Historical Musings #47: Exploring Ancient Egypt

Welcome to my monthly post on all things historical fiction. This month I’m going to be asking for some recommendations…

In January I read When Women Ruled the World by Kara Cooney, a non-fiction book about six female rulers of Ancient Egypt. I didn’t particularly enjoy that book as I thought it was too preoccupied with drawing parallels with modern politics, but it did make me aware of how little I’ve actually read about Ancient Egypt! I can’t think of any other non-fiction books I’ve read on the subject and not much historical fiction either.

Years ago, before I started blogging, I read some of Christian Jacq’s Ramses novels about the pharaoh Ramses II, although I can’t remember which ones – The Lady of Abu Simbel, I think, and at least one or two others. More recently, I have read Cleopatra’s Daughter by Michelle Moran, about Cleopatra Selene, the daughter of Cleopatra and Marc Antony – although that book was set mainly in Rome rather than Egypt. I’ve read Shakespeare’s Antony and Cleopatra too, but otherwise I’m really struggling to think of anything at all that I’ve read set even partly in Ancient Egypt. As I’ve mentioned before, in my posts on Ancient Rome and Ancient Greece, I have never really felt drawn to books about the ancient world and am much more comfortable with later periods of history.

I have read the first two books in the Amelia Peabody series by Elizabeth Peters – Crocodile on the Sandbank and Curse of the Pharaohs – but they are set in 19th century Egypt with storylines revolving around Ancient Egyptian archaeology rather than being set in Ancient Egypt itself, so they’re not really the sort of books I’m looking for here.

I found a list of Best Egyptian Historical Fiction on Goodreads, but I want to hear your suggestions too.

Have you read any books set in Ancient Egypt? Which would you recommend?

Historical Musings #46: Books to look out for in 2019

I like to use my first Historical Musings post of each new year to look ahead at some of the exciting new historical fiction coming in the next twelve months. The books listed below are just a few that have come to my attention and that I’m planning to read. The publication dates I’ve given are for the UK only and may be subject to change.

If there are any other new historical fiction novels you’re looking forward to in 2019 I’d love to hear what they are!

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January

Blood and Sugar by Laura Shepherd-Robinson (24 January 2019)
This debut historical crime novel set in the 18th century will be published later this month. I have a NetGalley copy which I should be starting soon.

February

The Glass Woman by Caroline Lea (7 February 2019)
I’m looking forward to this one as it’s set in Iceland, which is always an interesting and atmospheric setting.

The Night Tiger by Yangsze Choo (12 February 2019)
This book sounds like a fascinating mixture of history, mystery and folklore set in 1930s Malaya.

The Silver Collar by Antonia Hodgson (21 February 2019)
Unsure about this one as all I can find is the title and nothing else, so I suspect the February date might be incorrect. A new Thomas Hawkins mystery will definitely be worth waiting for, though!

March

The Island of Sea Women by Lisa See (4 March 2019)
I loved some of Lisa See’s earlier novels. This one is the story of two girls who grow up on a Korean island in the 1930s.

The Woman in the Lake by Nicola Cornick (7 March 2019)
A dual time frame novel set in 1765 and 1996. I enjoyed The Phantom Tree and House of Shadows so am looking forward to this one.

The Missing Sister by Dinah Jefferies (21 March 2019)
Dinah Jefferies’ books all have such interesting settings and this one will take us to 1930s Burma.

April

Sunwise by Helen Steadman (1 April 2019)
The sequel to Widdershins, a novel about witchcraft and witch-finders.

The Confessions of Frannie Langton by Sara Collins (4 April 2019)
This sounds like an intriguing debut novel about a maid on trial for murder in 19th century London.

The King’s Evil by Andrew Taylor (4 April 2019)
Following the wonderful Ashes of London and The Fire Court, this will be the third in the James Marwood and Cat Lovett mystery series.

Things in Jars by Jess Kidd (4 April 2019)
A Victorian detective novel by another new-to-me author.

Wakenhyrst by Michelle Paver (4 April 2019)
I always love the sound of Michelle Paver’s books but have never tried one. This gothic novel set in Edwardian England will be my first.

May

Anna of Kleve, Queen of Secrets by Alison Weir (2 May 2019)
The fourth book in the Six Tudor Queens series is the one I’ve been looking forward to the most as I have read so little about Anne of Cleves compared to Henry VIII’s other wives.

The Doll Factory by Elizabeth Macneal (2 May 2019)
Another debut novel set in 19th century London, in the world of the pre-Raphaelite artists.

June

The Devil’s Slave by Tracy Borman (13 June 2019)
This sequel to The King’s Witch will continue the story of Frances Gorges and her family

August

A Tapestry of Treason by Anne O’Brien (22 August 2019)
Anne O’Brien’s new novel will tell the story of a medieval woman I know almost nothing about: Constance of York, Lady Despenser.

September

The Irish Princess by Elizabeth Chadwick (12 September 2019)
Loosely connected to her William Marshal series, this book is about William’s wife’s parents, Richard de Clare and Aoife of Leinster.

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Will you be reading any of these books? Which other new historical fiction novels do you think will be worth waiting for in 2019?

Historical Musings #45: My Year in Historical Fiction – 2018

It’s my final Historical Musings post of 2018, which means it’s time for my annual summary of my year in historical fiction! I have kept the same categories as in the previous two 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 2017 post is here and 2016 is here).

I know the year is not quite over yet, but I like to stick to a weekend in the middle of the month for my Historical Musings posts – and I don’t think I’ll read enough historical fiction in the final two weeks of the year to significantly affect these statistics anyway.

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Time periods read about in 2018

No big surprises here – this is a very similar picture to last year, with books set in the 19th and 20th centuries making up nearly half of my reading. The 16th and 17th centuries were popular again too (all those Tudor and English Civil War/Restoration books). Apart from Ancient Greece, very early periods of history are still poorly represented in my reading. Recommendations are always welcome!

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31.2% of the historical fiction authors I read this year were new to me.

Down from 47.3% last year. I’m disappointed I haven’t tried more new authors this year – although it does mean I’ve been enjoying books by favourite authors instead.

Three books I’ve read by new-to-me historical fiction authors in 2018:
Smile of the Wolf by Tim Leach
Dear Mrs Bird by AJ Pearce
By Sword and Storm by Margaret Skea

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Publication dates of books read in 2018

I’ve been reading a lot of new or recent historical fiction again this year, with the rest spread across the 20th century. Sadly, I haven’t read anything published earlier than 1900 but that could change next year as I do have some older historical fiction on my Classics Club list which I’m looking forward to reading.

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14.3% of my historical reads in 2018 were historical mysteries.

Up from 9.6% last year – but not a big difference.

Three historical mysteries I’ve enjoyed reading this year:
Traitor by David Hingley
A Morbid Taste for Bones by Ellis Peters
Lamentation by CJ Sansom

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I’ve read historical fiction set in 22 different countries this year.

One more country than last year (if I’m allowed to count Martinique, an overseas territory of France). I’m still finding it difficult to get away from mainly reading books set in my own country, England, but while France and Italy occupied the next two positions in both 2017 and 2016, this year Scotland is in second place with France third and Italy a long way behind.

Three books I’ve read set in countries other than my own:
My Beautiful Imperial by Rhiannon Lewis (Chile and Wales)
The Sealwoman’s Gift by Sally Magnusson (Iceland and Algeria)
The English Girl by Katherine Webb (Oman)

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Five historical men I’ve read about this year:

William Lilly

Prince Rupert (The Winter Prince by Cheryl Sawyer)
William Marshal (Templar Silks by Elizabeth Chadwick)
Henry Tudor (The Tudor Crown by Joanna Hickson)
René Descartes (The Words in My Hand by Guinevere Glasfurd)
William Lilly (The Magick of Master Lilly by Tobsha Learner)

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Five historical women I’ve read about this year:

Ana de Mendoza

Jane Seymour (Jane Seymour: The Haunted Queen by Alison Weir)
Elizabeth I (Young Bess by Margaret Irwin)
Ana de Mendoza, Princess of Eboli (That Lady by Kate O’Brien)
St Hilda (The Abbess of Whitby by Jill Dalladay)
Elizabeth Mortimer (Queen of the North by Anne O’Brien)

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Have you read any good historical fiction this year? Have you read any of the books or authors I’ve mentioned here?

Historical Musings #44: Exploring India

Welcome to my monthly post on all things historical fiction. Having just finished reading Before the Rains by Dinah Jefferies, in which a British photographer in the 1930s is sent to India to take pictures of the royal family of a fictional princely state, I thought it would be interesting this month to look at other historical novels set in India.

One of my all-time favourite historical fiction novels is The Far Pavilions by M. M. Kaye, set in 19th century British-ruled India. Last year I read one of Kaye’s other novels, Shadow of the Moon, which is also set in India, but in a slightly earlier period, covering the Sepoy Mutiny of 1857. I read this as part of a readalong hosted by Cirtnecce who is from India and speaks very highly of M. M. Kaye’s writing and understanding of the country.

A similar book, and another one that I loved, is Zemindar by Valerie Fitzgerald, which again is set during the Mutiny. I also enjoyed In a Far Country by Linda Holeman, about the daughter of two British missionaries living in 19th century Lahore.

I can think of two dual-time period novels I’ve read which are set at least partly in India. One is The Midnight Rose by Lucinda Riley (in which the historical thread involves a girl who befriends an Indian princess in 1911) and the other is The Sandalwood Tree by Elle Newmark, in which the action moves between 1947 and the 1850s, both important periods in India’s history.

I also loved The Strangler Vine by M. J. Carter, a fascinating historical mystery set in 1837 during the rule of the British East India Company. Then there’s Damon Galgut’s Arctic Summer, a fictional biography of E. M. Forster, focusing on the time when Forster was working on the novel A Passage to India. A completely different sort of book is Rebel Queen by Michelle Moran, about Rani Lakshmibai who rules the state of Jhansi along with her husband, Raja Gangadhar Rao.

It seems that most of the historical novels I’ve read set in India have been from a non-Indian (usually British) perspective, but I have also read a few by Indian authors. One of these is The Twentieth Wife by Indu Sundaresan, the story of Mehrunissa, the future Empress Nur Jahan. This book is set much earlier than any of the others I’ve mentioned so far – in 17th century Mughal India. There’s also Amitav Ghosh’s Ibis trilogy, which begins with Sea of Poppies, although the trilogy is set in China as much as in India and tells the story of the First Opium War.

A God in Every Stone is a novel by Pakistani author Kamila Shamsie, set in 1930s Peshawar where the Khudai Khidmatgar movement are attempting to bring an end to British rule in India. Finally, The Enchantress of Florence by Salman Rushdie is a magical realism novel which takes us to a 16th century India populated with giants and witches, where emperors have imaginary wives and artists hide inside paintings.

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Now it’s your turn. Have you read any of these books? Which other historical fiction novels set in India can you recommend?

Historical Musings #43: Wives, daughters, sisters…

Welcome to my monthly post on all things historical fiction. This month’s topic is something which occurred to me while I was in the middle of one of my recent reads, The Clockmaker’s Daughter by Kate Morton. Given that there are only one or two scenes in which the clockmaker actually appears, very few details on the science of clockmaking, and little relevance to the fact that one of the characters is the daughter of a clockmaker, I wondered why that particular title was chosen. Was it an allusion to the role of time in the story or is it just that books with titles which follow the format The __’s Daughter or The __’s Wife are easy to market?

As well as The Clockmaker’s Daughter, in the last two years I have also read The Witchfinder’s Sister by Beth Underdown, The Pharmacist’s Wife by Vanessa Tait, The Cursed Wife by Pamela Hartshorne, The Coroner’s Daughter by Andrew Hughes, Warwyck’s Wife by Rosalind Laker, and The Tea Planter’s Wife and The Silk Merchant’s Daughter, both by Dinah Jefferies. In that same period, the only book I’ve read with an equivalent ‘male’ title is Jean Teulé’s The Hurlyburly’s Husband. With the exception of Warwyck’s Wife, these are all recently published books and it does seem to me that it has been a growing trend.

It’s easy enough to see why these are popular titles for historical fiction in particular. Historically, a woman would not, in most cases, have had the opportunity to be a clockmaker, a pharmacist or a coroner, but she could certainly be the wife or the daughter of one. And of course, some books are specifically about a woman’s experience of being a man’s wife or daughter or sister, which in previous decades or centuries could be very different from modern day experiences. In that case, it’s probably less important to tell us what it was like to be a husband, a son or a brother, as men in those times tended to have so much more freedom than women anyway. But where a book is not specifically about being a wife, daughter or sister, as with The Clockmaker’s Daughter, is there no other way the woman could be defined instead of by her relationship to a man?

I would love to hear your thoughts on this. Why do you think there are so many books with titles like these? What are your favourite Wife, Daughter or Sister novels? You may also be interested in this article in which the author Emily St. John Mandel posts a detailed analysis of books with ‘Daughter’ titles and looks at the possible reasons why these titles are so popular with publishers, booksellers and readers.

Historical Musings #42: Reading Diana Gabaldon

Welcome to my monthly post on all things historical fiction. This month I am looking at the work of Diana Gabaldon, an author I first read in the 1990s, when only the first four books in her bestselling Outlander series had been published. Since then I have joined other readers in the long wait for each new book – there are now eight of them, with a ninth on the way, as well as some spin-off novels and collections of novellas and short stories. There’s also a successful TV adaptation, which I’m sure some of you will have seen even if you haven’t read the books.

The novels are a mixture of romance (mainly in the first book), adventure, mystery and a small amount of science fiction and take us across the world from Scotland and France to America and the Caribbean. The first book, Outlander (which I originally knew as Cross Stitch – its UK title), introduces us to Claire Randall, a 1940s nurse who is visiting Scotland when she walks through a stone circle in the Highlands and finds herself transported back in time to the 18th century. The first person Claire meets is Black Jack Randall, an army officer who becomes convinced that she is a spy. It seems that the only way she can escape his clutches is to marry Jamie Fraser, a young Scottish outlaw – the problem is, she already has a husband in the 20th century…

The Outlander novels

The series currently consists of the following eight books:

Outlander/Cross Stitch (1991)
Dragonfly in Amber (1992)
Voyager (1993)
Drums of Autumn (1996)
The Fiery Cross (2001)
A Breath of Snow and Ashes (2005)
An Echo in the Bone (2009)
Written in My Own Heart’s Blood (2014)

The ninth book – which will not be the last one, by the way – will be called Go Tell the Bees That I am Gone but no publication date has been announced yet.

I have read the first four books in the series several times each and although I think Gabaldon’s writing has improved over time, those earlier books are still my favourites, particularly Dragonfly in Amber and Voyager. The later books, in my opinion, have become too complex and ambitious, with too many storylines and characters and written from too many different perspectives. An Echo in the Bone and Written in My Own Heart’s Blood also draw in a lot of characters from the Lord John series (more on that below), which I just couldn’t seem to get interested in, and I feel that the focus on Jamie and Claire has been lost. I am still looking forward to the final books, though – I’ve come too far now to not find out how the series ends!

The Lord John series

Gabaldon has also written a series of historical mystery novels which are spin-offs from the main series. These novels focus on Lord John Grey, who had a small part in Dragonfly in Amber before going on to play an increasingly significant role in the other Outlander novels.

Lord John and the Private Matter (2003)
Lord John and the Brotherhood of the Blade (2007)
The Scottish Prisoner (2011)

I have read the first two books, but not the third as by that point I had decided that, although I like Lord John himself, the secondary characters in the series didn’t interest me and I didn’t really want to read any more about them.

There are also several Lord John novellas – and a few featuring other characters from the main series – and some of these were collected together in Seven Stones to Stand or Fall.

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You can find out more about Gabaldon and her work by visiting her website, DianaGabaldon.com.

I will be looking at more historical fiction authors in future posts, but for now I would like to hear your thoughts on Diana Gabaldon.

Have you read any of her books? Which are your favourites?

Historical Musings #41: Reading Georgette Heyer

Welcome to my monthly post on all things historical fiction!

The author I have chosen to feature this month is one who, I’m sure, has the widest appeal of any I have written about so far in this series of posts. I know there are plenty of readers who don’t usually read other types of historical fiction but love her Regency and Georgian romances, which are so distinctive they belong in a sub-genre of their own. She is, of course, Georgette Heyer.

Heyer was born in London in 1902 and died in 1974, having published over fifty novels, including the romances I’ve already mentioned, six straight historical novels, four contemporary novels and twelve detective stories. I only started reading Heyer relatively recently (in 2010) so I haven’t read all of her books, or even most of them; I know there will be people reading this post who have read – and re-read – a lot more of them than I have, so I certainly don’t claim to be an expert on her work. However, I have read enough to be able to say that, whichever Heyer novel you pick up (of the Regency/Georgian ones, anyway), you can expect historical accuracy, witty, sparkling dialogue, engaging characters and an entertaining plot.

Here are the Heyer books I have read so far, with links to my reviews:

Romances

The Black Moth
Powder and Patch
The Masqueraders
The Convenient Marriage
Regency Buck
The Talisman Ring
The Corinthian
Friday’s Child
The Quiet Gentleman
April Lady
Snowdrift and Other Stories
Black Sheep
Cousin Kate
Charity Girl
Faro’s Daughter – review coming soon

Mysteries

Footsteps in the Dark
Envious Casca
Duplicate Death

If you’ve never read Heyer before, you may be wondering which of her books would be a good one to start with. Well, the first one I read was The Talisman Ring, and although I’ve read others since that I enjoyed more, it was obviously a very successful starting point for me! I also loved The Quiet Gentleman for the sense of mystery, The Masqueraders and The Corinthian for the adventure, The Convenient Marriage for the humour and Black Sheep for the hero and heroine! Really, I would recommend any that I’ve read, apart from maybe Powder and Patch.

You can find out more about Heyer and her work at Georgette-Heyer.com.

I will be looking at more historical fiction authors in future posts, but for now I would like to hear your thoughts on Georgette Heyer.

Have you read any of her books? Which are your favourites – and which would you recommend to readers who are new to her work?