Cassava wins 'atmospheric' Iran novel at auction

Cassava wins 'atmospheric' Iran novel at auction

Cassava Republic is to publish an "atmospheric historical debut novel" from 27-year-old Victoria Princewill, entitled In the Palace of Flowers.

The publisher won world English rights at auction in a deal negotiated with Maria Cardona of Pontas Literary & Film Agency.

Set in Iran in the 19th century —in the Persian royal court of the Qajars— In The Palace of Flowers is an "atmospheric historical debut" in the tradition of Jessie Burton, Laila Lalami, Kamila Shamsie and Yaa Gyasi, said the publisher.

Inspired by the only existing first-person account of an Abyssinian slave in Iran, Jamīla Habashī, In the Palace of Flowers "vividly" recreates the court of the Iranian Shah in the 1890s, a precarious time of growing public dissent, foreign interference from the Russians and British, and the problem of an ageing ruler with an unsuitable heir. It tells the story from the perspective of two Abyssinian slaves: Jamila, a concubine, and Abimelech, a eunuch.

"Highly accomplished, In the Palace of Flowers is a magnificent novel about the fear of being forgotten", said the publisher. "It has all the ingredients of the best historical fiction: power struggles, scandal, sex, ambition, secrets and betrayal, and it explores inequality and oppression with insight and subtlety. In this debut, Victoria Princewill shines a light on an area of history about which many readers will know little in a way that feels fresh and grand, yet contemporary."

Princewill is British-born of Nigerian descent. Educated at Oxford and UCL, with a BA in English and MA in Philosophy, her work on race and contemporary culture has been published by the BBC, the Guardian, the Independent, the London Review of Books and n+1 magazine.

Cassava Republic sales director Emma Shercliff said the press is "delighted" to have acquired such a "remarkable" novel.

"Victoria has hit upon a fascinating premise for her novel – the Qajar court, with all its intrigue and mystery, is a wonderful setting, and to tell the tale from the perspective of the slaves is truly innovative", said Shercliff. "Victoria gives voice to a group of people hitherto neglected by historians and writers, which adds a fascinating dimension to life in a royal court where often reality was stranger than fiction. She brings the palace to life, capturing the characters at court, the rivalries of the harem and the colours, sights and smells of the bazaar in wonderful detail, whilst also interrogating ideas about gender identity, freedom and the concept of beauty."

Princewill said: " I wrote this novel with the aim of shedding a light on the lives of those who have been forgotten and on the sheer range of extraordinary stories that remain untold. With Cassava, I look forward to sharing this story with the wider world —I thank them and the team at Pontas for the warm welcome and continued support."

Cassava will publish In the Palace of Flowers in Spring 2019.