After last month’s post in which I discussed my feelings about battle scenes in historical fiction, this month’s is on a similar topic: scenes set at sea – which may or may not include sea battles! With air travel being a relatively recent invention, it’s obvious that travel by ship or boat is going to play a significant role in many historical fiction novels. This is something I have often struggled with, but that is starting to change, thanks largely to my decision to read Patrick O’Brian’s Aubrey-Maturin series. This is the beginning of my review from February 2013 of the first book in the series, Master and Commander:
I do not usually like books set at sea. However hard I try, I just can’t seem to keep track of the nautical terms and as soon as I see words like ‘mainsail’, ‘fo’c’sle’ or ‘bosun’ my brain just seems to switch off. As a fan of historical fiction, I have been unable to avoid this entirely – after all, until the 20th century the only way to cross the sea was by ship and many historical fiction novels do involve a sea voyage or two – but the thought of reading a book where seafaring forms a major part of the plot is always quite daunting for me.
Four years later, and I am now in the middle of the sixth book, The Fortune of War. Although I still can’t claim to understand all of the naval terms or to follow everything that is happening in the sea battles, I feel that I can understand and follow as much as I need to!
Some of Dorothy Dunnett’s novels also feature passages set at sea, as do Diana Gabaldon’s – as well as The Song of the Sea Maid by Rebecca Mascull, which I read a few months ago and loved, and the book I have just finished reading, Shadow of the Moon by MM Kaye. In books like these though, the sea travel arises naturally from the story, as a way of getting the characters from one point to another, rather than the author sitting down to specifically write a nautical novel. As I said in last month’s post on battles, if I have already formed a connection with the characters and care about what happens to them, I will be interested in reading about any situation they find themselves in, even if it’s something I might otherwise find boring or challenging.
How do you feel about historical fiction set at sea? Do you have any good ship-based books to recommend?
New to my historical fiction shelves since last month’s post:
* Circe by Madeline Miller – I’ve been waiting for another book from Madeline Miller since reading The Song of Achilles in 2012. This won’t be published until 2018 (I got a copy from NetGalley) but it’s the story of the witch from the Odyssey and sounds intriguing!
* The Tudor Heritage by Lynda M Andrews – This is a reissue of a book about the early years of Elizabeth I’s reign, originally published in 1977.
* The King’s Bed by Margaret Campbell Barnes – I’ve read a few other books by Margaret Campbell Barnes so couldn’t resist this one about an illegitimate son of Richard III.
* The Coffin Path by Katherine Clements – Having enjoyed Katherine Clements’ previous two novels I was delighted to receive this 17th century gothic ghost story from NetGalley too.
* And one non-fiction book: Queens of the Conquest by Alison Weir – I know very little about most of the medieval queens featured in this book, so I’m expecting to learn a lot!
Have you added any new historical fiction (or non-fiction) to your shelves recently?