The General’s Mistress by Jo Graham is out tomorrow. It’s based on the life of a real person, Maria Versfelt. I thought I’d post about it, since it has a crossdressing heroine!
Here’s the summary, which *heh* does not mention that very important story element:
A Dutch woman flees her marriage to become a courtesan against the backdrop of the French Revolution in this steamy historical novel described as Girl with a Pearl Earring meets Dangerous Liaisons.
As a spirit of change overturns Europe’s old order, strong-willed Elzelina Versfelt enters her own age of revolution. Married as a romantic young girl to a man who wanted only her money, but neither loves nor desires her, Elza refuses to be chained any longer. Leaving Amsterdam, her marriage, and her home, she flees to France–where the old rules no longer apply, debauchery is not a sin…and nothing is forbidden.
Yet Elza finds herself bound in a new way, to the ambitious General Moreau. And while they share pleasure, pain, and carnal adventures, she dreams of another man, an unruly red-haired soldier she first saw in the promise of a Tarot card. Drawn by this half-real, half-imagined hero, Elza defies her relationship with Moreau, and begins a perilous search across war-torn Europe…But will this woman with the instincts of a survivor, the passion of a courtesan, and the gift of second sight ever find the destiny for which she has risked it all?
Here’s a small excerpt:
Charles Van Aylde was not a nice young gentleman. His fair hair was powdered, swept back from a high, flawless brow. His eyes were blue. Blue eyes were common enough, but his were midnight, the color of sapphires, the color of secrets. His coat was midnight too, his collar reaching to his chin, the shoulders padded wide, the very height of fashion. His cravat was ruched with Valenciennes lace; his hands were long and white. He affected a small quizzing glass, and he wore a diamond on the last finger of his left hand. I considered him in the mirror, my own reflection, but no longer a girl. In the drawing rooms and spas of the waning eighteenth century, I knew I was prey. Men might play deadly games of war or passion or politics, but the role of a young woman was to be the prize, the lovely and innocent thing for which all others strove for good or ill, to take or defend her virtue and honor as though she were a castle perennially under siege. such was against my nature. If that was the lot of women, then I would become Charles instead.
There’s a lot going on in this book, and the crossdressing is just one element among many. However, I really like the reason Elzelina began – and continued – her masquerade; it was one I hadn’t seen before, and actually made sense, at least more sense than the crossdressing usually makes.
She’s a woman with reason to be embittered, yet she repeatedly takes action in her life, even risking danger to both reputation and physical safety to try and make a better life for herself. The erotic scenes are well-written; they show Elzelina using sex, one of her few weapons, to help her control the men around her in order to achieve her goals, in an interesting comparison to how she feels when she is disguised as a man. If you’re weary of standard-issue Spunky Romance Heroines, this is a welcome change (I would not consider the book a Romance).
I was mostly aware of Jo Graham as a fantasy novelist, so it will be interesting to me to see how this outing in historical fiction will work out – the novel has fantastic elements (the heroine has a psychic gift), and apparently some ties with Graham’s Numinous World books, but it seems as if it’s being sold as mainstream historical fiction.
I obtained a galley of this book from NetGalley.