Sedition: A Novel

by Katharine Grant

(Holt, $26, 320 pages)

Who is this author?

How many authors – make that how many people – can claim that an ancestor was the last person in the United Kingdom to be hung, drawn and quartered? That dubious distinction belongs to Katharine Grant. In 1746, her five times great uncle, Francis Towneley, supported Bonnie Prince Charlie and kept his Catholic faith, which was considered sedition during the Reformation.

Presumably, Grant’s books for kids are on happier topics than her family history. As K.M. Grant, she has written nine books for children, including the award-winning DeGranville Trilogy. Grant, who grew up in England and now lives with her family in Scotland, where she is a regular contributor to Scottish newspapers, has now published her first book for adult readers.

What is this book about?

Set in London as the 18th century ends, this is a tale of four newly rich and social-climbing fathers who have five unmarried daughters among them. How best to marry them off to titled but not wealthy young Englishmen who would be delighted to elevate their status and spend their dowries? Why, give the girls piano lessons and have them play a concert to show off their skills. But what if their plan is upended by Belladroit, the girls’ randy French music teacher and the daughter of the Italian man who makes their pianos, not to mention the rebelliousness of one of the unmarried young women? These “what if” questions makes for a lively story, and the passionate nature of music itself is also celebrated here.

Why you’ll like it:

When reviews toss around words like “wicked” and “romp,” you can be pretty sure you are in for a good time. This is a historical novel that blends a little Pride and Prejudice with a little 50 Shades of Grey, a tasty concoction to be sure. Grant writes naughty stuff with sophistication and elan, which elevates this novel above the countless bodice-rippers with which some may confuse it.  There is plenty of well-told fun here, along with interesting historical detail and the age-old struggle of women striving to run their own lives.

What others are saying:

Says Booklist: Late eighteenth-century London is the well-detailed setting for this fun, lascivious gambol through the lives of women and men with decidedly carnal appetites in children’s author Grant’s first, quite intriguing novel for adults. It is 1794, and four nouveau riche men realize they must marry off their daughters, and soon. They seize upon what seems an excellent plan. Hire a French piano master to teach the girls how to play the newly popular instrument, the pianoforte, and, therefore, be able to attract the right spouses with their decorous musical talent. Unfortunately for the fathers, the piano teacher is an irredeemable goat who instead sets out to seduce the young ladies and thus render them unmarriageable. As the shenanigans ensue, it remains to be seen whether the piano teacher, the fathers, or the sexually awakening daughters have the upper hand and even what the actual end-prize might be for each person involved. Although the dark theme of incest winds through the story, overall the plot and characters are handled with grace and precision. ….”

“Sedition could easily have dissolved into semi-kinky melodrama, a chronicle of Belladroit’s conquests. Thanks to author Katharine Grant’s sly writing, it never does… A thumping debut filled with sex, manipulation and a dash of romance. Wickedly dark and provocative, Sedition is a bold reminder that the thirst for power and status remains unquenched over the ages,” says Bookpage, which made this novel a  Top 10 pick for April.

“[Grant’s] girls are wonderfully drawn. Spiteful, cliquey, and a curious tumble of innocence and hormones, they drive the plot in ferocious and unexpected directions . . . . She manages to be carnal without being graphic, detailed without being anatomical… Sedition is not just about sex, although it is good on female passion. It is about the power of music and cultural clashes: old blood against new money; new musical genius against conservative sensibilities. Grant captures a dizzying sense that this is a world being remade simultaneously by bankers and Bach…. The plot grows, like the music, to a staggering climax, and Grant happily subverts the cliches of the heaving bosoms and seductive Frenchmen. She writes as Alathea plays the piano – with wit, verve and not a little mischief,” says The Times (London).

Publshers Weekly says, in a starred review: “The first novel for adults from British YA author Grant is a witty, dark, and sophisticated tale set in 1790s London. Four men, wealthy but not well-bred, meet in a coffeehouse to discuss finding upper-class husbands for their five daughters. A concert on the still-new pianoforte, they decide, will display the girls perfectly to London’s elite. Piano-maker Vittorio Cantabile soon delivers the expensive instrument, along with a French music teacher. The aptly named Monsieur Belladroit begins a program of instruction and seduction, but is surprised when one of his charges, Alathea Sawneyford, makes the first move. Alathea, whose sexual boldness has unhappy roots, finds an unexpectedly deep connection with Annie, Cantabile’s hare-lipped daughter, like her, already an accomplished musician. Music provides the story’s intrigues as well as its moments of joy, but even art’s power to transcend human limits can’t produce a happy ending. Grant eschews period clichés in favor of sharp, unsentimental storytelling that evokes the era with zest and authenticity. Her London, like her characters, is both flawed and fascinating. The novel’s epigrammatic voice—“London was never so lovely as when you were about to leave it”—is another of its delights, detached in tone but delivering what are often dark ironies with memorable brevity and cleverness.”


When is it available?

It’s now playing at the Downtown Hartford Public Library and its Mark Twain branch.

Do you have something to say about this book, this author or books in general? Please post your comments here and I will respond. Let’s get a good books conversation going!

Comments are closed.