Good fiction is something that has always inspired awe in me. Writing fiction - especially good one - is the ability I myself do not possess and, therefore, admire even more in others.
Tracy Grant's Secrets of a Lady (the first novel in the Charles and Melanie Fraser series) is, in my opinion, one of the best examples of fiction. It is intelligent, painstakingly researched, and beautifully written. Not only does the book have a plot that keeps one turning the pages and not wanting to set it down until the very end, and the characters that are complex, three-dimensional and supremely alive, but also a kind of edge that is frequently missing from historic adventure novels written by female authors.
While clearly fond of her characters, Tracy Grant is not afraid of being hard on them and of putting them in situations that leave emotional and physical scars that may not ever heal, even if the situations themselves eventually become resolved. She reminds that the good old England and, specifically, its capitol that we tend to romanticize so much based on Jane Austen novels, had a meaner, darker and grittier side to it. There were splendid mansions and elaborate gatherings, where the wealthy tried to outdo each other in showing their style and sophistication. But there were also rat-ridden slums, drunken brawls, prostitution, theft, rape and murder.
As the story progresses, the author puts her heroes through every circle of hell that was early 19th century London, stripping away the layers built up in the course of their recent upper class life, and forcing them to resort to skills and habits acquired during their more distant and far more bloody and dangerous past. This last bit of information is intended specifically for the male readers of historic adventure fiction, who might overlook this book, mistaking it for yet another romance novel filled with corsets, heaving bosoms and not much else of substance.
Having grown up reading Dumas, George Sand, Maupassant and other masters of historic fiction enhanced with vivid real-life details, I am glad to see that the genre is not only remembered, but very much alive and well in contemporary literature, Tracy Grant being one of its most staunch sentinels.