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Run out of favourite authors - looking for some new historical fiction. Recommendations please.

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Initial post: 9 Apr 2010 15:17:50 BDT
Last edited by the author on 9 Apr 2010 15:52:16 BDT
funkywombat says:
Apologies for yet another of these threads - I promise I have read back through previous discussions but I was wondering if you might be able to help with specific recommendations if I gave an indication of previous likes and dislikes.

I seem to have come to the end of the back catalogues of my favourite historical fiction authors and am looking for recommendations. Grateful to anyone who is prepared to read through my likes and dislikes below to see if they can recommend me something.

I have read and really liked the following: all of Sharon Penman's stuff, Helen Hollick's Saxon books, all the Elizabeth Chadwick (especially the William Marshal books - early ones I find a bit bodice-ripper like, later ones have better plot and intrigue), early Philippa Gregory (nothing beyond the Boleyn Inheritance), Anya Seton's Katherine, Ken Follett's Pillars of the Earth (but no others of his), Julian Rathbone's Last English King and Kings of Albion (but I didn't like A Very English Agent). Quite enjoyed Patricia Finney. Liked most of the Tracy Chevalier books (although not strictly "historical fiction"). Also enjoyed a book called Needle in the Blood (can't remember the author's name).

Have also enjoyed the books by Giles Milton.

Have kind of enjoyed but been somewhat bewildered by the rapturous reviews of C J Sansom ( I enjoyed them but I'm not sure I would re-read them) and Bernard Cornwell (I like the Warlord Chronicles and am currently partway through the Alfred/Uhtred saga but was left unmoved by the Grail quest trilogy and Azincourt. Not tried Sharpe.). Not fond of Sarah Dunant.

Read Jean Plaidy as a teenager and Georgette Heyer. Not convinced that's the kind of stuff I want now but am willing to be persuaded otherwise.

I like to read historical fiction where I feel the author has done their research and homework or at least explains where they have invented characters/storylines. I also prefer books that really come to life - if I want dry factual stuff alone I'll pick up a David Starkey or Antonia Fraser. I have tended to read early/ medieval periods, haven't really delved into anything beyond the 17th century although I am willing to try.

Am minded to try Dorothy Dunnett next after some reviews I've read on these forums but would really appreciate some other recommendations. I read stupidly fast which means I'm always running out of stuff to read. Although I read all genres, historical fiction and science fantasy are my staples - in the latter, Steven Erikson's Malazan series and George R R Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire are current favourites, if that assists with recommendations at all.

Diana Gabaldon doesn't really appeal from the reviews I've read but am I really missing out on something? Is she like Barbara Erskine (read as a teenager, probably wouldn't read now)?

Finally, I've been toying with the thought of Wolf Hall but am concerned I will not like it... thoughts? opinion seems to be very divided into love or hate on that one.

Many thanks in advance to you all.

Posted on 9 Apr 2010 18:43:28 BDT
Last edited by the author on 9 Apr 2010 18:44:28 BDT
Jen Errik says:
If you've read previous threads, I'm sure I've recommended her before, but have you read any Diana Norman? Those that I've read - any I can get my hands on at a reasonable price - tend to be set later than the Medieval period. But they're good. 'The Vizard Mask' is set during the plague, and 'The Pirate Queen' during Elizabeth I's reign.
I haven't read her series written as Ariana Franklin, which is set earlier, but it might be worth looking at.

Also - by association - another book I enjoyed that is set during the plague is Geraldine Brooks 'Year of Wonders'.

I've only read the first Gabaldon, and it wasn't my sort of thing. (And I'm sure, because I read it twice, because people who are enthusiastic about it love it so much that I convinced myself I must have missed something about it.) But I did read the first of Gabaldon's 'Lord John' books and quite enjoyed that.

Dunnett - equally, so many people are really enthusiastic about Dunnett that I expected to love her. I've only read the first of the Lymond books, and found it a bit of a slog - I did get into it eventually, but it took several hundred pages to do so. I'd - personally - choose her over Gabaldon.

Posted on 9 Apr 2010 20:21:05 BDT
Last edited by the author on 9 Apr 2010 20:21:52 BDT
JW says:
These are some of the historical fiction I've enjoyed fairly recently - bit of a mixed bunch but there might be something that appeals to you. Hope you find something!

The Unicorn Road
Touching Distance
The Book of Fires
The Observations
A Reliable Wife: When Passion turns to Poison
Portrait of an Unknown Woman
The Meaning of Night and its sequel The Glass of Time: The Secret Life of Miss Esperanza Gorst, Narrated by Herself

In reply to an earlier post on 11 Apr 2010 12:25:26 BDT
Hello. Have you tried Manda Scott's "Boudica" series ? Have not heard of many of the names you mention, but if you enjoy Bernard Cornwell's Warlord Trilogy, and GRR Martin, I'd try her. There are four, and they get better and better.
Also, David Gemmell's "Troy" series. You will be very surprised at the maturity and style if all you know of him is his fantasy stuff. Am aware that these two recommendations are basically pre-history, so for something more up to date (sic) Simon Scarrow's Napoleon/Wellington books are again a surprise; much more depth than his well-known Eagle series. [ Young Bloods is the name of the first ]. Hope you find something good in there. T

Posted on 12 Apr 2010 01:49:29 BDT
A. Little says:
I'll second the Simon Scarrow Napoleonic series, and add Robert Graves' "I, Claudius" and George McDonald Frasers' "Flashman" books ... and if you like a laugh you could take a look at GMFs "The Pyrates" and "The Reavers" (both a 1940's Hollywood swashbuckling take on the Brotherhood and the Borderers)

Posted on 12 Apr 2010 17:38:23 BDT
J.Yasimoto says:
Sounds like you've read all the books I've enjoyed. And reading one of your Fantasy posts I see you've pretty much covered every base in that genre as well!

Having said that, there are a few historical fiction books I've enjoyed that are not on your list.

First up is Colleen McCullough's Masters of Rome series - 6 books + 1 extra - very well researched, but maybe a bit dry. Secondly, you've got Wilbur Smith - didn't enjoy his Egyptian series, or the newer (chronologically speaking) ones, but Birds of Prey / Monsoon are great adventures in the style of David Gemmell / Conn Iggulden. Lastly, in the same era, is James Clavell's Shogun - it's all about politics (and manners) but well researched and surprisingly gripping.

Posted on 13 Apr 2010 11:48:59 BDT
A. Baker says:
Mary Renault? She's astonishing. And if you don't mind the children's lit tag (nowadays she'd be termed Young Adult) Rosemary Sutcliff's The Eagle of The Ninth and others. She writes with beautiful simplicity about themes such as honour, family, loyalty and duty.

Posted on 13 Apr 2010 14:25:18 BDT
Fiona Hurley says:
I think you'd enjoy Morgan Llywelyn, she really brings history to life. My favourite is Lion of Ireland.

Posted on 14 Apr 2010 23:51:02 BDT
Susanmac says:
I'd also highly recommend Dorothy Dunnett's Lymond and Niccolo series. If you generally read books fast then you might find her writing slows you down - many people find her hard-going initially and give up. However, perseverence pays off - these books bear many re-readings as they have such depth and breadth of plot, character and language. Lymond is one of the most complex heroes I have ever come across - and even minor characters are so well-drawn that they stay in your mind long after the book is finished. She was a professional painter too - this shows in her descriptions of 15/16th century life which are impressively realistic. Enjoy!

Posted on 16 Apr 2010 14:00:42 BDT
funkywombat says:
Thanks to everyone for their recommendations. Much appreciated.

I have every book ever published by David Gemmell (huge fan) so have read the Troy series. Also have the Flashman series at home (they're my husband's but I've never dipped in myself - I shall now).
And interestingly, I have bought Mary Renault for nieces and nephews but never read her myself (at least if I did as a teenager, I've forgotten them).

So on my reading list now are:
Cross Stitch by Diana Gabaldon (I guess I need to make up my own mind on this one)
Mary Renault
Diana Norman - The Vizard Mask
Scarrow's Wellington and Napoleon quartet
Colleen McCullough's Masters of Rome (BTW I knew the name sounded familiar for some reason and then remembered the Thorn Birds - that was her wasn't it?)

And J Yasimoto, interesting you mention Shogun - I have seen it on many a bookshelf but never felt the inclination to pick it up - perhaps I'll give it a go.

I think that should keep me going for the time being!! I will report back once I've read them.

In reply to an earlier post on 19 Apr 2010 18:16:52 BDT
Amicie says:
Do try Dorothy Dunnett - her books are extremely well researched, but she is also a brilliant, challenging writer. I've just started a full re-read of the House of Niccolo series, to be followed by the Lymond series - I last read them about five years ago and I can't believe how good they are.

Posted on 19 Apr 2010 18:27:36 BDT
funkywombat says:
Fiona Hurley - a question, if you happen still to be reading. Re Morgan Llywelyn - I've done an Amazon search for her and am getting the impression that several of her books have been re-issued under new titles. Is this the case? Any chance you could help me out and give me a list of titles and also recommend where to start? Thanks

In reply to an earlier post on 19 Apr 2010 18:59:25 BDT
JW says:
Funkywombat - in case Fiona doesn't get back, have a look at Fantastic Fiction - all Morgan Llywelyn books are listed there, with dates etc.

In reply to an earlier post on 19 Apr 2010 19:33:22 BDT
Try C.J. Sansom's "Shardlake" trilogy.Dissolution. Dark Fire and Sovereign. Written in a style by someone who does know his history. Matthew Shardlake is a lawyer who works for Cromwell.
The writing is so vivid that you almost have to hold your nose when he ventures into Henry VIII's London. Pace, substance and style are how I would describe the author's work. Another of his books that merits your attention is "Winter in Madrid", an espionage tale of wartime Madrid. Solid characters and gripping right to the last page. Please do not pass up on this wonderful man's books. Every one is unique and immensly enjoyable.
Les Thomson.

In reply to an earlier post on 19 Apr 2010 20:09:05 BDT
Last edited by the author on 19 Apr 2010 20:09:27 BDT
JW says:
Mr Thomson - you're behind - the 'trilogy' is about to become whatever 5 is called!
1. Dissolution (The Shardlake Series)
2. Dark Fire (The Shardlake Series)
3. Sovereign: 3 (The Shardlake Series)
4. Revelation (The Shardlake Series)
5. Heartstone (The Shardlake Series) (hardback release date 3 Sep 2010)

Posted on 20 Apr 2010 09:29:33 BDT
funkywombat says:
Hi. Thanks for the additional recommendations. I have read all the Shardlake Sansom books and while I enjoyed them I really don't get why people rave about them so much. I know I am in a minority here, but for me they are normal enjoyable fiction, nothing less, nothing more. I have them all on my bookshelf but am minded to take them to my local Cancer Research and let someone else have a go with them... I haven't tried Winter in Madrid but have read some really terrible reviews...

Posted on 20 Apr 2010 10:48:45 BDT
Fiona Hurley says:
I looked at that Fantastic Fiction page and Morgan Llywelyn does have a lot of reissues. "On Raven's Wing" and "Red Branch" are the same book. "O'Sullivan's March" seems to be another title for "The Last Prince of Ireland". "Brian Boru" is a children's version of "Lion of Ireland", and "The Pirate Queen" is a children's version of "Grania". "Strongbow" and "Star Dancer" are also children's/young adult's books.

Of her books, my order of preference would be:
"Lion Of Ireland"
"Red Branch" (also published as "On Raven's Wing")
"The Horse Goddess"
"Pride of Lions"

"Finn MacCool" and "The Elementals" were okay but not wow; you could probably skip them. Her "Irish century" books ("1916", "1921", etc.) are a good guide to 20th century Irish history, but I found them a bit dry compared to her other books. I was dissapointed with "The Wind from Hastings" and "The Last Prince of Ireland". I think she does ancient history much better than modern.

I haven't read her latest book, "Brendan", yet, but it's on my list!

Posted on 20 Apr 2010 10:57:06 BDT
Fiona Hurley says:
Or if you wanted to read them in historical order (starting with early Iron Age and working through to the 16th century), that would be:
"The Horse Goddess"
"Red Branch"
"Lion Of Ireland"
"Pride of Lions"

Posted on 20 Apr 2010 11:25:43 BDT
marymac says:
Diana Norman's early books are wonderful but sadly now v v difficult to get. I read them as library books and would give my eye teeth to get hold of The Pirate Queen and Fitzempress Law at a reasonable price. Perhaps some enterprising publisher might consider re-issuing given the current popularity of historical fiction. On the plus side, her series, writing as Ariana Franklin, is equally absorbing, the heroine a sort of medieval pathologist with a great supporting cast. Can't recommend highly enough

In reply to an earlier post on 22 Apr 2010 11:13:59 BDT
(re A Baker comment) Yes do try Rosemary Sutcliff. Interestingly she used to say she wrote books for 'children from 8 to 88' and thought that only a slight 'gear change' was the difference between writing for children and juveniles (when she started writing it was called juvenile fiction, not young adult fiction...). She does write with beautiful simplicity but also a very melodic language. Mind you I shoud declare an interest - she was a relative of mine which is how I am aware of the above. If you have been tempted by A Baker's suggestion, there is much about Rosemary Sutcliff at - and about the film that is being made based upon The Eagle of the Ninth

In reply to an earlier post on 22 Apr 2010 11:14:37 BDT
(re A Baker comment) Yes do try Rosemary Sutcliff. Interestingly she used to say she wrote books for 'children from 8 to 88' and thought that only a slight 'gear change' was the difference between writing for children and juveniles (when she started writing it was called juvenile fiction, not young adult fiction...). She does write with beautiful simplicity but also a very melodic language. Mind you I shoud declare an interest - she was a relative of mine which is how I am aware of the above. If you have been tempted by A Baker's suggestion, there is much about Rosemary Sutcliff at - and about the film that is being made based upon The Eagle of the Ninth

Posted on 23 Apr 2010 10:03:48 BDT
C says:
'Seelowe Nord:The German's are Coming' may be of interest if you're interested in 2nd World War historical fiction novels, based on Operation Sealion, written by former Regimental Sergeant Major of the Coldstream Guards. I thoroughly enjoyed it!Seel÷we Nord: The Germans Are Coming

Posted on 26 Apr 2010 13:09:49 BDT
ajk77 says:
Whoever said Mary Renault was for children - surely not.

Perhaps you might like...

Lindsey Davis: a Course of Honour
Daphne DuMaurier: the King's General
Howard Fast: Spartacus
J G Farrell: the Siege of Krishnapur (Booker winner)
Alessandro Valerio Manfredi: Empire of Dragons
Hilary Mantel: Wolf Hall (another Booker)
Edith Pargeter: the Brothers of Gwynedd quartet
H Sienkiewicz (not too sure on spelling): Quo Vadis?
Irving Stone: the Agony and the Ecstasy(re Michelangelo); the Origin(re Darwin) and others
Nigel Tranter: Robert the Bruce trilogy

Posted on 2 May 2010 16:58:35 BDT
No one has mentioned Gillian Bradshaw who writes about ancient and more modern history with equal felicity. Do try Island of Ghosts and Dark North, ( both Roman Britain) and the truly magical The Wolf Hunt which I bought after a recommendation on Amazon and didn't want it to ever end.They are lovely lovely books and bear re reading. I completely agree with the Flashman fans, wonderful funny engaging and well researched as well!

Posted on 3 May 2010 09:53:53 BDT
Can't believe no one has mentioned Umberto Eco! 'The name of the Rose' and 'Boddolino'. Need I say more?!
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