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Olive the Lionheart: Lost Love, Imperial Spies, and One Woman's Journey into the Heart of Africa

Review

Olive the Lionheart: Lost Love, Imperial Spies, and One Woman's Journey into the Heart of Africa

The latest book by the Edgar-nominated author of MRS. SHERLOCK HOLMES brings us another tale of an adventurous woman without all the grisly crime drama. Brad Ricca’s OLIVE THE LIONHEART is about an impassioned Scottish noblewoman who reaches far beyond the luxurious limitations of her birthright to discover the wonders of the world with her very own eyes in a time when women were not supposed to do such things.

Olive MacLeod is engaged to Boyd Alexander, a famed naturalist of the 20th century. However, Boyd needs to stay on the move; while their engagement is the talk of the town, he heads to Africa. He swears he will be back by the time the wedding is scheduled, and Olive chooses to do the only thing she can: stay home, look pretty and wait for him to return. However, something happens on that faraway continent and Boyd goes missing. Olive, who deeply loves him, decides that it is her job to find him. So off to Africa she goes, as a fearful public back home on the Scottish shore wonders if they will ever see her again.

"OLIVE THE LIONHEART is a harrowing and fascinating tale of a woman who broke rules and hearts as she blazed trails in a world of change."

Olive’s diaries and personal correspondence help to shape the book, but Ricca draws on the details of the period, the historical events and the headlines of the era to give her story context. No woman born in the unwild West had ever made such a journey, and her 2,700-mile trek through dangerous swamps and jungles and areas not meant for Western travelers at the time is breathtaking. Literally. Her run-ins with flora and fauna leave us absolutely struggling to catch our breath, and the murderous leopard cult is especially chill-inducing.

In a pair of boots that give her great pain, as they are not meant to carry one on such a journey as Olive explores, she receives an education about the governmental regimes in the world and the ways in which power and control are exercised in the name of people, state and deity. She never falters in her search for Boyd, but, on the way, she has to come into contact with a deep and surprising realization about her own self.

If Becky Sharp had a best friend, it might be Olive. If Jo March had a best friend, she would want it to be Olive. Olive’s story reads like a ripping yarn from another time, a Victorian novel about women who step out of their comfort zone and discover a world they didn’t expect to be a part of. But, remember, this is a true story, and the depths to which Olive dives in cultural and political terms are full of difficult and shocking decisions.

Ricca’s style is more matter-of-fact than the story deserves, but the voice of Olive and her exuberance and modern bravery take the sometimes pallid prose and lifts it up to the heights of a great adventure read. OLIVE THE LIONHEART is a harrowing and fascinating tale of a woman who broke rules and hearts as she blazed trails in a world of change.

Reviewed by Jana Siciliano on September 11, 2020

Olive the Lionheart: Lost Love, Imperial Spies, and One Woman's Journey into the Heart of Africa
by Brad Ricca

  • Publication Date: August 11, 2020
  • Genres: Biography, History, Nonfiction
  • Hardcover: 400 pages
  • Publisher: St. Martin's Press
  • ISBN-10: 1250207010
  • ISBN-13: 9781250207012