Thursday, April 16, 2015

Blog Tour Guest Post by Alison McMahan, Author of The Saffron Crocus

Please join me in welcoming author Alison McMahan to Let Them Read Books! Alison is touring the blogosphere with her brand new young adult historical fiction novel, The Saffron Crocus, winner of the 2014 Rosemary Award for Best Historical for Young Adults. Alison has a fascinating post for us today about swordfighting, and she's brought along a paperback copy of The Saffron Crocus for one lucky reader!

Venice, 1643. Isabella, fifteen, longs to sing in Monteverdi’s Choir, but only boys (and castrati) can do that. Her singing teacher, Margherita, introduces her to a new wonder: opera! Then Isabella finds Margherita murdered. Now people keep trying to kill Margherita’s handsome rogue of a son, Rafaele.

Was Margherita killed so someone could steal her saffron business? Or was it a disgruntled lover, as Margherita—unbeknownst to Isabella—was one of Venice’s wealthiest courtesans?

Or will Isabella and Rafaele find the answer deep in Margherita’s past, buried in the Jewish Ghetto?

Isabella has to solve the mystery of the Saffron Crocus before Rafaele hangs for a murder he didn’t commit, though she fears the truth will drive her and the man she loves irrevocably apart.

by Alison McMahan

The story of The Saffron Crocus is set in Venice, 1643. The heroine is fifteen-year-old Isabella. She longs to sing in Monteverdi’s Choir, but only boys and castrati can do that. Her singing teacher, Margherita, introduces her to the opera, where women can sing for a living. But then Isabella finds Margherita murdered.  Next someone tries to kill Margherita’s handsome rogue of a son, Rafaele. So Rafaele and Isabella have to stop the murderer together.

In the 17th century most people carried weapons on their person for self-defense, or to defend their honor. Rafaele, like most men, wears a sword, specifically, a sabre. So, just as a gun on the mantelpiece in the first act has to go off in the third act, with all those sabres rattling around, there had to be swordfights in my story.

The first sword fight occurs when Rafaele and Isabella have taken shelter in a tavern from a storm. They run into a friend of Rafaele's and are having a good time, when a mercenary Moor insults Rafaele, and then Rafaele's murdered mother, and then Isabella, to the point where Rafaele feels duty bound to pull out his sword and fight back.

At first he thinks the Moor is simply drunk but once the fight starts he realizes that this was a trap, as the Moor is actually quite sober and a well-trained swordsman who wanted to lure him into a fight which is now not only for honor, but to the death. Rafaele is a good fighter too, but he is grief stricken and underslept and he makes a miscalculation. He ends up with a wound in his side and falls into the canal.

To make the fights convincing I had to do a lot of research. I read fencing manuals, of course, like manuals such as Nicoletto Giganti's Venetian Rapier, or Edward Blackwell's A Compleat System of Fencing; or, The Art of Defence, in the Use of the Small-Sword.

But reading books wasn't enough. So I took a fencing class for three months. Most of the other students were in their early teens, which made me old enough to be, uhm, well, I'm not going to admit it, but you know, I wasn't their peer. It was quite funny to have a thirteen year old gravely point out an error I had just made and say to me, "Don't feel bad, I made that mistake when I started out too."
At the end of every class I had to go home and put ice on my legs.

Once I had choreographed the fight scenes I then ran them by seasoned fighters, not just fencers, but people who teach self-defense. Because modern fencing has a lot of gentlemanly rules that the characters in my book don't follow, since their goal is to kill each other. I'm very proud of the fight scenes in the book, and very grateful to everyone who helped me research them.

Thanks, Alison! Very cool!


About the Author

Alison McMahan chased footage for her documentaries through jungles in Honduras and Cambodia, favelas in Brazil and racetracks in the U.S. She brings the same sense of adventure to her award-winning books of historical mystery and romantic adventure for teens and adults. Her latest publication is The Saffron Crocus, a historical mystery for young. Murder, Mystery & Music in 17th Century Venice.

She loves hearing from readers!

The Saffron Crocus is on a blog tour!


  1. This novel sounds captivating. The era and the locale are fascinating. thanks for this great feature and giveaway. saubleb(at)gmail(dot)com

  2. Hallo, Hallo! :)

    When I caught sight of this novel, I knew it was one that was going to interest me to read which is why I requested to interview the author. I love finding writers who not only believe in the story they are writing but believe in the beauty of research -- to dig a bit deeper and seek out a way to make the narrative have a resounding element of reality etched inside it. I love the history of fencing, even as the writer mentions, fencing has a bit of a difficult history to accept or enfold yourself inside, but it sounds like she took the best out of her research by giving the novel such a strong foothold in adding an element we could all visualise as being plausible. I can only imagine how hard it is to pull off swords inside narrative and I applaud her efforts! Thanks for offering a bookaway!

  3. Ah, Venice, what a great setting! Enjoyed the post about the swordfighting, thanks for the chance to win!


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