The Tuscan Daughter by Tessa Harris: packed with real history, suspense, surprises, romance and danger – book review –

The Tuscan Daughter by Tessa Harris: book reviewThe Tuscan Daughter by Tessa Harris: book review
The Tuscan Daughter by Tessa Harris: book review
Caught up in the fascist terrors sweeping through Italy in the autumn of 1942, a young English governess must decide if she wants to lie low in a country at war... or find the courage needed to put her life on the line and help the resistance fight back.

Tessa Harris – whose thrilling historical novels include The Paris Notebook and The Light We Left Behind – sweeps us away to the stunning ancient city of Lucca in an emotion-packed and heart-pounding story which explores the perilous divisions created by Mussolini’s alliance with Hitler, and the little-known role of women in the partisan offensive.

Of the 200,000 known partisans in Italy, some estimates reckon that a quarter were women who acted principally as messengers, and even included children (some as young as ten), with both groups regarded as largely invisible by the fascists. As one later remarked, ‘You could be anybody. You were a fire without smoke or a flame.’

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These female partisans – some of whom were killed, tortured or executed – have remained in the shadows for decades and The Tuscan Daughter, says Harris in her Acknowledgements, is her tribute to these brave women and their extraordinary stories.

And what an inspirational and heartbreaking tale it is... a thriller based on true events and a reminder that throughout this time many British citizens, some of them people who had been living in Italy when war broke out, were regarded as the enemy and taken prisoner, first by the Italians and later by the Germans.

The story opens in Tuscany in September of 1942 where Lizzie Thornton is living at the beautiful Villa Martini in Lucca as tutor to nine-year-old motherless Cristo, son of the wealthy and powerful Count Antonio de Falco, a notable fascist and personal friend of Mussolini.

Two years ago Lizzie moved from England believing that Italy was ‘the sun-kissed land of Dante and Michelangelo,’ little knowing that she would become an enemy of the state with no way back because Hitler’s invading armies have blocked her path home.

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But despite being a virtual prisoner and knowing that she is now at the mercy of her fascist employer, Lizzie still loves Italy and has no great urge to return home after hearing that her fiancé has died while serving in the forces abroad.

When the count hires new tutor Vincenzo Baldini to teach Cristo ‘manly pursuits,’ Lizzie is covertly exposed to a secret world... because Vincenzo is a member of the Italian resistance, running an anti-fascist propaganda magazine.

Desperate to be part of the fight and aware that women are useful to the cause, Lizzie joins Vincenzo’s unit and soon she is head over heels in love. But when someone from her past reappears and threatens to overturn her new life, Lizzie must decide if she has the strength to fight for what, and who, she truly wants.

Harris gives new light and life to the courageous women who actively took part in the brutal war of resistance waged by the partisans to free Italy from fascism, without forgetting the plight of British citizens and prisoners-of-war who found themselves marooned in enemy territory after the Armistice was declared in Italy in 1943.

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Opposing Mussolini’s fascists is plucky Lizzie, a young woman at a crossroads in her life who must fight not just the physical enemy on her doorstep but the social expectations of what a woman can or cannot or do... even in the midst of war. And despite the risks involved, Lizzie takes a tough path, facing danger, death, love, loss and, ultimately, the most difficult choice of all.

Set against the lush and breathtaking backdrop of Lucca’s medieval towers, solid Roman walls and distinctive green-spired cypress trees, this Tuscan odyssey is packed with real history, suspense, surprises, romance and danger... the perfect ingredients for all historical novel fans.

(HQ, paperback, £9.99)

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