Elza is one of the most distinctive characters in Napoleonic-era fiction. She is based on a real person whose provocative journals (Mémoires d’une Contemporaine) gained her considerable renown, and through her eyes, we observe both the feminine demi-monde as well as the camaraderie and banter among officers in the Grande Armée. A woman of her times, Elza acknowledges gender constraints while boldly fashioning her own way of life within them. Dressed as her alter ego Charles van Aylde – or in shedding her male garb when slipping into bed with an understanding lover – she can embrace the other side of her nature.
With this sequel, Graham brings readers fully into the realm of historical fantasy as her reincarnation themes become more prominent, and Elza comes to accept her clairvoyant abilities. One of the most enjoyable aspects is that the novel’s mystical tone isn’t limited to these scenes; the descriptive language simply glows as it awakens us to the realization that all around us is a place of marvels. Not only a beguiling story of political espionage, self-discovery, and deeply felt love in early 19th-century Europe, it also gives us a creative and enchanting way of envisioning these characters’ world.
The Emperor's Agent was published by Crossroad Press in September (290pp, $15.99 pb / $27.99 hb / $4.99 ebook). This review first appeared in November's Historical Novels Review.