historical fiction

Guest Post: Robert Parry, author of Virgin and the Crab

 Welcoming author Robert Parry today in honor of the 3rd Birthday of his debut novel, Virgin and the Crab (this is a cross post from Historical Fiction Connection)!


HISTORICAL FICTION – A Writer’s Perspective on Celebrating the 3rd Birthday of his Debut Novel

Once upon a time, in the days before the interenet and the advent of so much of the passionate discussion that we now encounter online, the work of the writer of historical fiction was relatively easy. One simply got hold of a biography or two, looked up a few facts and figures, dates and places, and hey-presto! The author could then just let his or her imagination run riot and delight everyone with yet another story about their chosen heroes, all those kings and queens of bygone days and all their legendary exploits!
Now, however, it is all so different. Now every possible item of information about every prominent historical figure is scrutinised and picked to pieces by whole armies of avid enthusiasts. Do you think you know where Queen Elizabeth was located on such and such a date, who she was with, or even what she might have been eating for dinner? It’s all out there … somewhere. And it changes quite often, too. So if you are not content with one version of events, you can always find an alternative point of view, supported by this or that document or state paper or erudite thesis from prominent scholars or TV personalities who all insist they have the right answer. There also seems to be a clear trend – away from information written down by people who actually lived at the time (unreliable – what did they know, anyway!) towards the discovery of more and more unromantic counter-assertions that seek to ‘put the record straight’ or ‘explode the myths.’ There are even a number of historians who have become novelists themselves! The whole genre has moved up a notch. Or has it?
The question is, should writers of historical fiction now be quaking in their boots at the prospect of any new venture they plan? Should they pepper their pages with footnotes and provide appendices explaining why they chose to write what they did, and the sources they used – a little apologetic perhaps just in case they might have drifted too far into the realms of speculation or untruth? Should they? No, of course not. That’s why, whenever I sit at my desk and reach for the keyboard, I console myself with the recollection that literature, be it good bad or indifferent, is a branch of the arts. And whenever the day comes when artists begin to worry about what they write or whether it conforms to some external standard of conduct, or version of ‘truth’ as perceived at the time, then it probably ceases to be art at all – and then we are all in big trouble.
Well, all this might sound terribly irresponsible, and anarchic, and there are certainly many people who would disagree. But my assertion is this: it is every bit as interesting for writers and readers of historical fiction to speculate on what their characters might have been thinking about, dreaming about and imagining for themselves, as it is to describe what they actually did. This approach provides us with a number of possible insights into the past, insights that can reveal how the world we live in today might have been formed and, ultimately, why we are who we are, and why we think the way we do. And that, I believe, is important.
Thanks to Michelle for her continued support of this novel and for hosting this article here today. ‘Virgin and the Crab’ is named after the astrological signs of the two main characters: Virgo (the Virgin) for Elizabeth Tudor, and Cancer (the Crab) for her illustrious mentor John Dee. It is set in a period of twelve short years (1547 to 1559) in which England saw no less than two kings and three queens upon the throne in rapid succession. As you can imagine, there certainly was a lot of research needed in the making of it. But it’s not a history book, and the sub-title should serve as a suitable health warning: ‘Sketches Fables and Mysteries from the Early Life of John Dee and Elizabeth Tudor.’ In other words it is all rather theatrical; dramatic and full of fantasy, dreams and speculation.
To celebrate it’s 3rd Birthday there is a giveaway contest taking place over at The True Book Addict. Good luck, if you enter.
My website is on: http://robertparry.wordpress.com

And looking forward, perhaps, to meeting you on my Facebook page, too, sometime: https://www.facebook.com/RobertParry.author

Categories: 16th century, historical fiction, historical figures, history, Queen Elizabeth I, Tudors | Leave a comment

Book Review: The Book of Lost Fragrances by M.J. Rose

This is a cross post from my book blog, The True Book Addict.

My thoughts:

Once again, I am fascinated and impressed with Rose’s knowledge of reincarnation.  By now, everyone knows about my interest and belief in the subject and I truly never tire of reading about it, whether it be in a fictional context or in non-fiction (although some may argue that it’s all fictional).  What I like about Rose’s portrayal of the subject is her incorporation of it with history, as well as the current events of the day.

In this book, the fourth installment in The Reincarnationist series, we are treated to ancient Egypt, another subject of endless fascination for me, and the culture’s use of fragrance as a link to past lives, particularly during the Ptolemaic period.  From there, we are whisked forward to present day China and the endless struggle between Tibet and the Chinese government to control the reincarnation of the next Dalai Lama.  As usual, there is mystery and intrigue, which adds a suspenseful element to the story.  For me though, the historical aspects of the story are sufficient to keep my interest.  Add in a bit of alchemy, and you have a well-rounded and interesting story of history, science, and mysticism.

The beauty of this series is that you really can read the books without having read the earlier books.  I still have not read the first and second books in the series (although they are on my shelf), but I had no problem reading the third, The Hypnotist, and the fourth (this one) books as stand alone novels.  Rose is a talented author, with a gift for writing about a subject of whic she is clearly passionate.  I sincerely look forward to any and all future offerings from her, whether it be more books in this series, or a new set of books down the road.

About the book:

A sweeping and suspenseful tale of secrets, intrigue, and lovers separated by time, all connected through the mystical qualities of a perfume created in the days of Cleopatra–and lost for 2,000 years.

Jac L’Etoile has always been haunted by the past, her memories infused with the exotic scents that she grew up surrounded by as the heir to a storied French perfume company. In order to flee the pain of those remembrances–and of her mother’s suicide–she moved to America. Now, fourteen years later she and her brother have inherited the company along with it’s financial problems. But when Robbie hints at an earth-shattering discovery in the family archives and then suddenly goes missing–leaving a dead body in his wake–Jac is plunged into a world she thought she’d left behind.

Back in Paris to investigate her brother’s disappearance, Jac becomes haunted by the legend the House of L’Etoile has been espousing since 1799. Is there a scent that can unlock the mystery of reincarnation – or is it just another dream infused perfume?

The Book of Lost Fragrances fuses history, passion, and suspense, moving from Cleopatra’s Egypt and the terrors of revolutionary France to Tibet’s battle with China and the glamour of modern-day Paris. Jac’s quest for the ancient perfume someone is willing to kill for becomes the key to understanding her own troubled past.

Categories: 18th Century, Ancient Egypt, historical fiction, historical figures, history | Tags: | 1 Comment

Book Review: The Crown by Nancy Bilyeau

This is a cross post from my book blog, The True Book Addict.

My thoughts:

It was a perilous time during the reign of Henry the VIII of England.  Women who caught his eye and who were ‘lucky’ enough to be made his wife would not feel so lucky for long.  At least, in the case of a few of them.  Loyal servants who served his will in one instance could next find themselves out of favor and facing execution for some failing, many times through no fault of their own.  And none felt the danger more than the faithful who served at the monasteries, at the priories and abbeys throughout England at the time.  These institutions were being suppressed and the nuns and monks turned out (with or without pensions, depending on the situation) to either find houses in foreign countries or to find new ways of life.  For many, a life outside of an religious order was unthinkable, but they were given no choice as Henry appointed himself the head of the Church and ushered in a new era of religious reform.

It is among this strife that this excellent novel is set.  Meticulously researched, The Crown is at once a historical novel that the reader will learn a lot from.  I am always pleasantly surprised when I learn something new from a historical novel and in this case, I learned of King Athelstan, a king that I had never heard of.  Just when you think you know pretty much everything about a particular country’s history, something like this comes along to prove you wrong.  It happened to me here in a big way.  I can’t wait to go off on my own and read more about him and the legends surrounding him.  One of these legends is about his crown which is what the book is about.  There is a desperate search for this crown and so we are also given an exciting and interesting mystery along with the excellent historical prose.  I’m not kidding when I say exciting.  I was literally on the edge of my seat during many parts of the book.

Add to what I’ve said above the seamless incorporation of historical figures, such as Mary Tudor, Katherine of Aragon, Anne and George Boleyn, Catherine Howard, Stephen Gardiner, Bishop of Winchester, as well as compelling and heroic characters, and this book easily takes a place on my list of great works of historical fiction.  Joanna is a heroine I have a strong liking and admiration for and I look forward to the continuation of the series in the second book, The Chalice.

About the book:

An aristocratic young nun must find a legendary crown in order to save her father—and preserve the Catholic faith from Cromwell’s ruthless terror. The year is 1537…

Joanna Stafford, a Dominican nun, learns that her favorite cousin has been condemned by Henry VIII to be burned at the stake. Defying the sacred rule of enclosure, Joanna leaves the priory to stand at her cousin’s side. Arrested for interfering with the king’s justice, Joanna, along with her father, is sent to the Tower of London.

The ruthless Stephen Gardiner, Bishop of Winchester, takes terrifying steps to force Joanna to agree to spy for him: to save her father’s life she must find an ancient relic—a crown so powerful, it may hold the ability to end the Reformation. Accompanied by two monks, Joanna returns home to Dartford Priory and searches in secret for this long-lost piece of history worn by the Saxon King Athelstan in 937 during the historic battle that first united Britain.

But Dartford Priory has become a dangerous place, and when more than one dead body is uncovered, Joanna departs with a sensitive young monk, Brother Edmund, to search elsewhere for the legendary crown. From royal castles with tapestry-filled rooms to Stonehenge to Malmesbury Abbey, the final resting place of King Athelstan, Joanna and Brother Edmund must hurry to find the crown if they want to keep Joanna’s father alive. At Malmesbury, secrets of the crown are revealed that bring to light the fates of the Black Prince, Richard the Lionhearted, and Katherine of Aragon’s first husband, Arthur. The crown’s intensity and strength are beyond the earthly realm and it must not fall into the wrong hands.

With Cromwell’s troops threatening to shutter her priory, bright and bold Joanna must now decide who she can trust with the secret of the crown so that she may save herself, her family, and her sacred way of life. This provocative story melds heart-stopping suspense with historical detail and brings to life the poignant dramas of women and men at a fascinating and critical moment in England’s past.

Nancy Bilyeau’s Website

Nancy Bilyeau on Twitter: @TudorScribe

Categories: 16th century, Henry VIII, historical fiction, historical figures, history, Tudors | Leave a comment

Book Review: The Rebel Wife by Taylor M. Polites

This is a cross post from my book blog, The True Book Addict.

My thoughts:

I must get one thing off my chest at the outset.  Once again, I find myself very frustrated by how women were treated in the past.  In our present times, when a woman’s husband dies, she has rights.  In most cases, she is the executor of her husband’s estate and is usually the beneficiary of the life insurance and/or will.  Of course, there are cases where a will may be in probate or a man may not leave anything to his wife (mostly in some cases of wealthy marriages), but for the most part, a woman has the right to her husband’s possessions and/or money upon his death without having to worry about a family member (or other person) bullying in on her territory.  Not so in ages past and nowhere is this fact more apparent than in The Rebel Wife.  Augusta’s husband, Eli, has died and she was under the impression that they were a well-off, well-settled family.  Not according to her cousin, Judge.  But she is getting conflicting stories from him and Eli’s trusted and loyal servant as to the truth about the money.  And Judge’s treatment of Augusta, his literally taking over everything and treating her like she has no rights, is beyond infuriating.  Mr. Polites does an excellent job of portraying exactly the situation that would have occurred back then and, although infuriating, it is the reality of the way things were.

I must say that it’s interesting that I would be reviewing this book for Tribute Books at the same time that I’m also reading Gone with the Wind.  The contrasts between Polites’s portrayal of reconstruction in the south and Mitchell’s are profound.  Now don’t get me wrong.  I still love Gone with the Wind, but one must appreciate Polite’s non-stereotypical depiction of the times.  While Mitchell made the freed slaves seem comical in many ways, Polites has shown a more surly side to these people, who had so much hope in their future as free men, only to discover that things were not going to be any better for them.  Perhaps even worse.  This surliness is believable and certainly understandable.  And though we appreciate the plucky and resourceful Scarlett O’Hara, the reality is that she would not have been able to accomplish what she did in those times.  And the dastardly Rhett Butler with the heart of gold.  There aren’t any of his sort in this book.  The war has broken these men and made them angry, greedy, and dangerous.  And so, we read Gone with the Wind for the entertaining story of Scarlett’s exploits, but The Rebel Wife is to be read and enjoyed for it’s historical accuracy.

On a final note, I must say that this book is beautifully written and it’s quite obvious that it was meticulously researched.  For a history buff like me, this is the best kind of historical fiction.  A book that allows a reader to experience the realities of the past and really feel it on a physical and emotional level.

About the book:

Set in Reconstruction Alabama, Augusta “Gus” Branson’s is a young widow whose quest for freedom turns into a race for her life when her husband Eli dies of a swift and horrifying fever and a large package of money – her only inheritance and means of survival – goes missing. Gus begins to wake to the realities that surround her: the social stigma her marriage has stained her with, what her husband did to earn his fortune, the shifting and very dangerous political and social landscape that is being destroyed by violence between the Klan and the Freeman’s Bureau, and the deadly fever that is spreading like wildfire. Nothing is as she believed, everyone she trusts is hiding something from her.

About the author:

Taylor M. Polites is a novelist living in Providence, Rhode Island with his small Chihuahua, Clovis. Polites’ first novel, The Rebel Wife, is due out in February 2012 from Simon & Schuster. He graduated in June 2010 with his MFA in Creative Writing from Wilkes University. He has lived in Provincetown, Massachusetts, New York City, St. Louis and the Deep South. He graduated from Washington University in St. Louis with a BA in History and French and spent a year studying in Caen, France. He has covered arts and news for a variety of local newspapers and magazines, including the Cape CodderInNewsWeekly, Bird’s Eye View (the in-flight magazine of CapeAir), artscope Magazine and Provincetown Arts Magazine.

Taylor M. Polites’ website

Taylor M. Polites’ blog

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Categories: 19th century, Civil War, historical fiction, history | 1 Comment

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