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.

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* 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

Historical Musings #70: My Year in Historical Fiction – 2021

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 2021 and have put together my usual selection of charts and lists! I have kept the same categories I’ve used for the previous five 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 (my 2020 post is here, 2019 here, 2018 here, 2017 here and 2016 here).

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 2021

In 2020, the 17th century was the most popular time period for my historical fiction reading; I still read a lot of 17th century novels in 2021, but the 20th century was the clear winner this time.

Of the 15 books I read set in the 20th century, 7 took place during World War II, one during World War I and the rest in other decades.

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39% of the historical fiction authors I read in 2021 were new to me.

This is more than the previous year’s 32%, but obviously I’m still most drawn to books by authors I’ve previously read and enjoyed.

Here are three books I’ve read by new-to-me historical fiction authors in 2021:

Red Adam’s Lady by Grace Ingram
Cecily by Annie Garthwaite
Fallen by Lia Mills

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Publication dates of books read in 2021

I’m still mostly reading new or recently released historical fiction, which is due mainly to the temptations of NetGalley. I really want to read more older books this year.

The two oldest historical fiction novels I read in 2021 were St Martin’s Summer by Rafael Sabatini (1909) and I Will Repay by Baroness Orczy (1906).

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10 of my historical reads in 2021 were historical mysteries.

Here are three of the historical mysteries I read last year:

Black Drop by Leonora Nattrass
The Royal Secret by Andrew Taylor
Rags of Time by Michael Ward

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I read historical fiction set in 14 different countries in 2021.

I’m disappointed with this, as 14 is the smallest number of countries I’ve read about in my yearly historical fiction reads since 2017. As usual, more than half of the books I read were set in my own country, England, but France, Scotland and Ireland were the next most popular settings. I say this every year, but I’m determined to read about a wider range of countries in 2022!

Three books I read last year set in countries other than my own:

The Country of Others by Leïla Slimani (Morocco)
Ashes by Christopher de Vinck (Belgium)
Still Life by Sarah Winman (Italy)

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Four historical men I read about in 2021:

John Milton (The Protector by SJ Deas)
William Fowler (Rose Nicolson by Andrew Greig)
Baldwin IV of Jerusalem (The Land Beyond the Sea by Sharon Penman)
William de Valence (A Marriage of Lions by Elizabeth Chadwick)

Four historical women I read about in 2021:

Margaret Mautby Paston (The Royal Game by Anne O’Brien)
Frances Griffiths (The Cottingley Secret by Hazel Gaynor)
Katharine Parr (Katharine Parr, the Sixth Wife by Alison Weir)
Frances Cromwell (The Puritan Princess by Miranda Malins)

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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 #69: Books to look out for in 2022

With only a few weeks of 2021 left to go, it’s time for my annual post looking at some of the new historical fiction being published in the year ahead. As usual, I have included a mixture of books I’ve received for review, books by authors I’ve previously enjoyed and books that just sound appealing for one reason or another.

All blurbs and dates are taken from Goodreads or Amazon. The publication dates given are for the UK and could change. I think there should be something here for most historical fiction fans!

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A Fatal Crossing by Tom Hindle (20 January 2022)

November 1924. The Endeavour sets sail to New York with 2,000 passengers – and a killer – on board…

When an elderly gentleman is found dead at the foot of a staircase, ship’s officer Timothy Birch is ready to declare it a tragic accident. But James Temple, a strong-minded Scotland Yard inspector, is certain there is more to this misfortune than meets the eye.

Birch agrees to investigate, and the trail quickly leads to the theft of a priceless painting. Its very existence is known only to its owner…and the dead man. With just days remaining until they reach New York, and even Temple’s purpose on board the Endeavour proving increasingly suspicious, Birch’s search for the culprit is fraught with danger.

And all the while, the passengers continue to roam the ship with a killer in their midst…

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The Queen’s Lady by Joanna Hickson (20 January 2022)

Raven-haired and fiercely independent, Joan Guildford has always remained true to herself.

As lady-in-waiting and confidante to Queen Elizabeth, wife of Henry VII, Joan understands royal patronage is vital if she and her husband, Sir Richard, are to thrive in the volatile atmosphere of court life.

But Tudor England is in mourning following the death of the Prince of Wales, and within a year, the queen herself. With Prince Henry now heir to the throne, the court murmurs with the sound of conspiracy. Is the entire Tudor project now at stake or can young Henry secure the dynasty?

Drawn into the heart of the crisis, Joan’s own life is in turmoil, and her future far from secure. She faces a stark choice – be true to her heart and risk everything, or play the dutiful servant and watch her dreams wither and die. For Joan, and for Henry’s Kingdom, everything is at stake…

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The Silver Wolf by JC Harvey (3 February 2022)

The extraordinarily rich, dark, panoramic tale of an orphaned boy’s quest for truth and then for vengeance as war rages across 17th-century Europe.

Amidst the chaos of the Thirty Years’ War, Jack Fiskardo embarks upon a quest that will carry him inexorably from France to Amsterdam and then onto the battlefields of Germany. As he grows to manhood will he be able to unravel the mystery of his father’s death? Or will his father’s killers find him first?

The Silver Wolf is a tale of secrets and treachery and the relentlessness of fate – but it is also a story of courage and compassion, of love and loyalty and ultimately of salvation too.

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The Leviathan by Rosie Andrews (3 February 2022)

Norfolk, 1643. With civil war tearing England apart, reluctant soldier Thomas Treadwater is summoned home by his sister, who accuses a new servant of improper conduct with their widowed father. By the time Thomas returns home, his father is insensible, felled by a stroke, and their new servant is in prison, facing charges of witchcraft.

Thomas prides himself on being a rational, modern man, but as he unravels the mystery of what has happened, he uncovers not a tale of superstition but something dark and ancient, linked to a shipwreck years before.

Something has awoken, and now it will not rest.

Richly researched, incredibly atmospheric, and deliciously unsettling, The Leviathan is set in England during a time of political turbulence and religious zealotry. It is a tale of family and loyalty, superstition and sacrifice, but most of all it is a spellbinding story of impossible things.

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I, Mona Lisa by Natasha Solomons (10 February 2022)

In Leonardo da Vinci’s studio, bursting with genius imagination, towering commissions and needling patrons, as well as discontented muses, friends and rivals, sits the painting of the Mona Lisa. For five hundred tumultuous years, amid a whirlwind of power, money, intrigue, the portrait of Lisa del Giocondo is sought after and stolen.

Over the centuries, few could hear her voice, but now she is ready to tell her own story, in her own words – a tale of rivalry, murder and heartbreak. Weaving through the years, she takes us from the dazzling world of Florentine studios to the French courts at Fontainebleau and Versailles, and into the Twentieth Century.

I, Mona Lisa is a deliciously vivid, compulsive and illuminating story about the lost and forgotten women throughout history.

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The Rebel Daughter by Miranda Malins (17 February 2022)

A country torn apart by war. A woman fighting for her future…

Ely, 1643. England is convulsed by Civil War, setting King against Parliament and neighbour against neighbour. As the turmoil reaches her family home in Ely, 19-year-old Bridget Cromwell finds herself at the heart of the conflict.

With her father’s star on the rise as a cavalry commander for the rebellious Parliament, Bridget has her own ambitions for a life beyond marriage and motherhood. And as fractures appear in her own family with the wilful, beautiful younger sister Betty, Bridget faces a choice: to follow her heart, or to marry for power and influence, and fight for a revolution that will change history…

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The Clockwork Girl by Anna Mazzola (3 March 2022)

Paris, 1750. In the midst of an icy winter, as birds fall frozen from the sky, chambermaid Madeleine Chastel arrives at the home of the city’s celebrated clockmaker and his clever, unworldly daughter.

Madeleine is hiding a dark past, and a dangerous purpose: to discover the truth of the clockmaker’s experiments and record his every move, in exchange for her own chance of freedom.

For as children quietly vanish from the Parisian streets, rumours are swirling that the clockmaker’s intricate mechanical creations, bejewelled birds and silver spiders, are more than they seem.

And soon Madeleine fears that she has stumbled upon an even greater conspiracy. One which might reach to the very heart of Versailles…

~

The Diamond Eye by Kate Quinn (31 March 2022)

In the snowbound city of Kiev, aspiring historian Mila Pavlichenko’s life revolves around her young son – until Hitler’s invasion of Russia changes everything. Suddenly, she and her friends must take up arms to save their country from the Fuhrer’s destruction.

Handed a rifle, Mila discovers a gift – and months of blood, sweat and tears turn the young woman into a deadly sniper: the most lethal hunter of Nazis. Yet success is bittersweet. Mila is torn from the battlefields of the eastern front and sent to America while the war still rages. There, she finds an unexpected ally in First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt, and an unexpected promise of a different future.

But when an old enemy from Mila’s past joins forces with a terrifying new foe, she finds herself in the deadliest duel of her life.

The Diamond Eye is a haunting novel of heroism born of desperation, of a mother who became a soldier, of a woman who found her place in the world and changed the course of history forever.

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Theatre of Marvels by Lianne Dillsworth (28 April 2022)

Unruly crowds descend on Crillick’s Variety Theatre. Young actress, Zillah, is headlining tonight. An orphan from the slums of St Giles, her rise to stardom is her ticket out – to be gawped and gazed at is a price she’s willing to pay.

Rising up the echelons of society is everything Zillah has ever dreamed of. But when a new stage act disappears, Zillah is haunted by a feeling that something is amiss. Is the woman in danger?

Her pursuit of the truth takes her into the underbelly of the city – from gas-lit streets to the sumptuous parlours of Mayfair – as she seeks the help of notorious criminals from her past and finds herself torn between two powerful admirers.

Caught in a labyrinth of dangerous truths, will Zillah face ruin – or will she be the maker of her fate?

~

Elizabeth of York, the Last White Rose by Alison Weir (12 May 2022)

AN ENGLISH PRINCESS, BORN INTO A WAR BETWEEN TWO FAMILIES.

Eldest daughter of the royal House of York, Elizabeth dreams of a crown to call her own. But when her beloved father, King Edward, dies suddenly, her destiny is rewritten.

Her family’s enemies close in. Two young princes are murdered in the Tower. Then her uncle seizes power – and vows to make Elizabeth his queen.

But another claimant seeks the throne, the upstart son of the rival royal House of Lancaster. Marriage to this Henry Tudor would unite the white rose of York and the red of Lancaster – and change everything.

A great new age awaits. Now Elizabeth must choose her allies – and husband – wisely, and fight for her right to rule.

~

The Fugitive Colours by Nancy Bilyeau (12 May 2022)

As Genevieve Sturbridge struggles to keep her silk design business afloat, she must face the fact that London in 1764 is very much a man’s world. Men control the arts and sciences, men control politics and law. And men definitely control women.

A Huguenot living in Spitalfields, Genevieve one day receives a surprise invitation from an important artist. Grasping at the promise of a better life, she dares to hope her luck is about to change and readies herself for an entry into the world of serious art.

She soon learns that for the portrait painters ruling over the wealthy in London society, fame and fortune are there for the taking. But such high stakes spur rivalries that darken to sabotage and blackmail—and even murder. And watching from the shadows are ruthless spies who wish harm to all of England.

Genevieve begins to suspect that her own secret past, when she was caught up in conspiracy and betrayal, has more to do with her entrée into London society than her talent. One wrong move could cost her not just her artistic dreams but the love of those she holds dear…and even her life.

~

Privilege by Guinevere Glasfurd (12 May 2022)

After her father is disgraced, Delphine Vimond is cast out of her home in Rouen and flees to Paris. Into her life tumbles Chancery Smith, apprentice printer sent from London to discover the mysterious author of potentially incendiary papers marked only D. In a battle of wits with the French censor, Henri Gilbert, Delphine and Chancery set off in a frantic search for D’s author. But who is D and does D even exist?

Privilege is a story of adventure and mishap set against the turmoil of mid-18th century France at odds with the absolute power of the King who is determined to suppress opposition on pain of death. At a time when books required royal privilege before they could be published – a system enforced by the Chief Censor and a network of spies – many were censored or banned, and their authors harshly punished. Books that fell foul of the system were published outside France and smuggled back in at great risk.

~

The Dance Tree by Kiran Millwood Hargrave (12 May 2022)
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In Strasbourg, in the boiling hot summer of 1518, a plague strikes the women of the city. First it is just one – a lone figure, dancing in the main square – but she is joined by more and more and the city authorities declare an emergency. Musicians will be brought in. The devil will be danced out of these women.

Just beyond the city’s limits, pregnant Lisbet lives with her mother-in-law and husband, tending the bees that are their livelihood. Her best friend Ida visits regularly and Lisbet is so looking forward to sharing life and motherhood with her. And then, just as the first woman begins to dance in the city, Lisbet’s sister-in-law Nethe returns from six years’ penance in the mountains for an unknown crime. No one – not even Ida – will tell Lisbet what Nethe did all those years ago, and Nethe herself will not speak a word about it.

It is the beginning of a few weeks that will change everything for Lisbet – her understanding of what it is to love and be loved, and her determination to survive at all costs for the baby she is carrying. Lisbet and Nethe and Ida soon find themselves pushing at the boundaries of their existence – but they’re dancing to a dangerous tune . . .

~

The Second Sight of Zachary Cloudesley by Sean Lusk (2 June 2022)

In 1754, renowned maker of clocks and automata Abel Cloudesley must raise his new-born son Zachary when his wife dies in childbirth.

Growing up amongst the cogs and springs of his father’s workshop, Zachary is intensely curious, ferociously intelligent, unwittingly funny and always honest – perhaps too honest. But when a fateful accident leaves six-year-old Zachary nearly blinded, Abel is convinced that the safest place for his son is in the care of his eccentric Aunt Frances and her menagerie of weird and wonderful animals.

So when a precarious job in Constantinople is offered to him, Abel has no reason to say no. A job presented to him by a politician with dubious intentions, Abel leaves his son, his workshop and London behind. The decision will change the course of his life forever.

Since his accident, Zachary is plagued by visions that reveal the hearts and minds of those around him. A gift at times and a curse at others, it is nonetheless these visions that will help him complete a journey that he was always destined to make – to travel across Europe to Constantinople and find out what happened to his father all those years ago.

~

The Colour Storm by Damian Dibben (23 June 2022)
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Renaissance Venice is a furnace of ideas and ambition. Artists flock here, not just for wealth and fame, but for revolutionary colour. Yet artist Giorgione ‘Zorzo’ Barbarelli’s career hangs in the balance. Competition is fierce, and his debts are piling up. When Zorzo hears a rumour of a mysterious, other-worldly new pigment, brought to Venice by the richest man in Europe, he sets out to acquire the colour and secure his name in history.

Winning a commission to paint a portrait of the man’s wife, Sybille, Zorzo thinks he has found a way into the merchant’s favour. Instead he finds himself caught up in a conspiracy that stretches across Europe and a marriage coming apart inside one of the floating city’s most illustrious palazzos.

As the water levels rise and the plague creeps ever closer, an increasingly desperate Zorzo isn’t sure whom he can trust. Will Sybille prove to be the key to Zorzo’s success, or the reason for his downfall?

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The House of Fortune by Jessie Burton (7 July 2022)

In the golden city of Amsterdam, in 1705, Thea Brandt is turning eighteen, and she is ready to welcome adulthood with open arms. At the city’s theatre, Walter, the love of her life, awaits her, but at home in the house on the Herengracht, all is not well – her father Otto and Aunt Nella argue endlessly, and the Brandt family are selling their furniture in order to eat. On Thea’s birthday, also the day that her mother Marin died, the secrets from the past begin to overwhelm the present.

Nella is desperate to save the family and maintain appearances, to find Thea a husband who will guarantee her future, and when they receive an invitation to Amsterdam’s most exclusive ball, she is overjoyed – perhaps this will set their fortunes straight.

And indeed, the ball does set things spinning: new figures enter their life, promising new futures. But their fates are still unclear, and when Nella feels a strange prickling sensation on the back of her neck, she remembers the miniaturist who entered her life and toyed with her fortunes eighteen years ago. Perhaps, now, she has returned for her . . .

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The Night Ship by Jess Kidd (12 July 2022)

Based on a real-life event, an epic historical novel from the award-winning author of Things in Jars that illuminates the lives of two characters: a girl shipwrecked on an island off Western Australia and, three hundred years later, a boy finding a home with his grandfather on the very same island.

1629: A newly orphaned young girl named Mayken is bound for the Dutch East Indies on the Batavia, one of the greatest ships of the Dutch Golden Age. Curious and mischievous, Mayken spends the long journey going on misadventures above and below the deck, searching for a mythical monster. But the true monsters might be closer than she thinks.

1989: A lonely boy named Gil is sent to live off the coast of Western Australia among the seasonal fishing community where his late mother once resided. There, on the tiny reef-shrouded island, he discovers the story of an infamous shipwreck…​

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Haven by Emma Donoghue (23 August 2022)

Three men vow to leave the world behind them. They set out in a small boat for an island their leader has seen in a dream, with only faith to guide them. What they find is the extraordinary island now known as Skellig Michael. Haven, Emma Donoghue’s deeply researched new novel, has her trademark psychological intensity–but this story is like nothing she has ever written before.

In seventh-century Ireland, a scholar and priest called Artt has a dream telling him to leave the sinful world behind. Taking two monks – young Trian and old Cormac – he rows down the river Shannon in search of an isolated spot on which to found a monastery. Drifting out into the Atlantic, the three men find an impossibly steep, bare island inhabited by tens of thousands of birds, and claim it for God. In such a place, what will survival mean?

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Act of Oblivion by Robert Harris (1 September 2022)

1660, General Edward Whalley and Colonel William Goffe, father- and son-in-law, cross the Atlantic. They are on the run and wanted for the murder of Charles I. Under the provisions of the Act of Oblivion, they have been found guilty in absentia of high treason.

In London, Richard Nayler, secretary of the regicide committee of the Privy Council, is tasked with tracking down the fugitives. He’ll stop at nothing until the two men are brought to justice. A reward of £100 hangs over their heads – for their capture, dead or alive.

ACT OF OBLIVION is an epic journey across continents, and a chase like no other. It is the thrilling new novel by Robert Harris.

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Then there’s Elektra by Jennifer Saint (Greek mythology – 28th April) and All the Seas of the World by Guy Gavriel Kay (historical fantasy – 17th May) which I haven’t listed above as it’s debatable whether they would strictly be classed as historical fiction. Also The Vanished Days by Susanna Kearsley (28th April), which I know is already available in some countries but not in the UK yet, and Shadow Girls by Carol Birch (14th April), if you consider the 1960s to be historical!

Are you tempted by any of these? What else have I missed? Are there any other new historical fiction novels being published in 2022 that you’re looking forward to reading?