Tag Archives: Historical Fiction

The Poison Bed

22 Oct

In the 17th century, Sir Thomas Overbury dies in the Tower of London. Not an unusual occurence, you might think. This death was a little unusual in that two people were accused of his murder. Robert Carr, Earl of Somerset and his wife Lady Frances Howard, Countess of Somerset.

Robert Carr was a “favourite” of King James I. History has never been kind to that king and his predelictions towards good looking young men.

In “The Poison Bed” E. C. (Elizabeth) Fremantle makes an excellent attempt to explain what happened. The result is a book both chilling and thrilling. I found it very hard to put down.  The book is divided into alternating chapters of Robert’s point of view, and then Frances’.

The book is an interesting mix of historical fiction and psychological thriller. Brilliantly executed.

Highly recommended.


13 Jun

“Dunstan” by Conn Iggulden is a stand alone novel in the autobiographical novel category. The Dunstan in question is Saint Dunstan, builder of both Glastonbury Abbey and Canterbury Cathedral, and spiritual advisor to several early English/Wessex kings.

Iggulden interprets some events from the life of Dunstan in very interesting ways!

His Dunstan is far from a saint – being a bully, a liar, a cheat, and a murderer. Given the time he lived in, this is quite probably more accurate than an hagiography could manage.

A rambunctious romp through Dark Age Britain leaving piles of bodies in its wake.

In a word: Fun.

Highly recommended.

The Confessions of Young Nero

3 Apr

Margaret George has made a career out of excellent pseudo-autobiographical novels.

“The Confessions of Young Nero”, the first part of the life story of Nero, is a welcome addition.

It starts with Nero’s earliest memories and goes up to the fire that destroyed much of Rome.

Margaret George is taking an interesting path with this book.  Her Nero is not the monster of legend, but a young man doing his best in a crazy and often dangerous world.

It is interesting to see a depiction of Nero as man with hopes, fears and loves, rather than the tyranical nutbag of history.  History, as they say, is written by the winners, and none of the Emperors who came after him had a vested interest in rehabilitating him.  In fact for many of them, the blacker they could paint him, the better.

I thoroughly enjoyed this rich and vibrant novel and look forward to reading the rest of Nero’s story.  Even though I know how it ends.

The Lantern Bearers

1 Mar

“The Lantern Bearers” by Rosemary Sutcliff is set in Britain at the time on Rome’s withdrawal.

Aquila is a decurion who deserts, unable to leave his family, hiding as the boats leaving Britain pull away.

Returning home, the family’s small homestead is attacked by Saxons, everyone killed except for Aquila and his sister Flavia.  Made a thrall, Aquila bides his time until he can escape, and join Ambrosius in Cymru (Wales).

Rosemary Sutcliff’s writing has stood the test of time.  Evocative, atmospheric, and enthralling.  I read the book all the way through in one sitting.  I was not going to bed until I had finished it.  It was simply that good.

Recommended for anyone with an interest in Romano-Celtic Britain.  It also plays nicely into Arthurian legend.

Though the book is what we would today call ‘Young Adult’, there is no talking down to the reader.   “The Lantern Bearers” is readable by all ages.

Highly recommended.

The Herald of Hell

26 Nov

“The Herald of Hell” is the best Paul Doherty novel in ages.

The plot takes place literally days before the Great Revolt of 1381.  So the atmosphere of the book is one of danger and fear.

A clerk from the secret chancery of John of Gaunt is murdered in a brothel. His servant seeks sanctuary at St Erconwalds and is also murdered.  All hell is breaking loose and only Sir Jack Cranston and Brother Athelstan stand in its path.

Well written, fast paced, and damn near unputdownable.  “The Herald of Hell” had me on the edge of my seat many times.

As always, Paul loves his little inside jokes.  He ties the first Hugh Corbett novel, “Satan in St Marys” into the framework of this book.  And, as is his wont, his home town gets a mention.  I think he’s worked it into just about every novel he’s written.

The next book in the series is apparently going to be called “The Great Revolt”, we know how it ends, but I am sure we will loose many of Athelstan’s parishioners before that book ends.  But suffice to say that, in this book, we don’t loose anyone we have come to love, but there is at least one hell of a shock for long time readers of the series.

Highly recommended.  Fantastic book.

The Last King of Lydia

12 Oct

My good friend Andy on the Good Reads site recommended this book to me.

Written by Tim Leach, “The Last King of Lydia” is about Croesus, King of Lydia who had the reputation of being the richest man in the world.  In fact, we still refer to someone as being “as rich as Croesus.”  And as anyone who has read Herodotus knows Croesus went to war against Cyrus the Great of Persia and lost.

I found it a little hard to get into, mostly because Croesus is an unlikeable sod.  However, I persevered and ultimately became caught up in the story.

I know the story of Croesus from my reading of Herodotus, so nothing that happened in the story came as a real surprise.What I liked about the book was the philosophical themes of it.  Hubris.  Freedom vs slavery.  The nature of slavery.  The nature of freedom.  All of which combined to make “The Last King of Lydia” a very absorbing and thought provoking read.

It is also hard to believe that this is the debut novel of Tim Leach.  The book feels like a master work after years of writing.  I can only anticipate what his next book is going to be like.
I heartily recommend “The Last King of Lydia” to anyone who enjoys historical fiction and anyone who has read and enjoyed Herodotus.

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