New Zealander Knox, an energetic magical realist with a vibrant comic imagination, scores strongly again with this densely plotted tale of a waiflike shipwreck survivor?s bizarre life and loves.?
Kirkus Reviews (US)
With an Edwardian twist on The Tempest, and all the surprising, earthy and magical qualities of her bestseller The Vintner?s Luck, Knox?s equally irresistible new novel is set on the remote, divided Scottish island of Kissack and Skilling, one half of which looks historically and geographically towards Catholic Ireland, the other towards the Protestant north and Scandinavia.
In the spring of 1903 a ship explodes as it docks on the island, drowning many of the passengers and crew in the icy waters of Stolnsay harbour. Young, strawberry-blonde-haired Billie Paxton is among the only survivors. Clumsy, illiterate and suddenly alone, Billie will not say why, before the explosion, she jumped from ship to shore, and so falls under the immediate suspicion of her fellow passenger, Murdo Hesketh, and his cousin and employer, Lord Hallowhulme, who owns the island ? and has controversial plans for improving the lives of its inhabitants.
Gloriously inventive and vividly atmospheric, Billie?s Kiss conjures up a way of life hurtling towards a brave new world, in an enchanting novel that combines a strange, sexy love story with an Edwardian mystery, bringing together murder and eugenics, progress, prejudice and the loss of innocence.
New Zealander Knox (The Vintner's Luck; Black Oxen) cleverly explores the many meanings of the word "kiss" in this haunting romantic mystery set in 1903. Billie Paxton, an uneducated but perspicacious young woman, thinks the worst is over after a rough voyage on the Gustav Edda, a Swedish steamer that has taken her to the outer Scottish island of Kissack and Skilling, along with her pregnant sister, Edith, and her brother-in-law, Henry Maslen, a tutor who has accepted a position with the local squire, Lord Hallowhulme, at Kiss Castle. But just as the Gustav Edda is docking in port, an explosion shatters the hull, leaving Edith dead and Henry injured. An excellent swimmer, Billie immediately jumps off the stricken ship and scrambles to shore, witnessed by Lord Hallowhulme's cousin, Murdo Hesketh. One of the few other passengers to survive the catastrophe, Murdo wonders how Billie came to be so ready to leap off the doomed boat. On Kissack and Skilling, the intricately interwoven lives of a host of islanders, particularly the inhabitants of Kiss Castle, give Billie plenty to ponder. Meanwhile, Murdo pursues Billie as both suspect and object of desire. When Murdo claims it was "just a kiss" after finally succeeding in kissing the breathless Billie, it turns out to be much more than that. The novel's promotion invokes the names of Emily Bront and Jane Austen; aficionados of those classic authors shouldn't get their hopes too high, but many romance fiction fans should be well satisfied.