Wednesday, 24 February 2016

Review: The Double Life of Mistress Kit Kavanagh by Marina Fiorato

2016  448 pages • Hodder Paperbacks

In early eighteenth-century Ireland, young Irish beauty Kit Kavanagh lives a quiet, settled life in a Dublin alehouse with her husband, Richard. When Richard is suddenly whisked away to join the British army, Kit disguises herself as a man and enlists as a soldier, determined to follow and find her husband across war-torn Europe.

The premise alone sets up The Double Life of Mistress Kit Kavanagh to be an exciting and interesting read, and it certainly lives up to its expectations. I mean honestly, it’s about a woman who masquerades as a man to go and rescue her husband – she’s no helpless damsel and she rocks. From the novel’s opening pages, the story immediately takes off and Kit’s life is drastically changed from simple housewife to fearless dragoon, bound to set sail to the bloodied lands of Italy. As a reader, being immediately thrown in to the action is what had me gripped from the start – Fiorato’s writing gives you detail without weighing the story down and it’s very well paced. There’s no dawdling about or useless rambling – just bam, you’re in the action and that made everything so exciting. What perhaps made the story particularly interesting is that it is based on fact, since Kit Kavanagh was a real woman who fought in the British Army during the War of the Spanish Succession. Fiorato’s novel is of course fiction but it’s woven around factual details which gives the story its clarity and makes it feel grittily realistic.

The novel is split in to two parts: the first part focuses on Kit’s life as an army soldier and having to conceal her identity from her fellow officers. The second part leads to Kit once again dressing as a woman when she is recruited by the cunning Duke of Ormonde to be used as a spy against the French. At first, I enjoyed the first half more than the second, but Kit’s double life as a political pawn became equally as entertaining as her life as an army dragoon. The beginning of the second part did feel like things were moving more slowly since Kit had to once again start over and recreate her identity. Having said that, the novel worked well at keeping me guessing and Fiorato succeeds in executing a very entertaining recreation of a real woman’s journey.

Set during the early 1700’s in the middle of a war, the plot is quite history heavy. There’s a lot of detail about why the war is taking place and who is fighting who and even the history of the European monarchy. Being historical fiction, this is somewhat expected, but Fiorato incorporates this necessary detail very well. Plus, the story is principally a tale about Kit’s adventures so you learn everything along with her and it’s fascinating in addition to being vital to the plot.

Kit is a brave and unpredictable heroine and I loved how she continued to grow stronger and bolder throughout. Seriously, she’s so boss and fearless which is everything I love in a female character. She comes across as kind of an Irish Mulan but seeing as they were both women who dressed in men’s clothes and went off to war it’s kind of hard not to see the similarity. Despite her reason for going to war being to search for her missing husband, she comes in to her own and the story takes lots of twists and turns that I wasn’t expecting, but it kept the plot bobbing along very nicely. Kit forms a close bond with her commanding officer, Captain Ross, and their friendship develops wonderfully. Kit and Ross were actually the only characters I was rooting for, since many of the smaller characters – Kit’s comrades and such – are virtually interchangeable.

There are however some wickedly brilliant antagonists who are characterised especially well in that they are both complex but very believable in their actions. A lot of them made me want to get in between the novel’s pages and kick them in the groin, but it’s okay because Kit does that for you and she absolutely rocks at it.

I’m so glad I got the opportunity to read this since beforehand I had never heard of Kit Kavanagh, but this novel just proves that history has some amazing women that went against the grain of convention. 

Overall rating: 4.5 stars

My arc copy of The Double Life of Mistress Kit Kavanagh was sent to me by The BookBag and my review was originally published on their website.

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