The War of the Spanish Succession?
I must confess that, for al the historical novels I’ve read over the years, I knew nothing of that particular conflict but the name. I know now; I learned a lot in the course of a wonderful adventure with a remarkable heroine.
In 1700 Charles II, king of Spain, died without an heir. He willed his throne to Philip of Anjou, and Philip’s grandfather, Louis XIV of France, was quick to declare him king of Spain, and to declare that France and Spain would be united.
Neighbouring countries were unhappy at the prospect of France wielding so much power, and so a Grand Alliance of England, Holland, Prussia, and Austria was formed; their objective to put the Archduke Charles of Austria on the Spanish throne instead of Philip.
Kit Kavanagh knew nothing of that. She was happy; she was young, pretty and vivacious; she loved working in her aunt’s Dublin inn; and she loved her handsome new husband.
She was devastated when he disappeared without warning; leaving without a word, leaving behind his ‘Queen’s shilling’; his reward for enlisting in the British army. Her father had been killed in battle and she knew that she had to do something to make sure that she didn’t lose her husband too.
With her aunt’s tacit encouragement, Kit disguised herself as boy and enlisted too.
Now, this may sound improbable, but I must tell you that Kit Kavanagh lived and breathed, and that Marina Fiorato has dressed the bones of a true story with some plausible, if unlikely, fiction.
The first half of the novel follows Kit’s life with her regiment. She worked hard to keep up with the men, taking a great deal of trouble and fervently hoping that she would be able to catch up with her husband.
There were complications:
Kit could not bear to see injustices, and she would speak out and take action first and worry about the consequences later.
And she found herself falling in love with her captain, Captain Ross; and she knew that he cared about her too, but as a promising young man, not as the woman she really was.
I loved all of the twists and turns, all of the characters and relationships, in this part of the story. I loved Kit, but I worried about her. She had the best of hearts and the best of intentions, she had her wits about her; but it seemed unlikely that she would find her husband and very probable that her secret would be discovered. And what then?
Well, luckily, when this chapter of Kit’s life had to come to an end she tumbled into another story.
She fell into the hands of the Duke of Ormonde, and he was quick to see her potential. He made Kit his pupil, so that she could be sent into a very different kind of battle, as a spy.
I was less taken with this part of the story; it seemed a little too improbable, a little too unsubtle, but I still had a lovely time following Kit.
The various threads of the story came together to make a wonderfully exciting final act.
(I’d had an idea of how things would end up quite early on, but no idea quite how the story would get there.)
I was impressed with how well Marina Fioranto constructed her plot, how well she must have understood – and loved – the history, and how very well she told her story. She brought all of her characters and all of the different places they passed through so vividly to life.
Her prose is very easy to read – light rather than literary – and I found it very easy to keep turning pages.
An epilogue tied up all of the loose ends – it maybe tied them up a little too tightly, but it was nice to know what happened, and it was good to have the real history that underpinned the story acknowledged.
The fiction became a little too fanciful; but its heart was in the right place, it was never less that entertaining, and I am delighted to have been introduced to a wonderful woman from history.