the influence of the mysterious Mr Tilsbury, who involves them in a secret plot to steal one of India’s sacred jewels: the priceless Koh-i-nor diamond.
Said to be both a blessing and a curse, the diamond is a stone around which many myths have formed. And now in mid-Victorian England it begins to exert its power again.
Ronald Frame – Havisham (Picador)
Catherine Havisham was born into privilege. Spry, imperious, she is the daughter of a wealthy brewer. But she is never far from the smell of hops and the arresting letters on the brewhouse wall—HAVISHAM. A reminder of all she owes to the family name, and the family business.
Sent by her father to stay with the Chadwycks, Catherine discovers elegant pastimes to remove the taint of her family’s new money. But for all her growing sophistication Catherine is anything but worldly, and when a charismatic stranger pays her attention, everything—her heart, her future, the very Havisham name—is vulnerable.
In this astounding prelude to Charles Dickens’s classic Great Expectations, Ronald Frame unfurls the psychological trauma that made young Catherine into Miss Havisham, and cursed her to a life alone roaming the halls of the mansion in the tatters of the dress she wore for the wedding she was never to have.
Daisy Goodwin – The Last Empress (Headline)
Empress Elisabeth ‘Sisi’ of Austria is famed in her 1865 Winterhalter portrait depicting her lustrous, long dark hair studded with twenty-seven sparkling diamond stars, her pale, porcelain skin, her ruby lips and exquisite poise. Intelligent, beautiful and bored, she decides to leave her husband, Franz Joseph to his books, and pursue her love of hunting in a trip to England. It is there, riding with the hunt at Easton Neston, that she meets Bay Middleton, charismatic, handsome – and as excellent a rider as she is herself. Sisi is royalty, and married; Bay is charming, a commoner and betrothed – and his fiancee, Charlotte, is no fool…
Rich in period detail, this is a delicious, playful novel of a woman bound by her upbringing, and a man who cannot resist breaking rules.
Barbara Mutch – The Housemaid’s Daughter (St. Martin’s Press)
When Cathleen Harrington leaves her home in Ireland in 1919 to travel to South Africa, she knows that she does not love the man she is to marry there —her fiance Edward, whom she has not seen for five years. Isolated and estranged in a small town in the harsh Karoo desert, her only real companions are her diary and her housemaid, and later the housemaid’s daughter, Ada. When Ada is born, Cathleen recognizes in her someone she can love and respond to in a way that she cannot with her own family.
Under Cathleen’s tutelage, Ada grows into an accomplished pianist and a reader who cannot resist turning the pages of the diary, discovering the secrets Cathleen sought to hide. As they grow closer, Ada sees new possibilities in front of her—a new horizon. But in one night, everything changes, and Cathleen comes home from a trip to find that Ada has disappeared, scorned by her own community. Cathleen must make a choice: should she conform to society, or search for the girl who has become closer to her than her own daughter?