Welcome to another post in my Anticipated Books series for the first half of 2015. This is the second half of my historical fiction list. There were just so many books that caught my fancy that I split them in two. For some of these I already have an (e)ARC or review copy, so they’ll definitely be read and reviewed. And for the rest, I’ll have to see whether I get the chance to get my hands on them!
Arthur Lamb, an Oxford graduate headed for his uncle’s law firm, changes path leaving behind his fianc?e Sylvia and joins the army, destined for Gallipoli. There, his life becomes entwined with that of Fred Chaffey, a country boy from Dorset.
GLORY tells of the fatal errors made by the leaders of the army, the heroism of the men, and the struggles to understand the situation while nurturing relationships in the most strange and difficult of circumstances.
Patricia Duncker – Sophie and the Sibyl (Bloomsbury)
Berlin, September 1872. The Duncker brothers, Max and Wolfgang, own a thriving publishing business in the city. Clever, irresponsible Max is as fond of gambling and brothels as the older, wiser, Wolfgang is of making a profit. When Max’s bad habits get out of hand, Wolfgang sends him to the Spa town of Homburg, to dance attendance upon a celebrity author – the enigmatic Sibyl, also known as George Eliot. As enthralling and intelligent as her books, she soon has Max bewitched.
Yet Wolfgang has an ulterior motive: for his brother to consider Sophie von Hahn, daughter of a wealthy family friend, as a potential wife. At first, Max is lured by Sophie’s beauty and his affectionate memories of their shared childhood. But Sophie proves to be nothing like the vision of angelic domesticity Max was expecting. Mischievous, wilful and daring, Sophie gambles recklessly and rides horses like a man.
Both women have Max in thrall – one with her youth and passion, the other with her wisdom and fierce intelligence. Out of his depth, Max finds himself precariously balanced between Sophie and the Sibyl. What’s more, Sophie worships the great novelist of questionable morals – and is determined to meet her.
A compelling Victorian novel and a playful meditation on the creation of literature, Sophie and the Sibyl balances a tale of courtship and seduction with a fascinating, lively imagining of the writer George Eliot at the end of her boldly unconventional life, and the height of her fame.
Joel Fishbane – The Thunder of Giants (St. Martin’s Press)
The year is 1937 and Andorra Kelsey – 7’11 and just under 320 pounds – is on her way to Hollywood to become a star. Hoping to escape both poverty and the ghost of her dead husband, she accepts an offer from the wily Rutherford Simone to star in a movie about the life of Anna Swan, the Nova Scotia giantess who toured the world in the 19th century. In parallel narrative, Anna Swan’s story unfurls. Where Andorra is seen as a disgrace by an embarrassed family, Anna Swan is quickly celebrated for her unique size. Drawn to New York, Anna becomes a famed attraction at P.T. Barnum’s American Museum even as she falls in love with Gavin Clarke, a veteran of the Civil War. Quickly disenchanted with a life of fame, Anna struggles to prove to Gavin – and the world – that she is more than the sum of her measurements.Both meticulously researched and resounding with the force of myth, The Thunder of Giants blends fact and fiction in a sweeping narrative that spans nearly a hundred years. Against the backdrop of epic events, two extraordinary women become reluctant celebrities in the hopes of surviving a world too small to contain them.
Anna Freeman – The Fair Fight (Riverhead)
The Crimson Petal and the White meets Fight Club: A page-turning novel set in the world of female pugilists and their patrons in late eighteenth-century England.
Moving from a filthy brothel to a fine manor house, from the world of street fighters to the world of champions, The Fair Fight is a vivid, propulsive historical novel announcing the arrival of a dynamic new talent.
Born in a brothel, Ruth doesn’t expect much for herself beyond abuse. While her sister’s beauty affords a certain degree of comfort, Ruth’s harsh looks set her on a path of drudgery. That is until she meets pugilist patron George Dryer and discovers her true calling—fighting bare knuckles in the prize rings of Bristol.
Manor-born Charlotte has a different cross to bear. Scarred by smallpox, stifled by her social and romantic options, and trapped in twisted power games with her wastrel brother, she is desperate for an escape.
After a disastrous, life-changing fight sidelines Ruth, the two women meet, and it alters the perspectives of both of them. When Charlotte presents Ruth with an extraordinary proposition, Ruth pushes dainty Charlotte to enter the ring herself and learn the power of her own strength.
A gripping, page-turning story about people struggling to transcend the circumstances into which they were born and fighting for their own places in society, The Fair Fight is a raucous, intoxicating tale of courage, reinvention, and fighting one’s way to the top.
Lindsay Hawdon – Jakob’s Colours (Hodder & Stoughton)
Austria, 1944. Jakob, a gypsy boy – half Roma, half Yenish – runs, as he has been told to do. With shoes of sack cloth, still bloodstained with another’s blood, a stone clutched in one hand, a small wooden box in the other. He runs blindly, full of fear, empty of hope. For hope lies behind him in a green field with a tree that stands shaped like a Y.
He knows how to read the land, the sky. When to seek shelter, when not. He has grown up directing himself with the wind and the shadows. They are familiar to him. It is the loneliness that is not. He has never, until this time, been so alone.
” Don’t be afraid, Jakob,” his father has told him, his voice weak and wavering. “See the colours, my boy,” he has whispered. So he does. Rusted ochre from a mossy bough. Steely white from the sap of the youngest tree. On and on, Jakob runs.
Spanning from one world war to another, taking us across England, Switzerland and Austria, Jakob’s Colours is about the painful legacies passed down from one generation to another, finding hope where there is no hope and colour where there is no colour.
Susanna Kearsley – A Desperate Fortune (Touchstone)
For nearly 300 years, the mysterious journal of Jacobite exile Mary Dundas has lain unread — its secrets safe from prying eyes. Now, amateur codebreaker Sara Thomas has been hired by a once-famous historian to crack the journal’s cipher. But when she arrives in Paris, Sara finds herself besieged by complications from all sides: the journal’s reclusive owner, her charming Parisian neighbor, and Mary, whose journal doesn’t hold the secrets Sara expects.
It turns out that Mary Dundas wasn’t keeping a record of everyday life, but a first-hand account of her part in a dangerous intrigue. In the first wintry months of 1732, with a scandal gaining steam in London, driving many into bankruptcy and ruin, the man accused of being at its center is concealed among the Jacobites in Paris, with Mary posing as his sister to aid his disguise.
When their location is betrayed, they’re forced to put a desperate plan in action, heading south along the road to Rome, protected by the enigmatic Highlander Hugh MacPherson.
As Mary’s tale grows more and more dire, Sara, too, must carefully choose which turning to take… to find the road that will lead her safely home.
Liza Klaussmann – Villa America (Picador)
Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald, Pablo Picasso, Cole and Linda Porter, Ernest Hemingway, John Dos Passos – all are summer guests of Gerald and Sara Murphy. Visionary, misunderstood, and from vastly different backgrounds, the Murphys met and married young, and set forth to create a beautiful world. They alight on Villa America: their coastal oasis of artistic genius, debauched parties, impeccable style and flamboyant imagination. But before long, a stranger enters into their relationship, and their marriage must accommodate an intensity that neither had forseen. When tragedy strikes, their friends reach out to them, but the golden bowl is shattered, and neither Gerald nor Sara will ever be the same.
Ravishing, heart-breaking, and written with enviable poise, Villa America delivers on all the promise of Liza Klaussmann’s bestselling debut, Tigers in Red Weather. It is an overwhelming, unforgettable novel.
At nineteen years old, Sita is the shining star of Queen Lakshmi of India’s imperial guard, having pledged herself to a life of celibacy in the name of protecting the young ruler.
When Sita agrees to train Lakshmi in the art of military combat, a close friendship develops between the two women. But trouble soon threatens – Lakshmi’s court is dangerously divided and rumours are rife that the country is at risk. Meanwhile, in London, advisors to Queen Victoria are looking to extend the power of the Commonwealth, and India is coveted as the next jewel in the imperial crown.
In the ensuing battle, will the bond between Lakshmi and Sita be broken for ever?
Aline Ohanesian – Orhan’s Inheritance (Algonquin Books)
When Orhan’s brilliant and eccentric grandfather Kemal—a man who built a dynasty out of making kilim rugs—is found dead, submerged in a vat of dye, Orhan inherits the decades-old business. But Kemal’s will raises more questions than it answers. He has left the family estate to a stranger thousands of miles away, an aging woman in an Armenian retirement home in Los Angeles. Her existence and secrecy about her past only deepen the mystery of why Orhan’s grandfather willed his home in Turkey to an unknown woman rather than to his own son or grandson.
Left with only Kemal’s ancient sketchbook and intent on righting this injustice, Orhan boards a plane to Los Angeles. There he will not only unearth the story that eighty-seven-year-old Seda so closely guards but discover that Seda’s past now threatens to unravel his future. Her story, if told, has the power to undo the legacy upon which his family has been built.
Moving back and forth in time, between the last years of the Ottoman Empire and the 1990s, Orhan’s Inheritance is a story of passionate love, unspeakable horrors, incredible resilience, and the hidden stories that can haunt a family for generations.
Adeline is a gorgeous reimagining of the historical events that brought Virginia Woolf to the riverbank, with a stunning dénouement worthy of its protagonist.
An ambitious work in the tradition of Woolf herself, Adeline audaciously explores the interior consciousness of the most interior of authors from the summer she began working on To The Lighthouse through to the winter she finished Between the Acts.
Robyn Cadwallader – The Anchoress (Sarah Crichton Books)
England, 1255: Sarah is only seventeen when she chooses to become an anchoress, a holy woman much like Saint Hildegard of Bingen, shut away in a small cell, measuring seven by nine paces, at the side of the village church. Fleeing the grief of losing a much-loved sister in childbirth and the pressure to marry, she decides to renounce the world, with all its dangers, desires, and temptations, and to commit herself to a life of prayer. But it soon becomes clear that even the thick, unforgiving walls of her cell cannot keep the outside world away, and Sarah’s body and soul are still in great danger.
Robyn Cadwallader’s powerful debut novel tells an absorbing, entirely human, and compulsively readable story of faith, desire, shame, fear, and the very human need for connection and touch. Compelling, evocative, and haunting, The Anchoress is both quietly heartbreaking and thrillingly unpredictable.
John Henry Clay – At the Ruin of the World (Hodder & Stoughton)
The Roman Empire is on the brink of extinction. This is felt most keenly in Gaul, which is besieged on all sides by barbarians: the Huns and the Goths. As the Empire starts to crumble, enemies to approach and battles begin to be fought, the lives of four people are drawn into this conflict: the poet and courtier Sidonius, soldier Ecdicius, low-born but crafty Arvandus, and the beautiful but enigmatic Attica.
Love should be free – that is what Edyth Alfgarsdottir has always believed. As a young girl she witnessed Earl Harold standing barefoot to handfast himself to the beautiful Lady Svana and has yearned for her own lovematch ever since.
Amongst England’s royal court, political matches are rife, while King Edward is still without an heir. When her family are exiled to the wild Welsh court, Edyth unexpectedly finds herself falling for the charismatic Griffin – first King of all of Wales. Becoming his Queen catapults Edyth onto the opposing side of a bitter feud between England and Wales.
Years later, Edyth is in line to take the crown of England. This time the lines of love and duty are far more blurred. As 1066 dawns, Edyth will be asked to make a sacrifice, perhaps the greatest of all. In the midst of war, can love – and freedom – survive?
Suzannah Dunn – The Lady of Misrule (Little Brown)
Escorting ‘nine days queen’ Jane Grey across the Tower of London from throne room into imprisonment is Elizabeth Tilney, who surprised even herself by volunteering for the job. All Elizabeth knows is she’s keen to be away from home. And anyway, it won’t be for long: everyone knows Jane will go free as soon as the victorious new queen is crowned. Which is a good thing because the two sixteen-year-olds, cooped up together in a room in the Gentleman Gaoler’s house, couldn’t be less compatible. Protestant Jane is an icily self-composed idealist, and Catholic Elizabeth is anything but.
They are united though by their disdain for the seventeen-year-old to whom Jane has recently been married off: petulant, noisily- aggrieved Guildford Dudley, held prisoner in a neighbouring tower and keen to pursue his perogative of a daily walk with his wife.
As Jane’s captivity extends into the increasingly turbulent last months of 1553, the two girls learn to live with each other, but Elizabeth finds herself drawn into the difficult relationship between the newlyweds. And when, at the turn of the year, events take an unexpected and dangerous direction, her newfound loyalties are put to the test.
Hermione Eyre – Viper Wine (Hogarth)
Venetia Stanley was the great beauty of her day; so dazzling she inspired Ben Jonson to poetry and Van Dyck to painting. But now she is married and the adoration to which she has become accustomed has curdled to scrutiny, and she fears her powers are waning. Her devoted husband, Sir Kenelm Digby—explorer, diplomat, philosopher, alchemist— refuses to prepare a beauty tonic for her, insisting on her continued perfection.
Venetia, desperate for a cure, secretly engages an apothecary to sell her “viper wine”—a strange potion said to bolster the blood and invigorate the skin. The results are instant, glorious, and addictive, and soon the ladies of the court of Charles I are looking unnaturally youthful. But there is a terrible price to be paid, as science clashes with magic, puritans rebel against the decadent court of Charles I, and England slides into civil war.
Based on real events, Viper Wine is an intoxicating brew of love, longing and vanity, and depicts London as you have never seen it before.
Elizabeth Fremantle – Watch The Lady (Michael Joseph Fiction)
Penelope Devereux, the beautiful and spirited daughter of the Queen’s nemesis, arrives at court as a naïve young woman and foolishly falls in love with an unsuitable man. Bestowed with wit and charm she and her brother, The Earl of Essex, are drawn quickly into the aging Queen’s favour, but with no choice but to obey the Queen’s wishes, Penelope soon finds herself in a loveless marriage.
Saddled with a husband who loathes her, Penelope chooses to strikes out, risking her reputation to seek satisfaction elsewhere. But life at the heart of the court is not only characterised by the highs and lows of romance, there are formidable factions at work who would like to see the Devereux family brought down. As The Earl of Essex’s influence grows his enemies gather and it is Penelope who must draw on all her political savvy to prevent the unthinkable from happening.
Iona Grey – Letters to the Lost (Thomas Dunne Books)
Late on a frozen February evening, a young woman is running through the streets of London. Having fled from her abusive boyfriend and with nowhere to go, Jess stumbles onto a forgotten lane where a small, clearly unlived in old house offers her best chance of shelter for the night. The next morning, a mysterious letter arrives and when she can’t help but open it, she finds herself drawn inexorably into the story of two lovers from another time.
In London 1942, Stella meets Dan, a US airman, quite by accident, but there is no denying the impossible, unstoppable love that draws them together. Dan is a B-17 pilot flying his bomber into Europe from a British airbase; his odds of survival at one in five. The odds are stacked against the pair; the one thing they hold onto is the letters they write to each other. Fate is unkind and they are separated by decades and continents. In the present, Jess becomes determined to find out what happened to them. Her hope—inspired by a love so powerful it spans a lifetime—will lead her to find a startling redemption in her own life in a powerfully moving novel perfect for fans of Sarah Jio and Kate Morton.
Stephen Jarvis – Death and Mr Pickwick (Jonathan Cape)
On 31 March 1836 the publishers Chapman & Hall launched the first issue of a new monthly periodical entitled The Posthumous Papers of the Pickwick Club. Conceived and created by the artist Robert Seymour, it contained four of his illustrations; the words to accompany them were written by a young journalist who used the pen-name Boz.
The story of a sporting-cum-drinking club presided over by fat, loveable Mr Pickwick, assisted by his cockney manservant Sam Weller, The Pickwick Papers soon became a popular sensation, outselling every other book except the Bible and Shakespeare’s plays, and read and discussed by the entire population of the British Isles, from the duke’s drawing-room to the lowliest chophouse. The fame of Mr Pickwick soon spread worldwide – making The Pickwick Papers the greatest literary phenomenon in history.
But one does not need to have read a single word of The Pickwick Papers to be enthralled by the story of how this extraordinary novel came to be. The creation and afterlife of The Pickwick Papers is the subject of Stephen Jarvis’s novel, Death and Mr Pickwick.This vast, intricately constructed, indeed Dickensian work is at once the ultimate homage to a much-loved book, tracing its genesis and subsequent history in fascinating detail, and a damning indictment of how an ambitious young writer expropriated another man’s ideas and then engaged in an elaborate cover-up of The Pickwick Papers’ true origin.
Few novels deserve to be called magnificent. Death and Mr Pickwick is one of them.
Matthew Pearl – The Last Bookaneer (Harvill Secker)
On the island of Samoa, in a house perched on a cliff beneath a smouldering volcano, a dying Robert Louis Stevenson labours over a new novel. It is rumoured that this may be the author of Treasure Island’s greatest masterpiece.
On the other side of the world this news fires the imaginations of the bookaneers, literary pirates who steal the latest manuscripts by famous writers to smuggle them to a hungry public. But a changing world means the bookaneers will soon become extinct.
Two adversaries set out for the south Pacific: Pen Davenport, a tortured criminal genius haunted by his past and Belial, his nemesis. Both dream of fortune and immortality with this last and most incredible heist.
The Last Bookaneer thrillingly depicts the lost world of these doomed outlaws, a tropical island with a violent destiny, a brewing colonial war and a reclusive genius directing events from high in his mountain compound.
Born with magical hands, Madge has the power to discern others’ suffering, but she cannot heal her own damaged heart. To mend herself and help those in need, she must return to Tennessee to face the women healers who rejected her as a child.
Sadie can commune with the dead, but until she makes peace with her father, she, too, cannot fully engage her gift.
Searching for his missing family, Hemp arrives in this northern city that shimmers with possibility. But redemption cannot be possible until he is reunited with those taken from him.
In the bitter aftermath of a terrible, bloody war, as a divided nation tries to come together once again, Madge, Sadie, and Hemp will be caught up in a desperate, unexpected battle for survival in a community desperate to lay the pain of the past to rest.
Beautiful in its historical atmosphere and emotional depth, Balm is a stirring novel of love, loss, hope, and reconciliation set during one of the most critical periods in American history.
Manda Scott – The Girl Who Walked Into Fire (Transworld)
February 2014: Police Capitaine Inés Picaut is called out to investigate a blaze in the old town of Orléans. This is the fourth in a series of increasingly brutal arson attacks, and at the centre of the conflagration lies a body. An Islamic extremist faction claims responsibility, but Inés and her team cannot trace its whereabouts, or any evidence of its existence. And a partly melted memory card found in the victim’s throat is the only clue to his identity.
September 1429: Joan of Arc is in the process of turning the tide of The Hundred Years’ War. English troops have Orléans under siege, and Tomas Rustbeard, the Duke of Bedford’s most accomplished agent, finally has her in his sights. But he knows that killing ‘The Maid’ – the apparently illiterate peasant girl who nonetheless has an unmatched sense of military strategy and can ride a warhorse in battle – is not enough. He must destroy the legend that has already grown around her. And to do that, he must get close enough to discover who she really is.
More fires rage and the death toll mounts while Inés fights to discover what connects an expert in the analysis of war graves, the unquenchable ambitions of the Family which seeks to hold the city in its absolute power, and the discredited historical theories of her own late and much lamented father.
Having survived his assignment in Arabia, imperial agent Cassius Corbulo now spends most of his time on women and wine. But, after narrowly escaping an assassination attempt, Cassius is called back into action and sent north, tasked with smashing a counterfeiting gang.
After tracking the criminals to the city of Berytus, Cassius’s investigations are hampered by civil unrest and uncooperative officials. Under pressure from his superiors, Cassius closes in on the counterfeiters. But the gang will stop at nothing to protect their profits, leading Cassius and his companions in a deadly pursuit across the slopes of Mount Lebanon.
Lisa Chaplin – The Tide Watchers (William Morrow)
In the tradition of Jennifer Robson comes this compelling debut that weaves the fascinating story of a young woman who must risk her life as a spy to help stop Napoleon’s invasion of Great Britain in the winter of 1803
Though the daughter of an English baronet, Lisbeth has defied convention by eloping to France with her new husband. But when he breaks her heart by abandoning her, she has nowhere to turn and must work in a local tavern. Her only hope for the future is to be reunited with her young son who is being raised by her mother-in law.
A seasoned spy known by his operatives as Tidewatcher, Duncan apprenticed under Lisbeth’s father and pledged to watch over his mentor’s only daughter while he searches the Channel region for evidence that Bonaparte has built a fleet to invade Britain. But unpredictable Lisbeth challenges his lifelong habit of distance.
Eccentric, brilliant American inventor Robert Fulton is working on David Bushnell’s “turtle”—the first fully submersible ship—when he creates brand-new torpedo technology, which he plans to sell to the French Navy. But when his relationship with Bonaparte sours, he accepts Tidewatcher’s help to relocate to the French side of the Channel, but he refuses to share his invention. With an entire army encamped in the region, blocking off all access, Tidewatcher must get that submersible, along with someone who knows how to use it, to uncover Bonaparte’s great secret.
When Lisbeth is asked to pose as a housekeeper and charm Fulton so she can learn to use the submersible before the invasion fleet sails, she will be forced to sacrifice herself for her country—but is she willing to sacrifice her heart when she’s already lost it to another…?
A fast-paced, deeply-researched, and richly imagined novel, The Tide Watchers explores a long-hidden, chapter of Bonaparte’s history.
Anna Hope – A Different Season (Transworld)
Ella Fay is a new patient in the West Riding Pauper Lunatic Asylum. She knows she is not mad, but she might have to learn to play the game before she can escape.
John Mulligan is a chronic patient, frozen with grief since the death of his wife, but when a young girl runs towards him one morning, his life is about to change. And Charles Fuller is an ambitious young doctor eager to make his mark in the new field of Eugenics.
Set over the heatwave summer of 1911, the end of the Edwardian era, ASYLUM is a tale of unlikely love and dangerous obsession, of madness and sanity, and of who gets to decide which is which.
M.K. Hume – Tintagel (Headline)
Flavius Magnus Maximus, a man of great ability and enormous charm, is hailed as one of the most influential Roman officers in Britain. When he befriends Caradoc Strong Arm, the King of the Dumnonii Tribe in Tintagel, he gains an understanding of the disunity that exists between the tribal kings of Britain and thus an ambitious plan ignites within Maximus’s mind…
As the first High King of the Britons, Maximus gathers together a huge force of brave Roman and British warriors and leads them into battle at Gaul. He has cast his eyes on the throne of the Emperor of Rome and nothing will stand in his way…
Michelle Lovric – The True and Splendid History of the Harristown Sisters (Bloomsbury)
It is the age of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, when Europe burns with a passion for long-flowing locks. And when seven sisters, born into fatherless poverty in Ireland, grow up with hair cascading down their backs, to their ankles, and beyond, men are not slow to recognise their potential.
It begins with a singing and dancing septet, with Irish jigs kicked out in dusty church halls. But it is not the sisters’ singing or their dancing that fills the seats: it is the torrents of hair they let loose at the end of each show. And their hair will take dark-hearted Darcy, bickering twins Berenice and Enda, plain Pertilly, gentle Oona, wild Ida and fearful, flame-haired Manticory – the inimitable narrator of their on-and-off stage adventures – out of poverty, through the dance halls of Ireland, to the salons of Dublin and the palazzi of Venice. It will bring some of them love and each of them loss. For their past trails behind the sisters like the tresses on their heads, and their fame and fortune will come at a terrible price…
Rebecca Mascull – Song of the Sea Maid (Hodder & Stoughton)
In the 18th century, Dawnay Price is an anomaly. An educated foundling, a woman of science in a time when such things are unheard-of, she overcomes her origins to become a natural philosopher.
Against the conventions of the day, and to the alarm of her male contemporaries, she sets sail to Portugal to develop her theories. There she makes some startling discoveries – not only in an ancient cave whose secrets hint at a previously undiscovered civilisation, but also in her own heart. The siren call of science is powerful, but as war approaches she finds herself pulled in another direction by feelings she cannot control.
My mother and father named me Aron, but my father said they should have named me What Have You Done or What Were You Thinking.
Aron is a nine-year-old Polish Jew, and a troublemaker. As the walls go up around the ghetto in Warsaw, as the lice and typhus rage, food is stolen and even Jewish police betray their people, Aron smuggles from the other side to survive.
In a place where no one thinks of anyone but himself, the only exception is Doctor Korczak; children’s rights activist and embattled orphanage director.
They call the Doctor a hero. Aron is not a hero. He is not special or selfless or spirited. He is ordinary.
He is willing to do what the Doctor will not.