Welcome to another post in my Anticipated Books series for the first half of 2015. 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! Continue reading
Tag archives for Virago
Welcome to the next post in my Anticipated Books series for the second half of 2014. Like fantasy, there were too many historical fiction books that caught my fancy for one post, so they’ve been split 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! Continue reading
Welcome to another post in my Anticipated Books series for the first half of 2014. 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! Continue reading
Welcome to the fourth post in my Anticipated Books series for the winter and spring of 2014. Today it’s time for my mainstream fiction and thriller picks. 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! Continue reading
Today we’re doing some time travel for my Anticipated Books posts by looking at historical fiction. I rediscovered historical fiction in 2011 and 2012 only strengthened my love for the genre, so here’s another list that’s become a little longer. 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!
Isabella was the notorious warrior-queen who, along with her husband Ferdinand, transformed Spain forever. Popular belief has her as a religious fanatic persuaded into the horrific excesses of the Inquisition by her confessor, Torquemada; but C.W. Gortner paints a picture of her early life, showing us a headstrong, passionate girl who grew into the most powerful queen Spain ever knew and whose vision and imagination allowed Columbus to discover America.
Katherine Keenum – Where the Light Falls (Berkley)
At the dawning of the Belle Epoque, Paris attracts artists from everywhere, including Jeanette Palmer, daughter of a prominent Ohio family, who has left Vassar College under a cloud of scandal.
Amid the city’s great bohemian neighborhoods and studios, Jeanette meets an American Civil War veteran named Edward Murer. As she begins to achieve artistic success, Jeanette’s relationship with Edward begins to flourish—but he is plagued by addiction and personal demons. Just as the world opens its arms to Jeanette, she finds herself torn between pursuing a burgeoning career or following her heart.
Annabel Lyon – The Sweet Girl (Atlantic Books)
Pythias is her father’s daughter, right down to her hard, slate-grey eyes. Aristotle’s child should be content with a life of childbearing. But she is smart, able to match wits with a roomful of Athenian thinkers. Is she a freak or a harbinger of what women can really be?
When Aristotle finally dies, however, the orphaned sixteen-year-old Pythias quickly discovers that the world is not a place of logic, but one of superstition. To reach her full potential, Aristotle’s daughter will need every ounce of wit she possesses, but she must also learn, quickly, to nurture her capacity to love.
Perkin Warbeck is an ordinary young man in fifteenth-century Tournai. The son of a port official, he loves nothing more than swimming, singing and fishing with his father. But Perkin has a secret. His real name is Richard, and he is the rightful Prince of England.
Thought to have been murdered with his brother, Edward, in the Tower of London, he was covertly taken to the continent and placed with an adoptive family under an assumed identity. But when his enemies seek him out he must flee, and embarks on a new life of derring-do, sailing the high seas with the era’s greatest adventurers. But Richard cannot avoid his fate forever. He knows he must return to England, to assume the throne that is his birthright. But what for Richard is a homecoming, for the new king, Henry Tudor, is nothing less than an invasion, and ‘Perkin’ slowly comes to learn that the price of his goal is the blood of innocent men.
Tara Conklin – The House Girl (William Morrow)
Virginia, 1852. Seventeen-year-old Josephine Bell decides to run from the failing tobacco farm where she is a slave and nurse to her ailing mistress, the aspiring artist Lu Anne Bell. New York City, 2004. Lina Sparrow, an ambitious first-year associate in an elite law firm, is given a difficult, highly sensitive assignment that could make her career: she must find the “perfect plaintiff” to lead a historic class-action lawsuit worth trillions of dollars in reparations for descendants of American slaves.
It is through her father, the renowned artist Oscar Sparrow, that Lina discovers Josephine Bell and a controversy roiling the art world: are the iconic paintings long ascribed to Lu Anne Bell really the work of her house slave, Josephine? A descendant of Josephine’s would be the perfect face for the reparations lawsuit—if Lina can find one. While following the runaway girl’s faint trail through old letters and plantation records, Lina finds herself questioning her own family history and the secrets that her father has never revealed: How did Lina’s mother die? And why will he never speak about her?
Moving between antebellum Virginia and modern-day New York, this searing, suspenseful and heartbreaking tale of art and history, love and secrets, explores what it means to repair a wrong and asks whether truth is sometimes more important than justice.
Elizabeth Gill – Miss Appleby’s Academy (Quercus)
Emma Appleby’s ordered and loving existence in New England comes to an abrupt and painful end with the death of her father. Emma plots her escape to the town in England where he was born. Opening an academy, she sets herself up in competition with the local school, provoking a savage response from the community. But she will not be deterred – even when her past catches up with her.
When young, aspiring playwright William Shakespeare encounters Lucy Morgan, one of Queen Elizabeth I’s ladies-in-waiting, his life is turned upside-down as the two fall passionately in love, He declares Lucy the inspiration for his work, but what secret is Will hising from his muse?
Meanwhile, Lucy has her own secret – and one that could destroy her world if exposed. For she bore witness to the clandestine wedding of the Queen’s cousin Lettice Knollys to Robert Dudley, rumoured to be the Queen’s lover. In a court where any slight against the monarch is considered treasonous, what will happen if Lucy’s secret is revealed?
With England in perilous times, Queen Elizabeth’s health begins to deteriorate, her throne under siege from Catholic plotters and threats of war with Spain. Faced with more than she can cope with, she longs for a confidante. But who can she turn to when those closest to her have proved untrustworthy?
Times have never been so precarious. And these two women, with polar-opposite lives, soon find that they are both in danger…
Lynn Shepherd – A Treacherous Likeness (Corsair)
This compelling follow-up to the acclaimed Tom-All-Alone’s sees the return of Charles Maddox in a new literary mystery that is inspired by the Young Romantics – the poet Percy Bysshe Shelley, his wife, Mary, author of Frankenstein, and Lord Byron, famously ‘mad, bad, and dangerous to know’. Beginning in London in 1850, the story takes the reader back through time and across Europe, to reveal the dark secrets and tangled lives of a dazzling but doomed generation. Drawing on rigorous research, Lynn Shepherd finds new and explosive answers to questions that even modern biographers of the Shelleys still cannot explain.
He is Queen Elizabeth’s last, perhaps her greatest, love – Robert Deveraux, Earl of Essex. Champion jouster, dashing general…and the man that John Lawley, England’s finest swordsman, most wishes to avoid. For John knows the other earl – the reckless melancholic – and has had to risk his life for him in battle one time too many.
All John wants is to be left alone to win back the heart of the woman he loves, be the kind of father that his son can look up to, and arrange the fight scenes for the magnificent new theatre, the Globe. To realise these dreams, John must dodge both Essex and his ruthless adversary for the queen’s affections, Robert Cecil, and remain free to help his oldest friend Will Shakespeare finish the play that threatens to destroy him: THE TRAGEDY OF HAMLET.
But John is doomed by his three devils: whisky, women and Mad Robbie Deveraux. Despite every effort to evade the clutches of Elizabeth and her cohorts, John is soon enmeshed in the intrigues of court and dragged into the seemingly hopeless war in Ireland, forced to play his part in a deadly game of power and politics, conspiracy and rebellion.
From the scaffold of the Globe to the one in the Tower. From ambush in Ireland to even greater menace in Whitehall, John Lawley must strive to be – or not to be – the man who might just save England.
Richard Blake – The Ghosts of Athens (Hodder & Stoughton)
It is 612 AD and Aelric &8211; senator of the Roman Empire, fresh from a bloodbath in Egypt – is forced to divert the Imperial galley to Athens.
He finds a demoralized and corrupt provincial city threatened by and an army rumoured to contain twenty million starving barbarians.
Not to mention an explosive religious dispute, an unexplained corpse, and hints of something worse than murder…
He will have to call upon all his formidable intellect and lethal ingenuity to survive his enemies inside and outside the city walls…
Iain Gale – Keane’s Company (Heron Books)
James Keane, officer in the 27th Foot, card sharp, ladies’ man and one of the finest but most rebellious soldiers in the British army, is under threat of court martial for disobeying Wellesley’s strict rules. Buthis special, even ungentlemanly, skills have caught his general’s eye, so he is selected to form a unique unit which will work behind enemy lines.
Keane’s next task is to hand-pick his band of men, some from prison for their aptitude at lock-picking and forgery as well as fighting skills, and form them into an effective unit before being sent on their first intelligence-gathering special mission, this time to link up with a lethal Spanish guerrilla leader.
Stealing into Oporto, Keane’s men have to hold a vital post over the river a crossing against overwhelming forces, before being detached once more into the high mountains on another mission where the strains of the diverse characters of the unit test Keane’s leadership skills to the uttermost.
Tim Leach – The Last King of Lydia (Atlantic Books)
Croesus, once the richest man of the ancient world, remembers how he once asked the old philosopher, Solon, who was the happiest man alive? Croesus used to think it was him. Yet his wealth could not remove the spear from his dying son’s chest; could not make him as wise as his own slave; could not bring his wife’s love back; could not stop his army being torn apart, his kingdom defeated.
As the old philosopher replied, a man’s happiness can only be measured when he is dead. And Croesus is about to be burned alive.
Imogen Robertson – The Paris Winter (Headline)
Paris, 1909, Grieving the loss of her father, Maud travels to Paris to paint. Slipping into poverty, she is hired as a companion to young, beautiful Sylvie. But Sylvie is a prisoner in her own home, controlled by her addiction to opium. As Maud uncovers the secrets within this world of luxury, she is both fascinated and repelled by what she finds. Will she be able to resist the temptations of Paris and the seductions of wealth?
David Thomas – Killer at the End of the Line (Quercus)
Berlin, 1941: The battered remains of a woman: the seventh victim of a serial killer who has cast a pall of terror over the city. With SS-General Heydrich demanding immediate results, detective Georg Heuser races to catch the killer before he strikes again.
Minsk, 1942: Thousands of Jews arrive in cattle trucks. Among the policemen about to commit some of the most terrible crimes is detective Georg Heuser.
Koblenz 1962: One young lawyer closes in on her prey, and wonders – just how bad can a good man become?
Eva Weaver – The Puppet Boy of Warsaw (Weidenfeld)
Mika, a Jewish boy, inherits a coat from his grandfather and discovers a puppet in one of its many secret pockets. He becomes a puppeteer in the Warsaw ghetto, but soon his talent is discovered and Mika is forced to entertain the occupying German troops instead of his countrymen. There is one soldier, Max, with a heavy conscience, and when Max is handed one of Mika’s puppets, a war-torn legacy is passed from one generation to another.
Helene Wecker – The Golem and the Jinni (HarperCollins)
A marvelous and absorbing debut novel, an enchanting combination of vivid historical fiction and magical fable about two supernatural creatures in turn-of-the-century immigrant New York.
Christian Cameron – The Ill-Made Knight (Orion)
William Gold comes into the world as his family slides down the social ladder. His head filled with tales of chivalry, instead he is branded a thief, and must make do with being squire to his childhood friend Sir Robert, a knight determined to make a name for himself as a man at arms in France. While William himself slowly acquires the skills of knightly combat, he remains an outsider – until the Battle of Poitiers when Sir Robert is cut down by the greatest knight of the age, Sir Geoffry de Charny, and William, his lowly squire, revenges him. But with his own knight dead, no honour acrrues to William for this feat of arms, and he is forced to become a mercenary. Scavenging a mis-matched set of armour from the knightly corpses, he joins one of the mercenary companies now set to pillage a defenceless France, and so begins a bloody career that sees William joining forces with the infamous Sir John Hawkwood and immersing himself in a treacherous clandestine war among the Italian city states. But paradoxically it is there, among the spies, assassins and hired killers serving their ruthless masters, that William finally discovers the true meaning of chivalry – and his destiny as a knight.
Sarah Dunant – Blood and Beauty (Virago)
By the end of the fifteenth century, the beauty and creativity of Italy is matched by its brutality and corruption, nowhere more than in Rome and in the Church. When Cardinal Rodrigo Borgia buys his way into the papacy as Alexander VI, he is defined not just by his wealth or his passionate love for his illegitimate children, but by his blood: he is a Spanish Pope in a city run by Italians. If the Borgias are to triumph, this charismatic, consummate politician with a huge appetite for life, women and power must use papacy and family to succeed.
His eldest son Cesare, a dazzlingly cold intelligence and an even colder soul, is his greatest – though increasingly unstable – weapon. Later immortalised in Machiavelli’s The Prince, he provides the energy and the muscle. His daughter Lucrezia, beloved by both men, is the prime dynastic tool. Twelve years old when the novel opens, hers is a journey through three marriages: from childish innocence to painful experience, from pawn to political player.
Philip Kazan – Appetite (Orion)
Nino knows that having a passion is the key to surviving in Florence without losing yourself completely. But Nino’s greatest gift will be his greatest curse; every flavour, every ingredient comes alive for him as vividly as a painting. His desire to create the perfect recipe and his love for Tessina soon lead him into danger, and Nino is forced to battle his deadly sins.
Giles Kristian – Brothers’ Fury (Transworld)
Rebel Cast out from his home, rejected by his family, Tom Rivers returns to his regiment. But his former commander believes the young hothead’s recklessness and contempt for authority has no place in his troop. And yet to a spymaster like Captain Crafte, Tom’s dark and fearless nature is in itself a weapon to be turned upon the hated cavaliers. For who else would dare to infiltrate Oxford, now the Royalist capital, to destroy the King’s printing press and strike a blow at the very heart of the enemy?
Renegade Raw with grief at the death of his father, Edmund Rivers rejects the peace talks between Parliament and the King. Instead, he leads a ragged but hardened band of amrauders across the moors, appearing out of the frozen world to fall on unsuspecting rebel columns like wolves. But Prince Rupert, who recognizes in Mun a fellow child of war, has other uses for him, from stealing an enormous gun, to burrowing through mud beneath the walls of Lichfield. The only peace the enemy will get from Mun Rivers is that of the grave.
Huntress Her heart broken from the loiss of her beloved Emmanuel and her father, Bess Rivers must make the hardest decision of her life. Leaving her new-born son behind she rides from Sheer House seeking Lady Mary’s estranged father, for she hopes he will help her re-unite what is left of her broken family. Risking her own life on the road, Bess will do whatever it takes to find her brother Tom and secure his Royal pardon – can she douse the flames of her brothers’ fury and see them reconciled?
James MacManus – Black Venus (Thomas Dunne Books)
For readers who have been drawn to The Paris Wife or Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris, Black Venus captures the artistic scene in the great French city decades earlier, when the likes of Dumas and Balzac argued literature in the cafes of the Left Bank. Amongst the bohemians the young Charles Baudelaire stood out—dressed impeccably thanks to an inheritance that was quickly vanishing. Still at work on the poems which he hoped would make his name, he spent his nights enjoying the alcohol, opium, and women who filled the seedy streets of the city.
One woman would catch his eye—a beautiful Haitian cabaret singer named Jeanne Duval. Their lives would remain forever intertwined thereafter, and their romance would inspire his most infamous poems—leading to the banning of his masterwork Les Fleurs du Mal and a scandalous public trial for obscenity.
Black Venus recreates the classic Parisian literary world in vivid detail, complete with not just an affecting portrait of the famous poet but also his often misunderstood, much-maligned muse.
After a blighted childhood, young Laura finds peace and purpose in the home of a midwife and healer. Later, she enrolls in Salerno’s famed medical school—the first in the world to admit women. Laura and her adoptive mother hope that Laura can build a bridge between women’s herbal healing and the new science of medicine developing in thirteenth century Italy.
The hardest lessons are those of love; Laura falls hard for a fellow student who abandons her for a wealthy wife. Worse, her mother rejects her as “impure.” Shattered, Laura devotes herself to her work, becoming a respected medico. But her heart is still bitter, and when she sees a chance for revenge, she grabs it—and takes for her own Bieta, the newborn daughter of a woman whose husband regularly raided the physician’s garden for bitter herbs to satisfy his pregnant wife’s cravings.
Determined to protect her adored daughter from the ravages of the world, Laura isolates the young woman in a tower. Bieta, as determined as her mother, escapes, and finds adventure—and love—on the streets of Salerno.
Bieta’s betrayal of her mother’s love comes at a terrible price as lives are ruined and families are torn apart. Laura’s medical knowledge cannot heal her broken heart; only a great act of love can bring everyone forgiveness and peace.
M.J. Rose – Seduction (Atria)
In 1843, novelist Victor Hugo’s beloved nineteen-year-old daughter drowned. Ten years later, Hugo began participating in hundreds of of séances to reestablish contact with her. In the process, he claimed to have communed with the likes of Plato, Galileo, Shakespeare, Dante, Jesus–and even the Devil himself. Hugo’s transcriptions of these conversations have all been published. Or so it was believed.
Recovering from her own losses, mythologist Jac L’Etoile arrives on the Isle of Jersey–wher Hugo conducted the séances–hoping to uncover a secret about the island’s Celtic roots. But the man who’s invited her there, a troubled soul named Theo Gaspard, has hopes she’ll help him discover something quite different–Hugo’s lost conversations with someone called the Shadow of the Sepulcher.
Royalism’s last hope is Sir Mortimer Shay, a ruthless veteran of decades of intrigue who must rebuild a credible threat to Cromwell’s rule, whatever the cost.
John Thurloe is a young official in Cromwell’s service. Confronted by the extent of the Royalists’ secret intelligence network, he will have to fight the true power reaching into every corner of society: the Comptrollerate-General for Scrutiny and Survey.
This stunning novel introduces an Eleanor that all other writers have missed. Based on the most up-to-date research, it is the first novel to show Eleanor beginning her married life at 13. Barely out of childhood, this gives an entirely new slant to how Eleanor is treated by those around her. She was often the victim and her first marriage was horribly abusive.
Overflowing with scandal, passion, triumph and tragedy, Eleanor’s legendary story begins when her beloved father dies in the summer of 1137, and she is made to marry the young prince Louis of France. A week after the marriage she becomes a queen and her life will change beyond recognition . . .
Eighteenth century Admiralty Regulations forbade women living on board ship, but many found ways around this. George served on a number of ships, both as a man and unmasked. As Nan narrates her mother’s history she becomes obsessed by the idea that Nelson could have been her father. She meets a young man, Baltic Nelson, who clings to the same belief. Could her mother’s wild stories really be true?
Edward Rutherfurd – Paris (Hodder & Stoughton)
Edward Rutherfurd, the world’s greatest writer of historical epics, turns his attention to Paris and the lives of the men and women who, in two thousand years, transformed a humble Roman trading post on the muddy banks of the Seine to the most beautiful and celebrated capital in the world.
From its founding under the Romans to the timeless love story of Abelard and Heloise and the martyrdom of Joan of Arc; from the gilded glories of the Bourbon kings to the horrors of the French Revolution; from the glittering Napoleonic empire to the Nazi occupation and the incredible efforts of the French Resistance: PARIS brings the sights, scents, and tastes of the City of Lights to sumptuous life.
Henry Venmore-Rowland – The Sword and the Throne (working title) (Transworld)
AD 69. Aulus Caecina Severus has thrown in his lot with the hedonistic Vitellius and prepares his legions for a gruelling march over the Alps.
Driven by the desire to repay the treachery of his former patron, the Emperor Galba, and to keep his rival Valens in check, Severus leads his army against barbarian rebellions and against the mountains themselves in his race to reach Italy first. With the vast Po valley almost in sight, news reaches the army that Galba has been killed in a coup, and that Otho has been declared Emperor by the Praetorians who he had bribed to murder their own emperor.
But there is no turning back for Severus, even if he wanted to. The Rhine legions want their man on the throne, and they won’t stop until they reach Rome itself. Even once Otho is defeated, the battle for supremacy between Severus and Valens is far from over. The politics of the court and the mob is the new battleground, and Severus needs the help of his wife Salonina and his freedman Totavalas in this constant game of thrones. When stories spread of a new power in the east, Severus has to decide where his real loyalty lies: to his Emperor, to his city or to himself?
Kate Worsley – She Rises (Bloomsbury)
It is 1740 and Louise Fletcher, a young maid, has been warned of the lure of the sea for as long as she can remember—after all, it stole away her father and brother. But when she is offered work in the bustling naval port of Harwich serving a wealthy captain’s daughter, she leaps at the chance to see more of the world. There she meets Rebecca, her haughty and fascinating mistress.
Intertwined with Louise’s story is that of fifteen-year-old Luke, who is beaten and press ganged, sent to sea against his will on board the warship Essex in the service of His Majesty’s Navy. He must learn fast and choose his friends well if he is to survive the brutal hardships of a sailor’s life and its many dangers, both up high in the rigging and in the dark decks down below.
The second-to-last of my Anticipated Books (Summer/Fall) 2012 is all about historical fiction. In the first six months I’ve truly rediscovered my love of historical fiction and some of my favourite reads so far this year have been historical fiction books. In the second half of the year there are still some awesome titles to come. The last post will follow on Saturday, with the Anticipated Reads post up on Sunday.
Stella Duffy – The Purple Shroud (Virago)
Once, Theodora was little more than a slave, the daughter of a bear-keeper, running barefoot through the streets of Constantinople. Now she is Theou doron, ‘the Gift of God‘, Empress of Byzantine Rome and the most powerful woman in the world.
In Stella Duffy’s compelling new novel, the beguiling and extraordinary Empress Theodora emerges from the shadow of history into brilliant light. Clever, courageous and ruthless when betrayed, Theodora rules alongside her husband, the Emperor Justinian – a true love match in a world of political marriages.
While wars rage on the borders of the Empire, Theodora discovers that the greatest danger to her reign – and her life – lies much closer to home. From the catastrophic and terrifying riots that burn through the city; to vengeful enemies at the palace who will never accept ‘Theodora-from-the-brothel’; to plagues and plots and murder, Theodora learns what it truly means to be Empress.
Spanning over twenty dramatic years of Theodora’s reign, The Purple Shroud is a vivid portrait of a charismatic, exceptional woman and a fascinating exploration of both the pleasures and the burdens of power.
Barbara Lazar – The Pillow Book of the Flower Samurai (Headline)
I am Kozaisho: Fifth daughter, Woman-For-Play, teller of stories, lover, wife and Flower Samurai.
In the rich, dazzling, brutal world of twelfth century Japan, one young girl begins her epic journey, from the warmth of family to the Village of Outcasts. Marked out by an auspicious omen, she is trained in the ancient warrior arts of the samurai. But it is through the power of storytelling that she learns to fight her fate, twisting her life onto a path even she could not have imagined…
James Forrester – The Final Sacrament (Headline)
September 1566. William Harley, Clarenceux King of Arms, lives quietly with his family in London, with a document in his possession that could destroy the state. The aged Lady Percy, Countess of Northumberland, has not given up trying to find it. Nor has she forgotten how he betrayed her and the Catholic cause – she has spent the last two years planning her revenge. But then eloquent and adventurous courtier, John Greystoke suddenly seems most concerned for Clarenceux’s safety. And why, on behalf of the government, does Francis Walsingham have spies watching Clarenceux’s house day and night? When his wife and his daughter go missing, Clarenceux finds himself on the run with his other young daughter, hunted by Lady Percy’s agents. He knows he must finally destroy the document, even if it should cost him his life – but how can he, until he has reunited his family?
Tim Severin – Saxon: The Book of Dreams (PanMacmillan)
Frankia 780AD: Sigwulf, a minor Saxon prince, is saved from execution after his family is slaughtered by the ruthless King Offa of Mercia. Thanks to his Devil’s Mark – his eyes of different colours – Sigwulf is exiled to the Frankish court of King Carolus, the future Charlemagne. There Sigwulf survives on his wits while at the same time trying to come to terms with disturbingly prophetic dreams.
He gains the friendship of some – Count Hroudland, Carolus’s powerful and ambitious nephew but – mysteriously – several attempts are made on Sigwulf’s life. When he obtains a Book of Dreams by chance, a rare text giving understanding to their meaning, he attracts the attention of Carolus himself. But the Book proves to be a slippery guide in a world of treachery and double dealing. Carolus sends Sigwulf and his slave Osric into Spain to spy on the Saracens ahead of a planned Frankish invasion. There, Sigwulf becomes caught between loyalties; either he honours his debt to new friends among the Saracens, or he serves his patron Count Hroudland in his quest for glory, gold and even the Grail itself.
One after another Sigwulf’s predictions come true, but often not as expected, and he finds himself swept forward into a final great battle that reveals who his enemies are . . .
Tim Powers – Hide Me Among the Graves (Corvus)
A city of over three million souls, of stinking fog and dark, winding streets.
Through these streets walks the poet Christina Rossetti, haunted and tormented by the ghost of her uncle, John Polidori. Without him, she cannot write, but her relationship with him threatens to shake London itself to the ground.
This fascinating, clever novel vividly recreates the stews and slums of Victorian London – a city of dreadful delight. But it is the history of a hidden city, where nursery rhymes lead the adventurer through haunted tunnels and inverted spires. And where the price of poetic inspiration is blood.
Tim Powers – The Stress of Her Regard (Corvus)
Lake Geneva, 1816
As Byron and Shelley row on the peaceful waters of Lake Geneva, a sudden squall threatens to capsize them. But this is no natural event – something has risen from the lake itself to attack them.
Michael Crawford’s wife is brutally murdered on their wedding night as he sleeps peacefully beside her – and a vengeful ghost claims Crawford as her own husband.
Crawford’s quest to escape his supernatural wife will force him to travel the Continent in the company of the most creative, most doomed poets of his age. Byron, Keats and Shelley all have a part to play in his fate, and the fate of Europe.
Simon Scarrow – The Sword and the Scimitar (Headline)
1565; In its hour of greatest need, Malta must rely upon the ancient Knights of the Order of St John for survival. Bound by the strongest ties: of valour, of courage and of passion, the Knights must defend their island against ferocious and deadly Ottoman attack.
For Sir Thomas Barrett, summoned by the Order and compelled by loyalty – to the Knights, to his honour and to his Queen – returning to the besieged island means revisiting a past he had long since lain to rest. As the beleaguered Knights grapple to retain control, decade-old feuds will be reawakened, intense passions rekindled and deadly secrets revealed.
Lisa Hilton – Wolves in Winter (Corvus)
5-year-old Mura is a strange and bewitching child. Daughter to a Nordic mother and Spanish father, she has been tutored in both Arabic learning and the ancient myth cycles of the north. But her widower father has been arrested by the Inquisition, and Mura is sold to a Genoese slaver.
In the port of Savona, Mura’s androgynous looks and unusual abilities fetch a high price. She is bought as a house slave for the powerful Medici, arriving in Florence as the city prepares for war against the French. When the family are forced to flee, Mura finds herself gifted to the notorious Tigress of Forli, Countess Caterina Sforza.
Beautiful, ruthless and intelligent, the Countess is fascinated by Mura’s arcane knowledge. As the Tigress educates her further in the arts of alchemy, potions and poisons, she becomes much more than a lady’s maid. Mura becomes a potent weapon in the Machiavellian intrigues of the Renaissance court…
Phil Rickman – The Heresy of Dr Dee (Corvus)
All talk is of the End-time… and the dead are rising.
At the end of the sunless summer of 1560, black rumour shrouds the death of the one woman who stands between Lord Robert Dudley and marriage to the young Queen Elizabeth. Did Dudley’s wife, Amy, die from an accidental fall in a deserted house, or was it murder? Even Dr John Dee, astrologer royal, adviser on the Hidden and one of Dudley’s oldest friends, is uncertain. Then a rash promise to the Queen sends him to his family’s old home on the Welsh Border in pursuit of the Wigmore Shewstone, a crystal credited supernatural properties.
With Dee goes Robert Dudley, considered the most hated man in England. They travel with a London judge sent to try a sinister Welsh brigand with a legacy dating back to the Battle of Brynglas. After the battle, many of the English bodies were, according to legend, obscenely mutilated. Now, on the same haunted hill, another dead man has been found, similarly slashed.
Devious politics, small-town corruption, twisted religion and a brooding superstition leave John Dee isolated in the land of his father.
With their stomachs churning on the jewels they have swallowed, the courtesan Fiametta and her companion dwarf Bucino escape the sack of Rome. It’s 1527. They head for the shimmering, decadent city of Venice. Sarah Dunant’s epic novel of sixteenth-century Renaissance Italy is a story about the sins of pleasure and the pleasures of sin, an intoxicating mix of fact and fiction, and a dazzling portrait of one of the world’s greatest cities at its most potent moment in history.
Venice has always been a place that held a special fascination for me. I’ve never visited there, unfortunately, but I’ve always meant to go one day. Why, you might ask? Well, family legend has it that our forebears were glass blowers from Murano, who came to the Netherlands somewhere in the sixteenth century. Due to this rather tenuous connection, I always enjoy books set in (alternate history) Venice. The ones I read most recently are the first two books in the The Heirs of Alexandria series by Mercedes Lackey, Dave Freer and Eric Flint. Of course, there are many fantasy books set in a Venice-like city, such as Jon Courtenay Grimwood’s The Fallen Blade (which is actually set in Venice) or Scott Lynch’s The Lies of Locke Lamora, whose home town of Camorr is heavily based on Venice. So after reading something about courtesans, which featured some recommendations for further (fictional) reading, when I saw In the Company of the Courtesan on the list and that it was set in Venice, it immediately went on my wish list. And I’m glad I ran across it, because it was definitely worth the read!
In the Company of the Courtesan is the story of Fiametta and Bucino and how they rebuilt Fiametta’s career after they’ve been forced to flee Rome. These two are the heart and soul of the novel and I loved the bond between them, the banter and the bickering. What I really liked, was the fact that there is no romance between them. Instead they are fast friends, business partners and their own kind of family. The narration is from Bucino’s point of view, which is both a bold and smart choice. It’s smart because Bucino’s view of society is unique. As a dwarf he’s both highly visible and invisible at the same time. He gets to go places most people can’t, but is often overlooked or disregarded because of his size and appearance. I call it a daring choice for a narrator, because it not only demands research into Renaissance Venice and into the courtesan culture of the time and the history of the sack of Rome, but also into Dwarfism, the physical problems they might run into and how they were regarded in Renaissance society. Of course, I am no historian, but it certainly seems as if Ms Dunant did her due diligence in that regard, as at a lay man’s glance, the book seems accurate in its depictions of Venice, courtesans and dwarves in the period the book is set in.
Surprisingly, for a book about a courtesan, there is surprisingly little truly adult content. Instead, Fiametta’s occupation is treated like a business and her success not only important to herself, but to her steadily-growing entourage as well. Bucino, Fiametta’s maid Gabriella, her personal physician La Draga and others all work really hard to make Fiametta as beautiful, strong and healthy as she can be, so she can remain one of the most sought-after courtesans of her age. At times it is a cynical look at the business of love, but one I found fascinating in its complexity. It was interesting to see that a courtesan needed to be more than a pretty face, but needed wit and conversation as well to be successful and how much work went into that success. I liked the look at the more seedy side of life in sixteenth century Venice; no Doge’s court here. Fiametta is by no means a streetwalker, but she is not part of respectable society and is made to feel it when she mingles with the high and mighty. It also became clear how much people lived on the edge of subsistence in those days. These days, if you lose your job or become unfit for work due to health, there are always social benefits to help you out. In sixteenth century Venice? Not so much. There it was either work or starve and the fear of destitution in which many people lived, was palpable in both Fiametta and Bucino throughout the novel.
The character of La Draga was fascinating. She brought an element of the mystical and even supernatural to the story, attributed with witch powers and powers of healing. Apart from being a great character in her own right, I really loved the strange chemistry between her and Bucino, which led me to keep speculating whether they would or they wouldn’t get past their differences to a more harmonious connection. I was kept guessing till the end and that made the story all the more compelling. However, La Draga wasn’t the only mystery contained in this novel. I loved how there were questions and mysteries sprinkled throughout the narrative, which were somehow all solved at the end of the novel, such as the theft of some jewels and the little locked book of Petrarch’s poems Bucino rescued from Rome.
The one complaint I might have had is that I would have liked to have seen more of Fiametta in action, as it were. There are only one or two scenes where we see her ply her trade and charm men with just her wit and her looks. Instead we mostly see the private side of Fiametta, which however interesting I found it, didn’t exactly showcase just why she was such an enchanting and alluring figure for her clients.
Published in 2006, In the Company of the Courtesan isn’t exactly a new book, but it is a book that deserves a wide readership. Perfect for fans of historical fiction and lovers of Venice, In the Company of the Courtesan is a gorgeous, pleasurable read and the perfect start to my book resolution to read more historical fiction in 2012.