This was a rare thing: a book I came to on the strength of its subject, knowing nothing about its author, hoping that it would be a amusing read – only to find myself simply blown away by the quality of the writing. And I’m not easy to impress. All I knew at first was that this covered the same period as the excellent The King in the North, which I enjoyed so much. It has turned out to be just as brilliant, in a rather different way. This is a splendid treat of historical fiction, embracing the experiences of both men and women through the story of one remarkable protagonist.