Historical Musings #77: My year in historical fiction – 2022

Welcome to my monthly post on all things historical fiction. For my first Musings post of the year, I am looking back at the historical fiction I read in 2022 and have put together my usual selection of charts and lists! I have kept most of the same categories I’ve used for the previous six years so that it should be easy to make comparisons and to see if there have been any interesting changes in my reading patterns and choices (here are my posts for 2021, 2020, 2019, 2018, 2017 and 2016).

Before I begin, just a reminder that I do actually read other genres but haven’t included those books in these stats!

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Time periods read about in 2022:

No big changes here – the 19th and 20th centuries are nearly always the most popular settings for my historical reading and the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries usually do well too. Earlier time periods never feature as strongly, but I was pleased to find two books set in the Roman period that I enjoyed last year (The Wolf Den by Elodie Harper and The Eagle of the Ninth by Rosemary Sutcliff).

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43% of the historical fiction authors I read in 2022 were new to me. This is more than the last few years (39% in 2021 and 32% in 2020) and I think that’s a good balance of new authors and old favourites.

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I read 3 historical novels in translationThe Reindeer Hunters by Lars Mytting (Norwegian, transl. Deborah Dawkin), Ashes in the Snow by Oriana Rammuno (Italian, transl. Katherine Gregor) and Nights of Plague by Orhan Pamuk (Turkish, transl. Ekin Oklap). I must try to do better in 2023!

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Sources of historical fiction novels read in 2022:

NetGalley – 41
Books from TBR – 15
Other review copies – 7

As I mentioned in my 2023 Reading Resolutions post, I have been making an effort to get up to date with my NetGalley shelf and I expect to be requesting and reading fewer NetGalley books this year. This will allow me to get on with reading books from my own TBR, including the older books that tend to be the ones I enjoy most. Which brings me to the next category…

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Publication dates of books read in 2022:

Following on from my comments on NetGalley above, you can see in this chart that my 2022 historical reading was dominated by newly published books. I only read four books published in the 20th century, but I expect these figures to look quite different in next year’s charts as I focus on picking up more books from my own shelves.

The oldest historical fiction novel I read in 2022 was Cup of Gold by John Steinbeck, published in 1929. It tells the story of the Welsh pirate, Henry Morgan.

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9% of my historical reads in 2022 were historical mysteries.

This is about the same as in previous years. Here are three I enjoyed reading in 2022:

Traitor in the Ice by KJ Maitland
Death and the Conjuror by Tom Mead
The Blood Flower by Alex Reeve.

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I read historical fiction set in 17 different countries in 2022:

As you can see, I still read far more historical fiction set in England than anywhere else, which is mainly a reflection of the books that are being published and coming to my attention rather than a deliberate choice of mine. I’m happy with the range of other countries I read about in 2022, which is more than the previous year – and I’m almost certain that Fortune by Amanda Smyth is the first book I’ve ever read set in Trinidad.

In addition, I read a book set almost entirely at sea (Blue Water by Leonora Nattrass) and one on a fictional Mediterranean island (Nights of Plague by Orhan Pamuk).

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Four historical men I read about in 2022:

Edward Whalley (Act of Oblivion by Robert Harris)
Varian Fry (The Flight Portfolio by Julie Orringer)
Mahmood Mattan (The Fortune Men by Nadifa Mohamed)
Giorgio Barbarelli (The Colour Storm by Damian Dibben)

Four historical women I read about in 2022:

Alice Samuel (The Bewitching by Jill Dawson)
Joan of Arc (Joan by Katherine J Chen)
Bridget Cromwell (The Rebel Daughter by Miranda Malins)
Lyudmila Pavlichenko (The Diamond Eye by Kate Quinn)

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What about you? Did you read any good historical fiction last year? Have you read any of the books or authors I’ve mentioned here and have you noticed any patterns or trends in your own reading?

Historical Musings #76: Books to look out for in 2023

Now that 2022 is almost over, it’s time to look ahead to the historical fiction being published in 2023. I’ve listed below a selection of books that have caught my attention for one reason or another – some are review copies I’ve received (and in a few cases have already read), some are new books by authors I’ve previously enjoyed and others just sounded interesting. 2023 looks like being a great year for historical fiction and I hope there’s something here that appeals to you.

Dates provided are for the UK and were correct at the time of posting.

January

A Marriage of Fortune by Anne O’Brien (19th January) – Set during the Wars of the Roses, this is the sequel to The Royal Game and continues the story of the women of the Paston family.

For Thy Great Pain Have Mercy On My Little Pain by Victoria MacKenzie (19th January) – A novella describing a meeting in 1413 between Julian of Norwich and Margery Kempe, two English mystics and authors.

My Father’s House by Joseph O’Connor (26th January) – Based on a true story, an Irish priest in Vatican City helps people escape from the Nazis.

February

The Whispering Muse by Laura Purcell (2nd February) – Laura Purcell’s new Gothic novel is set in a theatre in Victorian London, where an actress is said to have made a pact with Melpomene, the muse of tragedy.

Weyward by Emilia Hart (2nd February) – This book weaves together the stories of three women from different time periods who share a connection to witchcraft.

March

The Shadows of London by Andrew Taylor (2nd March) – The sixth book in Taylor’s excellent Marwood and Lovett mystery series set in the years following the Great Fire of London.

Lady MacBethad by Isabelle Schuler (2nd March) – The story of Gruoch, the real-life queen who was the inspiration for Shakespeare’s Lady Macbeth. Having read several other books about Macbeth and Gruoch/Groa, I’ll be interested to see how this one compares.

The Secrets of Hartwood Hall by Katie Lumsden (30th March) – A Victorian Gothic novel about a young woman who becomes a governess at an isolated country house.

April

The House of Whispers by Anna Mazzola (6th April) – I’ve read all of Anna Mazzola’s previous novels and each one has been very different from the one before. This new book is set in Rome in 1938.

The King’s Jewel by Elizabeth Chadwick (13th April) – The new novel from Elizabeth Chadwick is set in 11th century Wales and tells the story of Nesta, daughter of Prince Rhys of Deheubarth.

Rivers of Treason by KJ Maitland (13th April) – The third book in the Daniel Pursglove mystery series sees Daniel returning to his childhood home in Yorkshire and falling under suspicion of murder.

Homecoming by Kate Morton (13th April) – A modern day journalist discovers a family connection with an unsolved murder case in 1950s Australia. I’ve enjoyed some of Kate Morton’s previous books but not others, so I’ll be interested to see what this one is like.

Prize Women by Caroline Lea (27th April) – Set in Canada during the Great Depression, this is the story of two women who become involved in the contest known as The Great Stork Derby.

May

Atlas: The Story of Pa Salt by Lucinda Riley and Harry Whittaker (11th May) – The final book in the Seven Sisters series, completed by Lucinda Riley’s son after her death in 2021. I can’t wait to find out the truth about Pa Salt at last!

A Lady’s Guide to Scandal by Sophie Irwin (11th May) – I loved Sophie Irwin’s A Lady’s Guide to Fortune-Hunting and her second novel, another one set in the Regency period, sounds just as entertaining!

Henry VIII: The Heart and the Crown by Alison Weir (11th May) – After writing a series of novels from the perspectives of Henry VIII’s six wives, now Alison Weir is going to give us Henry’s side of the story.

Music in the Dark by Sally Magnusson (11th May) – The new novel by Scottish author Sally Magnusson explores the lives of two people during the Highland Clearances of 1854.

The Ghost Theatre by Mat Osman (11th May) – This sounds like a very unusual novel about children in a theatrical troupe in Elizabethan London.

The Stolen Crown by Carol McGrath (18th May) – Following her recent She-Wolves trilogy, Carol McGrath goes further back in time for her new novel which tells the story of Henry I’s daughter Matilda and the period known as The Anarchy.

Mrs Porter Calling by AJ Pearce (25th May) – The third book in Pearce’s series about Emmy Lake, who works for Woman’s Friend magazine during World War II. I still need to catch up with the second one!

June

The Last Lifeboat by Hazel Gaynor (8th June) – Set in 1940, this new book by Hazel Gaynor tells the story of the evacuees sent away by sea during the war.

Disobedient by EC Fremantle (8th June) – A new EC Fremantle book is always something to look forward to and this one, about the 17th century artist Artemisia Gentileschi, sounds great.

The Square of Sevens by Laura Shepherd-Robinson (22nd June) – I’d been hoping for a third book in the Harry and Caro Corsham mystery series, but this new book about a fortune-teller in Georgian England could be even better!

The Other Side of Mrs Wood by Lucy Barker (22nd June) – This one sounds fun – it’s described as an ‘irresistible historical comedy about two rival mediums in Victorian London’.

July

The Housekeepers by Alex Hay (6th July) – An intriguing-sounding debut novel in which a group of servants plan to carry out a daring heist in a grand London house in 1905.

Lady Tan’s Circle of Women by Lisa See (6th July) – I usually love Lisa See’s books and this one is about the life of Tan Yunxian, a Chinese physician during the Ming dynasty.

The Murder Wheel by Tom Mead (11th July) – I loved Tom Mead’s first Golden Age-style mystery novel, Death and the Conjuror, and I’m pleased to see that he’s written another one, again featuring the magician Joseph Spector.

August

Fair Rosaline by Natasha Solomons (3rd August) – The second novel in this list with a Shakespeare connection, this is the story of Rosaline, the woman Romeo loved before beginning his tragic romance with Juliet.

Night Train to Marrakech by Dinah Jefferies (31st August) – The third book in the Daughters of War trilogy is going to be set in 1960s Morocco. I’m looking forward to finding out how the story ends.

October

Menewood by Nicola Griffith (3rd October) – The long-awaited sequel to Hild, this book will continue the story of St Hilda of Whitby. The first book was beautifully written and I’ve been looking forward to this one for years!

November

The Temple of Fortuna by Elodie Harper (23rd November) – This will be the final book in Elodie Harper’s trilogy set in ancient Pompeii. I loved The Wolf Den but still need to read the middle book.

December

The Witch’s Daughter by Imogen Edwards-Jones (7th December) – The sequel to The Witches of St Petersburg is set in 1916 and follows the story of Princess Militza’s daughter Nadezhda as the Russian Revolution approaches.

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Are you interested in reading any of these? What else have I missed?

Historical Musings #75: HWA Crown Awards 2022

Welcome to my not-quite-monthly post on all things historical fiction! I don’t normally post this early in the month, but wanted to highlight the HWA Crown Award longlists which were announced last Wednesday by the Historical Writers Association. There are three separate awards – one for debut novels, one for non-fiction and the other (the Gold Crown) for the best historical novel of the year. The shortlists are announced later in October and the winner in November. I have no plans to try to read all of these books, but thought it would be interesting to look at what I’d read so far from each list.

Gold Crown Award 2022 longlist

Booth by Karen Joy Fowler
The Wolf Den by Elodie Harper
All of You Every Single One by Beatrice Hitchman
Small Things Like These by Claire Keegan
The Winter War by Tim Leach
Case Study by Graeme Macrae Burnet
The Thin Place by CD Major
The Rebel Daughter by Miranda Malins
The Fortune Men by Nadifa Mohamed
The Kingdoms by Natasha Pulley
The Great Passion by James Runcie
Great Circle by Maggie Shipstead

I loved both Booth and The Wolf Den, two of my favourite books of the year so far. I also found The Fortune Men a powerful and emotional read, but I’m a bit surprised to see The Rebel Daughter here – I found it interesting but nothing special. As for the others on the list, I’ve enjoyed earlier books by Tim Leach and Graeme Macrae Burnet, but didn’t like the only book I’ve read by Natasha Pulley so I won’t be reading The Kingdoms. I like the sound of The Thin Place by CD Major, an author I hadn’t come across until now. None of the others really appeal, although I know they have all had good reviews.

Non-fiction Crown Award 2022 longlist

Operation Jubilee by Patrick Bishop
The Invention of Miracles by Katie Booth
Midnight in Cairo by Raphael Cormack
The Turning Point by Robert Douglas-Fairhurst
The Irish Assassins by Julie Kavanagh
Metaphysical Animals by Clare Mac Cumhaill and Rachael Wiseman
The Library by Andrew Pettegree and Arthur der Weduwen
Loot by Barnaby Phillips
The Hidden Case of Ewan Forbes by Zoë Playdon
The Searchers by Robert Sackville-West
National Treasures by Caroline Shenton
Fallen Idols by Alex von Tunzelmann

I haven’t read any of these or even heard of them, but I’m not a big reader of non-fiction so that’s probably not surprising. I’ve investigated a few of the titles and am particularly drawn to The Turning Point, a year in the life of Charles Dickens, and The Library, about the history of libraries from ancient times to the present.

Debut Crown Award 2022 longlist

The Leviathan by Rosie Andrews
The Queen’s Lender by Jean Findlay
The Silver Wolf by J C Harvey
The Flames by Sophie Haydock
Beasts of a Little Land by Juhea Kim
The Mad Women’s Ball by Victoria Mas
Black Drop by Leonora Nattrass
Moonlight & The Pearler’s Daughter by Lizzie Pook
The Deception of Harriet Fleet by Helen Scarlett
Hear No Evil by Sarah Smith
The Plague Letters by VL Valentine
The Spirit Engineer by AJ West

I’ve only read three from this list. Black Drop was an interesting historical mystery and I have the sequel, Blue Water, on my NetGalley shelf to read soon. I thought The Silver Wolf, the first in a series, was an impressive, ambitious debut and The Leviathan was great until the fantasy/magical realism elements became more dominant towards the end. I’ve heard of a few of the others on the list but am unfamiliar with the rest, so will have to find out more.

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Have you read any of these? Are you interested in reading them?

Don’t forget, you can find links to all 74 previous Historical Musings topics here.

Historical Musings #74: Walter Scott Prize progress report – Part Two

Welcome to this month’s post on all things historical fiction!

As I mentioned in last month’s post, I am slowly working my way through all the titles shortlisted for the Walter Scott Prize since it began back in 2010. As I haven’t been making much progress with this recently, I decided it might be motivational to take a detailed look at which books I’ve read so far and which I still need to read. Last month I looked back at the 2010-2015 shortlists – you can see that post here – and now I’m going to focus on 2016-2022.

2016

READ:

A Place Called Winter by Patrick Gale
Mrs Engels by Gavin McCrea
Salt Creek by Lucy Treloar

STILL TO READ:

Tightrope by Simon Mawer (winner)
Sweet Caress by William Boyd
End Games in Bordeaux by Allan Massie

I enjoyed A Place Called Winter and found Mrs Engels and Salt Creek interesting, but didn’t think any of them were outstandingly good. I haven’t read the winner yet, though – it’s the sequel to Mawer’s The Girl Who Fell From the Sky and I was hoping to read the two books in the correct order. Similarly, the Allan Massie book is the last in a four-novel series and I decided to start at the beginning – I’ve only read the first two so far.

2017

READ:

Days Without End by Sebastian Barry (winner)
The Good People by Hannah Kent
Golden Hill by Francis Spufford
Mothering Sunday by Graham Swift
The Gustav Sonata by Rose Tremain

STILL TO READ:

Jo Baker – A Country Road, A Tree
Charlotte Hobson – The Vanishing Futurist

I’ve made good progress with the 2017 list, reading five of the seven books. Of the ones I’ve read, I would definitely have given the prize to Golden Hill which I thought was a wonderful book. I do usually love Sebastian Barry, but Days Without End was not a favourite. Of the two I haven’t read, I have a copy of The Vanishing Futurist which I hope I’ll have time for soon.

2018

READ:

Sugar Money by Jane Harris

STILL TO READ:

The Gallows Pole by Benjamin Myers (winner)
Manhattan Beach by Jennifer Egan
Grace by Paul Lynch
The Wardrobe Mistress by Patrick McGrath
Miss Boston and Miss Hargreaves by Rachel Malik

I’m not sure why I’ve still only read one book from the 2018 shortlist! Most of the others did sound good and I had every intention of reading them soon after they were published, but never did. Anyway, I loved Sugar Money and it would probably have been my choice of winner even if I’d read the whole list as I’m a big fan of Jane Harris – I just wish she had written more books!

2019

READ:

After The Party by Cressida Connolly
The Western Wind by Samantha Harvey
Now We Shall Be Entirely Free by Andrew Miller

STILL TO READ:

The Long Take by Robin Robertson (winner)
A Long Way From Home by Peter Carey
Warlight by Michael Ondaatje

I found Now We Shall Be Entirely Free a beautifully written novel and my favourite of the three I’ve read from the 2019 list – although it didn’t have much competition as the other two books just weren’t for me. I’m looking forward to reading Warlight, which will be my first Michael Ondaatje book.

2020

READ:

To Calais, in Ordinary Time by James Meek
Shadowplay by Joseph O’Connor

STILL TO READ:

The Narrow Land by Christine Dwyer Hickey (winner)
The Parisian by Isabella Hammad
The Redeemed by Tim Pears
A Sin of Omission by Marguerite Poland

I’ve read two books from the 2020 shortlist and of the two, I preferred Shadowplay. To Calais… was clever and imaginative, but not one that I particularly liked – although I had expected it to win as it’s the sort of book judges usually seem to go for. The other four don’t really appeal, but I’ll still give them a try.

2021

READ:

The Mirror and the Light by Hilary Mantel (winner)
Hamnet by Maggie O’Farrell

STILL TO READ:

The Tolstoy Estate by Steven Conte
A Room Made of Leaves by Kate Grenville
The Dictionary of Lost Words by Pip Williams

I didn’t manage to love Hamnet the way so many other readers have, but I did love The Mirror and the Light, which I just finished reading yesterday, having bought a copy the week it was published in March 2020 and then getting distracted by the pandemic. I do like the sound of all three of the other books and hope I’ll have the opportunity to read them soon, but I’ll be surprised if any of them impress me more than The Mirror and the Light!

2022

READ:

Rose Nicolson by Andrew Greig
Fortune by Amanda Smyth
The Magician by Colm Tóibín

STILL TO READ:

News of the Dead by James Robertson (winner)

This year the shortlist was disappointingly short – only four books. Typically, I have read three of them, but not the winner! I was hoping the prize would go to Rose Nicolson, which I loved. If News of the Dead is even better, then I’m very much looking forward to reading it!

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Have you read any of these books? Do you agree with the judges’ choices?

Historical Musings #73: Walter Scott Prize winner and project progress report

Welcome to this month’s post on all things historical fiction!

The winner of this year’s Walter Scott Prize for Historical Fiction was announced yesterday at the Borders Book Festival. Congratulations to James Robertson and News of the Dead!

There were only four titles on the shortlist this year and I have managed to read two and a half of them. The two are Rose Nicolson and Fortune and the half is The Magician, which I’m hoping to finish soon. Typically, News of the Dead is the only one I haven’t had time to get to yet.

The 2022 shortlist:

Rose Nicolson by Andrew Greig
News of the Dead by James Robertson
Fortune by Amanda Smyth
The Magician by Colm Tóibín

Have you read any or all of these books? Which one do you think should have won?

As some of you will know, I’m attempting to read all of the shortlists since the Walter Scott Prize began back in 2010, but my progress with this seems to have stalled recently. Kay, who blogs at What Me Read and is working on the same project, is doing much better than I am and has almost finished! I am keeping track of all my Walter Scott Prize reads here but thought it might be interesting to take a more detailed look at what I’ve read and not read so far. Below you can see my progress with the 2010-2015 shortlists; I’ll save the 2016-2022 lists for next month’s Historical Musings post.

2010

READ:

Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel (winner)
Stone’s Fall by Iain Pears
Lustrum by Robert Harris

STILL TO READ:

Hodd by Adam Thorpe
Sacred Hearts by Sarah Dunant
The Glass Room by Simon Mawer
The Quickening Maze by Adam Foulds

It would be difficult to argue with Wolf Hall as the winner here, but I also loved Lustrum and Stone’s Fall – in fact, all three made it onto my books of the year lists in the years when I read them. Of the remaining books, I’m particularly looking forward to the Sarah Dunant as I enjoyed one of her others.

2011

READ:

The Long Song by Andrea Levy (winner)
Ghost Light by Joseph O’Connor
Heartstone by C. J. Sansom

STILL TO READ:

To Kill A Tsar by Andrew Williams
C by Tom McCarthy
The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet by David Mitchell

I did enjoy 2011’s winner, The Long Song, but as a Shardlake fan I preferred Sansom’s Heartstone. Ghost Light was interesting, but I didn’t really get on very well with the writing style.

2012

READ:

On Canaan’s Side by Sebastian Barry (winner)
The Sisters Brothers by Patrick deWitt
Pure by Andrew Miller

STILL TO READ:

The Quality of Mercy by Barry Unsworth
Half-Blood Blues by Esi Edugyan
The Stranger’s Child by Alan Hollinghurst

I loved On Canaan’s Side – Sebastian Barry writes so beautifully. But then, I loved The Sisters Brothers as well; I never expected to find a Western so enjoyable! Andrew Miller’s Pure was an atmospheric read, but I didn’t like it as much as the other two.

2013

READ:

The Garden of Evening Mists by Tan Twan Eng (winner)
The Daughters of Mars by Thomas Keneally
Bring Up the Bodies by Hilary Mantel
The Streets by Anthony Quinn
Merivel: A Man of His Time by Rose Tremain

STILL TO READ:

Toby’s Room by Pat Barker

I’ve read five out of the six books on the 2013 list. The Garden of Evening Mists is another beautiful book and a worthy winner, but my vote would probably have gone to Bring Up the Bodies. I only need to read Toby’s Room now, but I know it’s a sequel to Life Class so would prefer to read that one first.

2014

READ:

An Officer and a Spy by Robert Harris (winner)
Life After Life by Kate Atkinson
The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton
Harvest by Jim Crace
Fair Helen by Andrew Greig

STILL TO READ:

The Promise by Ann Weisgarber

This is a great shortlist! An Officer and a Spy is wonderful (one of my favourites by Robert Harris), but I also really enjoyed the other four that I’ve read, particularly Life After Life and Fair Helen. The Promise doesn’t sound as appealing to me and I haven’t rushed to read it, but will try to get to it soon so I can complete the 2014 list.

2015

READ:

Arctic Summer by Damon Galgut
The Lie by Helen Dunmore
A God in Every Stone by Kamila Shamsie

STILL TO READ:

The Ten Thousand Things by John Spurling (winner)
The Zone of Interest by Martin Amis
Viper Wine by Hermione Eyre
In the Wolf’s Mouth by Adam Foulds

I haven’t done very well with the 2015 shortlist. I’ve only read three of the seven books and wasn’t all that impressed with any of them. I liked parts of The Lie, but it’s not a favourite Helen Dunmore book, and A God in Every Stone was interesting, but I suspect it wasn’t the best Shamsie novel I could have started with. Arctic Summer wasn’t my sort of book at all and has put me off trying anything else by Damon Galgut. I hope for better things from the other four books on the shortlist, when I get round to reading them!

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And that’s an update on my progress with the 2010-2015 shortlists! In next month’s Historical Musings post I’ll look at the lists from 2016-2022.

Have you read any of these books? Do you agree with the winners?

Historical Musings #72: From the TBR…Russia and Ukraine

Welcome to another of my not-quite-monthly posts on all things historical fiction!

This month I’ve decided to share with you some of the historical fiction waiting on my TBR. With everything going on in the world and with other projects taking place in the book blogging community such as Brona’s Understanding Ukraine, I thought I would focus on books set in Russia or Ukraine. There are a lot that I’ve already read (mainly Russia rather than Ukraine) and you can find reviews elsewhere on my blog using the Russia tag (there are some classics/contemporary novels amongst those too); I’ve just finished The Diamond Eye by Kate Quinn, about a female Soviet sniper, so my review of that one should be coming soon as well.

The titles below are all books that I haven’t read yet. Maybe you can help me decide which I should try to read as soon as possible and which, if any, I could remove from my TBR.

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The Rose of Sebastopol by Katharine McMahon

Russia, 1854. As the Crimean War grinds on, Rosa Barr – young, headstrong and beautiful – travels to the battlefields, determined to join Florence Nightingale and save as many of the wounded as she can.

For Mariella, Rosa’s cousin, the war is contained within the pages of her scrapbook, her sewing circle, and the letters she receives from Henry, her fiancé, a celebrated surgeon who has also volunteered to work within the shadow of the guns. But when Henry falls ill, and Rosa’s communications cease, Mariella finds herself drawn inexorably towards the war.

Following the trail of her elusive and captivating cousin, Mariella’s epic journey takes her from the domestic restraint of Victorian England to the ravaged landscape of the Crimea. As she ventures deeper into the dark heart of the conflict, Mariella discovers her own strengths and passions through Rosa’s tough lessons of concealment, faithfulness and love.

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The Siege by Helen Dunmore

Leningrad, September 1941.

German tanks surround the city, imprisoning those who live there. The besieged people of Leningrad face shells, starvation, and the Russian winter. Interweaving two love affairs in two generations, THE SIEGE draws us deep into the Levin’s family struggle to stay alive during this terrible winter. It is a story about war and the wounds it inflicts on people’s lives. It is also a lyrical and deeply moving celebration of love, life and survival.

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Sashenska by Simon Sebag Montefiore

Winter, 1916. In St Petersburg, snow is falling in a country on the brink of revolution.

Beautiful and headstrong, Sashenka Zeitlin is just sixteen. As her mother parties with Rasputin and her dissolute friends, Sashenka slips into the frozen night to play her role in a dangerous game of conspiracy and seduction.

Twenty years on, Sashenka has a powerful husband and two children. Around her people are disappearing but her own family is safe. Yet she is about to embark on a forbidden love affair which will have devastating consequences.

Sashenka’s story lies hidden for half a century, until a young historian goes deep into Stalin’s private archives and uncovers a heart-breaking story of passion and betrayal, savage cruelty and unexpected heroism – and one woman forced to make an unbearable choice…

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The House of Special Purpose by John Boyne

Russia, 1915: Sixteen year old farmer’s son Georgy Jachmenev steps in front of an assassin’s bullet intended for a senior member of the Russian Imperial Family and is instantly proclaimed a hero. Rewarded with the position of bodyguard to Alexei Romanov, the only son of Tsar Nicholas II, the course of his life is changed for ever.

Privy to the secrets of Nicholas and Alexandra, the machinations of Rasputin and the events which will lead to the final collapse of the autocracy, Georgy is both a witness and participant in a drama that will echo down the century.

Sixty-five years later, visiting his wife Zoya as she lies in a London hospital, memories of the life they have lived together flood his mind. And with them, the consequences of the brutal fate of the Romanovs which has hung like a shroud over every aspect of their marriage…

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To Kill a Tsar by Andrew Williams

St Petersburg, 1879. A shot rings out in Palace Square. Cossack guards tackle the would-be assassin to the ground. In the mêlée no one notices a striking dark haired young woman in a heavy coat slip away from the scene.

Russia is alive with revolutionaries. While Tsar Alexander II remains a virtual prisoner in his own palaces, his ruthless secret police will stop at nothing to unmask those who plot his assassination and the overthrow of the Imperial regime. For Dr Frederick Hadfield, whose medical practice is dependent on the Anglo-Russian gentry, these are dangerous times. Drawn into a desperate cat-and-mouse game of undercover assignations, plot and counter-plot, he risks all in a perilous double life.

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The Romanov Empress by CW Gortner

Barely nineteen, Minnie knows that her station in life as a Danish princess is to leave her family and enter into a royal marriage — as her older sister Alix has done, moving to England to wed Queen Victoria’s eldest son. The winds of fortune bring Minnie to Russia, where she marries the Romanov heir, Alexander, and once he ascends the throne, becomes empress. When resistance to his reign strikes at the heart of her family and the tsar sets out to crush all who oppose him, Minnie — now called Maria — must tread a perilous path of compromise in a country she has come to love.

Her husband’s death leaves their son Nicholas as the inexperienced ruler of a deeply divided and crumbling empire. Determined to guide him to reforms that will bring Russia into the modern age, Maria faces implacable opposition from Nicholas’s strong-willed wife, Alexandra, whose fervor has led her into a disturbing relationship with a mystic named Rasputin. As the unstoppable wave of revolution rises anew to engulf Russia, Maria will face her most dangerous challenge and her greatest heartache.

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The Vanishing Futurist by Charlotte Hobson

When twenty-two-year-old Gerty Freely travels to Russia to work as a governess in early 1914, she has no idea of the vast political upheavals ahead, nor how completely her fate will be shaped by them.

In 1917, revolution sweeps away the Moscow Gerty knew. The middle classes – and their governesses – are fleeing the country, but she stays, throwing herself into an experiment in communal living led by charismatic inventor Nikita Slavkin, inspired by his belief in a future free of bourgeois clutter and alight with creativity. Yet the chaos and violence of the outside world cannot be withstood forever. Slavkin’s sudden disappearance inspires the Soviet cult of the Vanishing Futurist, the scientist who sacrificed himself for the Communist ideal. Gerty, alone and vulnerable, must now discover where that ideal will ultimately lead.

~

* To Kill A Tsar and The Vanishing Futurist are both books I need to read for my Reading the Walter Scott Prize project (I’m particularly interested in The Vanishing Futurist after reading Cyber Kitten’s recent review).
* I have had an unread copy of The Rose of Sebastopol for more than ten years, so I should really read it soon!
* Sashenka was added to my TBR after reading Montefiore’s One Night in Winter, then I saw some negative reviews that put me off reading it.
* I started reading The Siege years ago, but didn’t get very far because I kept thinking of The Bronze Horseman by Paullina Simons which I’d just read and which is also about the Siege of Leningrad.
* I love John Boyne’s books, so I definitely still want to read The House of Special Purpose – and I haven’t read very much fiction about the Romanovs so the CW Gortner book should be interesting.

Have you read any of these? Which other historical fiction novels set in Russia or Ukraine have you read?

Historical Musings #71: Do you agree?

Welcome to my monthly post on all things historical fiction!

I was struggling for inspiration for something to write about this month, until I came across a quote shared by Waterstones on Twitter:

“History tells us what people do; historical fiction helps us imagine how they felt”
– Guy Vanderhaeghe.

This quote resonates with me because it perfectly describes why I prefer reading historical fiction to reading historical non-fiction. Guy Vanderhaeghe is not an author I have come across, but it seems he has written several historical novels set in Canada and the American West. I decided that for this month’s post I would find some more interesting quotes by authors on the subject of historical fiction, beginning with these two on the overlapping of genres:

Historical fiction is actually good preparation for reading SF. Both the historical novelist and the science fiction writer are writing about worlds unlike our own.
– Pamela Sargent

I have always regarded historical fiction and fantasy as sisters under the skin, two genres separated at birth.
– George R.R. Martin

I don’t read a lot of science fiction, but I’ve often felt that there are parallels between historical fiction and fantasy, mainly in the level of detailed worldbuilding required and, as Pamela Sargent says, a sense of unfamiliarity and strangeness. Sometimes fantasy can almost feel like historical fiction and vice versa; in fact, George R.R. Martin’s own A Song of Ice and Fire series is inspired by Maurice Druon’s Accursed Kings, a series of seven historical novels telling the story of Philip IV of France and his descendants, a line of kings “cursed to the thirteenth generation” by the Grand Master of the Knights Templar, whom Philip sent to burn at the stake. Then there are authors who blend history and fantasy together in the same novel, such as Katherine Arden in her Winternight trilogy, or Guy Gavriel Kay in books like Tigana and Under Heaven.

However, I don’t really agree with this next quote, also by Martin…

As much as I love historical fiction, my problem with historical fiction is that you always know what’s going to happen.
George R.R. Martin

I understand that writing historical fiction must be more restrictive for an author than writing fantasy, but for the reader, unless they have studied the time period or have read about the same subject many times before, they’re not necessarily going to know what will happen. I love reading about historical periods, settings and people I know absolutely nothing about – it’s a good way to learn something new and I try to resist googling things as I read so that I can be surprised by the twists and turns of the story. On the other hand, reading about something unfamiliar to you can cause other problems, as described here by Hilary Mantel:

What really disconcerts commentators, I suspect, is that when they read historical fiction, they feel their own lack of education may be exposed; they panic, because they don’t know which bits are true.
– Hilary Mantel

How can you know ‘which bits are true’? Unless you have time to look everything up, sometimes you have to trust that the author will have done their research and ensured that their novel is as accurate as they could possibly make it. It’s frustrating when you spot something that is clearly wrong or anachronistic, because it makes you wonder if there are other inaccuracies in the book that you haven’t noticed. I agree with what Kate Mosse says here:

I am not a fan of historical fiction that is sloppy in its research or is dishonest about the real history.
– Kate Mosse

I’ll leave you with two more opinions from Barry Unsworth, author of the Booker Prize winner Sacred Hunger, and historical romance author Stephanie Laurens:

Writers of historical fiction are not under the same obligation as historians to find evidence for the statements they make. For us it is sufficient if what we say can’t be disproved or shown to be false.
– Barry Unsworth

Overall, I adhere to the one guiding rule any author writing historical fiction should follow: whatever you describe has to be possible. It may not be common, obvious, or even all that probable, but it absolutely has to be possible.
– Stephanie Laurens

What do you think? Do you agree with any or all of what these authors have to say?

Quotes courtesy of BrainyQuote.com