Historical Fiction is one of my favourite genres, and rather than just choose ten books, which I would find difficult, I decided to choose my ten favourite authors.
Hilary Mantel has won The Booker Prize an unprecedented twice for Wolf Hall and it’s sequel Bringing Up The Bodies, both following the life and career of Thomas Cromwell. Both these books are amazing in their detail and the portrayal of Thomas Cromwell, who is normally seen as a villain, but Mantel brings humanity to his character. The other book I recommend is A Place of Greater Safety which follows three of the main protagonists of the French Revolution,Georges Jaques Danton, Maximilien Robspierre and Camille Desmoulins, as they come into power in this tumultuous period of history.
C J Sansom.
C J Sansom’s Matthew Shardlake books are one of my favourite series historical fiction. Matthew Shardlake is a lawyer during the reign of of Henry VIII, and with his assistant Jack Barrack, seem to be involved in cases that pit them against some of England’s most powerful courtiers. The story lines are well thought out and always keep your interest with their twists and turns, and intrigue of the court and the development of the characters over the books is brilliant. There are six books in the series; Dissolution, Dark Fire, Sovereign, Revelation, Heartstone and Lamentation.
Philippa Gregory has written many historical books about the Plantagenet and Tudor Kings and Queens. Personally, I prefer the Cousins War series about which follows the monarchy from Edward IV to Henry VIII. She looks at the important women in the kings’ lives and really brings them to the fore. Again her historical research and detail is brilliant. I love history and knew a lot about the Tudor dynasty, but not much about the Plantagenets, but after reading these books I have learnt so much and in an enjoyable way. If you look on line you can get details of her books in order.
Tracy Chevalier has written some brilliant historical novels, but is most famous for Girl with a Pearl Earring. There are a lot of strong female leads in her books, and she writes on varied subjects; Remarkable Creatures looks at women and science in nineteenth century, Falling Angels looking at attitudes to women and death in Victoria/Edwardian England; The Last Runaway, follows a young woman who emigrates to America from Dorset in 1850. These are just a couple of her many books, all of which are compelling reads, full of detail and wonderful characters.
Ken Follett has written many historical novels from many different periods; from World War II to the Victorian era. His series, The Century Trilogy is a best seller and follow families, from different backgrounds from the beginning of the twentieth century up to present times. My favourite series is the Knightsbridge books, Pillars of the Earth, World Without End,and the eagerly anticipated A Column of Fire, which I will review next week. These books follow the building of Knightsbridge Cathedral, starting in the twelfth century in Pillars of the Earth, then the story picks up in the fourteenth century in World Without End and finally to the sixteenth century in A Column of Fire. The plot follows descendants of the the original families as we follow the growth of the cathedral and Knightsbridge as a town.
Sarah Dunant is best known for her series of books set in Renaissance Italy. Her books are set in Rome, Blood and Beauty, In the Name of the Family, Florence The Birth of Venus, Venice, In the Company of the Courtesan and Ferrara Sacred Hearts. It was reading The Birth of Venus that finally made me decide to study for my degree in Art History. Sarah Dunant’s writing is brilliantly detailed, and researched, almost like the paintings described in some of her books.
Marina Fiorato has written seven historical fiction novels the majority set in Italy. The Madonna of the Almonds is a story about the history of amaretto liqueur, The Daughter of Sienna introduces the Italian tradition of The Palio and Beatrice and Benedick tells the story of the protagonists of Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing telling the story of the lovers and their break up. These are just a few of her books, but all are descriptive, immersive and utterly compelling.
C. W. Gortner
C. W. Gortner has written historical fiction about some of histories most formidable women; Isabella of Castile, Lucrezia Borgia, Catherine de Medici, Juana, daughter of King Ferdinand and Isabella of Spain and Coco Chanel. He has also written a series of historical thrillers set in the Tudor period. His writing really makes these historical figures accessible, and brings the sights, smells and atmosphere of the period to life.
I was introduced to Dorothy Dunnett by my Art History tutor when I was studying at the Open University. Dorothy Dunnett has written two sets of books. the Legendary Lymond Chronicles and The House of Niccolo which are the series I have read. The reason they were recommended was that the Niccolo series are set in Renaissance Europe, a key period to my degree. There is a large cast of characters, both fictional and real, which are listed at the beginning of the books so you can reference when reading. The research and detail in these books are superb, and they cover not just Italy but France, England, Scotland, and the Far East so the reader gets to see how different the culture was in the different countries during this period. There are eight books in the series, covering the years between 1460 – 1483 and follow Nicholas de Fleury, a boy of uncertain birth, who rises to the heights of European banking and international political intrigue.
Jude Morgan has again picked real historical characters and weaved a fictional story around them based on actual occurrences. One of my favourite books by him is Passion which interweaves the lives of the Romantic poets Byron, Shelley and Keats, whose stories are told by the women who love them. His other books look at the lives of Harriet Smithson, the wife of Hector Berlioz, Symphony, The Bronte Sisters, The Taste of Sorrow, James, Duke of Monmouth who was the illegitimate son of Charles II, The Kings Touch, and William Shakespeare in The Secret Life of William Shakespeare. Jude Morgan excels in bringing these characters to life and introducing a side to them that we may not know about.
I hope I have inspired some of you to try a book by one of these fabulous authors.