Friday, July 07, 2006

POD titles worth reading:
Sophie Ferrer's The Jewess of Kaifeng

I thought I might use this space to cover, on occasion, some historical novels that were published the POD route. I reviewed Sophie Ferrer's The Jewess of Kaifeng for the Historical Novels Review three years ago, when the print magazine was still covering POD titles the editors felt were worthwhile. (They're included in the online magazine now.)

I bought Ferrer's novel on a whim, after browsing the Xlibris bookstore for historical fiction - which I still do on occasion. The first sentence grabbed my attention: "Macao, 1690. In the flickering candlelight, they looked more like ghouls than men of God." A setting I knew nothing about, and with that opening, I wanted to read more.

Here's an excerpt from the first chapter. My original review follows (from the Historical Novels Review, Issue 25, August 2003).

Sophie Ferrer, Xlibris, 2003, $20.99, pb, 184pp, 1401065295
This well-written historical adventure/romance set in 17th century Macao and Kaifeng probably won’t find a mainstream publisher due to its unique and "unmarketable" setting. However, I’d love to be proven wrong. In 1690, Father Nicolo Pasio, Jesuit friar and occasional assassin, is given orders to infiltrate the Jewish enclave in the Chinese city of Kaifeng in order to steal its sacred Torah. Because Jews first settled in Kaifeng long before the birth of Christ, their scriptures may contain the most authentic version of the Old Testament in existence. But Nicolo has a secret that he dares not reveal to his Jesuit leaders, and his growing love and respect for Rebecca, a Chinese Jewess who closely guards her people’s heritage, cause him to rethink his loyalties. There’s sufficient action to keep the pages turning, and Ferrer’s characters are more finely drawn than those of most adventure novels. No one could have been more surprised than I to learn that the ancient Jewish settlement of Kaifeng is recorded as historical fact. This is a large-format paperback with small print, slightly more expensive than usual, but I believe it to be worth the money. -- Sarah L. Johnson

I should add, you can buy it at the Xlibris bookstore for $3 less than Amazon, and the author will undoubtedly get more royalties, too.


  1. Thanks for doing a POD review! This one looks interesting--I'll give it a try.

  2. If you read it, I'll be interested to hear what you think! I've had occasional good luck with POD titles - two that I requested for review a few years back were later picked up by NY publishers.

  3. Yes, thanks very much for this. It's not always easy to find out about titles that aren't from the big companies. Amazon scores over Xlibris for orders this side of the Pond.

    By the way, why did it change to a separate online review rather than simply being part of the print HNR?

  4. It wasn't an immediate switch from print to online, not like my original post probably made it sound. For a 2-year period, HNR didn't cover Xlibris (etc) novels at all. We were getting inundated with review requests from authors, to the tune of 2-3 per day. The overwhelming majority weren't very good, and the managing editor at the time made the decision to stop accepting them altogether. We didn't have the time to evaluate the good from the bad, not when the overall number of historical novels we received was increasing exponentially.

    But I really did want a venue where these novels could be covered. At that point (2005) we were already hurting for space in the print magazine (it is a constant problem), so we came up with the online Review. Space isn't a problem there. And it's overseen by an editor who goes through all the submissions and only makes sure that those that are well-written, historically sound, etc., get sent for review. Another issue is distribution - we try to make sure that the titles in the print HNR are those easily obtainable by people and bookstores in both the UK and North America, and some (not all) of the POD titles can't/won't be ordered by bookstores. There are still a fair number of members without online access.

    So maybe it's not ideal, but it's something. Long answer to a short question!

  5. Sounds fascinating and unusual, thanks for the recommendation, Sarah.

  6. Enlightening, Sarah, thanks! I'm certainly appreciative of the online HNR. Any thoughts about putting the older print HNR's online?

  7. I'll probably be posting some of my older reviews online, but as for other ones - good question. Maybe someday! I think some of the older ones would need to be re-keyed or scanned at this point.

  8. New reply (10/15/09) to an old post - if the author's reading this, I checked both of my email accounts and still couldn't find your message. Not sure what happened there, but please keep me posted!

  9. Sarah: I don't know what happened to my email to you but I will try to resend. Thank you for our talk today and I'll send you a copy of the revised novel with an excerpt of your review. I would like to figure out a way to get it to a national, mainstream publisher (again), but sometimes being in Hawaii has its disadvantages, one of them being that there are few if any literary agents.

  10. Thanks for your reply - I just didn't want you to think I was ignoring your email! Good to talk to you yesterday also, and best of luck with finding a mainstream publisher (I wouldn't think geography would restrict you from finding an agent, though?). You're welcome to use/excerpt from the review as you'd like!