An exciting selection of new Historical Fiction received this month. From the time of Alexander the Great in 359 BC, to 15th century Belgium, from post war France to the early 1970’s and the Watergate scandal, some truly exciting reads. If historical fiction is a favourite genre, more great reading can be found from the short list for the 2012 Walter Scott Historical Fiction prize on our Fiction website page.
Wide awake : a novel / Robert Bober ; translated from the French by Carol Volk.
” Bernard Appelbaum, 21 years old and newly entranced by his native Paris seen through the lens of filmmaker Francois Truffaut, lands a role as an extra in Truffaut’s latest, Jules et Jim (a story of simple coincidences shaping one’s life). Upon seeing the film, Bernard’s mother, Hannah, opens up about her own life’s coincidences, especially how her marriage to Bernard’s father, Yankel, resulted from their mutual friend Liezer’s absence one evening, giving Yankel the chance to confess his love. After Yankel died in the camps when Bernard was only two, Hannah reconnected with Liezer, whom she married and with whom she had Bernard’s half-brother, Alex. When Liezer dies in a plane crash, both boys are left fatherless and brimming with questions about their shared heritage.” – (adapted from Syndetics summary)
Waiting for sunrise / William Boyd.
“Vienna, 1913. As Lysander Rief, a young English actor, is waiting for his first appointment with the eminent psychiatrist Dr Bensimon, a young woman enters the waiting room. She is clearly in distress, but Lysander is immediately drawn to her strange, hazel eyes and her unusual, intense beauty. They begin a passionate love affair and life in Vienna becomes tinged with a powerful frisson of excitement for Lysander. Back in London, 1914. War is imminent, and events in Vienna have caught up with Lysander in the most damaging way. Unable to live an ordinary life, he is plunged into the dangerous theatre of wartime intelligence, a world of sex, scandal and spies, where lines of truth and deception blur with every waking day. Lysander must now discover the key to a secret code which is threatening Britain’s safety, and use all his skills to keep the murky world of suspicion and betrayal from invading every corner of his life.” – (adapted from Amazon.co.uk summary)
God of war / Christian Cameron.
“The story of how Alexander the Great conquered the world,- first crushing Greek resistance to Macedonian rule, then destroying the Persian Empire in three monumental battles, before marching into the unknown and final victory in India. Narrated by his boyhood friend Ptolemy, this is the story of Alexander as you have never heard it before: raw, intimate, brutal, full of the terror and exhilaration of battle, the heroism and the horror of conquest, and, ultimately, the tragedy of a man who aimed to be more than human.” (adapted from Amazon.co.uk summary)
Spartacus : the gladiator / Ben Kane.
“This book begins in the Thracian village to which Spartacus has returned after escaping from life as an auxiliary in the Roman army. Jealous of his attachment to Ariadne, a Dionysian priestess, the Thracian king betrays Spartacus to the Romans who take him, along with Ariadne, into captivity and to the school of gladiators at Capua. Against the background of the unbelievable brutality of gladiatorial life, Spartacus and Crixus the Gaul plan the audacious overthrow of their Roman masters. They escape and flee to Vesuvius, where they recruit and train an army of escaped slaves that will have to face the conquerors of the known world, the most successful deadly army in all of history in a battle that will set in motion the legend that is Spartacus.” – (adapted from Syndetics summary)
Watergate a novel / Thomas Mallon.
“Thomas Mallon conveys the drama and high comedy of the Nixon presidency through the urgent perspectives of seven characters we only thought we knew before now, moving readers from the private cabins of Camp David to the klieg lights of the Senate Caucus Room, from the District of Columbia jail to the Dupont Circle mansion of Theodore Roosevelt’s sharp-tongued ninety-year-old daughter, and into the hive of the Watergate complex itself, home not only to the Democratic National Committee but also to the president’s attorney general, his recklessly loyal secretary, and the shadowy man from Mississippi who pays out hush money to the burglars.” (adapted from Amazon.com summary)
The shadow prince / Terence Morgan.
“Perkin Warbeck is an ordinary young man in fifteenth-century Tournai. The son of a port official, he loves nothing more than swimming, singing and fishing with his father. But Perkin has a secret. His real name is Richard, and he is the rightful Prince of England. Thought to have been murdered with his brother, Edward, in the Tower of London, he was covertly taken to the continent and placed with an adoptive family under an assumed identity. But when his enemies seek him out he must flee, and embarks on a new life sailing the high seas with the era’s greatest adventurers. But Richard cannot avoid his fate forever. He knows he must return to England, to assume the throne that is his birthright. But what for Richard is a homecoming, for the new king, Henry Tudor, is nothing less than an invasion, and ‘Perkin’ slowly comes to learn that the price of his goal is the blood of innocent men.” – (adapted from Amazon.co.uk summary)
The house I loved / Tatiana de Rosnay.
“Parisian Rose Bazelet is a woman in mourning, for her husband and son, both long dead; for her distant daughter; and because of Napoleon III’s ambitious urban planning agenda in the mid-19th century, an enormous project that could destroy her beloved family estate. With the planners already leveling nearby houses, Rose hides in her cellar and writes letters to her deceased husband about her struggle to save their home. As the letters continue, and destruction grows near, Rose remembers her married life. With the planners “rattling about at the entrance” and taking her friend Alexandrine, who has come to rescue her, by surprise, Rose reveals to her late husband the dark secret she could never bring herself to tell him when he was alive.” – (adapted from Syndetics summary)
The Winter Palace / Eva Stachniak.
“The epic, sensuous story of Catherine the Great’s ruthless rise to power, through the eyes of a young girl groomed as the Empress’s spy in 18th Century Russia. Vavara, a young orphaned Polish girl, is brought to serve at Empress Elizabeth’s glittering, dangerous court in St Petersburg, she is schooled by the Chancellor himself in skills from lock-picking to love-making, learning above all else to stay silent, and listen. Soon, she is Elizabeth’s ‘tongue’ – her secret eyes and ears.Then Sophie, a vulnerable young princess, arrives from Prussia as a prospective bride for Elizabeth’s heir. Set to spy on her by the Empress, Vavara soon becomes her friend and confidante, and helps her navigate the illicit seductions and the treacherous shifting allegiances of the court. ut Sophie’s destiny is to become the notorious Catherine the Great. Are her ambitions more lofty and far-reaching than anyone suspected, and will she stop at nothing to achieve absolute power?” – (adapted from Amazon.co.uk summary)
Queen of America / Luis Alberto Urrea.
“After the bloody Tomochic rebellion, Teresita Urrea, beloved healer and “Saint of Cabora,” flees with her father to Arizona. But their plans are derailed when she once again is claimed as the spiritual leader of the Mexican Revolution. Besieged by pilgrims and pursued by assassins, Teresita embarks on a journey through turn-of-the-century industrial America-New York, San Francisco, St. Louis. She meets immigrants and tycoons, European royalty and Cuban poets, all waking to the new American century. And as she decides what her own role in this modern future will be, she must ask herself: can a saint fall in love?” – (adapted from Amazon.com summary)
The secret history of Costaguana / Juan Gabriel Vásquez ; translated from the Spanish by Anne McLean.
“This novel covers about 100 years of Colombian history, from the birth of the revolutionary Miguel Altamirano in 1820 to Conrad’s death in 1924. Miguel’s illegitimate son Jose, the narrator of this story, reunites with his father in Panama, marries and has a daughter named Eloisa, and travels to London, where he meets Conrad and tells him the story of his life and of Colombia. When Conrad’s novel Nostromo is published, Altamirano recognizes what he had related to Conrad, but his physical presence is missing. When Conrad dies, Altamirano, with delightful literary irony, decides to set the record straight, addressing Eloisa and an unknown jury and interrupting himself frequently to clarify points.” – (adapted from Syndetics summary)