Among Thieves: Douglas Hulick

★★★★

A Tale of the Kin: Book I

I hadn’t heard of either the author or the series when I stumbled across this book, but I just couldn’t resist the cover. It’s designed by Larry Rostant, an artist whose work is often informed by some form of historical costume, and which always catches my eye. A brief flick through the novel convinced me it was worth a punt. And it’s been such a delight to read. Full of spies, crime lords, twisted emperors and swashbucklers, it takes you deep into the seething heart of the city of Ildrecca: the kind of place you might come across Locke Lamora having a drink with Don Corleone, Captain Alatriste and Sam Vimes. Best described as historical urban fantasy, it’s a tale of deals and double-crossing, spiced with the smallest hint of magic, and it’s enormous fun.

Continue reading

Traitor’s Blade: Sebastien De Castell

★★★½

The Greatcoats: Book I

I’ve been saving this book as a treat, because I felt sure it was going to be a sparkler and, while I’m not exactly disappointed, it didn’t turn out to be quite what I was expecting. In many ways it ticks all the boxes of a fantasy-tinged swashbuckler, featuring dashing blades, impossible odds and dastardly nobles. These are all very, very good things. There are times, however, when it seems to lose its way: it shoehorns in a vague quest element and too often uses magic as a convenient way to achieve something, or to get out of a tight spot, rather than an integral part of the world. I can’t help feeling it’d be much more successful without its fantasy elements, as a simple character-driven adventure.

Continue reading

The Swashbuckling Life of the Chevalier d’Eon

The Chevalier d'Eon

I mentioned in my post on Monsieur d’Eon is a Woman that I’d been asked to give a lecture in my professional capacity about the Chevalier d’Eon. I’m pleased to say that it went very well and feedback suggests that the Chevalier’s story exerts just as much fascination today as it did back in the 18th century. Since there’s a lot of misleading information about the Chevalier online, and since this remarkable story deserves to be known more widely, I decided to turn my lecture into a blog post. What follows is, therefore, considerably longer than my usual posts but is amply illustrated. The British Museum has almost sixty prints and other documents relating to the Chevalier’s life in London, many of which I reproduce here. So let’s delve in to a tale of espionage, secrecy, swashbuckling and remarkable self-fashioning.

Continue reading

The Red Sphinx: Alexandre Dumas

★★★★

Now that Christmas is almost upon us, we can start planning reading lists for the New Year. For those who love derring-do, intrigue and swashbuckling, there’s a treat coming up in January: a fresh new translation of a little-known sequel to The Three Musketeers. Although the musketeers themselves don’t appear, there’s a handsome young hero, a beautiful heroine, battles, plots and, bestriding everything like a colossus, the Red Sphinx himself: the shrewd Cardinal Richelieu.

Continue reading

Goddess: Kelly Gardiner

★★★ ½

Occasionally history renders fiction almost unnecessary. This was especially true in the case of Julie d’Aubigny, who blazed her way through Parisian society in the final years of the 17th century. She was a striking, swashbuckling, cross-dressing contralto; a lover of handsome men and beautiful women; a formidable duellist; and the toast of the Paris Opéra, where she was better known under her husband’s surname as Mademoiselle de Maupin.

Continue reading

Rupert of Hentzau: Anthony Hope

★★★

It has been three years since the events of The Prisoner of Zenda and, although Black Michael has been defeated, a threat still hangs over the heads of our Ruritanian friends Colonel Sapt, Fritz von Tarlenheim, King Rudolf and the beautiful Queen Flavia. Michael’s nephew, the disgraced and devil-may-care scoundrel Rupert of Hentzau, is still at large somewhere in Europe. More to the point, he is one of the few people who knows about Rudolf Rassendyll’s impersonation of Rudolf I while the king was imprisoned at the castle of Zenda. Armed with this information, Rupert skulks in exile and waits for his chance to turn his knowledge to his advantage, but a greater secret soon falls into his lap.

Continue reading

Prince of Foxes: Samuel Shellabarger

★★★★½

Shortly after I finished the excellent Blood & Beauty, this historical novel about Renaissance Italy popped up in my automatic recommendations. The author and title were both unfamiliar and, when I realised that it was again about the Borgias, I was tempted to pass: I had no plans to read another novel on the subject so soon. However, as the reviews were glowing, I persuaded myself to give it a chance; and I can honestly say that I’ve loved every minute of it.

Continue reading

The Phoenix Guards: Steven Brust

★★★★

The Khaavren Romances: Book I

Young Khaavren is a gentleman, a Tiassa, who has neither land nor titles but who dreams of making a glorious name for himself in the service of the Empire. Heading to the city in order to join the Emperor’s elite force of Phoenix Guards, he falls into company with three similarly ambitious young people: a proud, belligerent Dzur named Tazendra; a discreet, contemplative Lyorn called Aerich; and an elegant, chivalrous Yendi called Pel. When these four are sworn into the Red Boot Battalion of the Phoenix Guard, they become firm friends, sworn to protect the good of the Empire and, more importantly, one another.

Continue reading

The Sea Hawk: Rafael Sabatini

★★★

First things first: I hope you all had a marvellous Christmas and a very happy New Year. I’ve spent a thoroughly self-indulgent few weeks with my family and am now looking forward to getting my teeth into 2014. End of year review posts and New Year’s resolutions are popping up all over the place and it’s been great to see which books captured everyone’s imagination (or failed to), and the various challenges people have in store for the coming months. Here at The Idle Woman there aren’t any planned challenges, which is to say that life will tick along much as usual: a mixture of the characteristic and the utterly random. And so: to the books!

Continue reading

The Prisoner of Zenda: Anthony Hope

★★★½

It’s high time for another swashbuckler, as a busy period looms at work. This time the book in question is a much-loved classic which I should really have read years ago. First published in 1894 (my copy was given to ‘Gladys W. Silva from Dorothy & Jack, Xmas 1895’), this wonderful romp hasn’t aged nearly as much as you might expect. It’s a deliciously fast-paced tale of disguise, secret identities, wicked plots, noble heroes and dastardly villains. Like Scaramouche, this was something that I finally decided to try when I saw that Helen had been reading it (I have to thank Helen for a lot of swashbuckling goodness). That was a full year ago, which gives you some idea of how easily I’m distracted where books are concerned. However, good things come to those who wait…

Continue reading