My new historical mystery Silent Water is a personal project in a way that my other writing has not been. It is set in the 16th century—an era that has many fans among historical fiction readers. But the setting is different to what the readers are used to. It does not take place in England or France, not even in Italy (even though it has an Italian connection); instead, the story takes place over the winter of 1519-1520 at the royal court in Cracow.
Having spent my teenage years in Poland, my first serious study of history was not about the Tudors or the Borgias, but of a dynasty that, although powerful in its time, is little known outside of Eastern Europe. I am talking about the Jagiellons (pronounced Ya-ghye-lohns), who ruled the union of Poland and Lithuania (as well as, at various times, Hungary, Bohemia, and several minor principalities and territories) for more than two hundred years.
Longer-lasting than the Tudors (founded in 1387 and dissolved in 1596), at its heyday the Jagiellon monarchy presided over a territory stretching from the Baltic in the north to the Black Sea and the Adriatic in the south. The reign of the last two kings of the dynasty – Zygmunt I (the Old) and Zygmunt II (August)—was the period in Polish history known as The Golden Age. Never before or after—until late in the 20th century—would Poland be so prosperous and peaceful as it was in the first seven decades of the 16th century.
Interestingly, one of the most powerful and consequential Jagiellon monarchs was not actually Polish. Bona Sforza, who married Zygmunt I in 1518, was an Italian noblewoman who arrived in Cracow as a young royal bride, bringing with her new cuisine, customs, and fashions. But it was her ambition, forceful personality, and political astuteness that made the biggest mark on her adoptive country. She reformed its outdated agricultural sector, patronized artists, founded schools, built roads and bridges, and in the process accumulated a massive fortune. She was by all accounts a strong, fascinating, but also a tragic figure.
I have long wanted to write a novel set at the court of Queen Bona (you can read more about the queen and her tenure in this post). Finally, last year I had an idea for a mystery with a touch of romance that takes place two years after her marriage to the king of Poland. Queen Bona is not the main protagonist, but she features prominently in the story, and the setting is very much influenced by Cracow and its royal castle, whose Renaissance overhaul had begun shortly before Bona’s arrival in Poland and continued under her patronage.
Silent Water (A Jagiellon Mystery Book 1) is the result of my fascination with the Jagiellon era in Eastern Europe. I hope that it will give the English-language audiences a sense of how dynamic, diverse, glamorous, and intrigue-ridden the Polish court was. In that, it was no different from the Tudors, the Borgias, or the Valois about whom we love to read so much.
Silent Water is on pre-order now and will be released on August 6, 2019.