Grove Press
Grove Press
Grove Press

Valiant Gentlemen

A Novel

by Sabina Murray

“Sabina Murray’s Valiant Gentlemen is an adventure set amid the secret history of the modern world—the personal revolutions inside the revolutionary Roger Casement, a man who took part in or bore witness to so much of the history we live with now, brought to vivid, thrilling life here. This novel is made out of history but is every bit a modern marvel.” —Alexander Chee, author of The Queen of the Night

  • Imprint Grove Paperback
  • Page Count 512
  • Publication Date November 21, 2017
  • ISBN-13 978-0-8021-2728-0
  • Dimensions 5.5" x 8.25"
  • US List Price $18.00
  • Imprint Grove Hardcover
  • Page Count 496
  • Publication Date November 01, 2016
  • ISBN-13 978-0-8021-2545-3
  • Dimensions 6" x 9"
  • US List Price $27.00

About The Book

Following her New York Times Editors’ Choice collection of short stories Tales of the New World, historical fiction master Sabina Murray returns with a bold novel of friendship and betrayal set across four continents and a forty-year time span.

In prose that is darkly humorous and alive with detail, Valiant Gentlemen reimagines the lives and intimate friendships of humanitarian and Irish patriot Roger Casement; his closest friend, Herbert Ward; and Ward’s extraordinary wife, the Argentinian-American heiress Sarita Sanford. Valiant Gentlemen takes the reader on an intimate journey, from Ward and Casement’s misadventurous youth in the Congo—where, among other things, they bore witness to an Irish whiskey heir’s taste for cannibalism—to Ward’s marriage to Sarita and their flourishing family life in France, to Casement’s covert homosexuality and enduring nomadic lifestyle floating between his work across the African continent and involvement in Irish politics. When World War I breaks out, Casement and Ward’s long-standing political differences finally come to a head, and when Ward and his teenage sons leave to fight on the front lines for England, Casement begins to work alongside the Germans to help free Ireland from British rule. What results is tragic and riveting, as both men are forced to confront notions of love and betrayal in the face of the vastly different tracks their lives have taken.

Reminiscent of the work of Peter Carey and Michael Ondaatje, Valiant Gentlemen is a uniquely human account of some of early twentieth century’s larger historical figures from a “ravishing” (O, the Oprah Magazine) and “brilliant” (Boston Globe) voice in fiction today.


“A novel as vigorous, audacious and unpredictable as Casement himself . . . [Murray] translates the past into a present as immediate as it is unnerving.” —David Leavitt, New York Times Book Review

“Written beautifully, from the point of view of a writer who cares deeply . . . That the novel can be so despairingly honest about a writer’s limitations while still be so entertaining says a lot about Murray’s considerable talent.” —Brock Clarke, Boston Globe

“A big, ambitious book . . . [with] intelligence and sly prose . . . Murray is canny in tracing the near-imperceptible stages by which Casement and Ward land on opposite sides of bitterly divisive issues . . . She has a knack for alluding to the era’s public events and concerns in a manner that lets us understand their impact and influence without her laboring over their details–an indispensable gift for a historical novelist . . . [A] wise, illuminating novel.” —Michael Upchurch, Washington Post

“Expansive . . . Nimbly shifting continents, decades, and political alliances, Sabina Murray does a brilliant job imbuing grand chunks of black and white history with color-breathing fire. Yet there is a haunted feel to the novel . . . Valiant Gentlemen recreates an entire, magnificent era, exploring identity, friendship, marriage, love, and grief, tracing the days of two great men from passionate youth to disenchanted old age. Upstanding men who chased ideals that would never be realized, who never viewed themselves as valiant or worthy enough for the age in which they lived. Men who Murray has, through the power of her keen writing and sweeping insight, resurrected, letting the heroism of their lives outshine their small and human frailties.” —Siobhan Fallon, New York Journal of Books

“[Murray] ingeniously links two young friends . . . ultimately the novel is an imaginative exploration of the tragedy of lost friendship.” —Los Angeles Times

“Richly researched, Murray’s epic rendering of [this] story takes a deep dive into [a] volatile era.” —Toronto Star

“This book reveals an impressive breadth of research, which Murray naturally weaves into her vibrant scenes.” —Dallas News

“What Murray’s novel does very well is recreate the surprise and fascination of these men’s lives.” —VICE

“Murray’s meticulous attention to historical detail . . . is an engaging read filled with vivid characters and edifying perspectives. It will appeal to history buffs as well as readers of literary fiction.” —Winnipeg Free Press

“A fascinating, moving and epic account of the friendship between two men over 33 years . . . With a wide canvas of history before her, Murray explores the notions of national identity, foreign rule and resistance, love, personality, friendship and betrayal, social justice, suffrage, cruelties suffered by indigenous peoples, and of course war. It’s a difficult trick to allow your characters to age and wrestle with self-doubt and the disappointments of the world. Murray carries this off convincingly.” —Missourian

“Brimming with exquisite detail and clever humor . . . [Murray] maintains an impressive balance of historical accuracy and dramatic momentum, crafting a stellar fiction that shows how the grand course of history can be shaped by the smallest disagreements between friends.” —Publishers Weekly (starred review)

“An affecting novel about the unraveling of friendship under the buffetings of history. It’s wise enough and good enough to put on the shelf next to Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall novels.” —Library Journal

“Sabina Murray’s Valiant Gentlemen is an adventure set amid the secret history of the modern world–the personal revolutions inside the revolutionary Roger Casement, a man who took part in or bore witness to so much of the history we live with now, brought to vivid, thrilling life here. This novel is made out of history but is every bit a modern marvel.” —Alexander Chee, author of The Queen of the Night

“Readers will claim this masterpiece of a novel is a big book, and in terms of being Sabina Murray’s magnum opus, it certainly is. But Valiant Gentlemen was far too short for my passions, and when I consumed the last page I felt bereft for days, silently begging the author for more. On this side of the Atlantic, Murray is our Hilary Mantel.” —Bob Shacochis, author of The Woman Who Lost Her Soul


The first time Casement sees him, Ward is turned away, working on a sketch. He’s in a white shirt and the sleeves are rolled to the elbows, showing strong forearms darkened with exposure to the sun. The stance is perfect contrapposto, the hips angled, the right foot casually set forward. As if sensing Casement’s gaze, Ward turns and smiles. It is a romantic image that Casement has played over in his mind: first, the sight of the shoulders, the sun hitting the fair hair, the subtle movement of the arms, the hands, Ward’s attention drawn to some compelling subject.

“That’s ridiculous,” says Ward. “The first time we met was in an office. I was waiting for you to show up so that we could share the transport to Vivi. We shook hands. In fact, I think I saw you before you saw me.”

“How can you be so sure?”

“Well, for one thing I wouldn’t be standing in the sun without my hat.”

“I remember the absence of the hat because it was exceptional.”

“Also,” adds Ward, “you can’t see my forearms from behind, not if I’m sketching. My left hand is holding the book and I’ve got the pen in my right. From where you were standing,” Ward presents his back to illustrate, ‘my arms are completely blocked by my torso. If you were an artist, you would know this.” Ward turns again to Casement and shakes his head. He’s wondering why Casement would find the need to create such a scenario. “That’s the problem with you, Casement. You’re a romantic, always making things up.”


One of the New York Times 100 Notable Books of 2016
New York Times Editors’ Choice
Washington Post Notable Fiction Book of 2016
One of the Washington Independent Review of Books Top 25 Books of 2016