A Most Extraordinary Pursuit by Juliana Gray continues a tradition of strong female characters
Juliana Gray, also known as author Beatriz Williams, writes stories that are known for strong female characters, witty dialogue, a sophisticated approach to romance, and many twists and turns. According to the author, novels written as Juliana Gray – such as her most recent offering A Most Extraordinary Pursuit – attract readers who identify more firmly with historical fiction containing mystery, adventure, and supernatural elements. In contrast, Beatriz Williams’s books are fixed deeply in historical settings and often portray historical events and intrigue, but are more focused on people and relationships—more vintage women’s fiction.
As Juliana Gray, Williams has written two separate trilogies: Affairs by Moonlight and A Princess in Hiding.
Asked whether creating strong female characters and witty dialogue are a conscious attempt to create a brand, Williams said, “It’s funny, I was just having a meeting with my marketing and publicity team, and we were discussing exactly that! When I started writing, I didn’t really set out to create a brand—I’m just fascinated by strong women, complicated women, women that some people might call ‘difficult.’ I grew up watching Shakespeare and opera, movies from the 1930s and 1940s, and of course those are all crammed full of extraordinary women and glorious witty exchanges. So I was never consciously creating women in that mold; those are just the women I grew up around, the women who inspire me, and the stories I write evolve out of that rich imaginative tradition.”
In the novella, The Duke of Olympia Meets His Match, Juliana Gray brings the uncle—the Duke of Olympia—of A Princess in Hiding, a distinguished and powerful figure, into the forefront. Now, in A Most Extraordinary Pursuit, she concludes the story of the duke with an intriguing novel featuring his secretary, Emmeline Truelove.
Emmeline is a complicated character, trying hard to be independent and efficient in all things as well as an extremely proper Englishwoman. She’s plucky, resists romantic tendencies, and has the unusual ability to converse with a dead queen (possibly modelled on Queen Victoria) and her dead father, a man she adored. Beyond these two ghostly apparitions, the story combines Greek mythology, a mystery, and time travel. Hold onto your hats for a whirlwind ride!
Was this blend of ingredients planned? “I don’t think I made any kind of conscious decision about genre and blending of plot elements before I started, and I’m lucky enough to have a publisher (Berkley) and an editor who granted me complete freedom to create whatever kind of book I wanted. So I just went out there and wrote about things that interest me—history, archaeology, the ancient world, opera, the supernatural, the enduring power of the world’s great love stories—and how they connect to each other in deep and essentially human ways.”
What makes A Most Extraordinary Pursuit successful? Of particular note is Emmeline’s intimate first-person voice, which makes readers feel as if she is speaking directly to them. Two other well-drawn characters, both representing romantic entanglements for Emmeline, are also critical to the novel’s success: Maximilian Haywood, heir to the Duke of Olympia, who has gone missing; and Lord Silverton, known as Freddie, who becomes Emmeline’s companion in the search for Max Haywood. Chapter endings leave the reader eager to turn the page, pacing is brisk, nothing is as it first seems, and humour is used to great effect, adding a witty tone even when circumstances are dire.
“Now don’t flounce off, Truelove. You’re a sensible, emancipated woman. If a chap can’t have a sensible, emancipated conversation with a sensible, emancipated woman, what’s the point of civilization?”
“Why, Truelove. What a deliciously devious mind you’re hiding behind that mask of oppressive piety.”
Gray/Williams was in college when the Edwardians began to fascinate her. She describes the period as “the meeting point between old and new, when the social customs and rituals of the past rammed up against all the technological and scientific and artistic change of the modern era.”
Considering the novel from the merits of historical fiction, A Most Extraordinary Pursuit excels at language and dialogue that are representative of the time without being difficult to read, at settings and details that bring the early 20th century to life, such as a Brownie camera, the Marconi wireless and the cause of female suffrage in Britain. Although not anchored in momentous historical events like the World Wars, the author includes customs, attitudes and smaller historical events of the time period to good effect.
Beatriz Williams is a self-described romantic who is fascinated by the emotion of erotic love, and the havoc it plays in our lives. In A Most Extraordinary Pursuit, her alter ego, Juliana Gray, has created a unique story that hooks readers from the very first chapter into the lives of her flawed yet heroic characters and the early 20th century.
Williams promises more to come for Emmeline Truelove and Maximilian Haywood. She’s “about to get started on a sequel to A Most Extraordinary Pursuit in which Truelove and Haywood (and Lord Silverton, of course) head to Scotland to unravel another mystery from the past.” Those who read Emmeline Truelove’s first adventure will be eager for the next.
About the contributor: M.K. Tod writes historical fiction and blogs about all aspects of the genre at A Writer of History. Her latest novel, Time and Regret, was published by Lake Union on August 16, 2016. Mary’s other novels, Lies Told in Silence and Unravelled are available from Amazon, Nook, Kobo, Google Play and iTunes. She can be contacted on Facebook, Twitter and Goodreads or on her website.