Saturday 9 February 2019

#BookReview — The Dragon Lady, by Louisa Treger #Historical #Africa #Romance @louisatreger

The Dragon Lady
By Louisa Treger

Opening with the shooting of Lady Virginia Courtauld in her tranquil garden in 1950s Rhodesia, The Dragon Lady tells Ginie's extraordinary story, so called for the exotic tattoo snaking up her leg. From the glamorous Italian Riviera before the Great War to the Art Deco glory of Eltham Palace in the thirties, from the secluded Scottish Highlands to sultry, segregated Rhodesia in the fifties, the narrative spans enormous cultural and social change. Lady Virginia Courtauld was a boundary-breaking, extremely colourful and unconventional character who rejected the submissive role women were expected to play.

Ostracised by society for being a foreign divorcée at the time of Edward VIII and Mrs Simpson, Ginie and her second husband Stephen Courtauld leave the confines of post-war Britain to forge a new life in Rhodesia, only to find that being progressive liberals during segregation proves mortally dangerous.

Subtly blending fact and fiction, deeply evocative of time and place in an era of great social change and threaded throughout with intrigue, this novel keeps the reader guessing from the outset who shot the Dragon Lady and why. 

“I’ve spent a lifetime trying to forget, yet the smallest things take me back to the time the Dragon Lady was shot…”

Rebellious, that was the word Virginia Peirano’s mother would have used to describe her. Not even a convent education could curb Virginia’s recalcitrant nature. When she was a teenager, Virginia had a large snake tattooed down the front of her leg. Virginia never told anyone what possessed her to do it although she liked to make up wonderful stories about the reasons why she had done something so irresponsible.

Virginia’s marriage into the wealthy Spinola family should have brought contentment. Only it did not. Instead, it brought scandal. The Vatican eventually annulled their marriage. Virginia was now a divorcée, and although she married the very wealthy and decorated war hero, Major Stephen Courtauld, Virginia would never quite fit in. Not in Italy. Not in London. Not in Africa.

However, there was something about Virginia. Something that drew men towards her. Perhaps it was her quest for adventure or her deep and generous nature. One thing was for sure, this rebellious marchioness was not the kind of woman one could easily forget.

From the romance of the Italian Rivera, the beau monde of London society, the restoration of Eltham Palace, to the sheer beauty of La Rochelle Estate in Rhodesia (Zimbabwe), The Dragon Lady by Louisa Treger is the compelling account of Lady Virginia Courtauld’s remarkable life.

Treger writes with a great deal of empathy towards historical controversy and a keen eye for what makes historical fiction great. Treger has chosen her muse well, Virginia Courtauld’s story is one of success in a world where a king is forced to choose between his crown and the woman he loves, and the natives of a country have to fight to be treated as equals because of the colour of their skin. Like the scintillating Virginia, Treger’s writing could never be referred to as dull. Treger writes with a compelling style and a very impressive narrative that made this book impossible to put down.

I adored the characterisation of Virginia. Virginia is a woman who is born to a world that is ordered and has a sense of the proper. Virginia is like Wallis Simpson, a gallant spirit, who is occasionally shaken but never gives up her fight to be accepted and treated as an equal. When Virginia sees with her own eyes how the natives of Rhodesia were treated, there was no wonder that she wanted to help them any way she could, for she knows what it is like to be discriminated against.

This book touches on the terrible suffering caused by white supremacy in Rhodesia, and also the effects that this had, not only on the native population but also on the white settlers. The treatment of Mary, one of Virginia and Stephen’s servants, was incredibly effective in demonstrating the corruption of the government and the legal system during this era.

The amount of research that has gone into this book has to be commended. I knew next to nothing about the Courtaulds, but after reading The Dragon Lady, I felt compelled to learn more abut this remarkable couple. When I looked at photographs of Eltham Palace and the La Rochelle Estate, it was as if I had seen these images before. And, of course, I have, for their descriptions were so elegantly described in The Dragon Lady that I would have recognised them without the captions under the pictures. Treger has not only brought the Courtaulds back to life, but she has breathed life into the buildings and the time her novel is set in as well. Treger’s portrayal of Africa was rich and vibrant. I could feel the heat of the midday sun, and I could hear the chatter of the monkeys in the trees. Wonderfully descriptive and totally mesmerising.

The story is written with a great deal of imagination and energy. Treger’s elegant turn of phrase makes this book utterly irresistible and immensely readable. I enjoyed every word and every sentence. The Dragon Lady is a treat that no historical fiction fans will want to miss out on.

I Highly Recommend.

Review by Mary Anne Yarde.
The Coffee Pot Book Club.

Available for Pre-Order
The title will be released on June 13th, 2019

Louisa Treger

Born in London, Louisa Treger began her career as a classical violinist. She studied at the Royal College of Music and the Guildhall School of Music, and worked as a freelance orchestral player and teacher.

Louisa subsequently turned to literature, gaining a First Class degree and a PhD in English at University College London, where she focused on early twentieth century women’s writing.

Married with three children, she lives in London.

Connect with Louisa: WebsiteTwitterGoodreads.


  1. Looking forward to reading this, Louisa. Virginia sounds like an amazing character.

  2. Congratulations! Your book sounds amazing. I love the cover by the way!!


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Take Care,
Mary Anne xxx