Song of the Siren starts off an exciting new series Songs of Steppe & Forest by author C.P. Lesley. It takes us deep into Eastern Europe during the middle part of the 16th century. It was a century that saw the reign of some of the most fearsome and consequential monarchs in history, from Henry VIII to Ivan the Terrible, men – and sometimes also women – whose actions would shape the world as we know it.
The story is set in the early 1540s and revolves around Juliana Krasilska, a former Persian slave and mistress to the young King Sigismund Augustus of Poland until a bout of smallpox robs her of her looks. Her security and position at the court in Cracow gone, Juliana is desperate for a way to support herself so she doesn’t have to return to her estranged husband Koshkin, a Russian nobleman.
Fortunately, unlike her skin, Juliana’s wit and intellect are intact. She is well educated, understands diplomacy, and speaks several languages, which prompts Queen Bona to send her to Moscow as part of an embassy negotiating a new peace treaty. Officially, she is supposed to serve as translator to nobleman Felix Ossolinski, but the queen also charges Juliana with gathering information about the restive Russian boyars who may be plotting against Poland’s royals.
Moreover, there is a suspicion of a Russian spy among the Polish envoys, and identifying him is also Juliana and Felix’s task. It is a high-stakes proposition and a risky undertaking, but for Juliana it is a chance to earn a reward, become financially independent, and achieve true freedom for the first time in her life.
Dressed as a man, Juliana begins a journey during which she must confront the demons of her past, deal with her growing feelings for Felix, and keep an eye out for treachery that lurks around every corner as the Poles and the Russians gather to negotiate. She also has to fight her way out of a kidnapping that threatens to send her back into the marriage she had thought she put behind.
Juliana overcomes tight spots by her wits and strategy rather than flirting. That, too, is part of her journey toward reclaiming her identity. Her friendship with Felix, who treats her as an equal, and the promise of financial independence make her realize that “I no longer wanted to pander to the fantasies of men.” With that epiphany, she is well positioned to become her own woman if her mission goes as planned. But will it?
I highly recommend this novel to any lover of 16th century historical fiction, with all its glamour and intrigue, and I look forward to the next books in the series.
C. P. Lesley is the author of eight novels, including Legends of the Five Directions (The Golden Lynx, The Winged Horse, The Swan Princess, The Vermilion Bird, and The Shattered Drum), a historical fiction series set in 1530s Russia, during the childhood of Ivan the Terrible. Song of the Siren, the first book in her new series, Songs of Steppe & Forest, will appear in February 2019. Find out more about her at http://www.cplesley.com.
If you enjoy historical fiction, check out The Greenest Branch, my novel based on the life of Hildegard of Bingen, Germany’s first female physician. It is FREE to read on Kindle Unlimited, and available in ebook and paperback on Amazon US, Amazon UK, and several other Amazon marketplaces.