Sunday, September 10, 2006

a book-list!

Sooner or later, I'll get around to posting a sooper-dooper ultra-definitive historical fiction list, one that will guide you all in every time-period and every seeking mood. But in the meantime, I thought I'd fire off a quick sub-list of baubles to tempt the mind's eye!

1. Fire from Heaven by Mary Renault - certainly all her historical novels (except Funeral Games alas) would be on my sooper-dooper list, but I thought I'd plug this particular book, about the pre-Great years of Alexander ... it's crammed with very fine, very delicate, very KNOWING prose that only gets deeper the more you know about Alexander.

2. Clodia by Robert DeMaria - a very good evocation of Republican Rome and the passions of young love-smitten Catullus.

3. The Right Line of Cerdic by Alfred Duggan - a meticulous and ultimately stirring novel of Alfred the Great (the only British monarch to retain that 'the Great,' although I can think of four others who deserved it entirely more)

4. The Physician by Noah Gordon - a rattling good yarn about a boy who grows into the medical profession (such as it was) in 11th century England ... no great writing, but enough potboilery to fill the rainiest afternoon

5. The Emperor's Virgin by Sylvia Fraser - a surprisingly deep and well-written book set against the backdrop of the reign of Domitian, a genuine little find of a book (the operative word being 'find' in the verbal sense, since even the Internet has its limits)

6. The Floating Book by Michelle Lovric - set in 15th century Venice (which is VERY accurately evoked, wonderfully so - when I get around to it, I'll also be posting a 'Venetian fiction' list too), but revolving around a precious manuscript of the aforementioned Catullus. The prose is a little on the purple side, but the book is a delight.

7. Bloody Season by Loren Estleman - here we have writing of the very first order, in a novel about the OK Corral gunfight and its aftermath. Estleman is fantastic, most of his book are hugely worth reading, but this one just might be the best one.

8. Germanicus by David Wishart - a smart, sassy take on the events surrounding the death of Germanicus - events so well covered in Robert Graves' I, Claudius that you'd think the mine was played out ... and you'd be wrong! Wishart is funny and gleefully anachronistic, and somehow it all works ... snap him up before his American importer loses heart and decides to pull him from your Barnes & Noble shelves.

9. Sacajawea by Anna Lee Waldo - a huge, ample historical novel about the title character that manages to be hugely moving if you stick it out to the end ...

10. Well, I started with a book that needs no trumping, one that would be on my sooper-dooper list anyway, and I'll end with one the same: George Garrett's Entered from the Sun, which desperate publisher flacks have always said is a novel about Christopher Marlowe. In reality the novel - stirring, intelligent, hugely beautiful - is about a handful of lives for one reason or another torn apart by the DEATH of Marlowe (who never appears in the book). It's (of course) out of print, but it's well worth your attention.

And there you have it! A quick run-down of 10 really good historical novels! I WILL write up the sooper-dooper list sometime soon, but in the meantime, these will have to satisfy you, thou legion of hungry jackals!

More lists to follow!


Anonymous said...

Okay, I don't know that this qualifies as historical fiction, but how do you dare leave off Josephine Tey's Daughter of Time? Smackingly interesting, well thought out - snarky comment deleted - surely it deserves to be on the list. Beepy

steve said...

Ah Beepy, Beepy, Beepy - drunken postings are SO ill-advised.

'The Daughter of Time' - a novel I know well and love - doesn't belong on this list because it isn't historical fiction. Historical fiction dramatizes a bygone era - settings, thoughts, and especially dialogue.

'The Daughter of Time' is a wonderful book in which people TALK about history, but it's no more a historical novel than YER ASS is.

It will go on my 'best mystery novels' list, when I get around to posting it ...