Marina Fiorato’s latest novel, Kit, tells the story of Kit Kavanagh, a young woman from Ireland who disguises herself as a man and follows her husband to war. Those of you who have never heard of Kit Kavanagh (and I hadn’t until I read this book) may be surprised to know that she was a real person and that this novel is loosely based on a true story.
Kit’s adventures begin one evening in a Dublin inn when her husband, Richard Walsh, is pressed into the British army and disappears overnight. Having only been married for a few weeks, Kit is devastated and can’t stop thinking of her beloved father who was killed in battle several years earlier. Determined to save Richard from the same fate, she decides to dress as a man and enlist in the army herself. Soon Kit finds herself on a ship heading for Italy where she will serve with the Scots Grey Dragoons under the command of the handsome Captain Ross.
It’s 1702 and the death of the last Habsburg king of Spain has sparked conflict across Europe. The heir to the throne is the grandson of King Louis XIV of France, meaning that both Spain and France could potentially be ruled by the same monarch. In an attempt to prevent one man from gaining so much power, England and Scotland have formed an alliance with the Holy Roman Empire and the Dutch Republic in support of a rival claimant, Leopold I. The two opposing armies are battling for control of the north of Italy as Kit arrives in Genova to begin her search for Richard Walsh.
The first half of the novel follows Kit as she fights alongside the men of her regiment, hoping that her luck will hold out and her true identity won’t be revealed before she catches up with her husband. To complicate things further, she finds herself falling in love with Captain Ross – but as he believes her to be a man, she is unsure how he really feels about her. The second half of the novel is where Fiorato moves away from reality and further into the realms of fiction, creating a storyline in which Kit is recruited by the scheming Duke of Ormonde to spy on the French.
Kit is the third book I’ve read by Marina Fiorato (the other two are The Glassblower of Murano and Beatrice and Benedick) and this is my favourite so far. I loved Kit as a character and was completely gripped by her story. This is the first time I’ve ever read about the War of the Spanish Succession, but as Kit also knows nothing about it, we have the opportunity to learn along with her. Battle strategies and political intrigue are clearly explained and we meet important historical figures of the period such as the Duke of Marlborough and Prince Eugene of Savoy.
I particularly loved the first part of the book – The Sword – which concentrates on Kit’s time in the army, the beginning of her relationship with Captain Ross, her friendships with the other dragoons (whose names Fiorato chose from her local war memorial), and her clashes with the villainous Sergeant Taylor and the sinister army surgeon Atticus Lambe. I was very impressed by the amount of detail Fiorato goes into in showing how thoroughly Kit prepares herself for life as a man, not only by changing the way she dresses, but also by adjusting her speech, her mannerisms and her whole persona. Knowing that the character is based on a woman who really existed just makes Kit’s story even more fascinating!
The second part of the novel – The Fan – in which Kit falls into the hands of the Duke of Ormonde, has a different feel and I didn’t like it as much as the first part, although I did enjoy watching the development of Kit’s friendship with the Italian castrato singer, Lucio Mezzanotte. The various threads of the story came together nicely at the end, and while I didn’t really think the epilogue was necessary it did mean that all the loose ends were tied up.
In Kit I found the combination of history, adventure and romance that I love in historical fiction and I’m now looking forward to reading the rest of Marina Fiorato’s novels. The Madonna of the Almonds, The Botticelli Secret and The Venetian Contract all sound appealing, but I should probably start with Daughter of Siena, which I already have on my shelf.