Historical Musings #68: Historical fiction in translation

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

August was Women in Translation Month, a popular event in the book blogging calendar, and although I was only able to join in with one book – The Country of Others by Leïla Slimani, set in Morocco in the 1940s and 50s – I thought it would be interesting for this month’s Musings to look at some of the other historical fiction novels I have read in translation. I’ve read plenty of older classics, many of which I’ve reviewed on my blog, but sadly very few recent books published within the last ten years or so. Here is everything I could find in my blog archives, although I might have missed one or two (and for the purposes of this list, I am referring to books that have been translated from their original language into English, not from English into other languages):

French to English:

Maurice Druon – The Accursed Kings series (translated by Humphrey Hare)
Alexandre Dumas – The Three Musketeers and sequels (translated by William Barrow); The Black Tulip (Franz Demmler); The Red Sphinx (Lawrence Ellsworth)
Victor Hugo – The Hunchback of Notre-Dame (translated by Isabel F. Hapgood); Les Miserables (Norman Denny)
Madame de Lafayette – The Princess of Cleves (unknown translator)
Robert Merle – The Brethren (translated by T Jefferson Kline)
George Sand – Mauprat (translated by Stanley Young)
Olivier Barde-Cabuçon – Casanova and the Faceless Woman (translated by Louise Rogers Lalaurie)
Leïla Slimani – The Country of Others (translated by Sam Taylor)

Italian to English:

Umberto Eco – The Name of the Rose (translated by William Weaver)
Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa – The Leopard (translated by Archibald Colquhoun)

German to English:

Oliver Pötzsch – The Beggar King (translated by Lee Chadeayne)

Norwegian to English:

Lars Mytting – The Bell in the Lake (translated by Deborah Dawkin)
Sigrid Undset – Kristin Lavransdatter (translated by Tiina Nunnally)

Catalan to English:

Rafel Nadal Farreras – The Last Son’s Secret (translated by Mara Faye Lethem)

Spanish to English:

Isabel Allende – The Japanese Lover (translated by Nick Caistor and Amanda Hopkinson); A Long Petal of the Sea (Caistor and Hopkinson)

Russian to English:

Boris Pasternak – Doctor Zhivago (translated by Max Hayward and Manya Harari)
Leo Tolstoy – War and Peace (translated by Pevear and Volokhonsky)

Dutch to English:

Hella S Haasse – In a Dark Wood Wandering (translated by Lewis C Kaplan)
Simone van der Vlugt – Midnight Blue (translated by Jenny Watson)

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Have you read any of these? Can you recommend any other historical fiction novels in translation, particularly anything recent?

There’s a Goodreads list here with 295 books and an interesting article here on the particular challenges of translating historical fiction.

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My current historical reading:

I have just finished two novels, both long ones which have occupied most of my reading time for the last couple of weeks: Katharine Parr, the Sixth Queen by Alison Weir and Daughters of War by Dinah Jefferies. I’m also in the middle of an even longer non-fiction book, Powers and Thrones by Dan Jones, which is fascinating but has a lot of information to take in and absorb. As I wanted something lighter to read alongside this, I have just started The Mummy Case by Elizabeth Peters, the third book in her Amelia Peabody mystery series featuring a female Victorian Egyptologist. It will count towards the RIP XVI challenge. After this, I have review copies of two new September releases which I would like to read before the end of the month: The Royal Game by Anne O’Brien and A Marriage of Lions by Elizabeth Chadwick.

New to my historical TBR in the last few weeks:

The Splendour Before the Dark by Margaret George, the sequel to The Confessions of Young Nero, which I read a few years ago, and Pour the Dark Wine by Deryn Lake, a novel about the Seymour family (the ebook was free on Amazon last week). Also, The Vanished Days by Susanna Kearsley and Theatre of Marvels by Lianne Dillsworth, both via NetGalley and due to be published in 2022.

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Have you read any good historical novels lately? And what are your thoughts on historical fiction in translation?

Historical Musings #67: August 2021 – HWA Crowns and a reading update

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

Last week the fiction, non-fiction and debut novel longlists for the 2021 HWA (Historical Writers’ Association) Awards were announced. I’ve only read a few of the longlisted titles and don’t have any plans to try to read all of the others, but it was still interesting to see which books the judges had picked – especially in the non-fiction category, as I hadn’t heard of any of them! Here are the three lists:

HWA Gold Crown Award Longlist

Spirited by Julie Cohen
V For Victory by Lissa Evans
Arrowood and the Thames Corpses by Mick Finlay
Tell Me How It Ends by VB Grey
The Silver Collar by Antonia Hodgson
Cathedral by Ben Hopkins
The Unwanted Dead by Chris Lloyd
The Second Marriage by Gill Paul
Daughters of Night by Laura Shepherd-Robinson
Light Perpetual by Francis Spufford
The Last Protector by Andrew Taylor
The Devil and the Dark Water by Stuart Turton

I have read four of these (and have linked to my reviews above). I really enjoyed The Silver Collar, Daughters of Night and The Last Protector, all of which are historical mysteries from series that I’ve been following from the beginning and can highly recommend. The Devil and the Dark Water I found slightly disappointing after loving Stuart Turton’s first book, The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle.

HWA Debut Crown Award Longlist

Tsarina by Ellen Alpsten
Brontë’s Mistress by Finola Austin
The Strange Adventures of H by Sarah Burton
The Sin Eater by Megan Campisi
The Puritan Princess by Miranda Malins
Imperfect Alchemist by Naomi Miller
Edge of the Grave by Robbie Morrison
Eight Detectives by Alex Pavesi
The Lost Apothecary by Sarah Penner
The Company Daughters by Samantha Rajaram
The Long, Long Afternoon by Inga Vesper
People of Abandoned Character by Clare Whitfield

I’ve read four books from the debut list too; my favourite of these was The Puritan Princess, about Oliver Cromwell’s daughter, Frances. The other three were all interesting, but didn’t entirely work for me.

HWA Non-Fiction Crown Award Longlist

Britain at Bay by Alan Allport 
The Gun, the Ship and the Pen by Linda Colley
Crucible of Hell by Saul David
The Paper Chase by Joseph Hone
The Ravine by Wendy Lower
Double Lives by Helen McCarthy
Burning the Books by Richard Ovenden
The Dead are Arising by Les Payne and Tamara Payne
A Stranger in the Shogun’s City by Amy Stanley
A Dominant Character by Samanth Subramanian
Ellis Island by Małgorzata Szejnert, translated by Sean Gasper Bye
The Interest by Michael Taylor

I have read none at all from this list, which is disappointing but doesn’t surprise me as I don’t read a huge amount of non-fiction. Some of these sound intriguing, particularly The Paper Chase and Stranger in the Shogun’s City.

You can find out more about all of the longlisted books on the HWA website.

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My current historical reading:

I’ve just finished The Infernal Riddle of Thomas Peach by Jas Treadwell, a very unusual book written in the style of an 18th century novel; I couldn’t possibly describe it here in just a few sentences, so you’ll have to wait for my review next week! I’m also nearly finished The Green Gauntlet by RF Delderfield, the third book in his Horseman Riding By series and set during and after World War II. Both of these books are from my 20 Books of Summer list and as I’m starting to run out of time to complete my 20 Books, my next two historical reads will also be from that list: A Corruption of Blood by Ambrose Parry and The Women of Troy by Pat Barker.

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New to my historical TBR in the last few weeks:

Black Drop by Leonora Nattrass, a new historical mystery set in Georgian London, Powers and Thrones by Dan Jones, a non-fiction book telling the story of ‘how the world we know today came to be built’, and The Leviathan by Rosie Andrews, a debut novel set in 17th century England and due to be published in February – these are all books I’ve received through NetGalley.

Also, The Huntress by Kate Quinn, an author I’ve wanted to read more of since loving The Rose Code earlier this year, and A Song for Arbonne, a Guy Gavriel Kay book I’ve been particularly looking forward to reading.

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Have you been reading any good historical fiction recently? And have you read any of the books on the HWA longlists?

Historical Musings #66: June 2021

It’s been a few months since my last Historical Musings post, so I thought I’d start by taking a look at what’s going on in the world of historical fiction and then give an update on my own current reading.

First of all, the winner of this year’s Walter Scott Prize for Historical Fiction has been announced. Congratulations to Hilary Mantel and The Mirror and the Light!

There were five shortlisted titles this year and I’m sorry to say that so far I have only managed to read one of them…

The Tolstoy Estate by Steven Conte
A Room Made of Leaves by Kate Grenville
The Mirror and the Light by Hilary Mantel
Hamnet by Maggie O’Farrell
The Dictionary of Lost Words by Pip Williams

The one that I read was Hamnet and I’m quite surprised that it didn’t win. I wasn’t really a fan (I know I’m in a minority there) but I thought it was the sort of book the judges would go for.

Although I haven’t read The Mirror & the Light, I’m sure it’s a deserving winner. I did actually start to read it last year and enjoyed what I read, but it was a victim of my pandemic-induced reading slump at that time and I found it impossible to concentrate on such a long and complex novel. I have every intention of picking it up again soon!

This means that Hilary Mantel has now won the Walter Scott Prize twice, with two of the books in her Thomas Cromwell trilogy: Wolf Hall in 2010 was the other, although Bring Up the Bodies lost out in 2013 to Tan Twan Eng’s The Garden of Evening Mists.

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Last week also brought some more sad news for historical fiction readers; not only did we lose Sharon Penman earlier this year, the family of Lucinda Riley announced on 11th June that Lucinda had died following a four year battle with cancer. Not all of her novels were historical, but most featured dual timelines covering a wide range of historical periods and settings. I recently reviewed her latest novel, The Missing Sister. For those of you who have been following the Seven Sisters series, here’s a recent interview in which Lucinda talks about her research for the new book: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rrzJyFMOjxQ

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My current historical reading:

I have just finished The Wrecking Storm, the second book in Michael Ward’s Thomas Tallant mystery series set in 17th century London during the events leading to the Civil War, and am now reading Alison Weir’s Katherine Parr, the Sixth Wife, the last of her Six Tudor Queens novels. The next book I’m planning to start is Red Adam’s Lady by Grace Ingram, which is on my 20 Books of Summer list. I think it’s already safe to say that I’m not going to read all twenty books on that list before September, so I’m going to focus on the ones I’ve been most looking forward to reading.

New to my historical TBR this week:

Mrs England by Stacey Halls (set in the Edwardian era) which was published earlier this month, and The Swift and the Harrier by Minette Walters (set in the 1640s), via NetGalley, due to be published in November.

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Have you read any good historical novels lately? Which book do you think should have won the Walter Scott Prize?

Historical Musings #65: Historical Drama

Welcome to my monthly post on all things historical fiction! This month, inspired by Lory’s Reading the Theatre, I thought it would be interesting to look at historical plays. Usually, when people talk about historical fiction, they are referring to novels, but it’s not just novelists who write about history – there are also many playwrights who have used real historical figures, events or settings as the basis for their plays.

The obvious place to start is with Shakespeare, the first name most of us probably think of when we think of history plays. I haven’t read any of his histories since I started blogging, so I’m afraid I don’t have any posts to share with you here – but I did re-read Macbeth a few years ago (a tragedy not a history, but very loosely based, of course, on the historical king Macbeth) and put together a selection of quotes.

Other than Shakespeare, I have read or seen very few plays which could be described as historical, although there are some I’m familiar with from the film versions, such as The Lion in Winter and A Man for All Seasons. There are also plenty of examples of stage musicals like Les Miserables, but they started life as historical novels rather than plays, so are not really what I’m looking for here. I’ve found some useful lists on Wikipedia and Goodreads, but I’m sure those of you who are more avid theatre-goers or play readers than I am will have some recommendations.

Have you read or been to see any historical plays? Have you missed going to the theatre during the pandemic?

Historical Musings #64: My Year in Historical Fiction – 2020

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 2020 and have put together my usual selection of charts and lists! I have kept the same categories as in the previous four 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 2019 post is here, 2018 here, 2017 here and 2016 here).

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Time periods read about in 2020

For the last four years, the 19th century has been the most popular time period for my historical fiction reading (in 2019, it was the setting for more than a third of the books I read). In 2020, there was a different winner: the time period I read about most often was the 17th century, with the 19th in second place, just ahead of the 20th and 16th.

I read 12 books in total set during the 17th century, with topics ranging from the Pendle Witch Trials (The Familiars by Stacey Halls) to the 1617 Vardø storm (The Mercies by Kiran Millwood Hargrave) and the Barbary pirate raid on Cornwall (The Tenth Gift by Jane Johnson).

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32% of the historical fiction authors I read in 2020 were new to me.

This is down on 2019’s 54%, but I’m pleased that I still discovered a lot of new authors as well as reading books by favourite authors.

Three books I’ve read by new-to-me historical fiction authors in 2020:

The Almanack by Martine Bailey
Mrs Whistler by Matthew Plampin
The Animals at Lockwood Manor by Jane Healey

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Publication dates of books read in 2020

As usual, most of the historical fiction books I read were published in the current year. Not even a quarter of the books I read were published before 2000, which is disappointing for me as those older books are the ones I usually end up loving the most. I need to stop being tempted by all the new books on NetGalley!

The oldest one I read was The Black Arrow by Robert Louis Stevenson (1883).

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10% of my historical reads in 2020 were historical mysteries.

This is lower than 2019’s 20% and 2018’s 14%.

Three historical mysteries I read last year:

The Last Protector by Andrew Taylor
The Silver Collar by Antonia Hodgson
The Butcher of Berner Street by Alex Reeve

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I read historical fiction set in 19 different countries in 2020.

This is slightly more than the 16 different countries I read about in 2019, but I still want to make an effort to visit more countries in my reading this year, particularly African and Asian ones.

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

The Missing Sister by Dinah Jefferies (Myanmar)
The Bell in the Lake by Lars Mytting (Norway)
Tsarina by Ellen Alpsten (Russia)

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Four historical men I’ve read about this year:

Bram Stoker (Shadowplay by Joseph O’Connor)
Raphael (The Woman in the Painting by Kerry Postle)
Charles of Orléans (In a Dark Wood Wandering by Hella S Haasse)
Henry VIII (The Great Matter Monologues by Thomas Crockett)

Four historical women I’ve read about this year:

Eleanor of Provence (The Silken Rose by Carol McGrath)
Joan Vaux (The Lady of the Ravens by Joanna Hickson)
Aoife MacMurchada (The Irish Princess by Elizabeth Chadwick)
Belle Bilton (Becoming Belle by Nuala O’Connor)

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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 #63: Books to look out for in 2021

Welcome to my (almost) monthly post on all things historical fiction!

Usually I devote my final Musings of the year to looking back at my previous twelve months of reading and putting together some charts and statistics, but I’ve decided it would really be better to do that in January so that the books I read in the last few days of December don’t get excluded. This month, then, I’m going to look forward instead to some of the upcoming historical fiction due to be published in 2021.

The books listed below are just a small selection that have come to my attention and are a combination of books that I’ve already received for review, books by authors I’ve previously read and enjoyed or books that just sound interesting. The publication dates I’ve given are for the UK and may be subject to change.

Blurbs are taken from Goodreads and Amazon.

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Nora by Nuala O’Connor (January 2021)

“Dublin, 1904. Nora Joseph Barnacle is a twenty-year-old from Galway working as a maid at Finn’s Hotel. She enjoys the liveliness of her adopted city and on June 16—Bloomsday—her life is changed when she meets Dubliner James Joyce, a fateful encounter that turns into a lifelong love. Despite his hesitation to marry, Nora follows Joyce in pursuit of a life beyond Ireland, and they surround themselves with a buoyant group of friends that grows to include Samuel Beckett, Peggy Guggenheim, and Sylvia Beach.

But as their life unfolds, Nora finds herself in conflict between their intense desire for each other and the constant anxiety of living in poverty throughout Europe. She desperately wants literary success for Jim, believing in his singular gift and knowing that he thrives on being the toast of the town, and it eventually provides her with a security long lacking in her life and his work. So even when Jim writes, drinks, and gambles his way to literary acclaim, Nora provides unflinching support and inspiration, but at a cost to her own happiness and that of their children.”

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The Paris Library by Janet Skeslien Charles (February 2021)

“PARIS, 1939
Odile Souchet is obsessed with books, and her new job at the American Library in Paris – with its thriving community of students, writers and book lovers – is a dream come true. When war is declared, the Library is determined to remain open. But then the Nazis invade Paris, and everything changes. In Occupied Paris, choices as black and white as the words on a page become a murky shade of grey – choices that will put many on the wrong side of history, and the consequences of which will echo for decades to come.

MONTANA, 1983
Lily is a lonely teenage desperate to escape small-town Montana. She grows close to her neighbour Odile, discovering they share the same love of language, the same longings. But as Lily uncovers more about Odile’s mysterious past, she discovers a dark secret, closely guarded and long hidden. Based on the true Second World War story of the heroic librarians at the American Library in Paris, this is an unforgettable novel of romance, friendship, family, and of heroism found in the quietest of places.”

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Daughters of Night by Laura Shepherd-Robinson (February 2021)

“London, 1782, Caro Corsham finds a woman mortally wounded in the bowers of Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens.

When the constables discover that the deceased woman was a high-society lady of the night, they stop searching for her killer – and it’s up to Caro to seek justice.

But the hidden corners of Georgian society are filled with artifice, deception and secrets, and finding the killer will be harder, and more treacherous, than she can know…”

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The Rose Code by Kate Quinn (March 2021)

“1940. Three very different women answer the call to mysterious country estate Bletchley Park, where the best minds in Britain train to break German military codes.

Vivacious debutante Osla is the girl who has everything—beauty, wealth, and the dashing Prince Philip of Greece sending her roses — but she burns to prove herself as more than a society girl, and puts her fluent German to use as a translator of decoded enemy secrets. Imperious self-made Mab, product of east-end London poverty, works the legendary codebreaking machines as she conceals old wounds and looks for a socially advantageous husband. Awkward local girl Beth, whose shyness conceals a brilliant facility with puzzles beneath her shy exterior.

1947. As the royal wedding of Princess Elizabeth and Prince Philip whips post-war Britain into a fever, three friends-turned-enemies are reunited by a mysterious encrypted letter–the key to which lies buried in the long-ago betrayal that destroyed their friendship and left one of them confined to an asylum. A mysterious traitor has emerged from the shadows of their Bletchley Park past, and now Osla, Mab, and Beth must resurrect their old alliance and crack one last code together…”

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The Steel Beneath the Silk by Patricia Bracewell (March 2021)

“A breathtaking conclusion to Bracewell’s Emma of Normandy Trilogy, brimming with treachery, heartache, tenderness and passion as the English queen confronts ambitious and traitorous councilors, invading armies and the Danish king’s power-hungry concubine.

In the year 1012 England’s Norman-born Queen Emma has been ten years wed to an aging, ruthless, haunted King Æthelred. The marriage is a bitterly unhappy one, between a queen who seeks to create her own sphere of influence within the court and a suspicious king who eyes her efforts with hostility and resentment. But royal discord shifts to grudging alliance when Cnut of Denmark, with the secret collusion of his English concubine Elgiva, invades England at the head of a massive viking army. Amid the chaos of war, Emma must outwit a fierce enemy whose goal is conquest and outmaneuver the cunning Elgiva, who threatens all those whom Emma loves.”

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Ariadne by Jennifer Saint (April 2021)

“As Princesses of Crete and daughters of the fearsome King Minos, Ariadne and her sister Phaedra grow up hearing the hoofbeats and bellows of the Minotaur echo from the Labyrinth beneath the palace. The Minotaur – Minos’s greatest shame and Ariadne’s brother – demands blood every year.

When Theseus, Prince of Athens, arrives in Crete as a sacrifice to the beast, Ariadne falls in love with him. But helping Theseus kill the monster means betraying her family and country, and Ariadne knows only too well that in a world ruled by mercurial gods – drawing their attention can cost you everything.

In a world where women are nothing more than the pawns of powerful men, will Ariadne’s decision to betray Crete for Theseus ensure her happy ending? Or will she find herself sacrificed for her lover’s ambition?

Ariadne gives a voice to the forgotten women of one of the most famous Greek myths, and speaks to their strength in the face of angry, petulant Gods. Beautifully written and completely immersive, this is an exceptional debut novel.”

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The Drowned City by KJ Maitland (April 2021)

“1606. A year to the day that men were executed for conspiring to blow up Parliament, a towering wave devastates the Bristol Channel. Some proclaim God’s vengeance. Others seek to take advantage.

In London, Daniel Pursglove lies in prison waiting to die. But Charles FitzAlan, close adviser to King James I, has a job in mind that will free a man of Daniel’s skill from the horrors of Newgate. If he succeeds.

For Bristol is a hotbed of Catholic spies, and where better for the lone conspirator who evaded arrest, one Spero Pettingar, to gather allies than in the chaos of a drowned city? Daniel journeys there to investigate FitzAlan’s lead, but soon finds himself at the heart of a dark Jesuit conspiracy – and in pursuit of a killer.”

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The Metal Heart by Caroline Lea (April 2021)

“Orkney, 1940. Five hundred Italian prisoners-of-war arrive to fortify these remote and windswept islands. Resentful islanders are fearful of the enemy in their midst, but not orphaned twin sisters Dorothy and Constance. Already outcasts, they volunteer to nurse all prisoners who are injured or fall sick.

Soon Dorothy befriends Cesare, an artists swept up by the machine of war and almost broken by the horrors he has witnessed. She is entranced by his plan to build an Italian chapel from war scrap and sea derbis, and something beautiful begins to blossom.

But Con, scarred from a betrayal in her past, is afraid for her sister; she knows that people are not always what they seem.

Soon, trust frays between the islanders and outsiders, and between the sisters – their hearts torn by rival claims of duty and desire. A storm is coming…

In the tradition of Captain Corelli’s Mandolin, The Metal Heart is a hauntingly rich Second World War love story about courage, brutality, freedom and beauty and the essence of what makes us human during the darkest of times.”

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The Royal Secret by Andrew Taylor (April 2021)

“From the No.1 bestselling author of The Last Protector and The Ashes of London comes the next book in the phenomenally successful series following James Marwood and Cat Lovett during the time of King Charles II.

Two young girls plot a murder by witchcraft. Soon afterwards a government clerk dies painfully in mysterious circumstances. His colleague James Marwood is asked to investigate – but the task brings unexpected dangers.

Meanwhile, architect Cat Hakesby is working for a merchant who lives on Slaughter Street, where the air smells of blood and a captive Barbary lion prowls the stables. Then a prestigious new commission arrives. Cat must design a Poultry House for the woman that the King loves most in all the world.

Unbeknownst to all, at the heart of this lies a royal secret so explosive that it could not only rip apart England but change the entire face of Europe…”

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Katharine Parr: The Sixth Wife by Alison Weir (May 2021)

“A WOMAN TORN BETWEEN LOVE AND DUTY.

Two husbands dead, a boy and a sick man. And now Katharine is free to make her own choice.

The ageing King’s eye falls upon her. She cannot refuse him… or betray that she wanted another.

She becomes the sixth wife – a queen and a friend. Henry loves and trusts her. But Katharine is hiding another secret in her heart, a deeply held faith that could see her burn…

KATHARINE PARR. HENRY’S FINAL QUEEN. HER STORY.

Renowned, bestselling historian Alison Weir reveals a warm, clever woman of great fortitude who rose boldly to every turn her life took.”

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Circus of Wonders by Elizabeth Macneal (May 2021)

“1866. In a coastal village in southern England, Nell picks violets for a living. Set apart by her community because of the birthmarks that speckle her skin, Nell’s world is her beloved brother and devotion to the sea.

But when Jasper Jupiter’s Circus of Wonders arrives in the village, Nell is kidnapped. Her father has sold her, promising Jasper Jupiter his very own leopard girl. It is the greatest betrayal of Nell’s life, but as her fame grows, and she finds friendship with the other performers and Jasper’s gentle brother Toby, she begins to wonder if joining the show is the best thing that has ever happened to her.

In London, newspapers describe Nell as the eighth wonder of the world. Figurines are cast in her image, and crowds rush to watch her soar through the air. But who gets to tell Nell’s story? What happens when her fame threatens to eclipse that of the showman who bought her? And as she falls in love with Toby, can he detach himself from his past and the terrible secret that binds him to his brother?

Moving from the pleasure gardens of Victorian London to the battle-scarred plains of the Crimea, Circus of Wonders is an astonishing story about power and ownership, fame and the threat of invisibility.”

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China by Edward Rutherfurd (May 2021)

“China in the nineteenth century: a proud and ancient empire forbidden to foreigners. The West desires Chinese tea above all other things but lacks the silver to buy it. Instead, western adventurers resort to smuggling opium in exchange.

The Qing Emperor will not allow his people to sink into addiction. Viceroy Lin is sent to the epicentre of the opium trade, Canton, to stop it. The Opium Wars begin – heralding a period of bloody military defeats, reparations, and one-sided treaties which will become known as the Century of Humiliation.

From Hong Kong to Beijing to the Great Wall, from the exotic wonders of the Summer Palace and the Forbidden City, to squalid village huts, the dramatic struggle rages across the Celestial Kingdom. This is the story of the Chinese people, high and low, and the Westerners who came to exploit the riches of their ancient land and culture.

We meet a young village wife struggling with the rigid traditions of her people, Manchu empresses and warriors, powerful eunuchs, fanatical Taiping and Boxer Rebels, savvy Chinese pirates, artists, concubines, scoundrels and heroes, well-intentioned missionaries and the rapacious merchants, diplomats and soldiers of the West. Fortunes will rise and fall, loves will be gained and lost.”

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Mrs England by Stacey Halls (June 2021)

“West Yorkshire, 1904. When newly graduated nurse Ruby May takes a position looking after the children of Charles and Lilian England, a wealthy couple from a powerful dynasty of mill owners, she hopes it will be the fresh start she needs. But as she adapts to life at the isolated Hardcastle House, it becomes clear there’s something not quite right about the beautiful, mysterious Mrs England.

Ostracised by the servants and feeling increasingly uneasy, Ruby is forced to confront her own demons in order to prevent history from repeating itself. After all, there’s no such thing as the perfect family – and she should know.

Simmering with slow-burning menace, Mrs England is a portrait of an Edwardian marriage, weaving an enthralling story of men and women, power and control, courage, truth and the very darkest deception. Set against the atmospheric landscape of West Yorkshire, Stacey Halls’ third novel proves her one of the most exciting and compelling new storytellers of our times.”

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The Women of Troy by Pat Barker (June 2021)

“Troy has fallen. The Greeks have won their bitter war. They can return home victors, loaded with their spoils: their stolen gold, stolen weapons, stolen women. All they need is a good wind to lift their sails.

But the wind does not come. The gods have been offended – the body of Priam lies desecrated, unburied – and so the victors remain in limbo, camped in the shadow of the city they destroyed, pacing at the edge of an unobliging sea. And, in these empty, restless days, the hierarchies that held them together begin to fray, old feuds resurface and new suspicions fester.

Largely unnoticed by her squabbling captors, Briseis remains in the Greek encampment. She forges alliances where she can – with young, dangerously naïve Amina, with defiant, aged Hecuba, with Calchus, the disgraced priest – and begins to see the path to a kind of revenge. Briseis has survived the Trojan War, but peacetime may turn out to be even more dangerous…”

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Daughters of War by Dinah Jefferies (September 2021)

“Deep in the river valley of the Dordogne, in an old stone cottage on the edge of a beautiful village, three sisters long for the end of the war.

Hélène, the eldest, is trying her hardest to steer her family to safety, even as the Nazi occupation becomes more threatening.

Elise, the rebel, is determined to help the Resistance, whatever the cost.

And Florence, the dreamer, just yearns for a world where France is free.

Then, one dark night, the Allies come knocking for help. And Hélène knows that she cannot sit on the sidelines any longer. But bravery comes at a cost, and soon the sisters’ lives become even more perilous as they fight for what is right. And secrets from their own mysterious past threaten to unravel everything they hold most dear…”

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A Marriage of Lions by Elizabeth Chadwick (September 2021)

“England, 1238

Raised at the court of King Henry III as a chamber lady to the queen, young Joanna of Swanscombe’s life changes forever when she comes into an inheritance far above all expectations, including her own.

Now a wealthy heiress, Joanna’s arranged marriage to the King’s charming, tournament-loving half-brother William de Valence immediately stokes the flames of political unrest as more established courtiers object to the privileges bestowed on newcomers.

As Joanna and William strive to build a life together, England descends into a bitter civil war. In mortal danger, William is forced to run for his life, and Joanna is left with only her wit and courage to outfox their enemies and prevent them from destroying her husband, her family, and their fortunes.”

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Are you tempted by any of these? What else have I missed? Are there any other new historical fiction novels being published in 2021 that you’re looking forward to reading?

Historical Musings #62: World War II

Welcome to my (almost) monthly post on all things historical fiction.

This month, I have taken inspiration from one of my current reads, V2 by Robert Harris. I won’t say too much about that book here, as I will be reviewing it later in the week, but it’s set during the Second World War and follows the stories of a German engineer launching V2 rockets at London and a British WAAF officer on a mission to stop him. Unless something happens in the final few chapters to change my opinion entirely, it’s going to be a very positive review. I’m finding it fascinating as it looks at several aspects of the war I haven’t read about before – and that has made me think about some of the other novels I’ve read set during the war and the many different ways in which authors decide to approach the subject and the different things on which they choose to focus.

For those of us interested in reading about the roles of women in the war, for example, Kay in The Night Watch by Sarah Waters drives an ambulance, Constance in Lucinda Riley’s The Light Behind the Window is an SOE spy working in Occupied France, and in Carolyn Kirby’s When We Fall, Vee flies planes for the Air Transport Auxiliary and Ewa carries out secret missions for the Polish Resistance. On a more light-hearted note, Emmy in Dear Mrs Bird by AJ Pearce answers letters for the problem page in a women’s weekly magazine!

Some books concentrate on one single event or episode, such as The Report by Jessica Francis Kane, about the bombing of the Bethnal Green tube station, or The Conductor by Sarah Quigley and The Bronze Horseman by Paullina Simons (read before I started blogging), about the Siege of Leningrad, while others, like The Invisible Bridge by Julie Orringer, which follows the story of three Hungarian Jewish brothers, cover the whole span of the war.

Although most of the books I’ve read have been concerned mainly with the war in Europe, I have also read some set in America (The Postmistress by Sarah Blake and Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford) and North Africa (Jasmine Nights by Julia Gregson and Tapestry of War by Jane MacKenzie).

The Holocaust and the challenges faced by Jews during the war tend to feature strongly in wartime fiction. Far to Go by Alison Pick looks at the role of the Kindertransport and Love and Treasure by Ayelet Waldman focuses on the Hungarian Gold Train. There’s also Jakob’s Colours by Lindsay Hawdon, which is not about the Jewish Holocaust but the Gypsy Holocaust, which made an interesting change. And Japanese internment camps feature in Isabel Allende’s The Japanese Lover and Ghostwritten by Isabel Wolff.

There are plenty of historical mysteries which have the war as a setting too: Full Dark House by Christopher Fowler, the first book in the Bryant and May series, deals with a murder in a London theatre during the Blitz, and Death in Bordeaux by Allan Massie is the first in a quartet of mystery novels set in Occupied France.

The books I have mentioned here are all historical fiction, published many years after the war ended. Of course, there are also lots of wonderful contemporary novels written during or just after the war, but that would be a topic for another post, I think!

Have you read any of the books above or would you be interested in reading them? Are there any others you would recommend? Which aspects of the war do you find most interesting to read about?