My Favourite Historical Novels

bookworm

I’ve been a ‘bookworm’ for as long as I can remember and, somehow, tales set in the past always claimed my attention much more easily than contemporary ones. Once my childhood fixation with stories of shipwrecks had waned (Robinson Crusoe, The Coral Island and Swiss Family Robinson) I seemed to fixate upon those involving animals. I loved Anna Sewell’s Black Beauty, Jack London’s Call of the Wild and White Fang and Rudyard Kipling’s Jungle Book and Just So Stories.

shutterstock_197038109

Then, when I was twelve, I read Charlotte Bronte’s  Jane Eyre. I started reading the book in the back of my dad’s car on a journey to visit relatives. Somehow I managed to ignore the chatter of my younger sister and brother sitting next to me, and concentrate on the book . . . And I kept on concentrating right through the said visit (oh, how utterly rude!) and all the way home. By that time, of course, I had very little of the book to finish. To say that it had got me hooked would sound about right. From then on I went through several more of the classics, amongst them various works by Dickens – Oliver Twist being a favourite at the time.

Although I enjoyed Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, I can’t say it sent me into raptures. It was a ‘class reader’ in my fourth year (Year 10) and, like George Eliot’s Mill on the Floss, which I studied for ‘O’ Level the following year, I suppose we analysed it to death! Conversely, I really enjoyed studying Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights for ‘A’ Level. And what a dark and brooding tale that is – so like the Yorkshire Moors can be at times.

shutterstock_204075802

One interesting little book I read during my second year of secondary school (Year 8) was Elizabeth Goudge’s, The Middle Window. By that time I’d begun to take a real interest in history at school, and since we’d just been learning about the Jacobites and their fate at Culloden, the book was very meaningful to me. I also loved the appeal of the Scottish Highlands. Whether or not I’d find the writing style to my liking now, I can’t say.

And talking about writing style . . .

The author of historical fiction I most admire is Dorothy Dunnett. I read the six books of one of her famous series, The Lymond Chronicles, eighteen years ago, and have been telling myself for years that a reread is in order. In my opinion, Dorothy Dunnett’s novels need reading several times over in order to actually grasp the depth of the characters, particularly Lymond (Francis Crawford) himself. The writing style, too, is incredibly complex, and some pages need reading a few times in order to make sense to lesser mortals such as myself. But, once past the first few pages of Book 1, Game of Kings, I ‘caught on’ to the language/style and from then on, was able to follow the story. Dorothy Dunnett’s use of poetry is quite amazing – and much of it is in French! And what an opening line:

‘Lymond is back.’

Just three little words that have the power to induce so many questions . . .

In more recent years, one of my favourite historical novels has been River God by Wilbur Smith. His descriptions of ancient Egypt enthralled me, as did the character of Taita.

shutterstock_206276143

Similarly, Christian Jacq’s many books set in Egypt fuelled my imagination. I read the five books in his series about Ramses II, then Paneb the Ardent from his the Stone of Light series. Needless to say, I really enjoy most books about Egypt.

But it’s not only Egypt that holds me fascinated. Roman novels have a similar pull. I particularly enjoyed Colleen McCullough’s Caesar and Caesar’s Women. I intend to start on Ben Kane’s first Roman novel, Hannibal: Enemy of Rome very soon. I also love novels set in Victorian and Edwardian times, and also during World War 1.

I desperately need to reread several works by American authors, including some written by Mark Twain. I can only remember reading abridged versions of both The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, early on in school. I also feel quite ashamed to admit that I haven’t even read Harper Lee’s, To Kill a Mocking Bird yet, although it’s been on my Kindle for months. Then I’d like to read Alice Walker’s The Color Purple, followed by Alex Hale’s novel, Roots. I did watch the TV series of Roots in the late 1970’s so I know that the story is incredibly moving.

I must add that I also enjoy novels with a crime/detective element. Many of these have had historical settings, but some have not. At present I particularly enjoy the grittiness of Val McDermid’s storylines and the quirky humour and unconventional tactics of Mark Billingham’s detective, Tom Thorne. I also like Patricia Cornwell’s novels involving the pathologist, Dr. Kay Scarpetta and the details of forensic work described.

I’ll finish for now and get back to writing Pit of Vipers – Book 2 of my Sons of Kings series.

shutterstock_194185796A few interesting quotes about books and reading:

I’m writing a book. I’ve got the page numbers done. (Steven Wright)

If there’s a book that you really want to read but it hasn’t been written yet, then you must write it. (Toni Morrison)

Anyone who says they have only one life to lead must not know how to read a book. (Author unknown)shutterstock_182063360

About milliethom

I am a reader and writer of historical fiction with a keen interest in the Earth's history and all it involves, both physically and socially. I like nothing better than to be outdoors, especially in faraway places, and baking is something I do when my eyes need respite from my computer screen.
This entry was posted in Books, Reading and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to My Favourite Historical Novels

  1. Janet says:

    Nice to see Dorothy Dunnett at the top of your list! She also wrote a series of contemporary detective novels, the Johnson Johnson mysteries, and another long historical series, The House of Niccolo. Also a standalone novel about Macbeth, so there’s plenty more to get stuck into. The only question is – before or after you reread Lymond? 🙂 You might be interested in the website of the Dorothy Dunnett Society.

    • milliethom says:

      To Janet from Millie Thom

      Thank you for your comment. I’ll certainly look at the website, with a view to joining the Society. I think I’ll get ‘stuck into’ Lymond again first, so it may not be for a while. I do know about DD’s other books. In fact, my daughter has the complete sets of both the Lymond and Niccolo series. She’s a huge Dorothy Dunnett fan!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s