My latest podcast is up on the New Books Network website! In it, I interview Brian Jenkins about his biography of the 19th century British diplomat Lord Lyons (which I reviewed here). Enjoy!
As a career diplomat during the Victorian era, Richard Lyons served as one of the figures who defined and represented British power in the 19th century. The son of a Royal Navy admiral, Lyons entered the diplomatic service after an indifferent educational performance. He quickly proved a good fit for his new profession, serving first in Greece and then in Rome before gaining appointment as minister to the United States in 1858. In this post, Lyons soon found himself at the center of the turmoil surrounding secession and civil war, and he played a prominent role in representing British interests while steering Britain clear of greater involvement in the conflict. Such was the growing regard for Lyons that after his resignation he was appointed to run the embassies, first in Constantinople, then in Paris, where he spent two decades as ambassador during a critical period in French history.
In an era when diplomats exercised considerable autonomy, Lyons played a prominent role in shaping British foreign policy throughout his career. For this reason alone Brian Jenkins is to be commended for giving Lyons the attention he deserves, yet this is only one reason why Jenkins deserves praise for this book. He has written an exemplary biography of his subject, one that draws upon the full range of primary and secondary sources available to him. He strikes an ideal balance between context and personal detail, situating Lyons within the constantly changing context of the political and diplomatic environments in which he served. Nor does he neglect Lyons as a person, showing him as a man devoted to his career yet one who was an individual with his own quirks and problems. The result makes it clear why Lyons was lauded upon his death as "the idea of a pattern and ideal diplomatist," one who established the standard by which modern diplomats are judged. In that respect Jenkins's book is an unqualified success, one that should be read by everyone interested in diplomatic history and the history of British foreign policy.
A Most Unusual Wedding by Nancy M. Griffis
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
I ADORED this book. It was slow, sweet, and so very much in the vein of a Victorian romance.
I first met Lord Leo Harris and Master Leathersmith Gerald Smithson in the .5 intro novella called A Most Unusual Courtship.... and I was smitten with them. The love continues in the first full novel by Nancy M. Griffis about these two wonderful men.
Leo and Gerald are getting marries... in less than three weeks! But Gerald really is a trouble magnet and Leo... well, Leo manages to find himself embroiled in a race to cure a magical plague sweeping through London.
Gerald's best friend, Harry, the sailing mage arrives in town for the wedding. There's Leo's nasty bastard of a prejudiced uncle, Mark Harris, who looks down his nose at Gerald and is determined to see that his heir 'comes to his senses' and doesn't marry below his station. Daniel, Gerald's beloved Grandad, is more than meets the eye, and somehow, once again, Gerald has come to the attention of someone of the 'wrong' sort. Gerald has a stalker who can circumvent wards and is apparently a mage.
So Leo must contend with best friends, stalkers and a plague to rival the Black Death - oh my! He has his work cut out for them. And then.... dun dun dun (cue dramatic music) Gerald becomes the latest one to catch the Plague. Time is running out for Leo,
Here's the book blurb:
Adventure brought unlikely lovers Lord Leonard “Leo” Harris and Master Leathersmith Gerald Smithson together. Now it threatens to tear them apart. Three weeks before their wedding, a plague strikes Victorian London—the worst to engulf the city in five hundred years. The symptoms are eerily reminiscent of the Black Death with boils, a horrific death, and immunity to magical cures. As one of the most powerful mages in the country, Leo searches for a cure and the person behind the scourge all while Gerald must finalize wedding plans and try to thwart a persistent—and unwanted—“admirer.” It’s a race against time as Gerald shows symptoms, and Leo must fight a powerful Dark Mage to get the cure before he loses the love of his life, possibly at the cost of his own soul thanks to this plague being driven by the dark.
Will Leo solve the mystery of the plague in time to cure Gerald? What secret is Grandad Daniel hiding? Who is the mysterious mage stalking Gerald? Will Uncle Mark ever NOT be a bastard? And what going on with Harry?
Read the book to find out!
PS... I just found out today that the sequel comes out in February. HUZZAH!!!
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I LOVED this Novella!
So I wasn't sure what to read and then I happened across this short little novella that takes place in an alt-realty Victorian England where mages and magic are an every day occurrence and gay marriage has been legal since the time of the Greek empire. So I figured what the hey, I'll give it a shot.
I'm so so so glad I did! I loved loved loved it!
We start the novella - which is a prequel to the next book but can totally be read alone - in the workshop of leathersmith Gerald Smithson. In walks a bright peacock of a man, Lord Leo Harris, mage. Trouble is the master leathersmith doesn't like mages. He avoids them, refuses their commissions and generally distrusts them. Leo tries charm, tries sweet talk and is flatly refused. Does this stop our Mage Lord? Noooo... Challenge accepted.
Problem is, that one extremely brief interaction brings Gerald to the attention of someone out to do Leo ill. A Dark mage. Cue ominous music. Gerald is kidnapped by the dark mage and its up to Leo to save him and then convince him to work together with Leo and maybe take a chance on a romance.
Gerald's grandfather is the comic relief in this - a cantankerous old curmudgeon with a heart of gold who only has Gerald's best interests at heart.
Seriously. Read this book!
Thanks to Alex from Pen & Sword for providing me with a review paperback copy of this book that I freely chose to review.
If you have been following my reviews for some time, you will be aware that I have read a number of the historical books published by Pen & Sword. I tend to be more interested in social history and how historical changes affected the lives of those who don’t always figure in the big History treatises. Being a lover of plays and a kin theatregoer, I was very curious about this book. Yes, theatre gossip was intriguing, but getting a sense of what life on the Victorian stage must have been like was my main interest. Although sometimes we discover that life has changed dramatically in a reasonably short period of times, some things do not seem to change much. And human curiosity and the love of gossip are among those things. If Victorians had no access to social media, there were plenty of newspapers and periodicals to keep them entertained, and actors were as much a subject of interest then as they are now.
The author does not follow a narrative or chooses a few big cases in this book, but rather illustrates the sheer amount of theatrical news that occupied the Victorian press of the time, not only in London but also in the provinces. As communications improved, newspapers even started featuring stories about actors in America (either natives or British authors touring there) and although sometimes the features lacked in detail (in some cases a suicide or a death would not feature the name of those involved) they were always after items that would attract the public’s attention. Darby divides the book into three parts: Part 1 deals with the business side of things (including such matters as licenses, libel, bankruptcy, breach of contract…), Part 2 looks at criminal lives (from blackmail and assault to prostitution and murder), and Part 3 delves into the personal lives of the actors (what we would probably consider gossip proper, although not all of it is gossip. The chapter on death and disaster deals with serious matter and also makes us look at security measures and disasters in theatres, bigamy seems to have been much more common than it is today, and personally I was fascinated by the chapter on breaches of promise, as I had not realise that there were laws that offered more protection to women in those circumstances than I would have expected). Each chapter shares both, examples of standard cases of what would usually find its way into the newspapers (brief pieces with hardly any detail) and it dedicates more space to others that were better known, but no single case gets all the limelight. In many ways, this book is like a sampler, where people interested in the subject can learn more and be pointed in the right direction to research further.
The author’s style of writing is direct, and mostly allows the sources to do the talking. She provides sufficient background (on legal matters, the nature of performances, technical issues…) for readers to appreciate the items she discusses, and also some reflections on her own take on the materials. She notes how some periodicals, like The Era, were in a double-bind of sorts, as they tried hard to defend the profession of acting on the stage (that had a pretty bad reputation, especially in the case of women), insisting that actors were honourable and true professionals, whilst at the same time featured “sensational” news to attract readers. Although these days respectability is not a concept many people are worried about, it is true that the press has a hard time trying to reconcile the ideal of protectors of the truth, whilst fighting to keep the attention of the public by any means necessary. Is it possible to keep the moral high ground whilst publishing gossip and innuendo?
Although this is not, perhaps, a book for the general reading public, as I read I kept thinking about how useful this book would be to writers of historical fiction interested in the period (and not only for those considering using a theatrical background in their story but also for those thinking about the press of the time and even society at large) and to historians. Darby provides end notes full of details, both of the sources of her research and also of further information available. Although she mostly uses newspapers, she digs on the archives to confirm details such as names (as many actors and actresses used stage names and some of those were fairly popular) and discovers that Mark Twain wasn’t the only one whose death had been grossly exaggerated (deaths, marriages… were often misreported). The paperback also contains pictures that allow us to put faces to some of the names and help transport us to the era.
In sum, this is a book that will greatly assist writers, historians, and people passionate about the Victorian era and the history of the stage in the UK. It is a good starting point for those who want a general view of the topic and/or are looking for inspiration for their next story or research project. And if you just want to confirm that people’s love for gossip about the stars has not changed over the years, this is your book.