The second-to-last of my Anticipated Books (Summer/Fall) 2012 is all about historical fiction. In the first six months I’ve truly rediscovered my love of historical fiction and some of my favourite reads so far this year have been historical fiction books. In the second half of the year there are still some awesome titles to come. The last post will follow on Saturday, with the Anticipated Reads post up on Sunday.
Stella Duffy – The Purple Shroud (Virago)
Once, Theodora was little more than a slave, the daughter of a bear-keeper, running barefoot through the streets of Constantinople. Now she is Theou doron, ‘the Gift of God‘, Empress of Byzantine Rome and the most powerful woman in the world.
In Stella Duffy’s compelling new novel, the beguiling and extraordinary Empress Theodora emerges from the shadow of history into brilliant light. Clever, courageous and ruthless when betrayed, Theodora rules alongside her husband, the Emperor Justinian – a true love match in a world of political marriages.
While wars rage on the borders of the Empire, Theodora discovers that the greatest danger to her reign – and her life – lies much closer to home. From the catastrophic and terrifying riots that burn through the city; to vengeful enemies at the palace who will never accept ‘Theodora-from-the-brothel’; to plagues and plots and murder, Theodora learns what it truly means to be Empress.
Spanning over twenty dramatic years of Theodora’s reign, The Purple Shroud is a vivid portrait of a charismatic, exceptional woman and a fascinating exploration of both the pleasures and the burdens of power.
Barbara Lazar – The Pillow Book of the Flower Samurai (Headline)
I am Kozaisho: Fifth daughter, Woman-For-Play, teller of stories, lover, wife and Flower Samurai.
In the rich, dazzling, brutal world of twelfth century Japan, one young girl begins her epic journey, from the warmth of family to the Village of Outcasts. Marked out by an auspicious omen, she is trained in the ancient warrior arts of the samurai. But it is through the power of storytelling that she learns to fight her fate, twisting her life onto a path even she could not have imagined…
James Forrester – The Final Sacrament (Headline)
September 1566. William Harley, Clarenceux King of Arms, lives quietly with his family in London, with a document in his possession that could destroy the state. The aged Lady Percy, Countess of Northumberland, has not given up trying to find it. Nor has she forgotten how he betrayed her and the Catholic cause – she has spent the last two years planning her revenge. But then eloquent and adventurous courtier, John Greystoke suddenly seems most concerned for Clarenceux’s safety. And why, on behalf of the government, does Francis Walsingham have spies watching Clarenceux’s house day and night? When his wife and his daughter go missing, Clarenceux finds himself on the run with his other young daughter, hunted by Lady Percy’s agents. He knows he must finally destroy the document, even if it should cost him his life – but how can he, until he has reunited his family?
Tim Severin – Saxon: The Book of Dreams (PanMacmillan)
Frankia 780AD: Sigwulf, a minor Saxon prince, is saved from execution after his family is slaughtered by the ruthless King Offa of Mercia. Thanks to his Devil’s Mark – his eyes of different colours – Sigwulf is exiled to the Frankish court of King Carolus, the future Charlemagne. There Sigwulf survives on his wits while at the same time trying to come to terms with disturbingly prophetic dreams.
He gains the friendship of some – Count Hroudland, Carolus’s powerful and ambitious nephew but – mysteriously – several attempts are made on Sigwulf’s life. When he obtains a Book of Dreams by chance, a rare text giving understanding to their meaning, he attracts the attention of Carolus himself. But the Book proves to be a slippery guide in a world of treachery and double dealing. Carolus sends Sigwulf and his slave Osric into Spain to spy on the Saracens ahead of a planned Frankish invasion. There, Sigwulf becomes caught between loyalties; either he honours his debt to new friends among the Saracens, or he serves his patron Count Hroudland in his quest for glory, gold and even the Grail itself.
One after another Sigwulf’s predictions come true, but often not as expected, and he finds himself swept forward into a final great battle that reveals who his enemies are . . .
Tim Powers – Hide Me Among the Graves (Corvus)
A city of over three million souls, of stinking fog and dark, winding streets.
Through these streets walks the poet Christina Rossetti, haunted and tormented by the ghost of her uncle, John Polidori. Without him, she cannot write, but her relationship with him threatens to shake London itself to the ground.
This fascinating, clever novel vividly recreates the stews and slums of Victorian London – a city of dreadful delight. But it is the history of a hidden city, where nursery rhymes lead the adventurer through haunted tunnels and inverted spires. And where the price of poetic inspiration is blood.
Tim Powers – The Stress of Her Regard (Corvus)
Lake Geneva, 1816
As Byron and Shelley row on the peaceful waters of Lake Geneva, a sudden squall threatens to capsize them. But this is no natural event – something has risen from the lake itself to attack them.
Michael Crawford’s wife is brutally murdered on their wedding night as he sleeps peacefully beside her – and a vengeful ghost claims Crawford as her own husband.
Crawford’s quest to escape his supernatural wife will force him to travel the Continent in the company of the most creative, most doomed poets of his age. Byron, Keats and Shelley all have a part to play in his fate, and the fate of Europe.
Simon Scarrow – The Sword and the Scimitar (Headline)
1565; In its hour of greatest need, Malta must rely upon the ancient Knights of the Order of St John for survival. Bound by the strongest ties: of valour, of courage and of passion, the Knights must defend their island against ferocious and deadly Ottoman attack.
For Sir Thomas Barrett, summoned by the Order and compelled by loyalty – to the Knights, to his honour and to his Queen – returning to the besieged island means revisiting a past he had long since lain to rest. As the beleaguered Knights grapple to retain control, decade-old feuds will be reawakened, intense passions rekindled and deadly secrets revealed.
Lisa Hilton – Wolves in Winter (Corvus)
5-year-old Mura is a strange and bewitching child. Daughter to a Nordic mother and Spanish father, she has been tutored in both Arabic learning and the ancient myth cycles of the north. But her widower father has been arrested by the Inquisition, and Mura is sold to a Genoese slaver.
In the port of Savona, Mura’s androgynous looks and unusual abilities fetch a high price. She is bought as a house slave for the powerful Medici, arriving in Florence as the city prepares for war against the French. When the family are forced to flee, Mura finds herself gifted to the notorious Tigress of Forli, Countess Caterina Sforza.
Beautiful, ruthless and intelligent, the Countess is fascinated by Mura’s arcane knowledge. As the Tigress educates her further in the arts of alchemy, potions and poisons, she becomes much more than a lady’s maid. Mura becomes a potent weapon in the Machiavellian intrigues of the Renaissance court…
Phil Rickman – The Heresy of Dr Dee (Corvus)
All talk is of the End-time… and the dead are rising.
At the end of the sunless summer of 1560, black rumour shrouds the death of the one woman who stands between Lord Robert Dudley and marriage to the young Queen Elizabeth. Did Dudley’s wife, Amy, die from an accidental fall in a deserted house, or was it murder? Even Dr John Dee, astrologer royal, adviser on the Hidden and one of Dudley’s oldest friends, is uncertain. Then a rash promise to the Queen sends him to his family’s old home on the Welsh Border in pursuit of the Wigmore Shewstone, a crystal credited supernatural properties.
With Dee goes Robert Dudley, considered the most hated man in England. They travel with a London judge sent to try a sinister Welsh brigand with a legacy dating back to the Battle of Brynglas. After the battle, many of the English bodies were, according to legend, obscenely mutilated. Now, on the same haunted hill, another dead man has been found, similarly slashed.
Devious politics, small-town corruption, twisted religion and a brooding superstition leave John Dee isolated in the land of his father.