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Failsafe historical fiction

For discussions of historical fiction. Threads that do not relate to historical fiction should be started in the Chat forum or elsewhere on the forum, depending on the topic.
annis
Bibliomaniac

Postby annis » Tue July 27th, 2010, 7:17 pm

Not being an American, I feel a bit hesitant recommending books set during the American Revolutionary period, but I loved Margaret Lawrence's Hearts and Bones series, written from a woman's POV. They are technically historical mysteries, but they are quite lyrical and sensitively written stories which give a good impression of the hardships and random cruelties of life for ordinary people during a time of divided loyalties. The follow-up, Iceweaver, is also very good.

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Michy
Bibliophile
Location: California

Postby Michy » Tue July 27th, 2010, 7:43 pm

"SGM" wrote:Any suggestions for fiction relating to this period is gratefully received.



I highly recommend Dawn's Early Light by Elswyth Thane, which I just read and mentioned above. Also, a lot of people love Celia Garth by Gwen Bristow. I don't care for Bristow's style at all, but I am mentioning the book because a lot of people do really love it.

This is NF, but I also high recommend The Real History of the American Revolution by Alen Axelrod. I read it earlier this year and enjoyed it so much that I have bought two other history books by him (not read, yet). He gives a wonderful overview of the Revolution starting with the French and Indian War (which is when the first signs of trouble began to surface). He also talks about the war from England's perspective and a little of France's perspective, as well. He gives the backstories of a lot of the famous people: Ethan Allen, Benedict Arnold, John Paul Jones, Lafayette, etc. etc. I like that he includes "extra" information in sidebars, and poses some "what if" scenarios. I felt that he gave a balanced and fair presentation; he didn't, for instance, lambast George III as so many do.

In tone it is a bit more conversational than a textbook; in short, I found it highly enjoyable and at the same time educational.

SGM
Compulsive Reader

Postby SGM » Tue July 27th, 2010, 8:11 pm

Thank you for these suggestions. I will get started on them soon except for Dawn's Early Light which is only available second hand here in the UK at a horrendous price. Hopefully, at some point I will come across it for less than the price of a new TV (not that I want a new TV).
Currently reading - Emergence of a Nation State by Alan Smith

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Michy
Bibliophile
Location: California

Postby Michy » Tue July 27th, 2010, 8:19 pm

Have you tried the library? That's where I got my copy; although I enjoyed it so much that, if I continue to enjoy the rest of the series as much, I will probably buy copies to keep.

Can you shop from Amazon US? Or Amazon UK only? Here in the US, almost all of Thane's books are readily available on Amazon for around $23 - $25 new. I don't know what you consider horrendous, but I do think $25 is far less than the cost of a new TV!!! ;)

P.S. I like that, as a Brit, you're interested in the American Revolution. That is very cool. :)

P.P.S. If you read Axelrod's book, I'd like to know what you think. I came away from it with, more than anything else, a sense of just how remarkable it was -- all things considered -- that we managed to win the Revolution. The British won more battles than we did, they had the Indians fighting on their side, and at the time Cornwallis surrendered, the British still controlled more territory here than the Colonials did. Yes we had the French helping us, but it wasn't until Yorktown that the French and Americans finally got their combined acts together!!
Last edited by Michy on Tue July 27th, 2010, 8:33 pm, edited 4 times in total.

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Matt Phillips
Reader

Postby Matt Phillips » Tue July 27th, 2010, 9:12 pm

"Michy" wrote:P.P.S. If you read Axelrod's book, I'd like to know what you think. I came away from it with, more than anything else, a sense of just how remarkable it was -- all things considered -- that we managed to win the Revolution. The British won more battles than we did, they had the Indians fighting on their side, and at the time Cornwallis surrendered, the British still controlled more territory here than the Colonials did. Yes we had the French helping us, but it wasn't until Yorktown that the French and Americans finally got their combined acts together!!


That and a substantial portion of the colonial population was loyalist.

I had forgotten one other reason the American Revolution probably gets less attention in fiction than other big wars: There are few big, sweeping battles and campaigns to drive the plot forward (if the story centers on the war itself). American victories on the field were relatively few; British victories were usually wasted by subsequent mistakes. Like all successful insurgents in history, Washington and his army (with French help) won by surviving and outlasting the will of the occupying country.

On the non-fiction side, I've enjoyed Ray Raphael's A People's History of the American Revolution, which draws on primary sources to tell the story from the perspective of average soldiers and families.

SGM - You might also want to check out Bernard Cornwell's Redcoat.

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Michy
Bibliophile
Location: California

Postby Michy » Tue July 27th, 2010, 9:38 pm

"Matt Phillips" wrote:I had forgotten one other reason the American Revolution probably gets less attention in fiction than other big wars: There are few big, sweeping battles and campaigns to drive the plot forward (if the story centers on the war itself). American victories on the field were relatively few; British victories were usually wasted by subsequent mistakes. Like all successful insurgents in history, Washington and his army (with French help) won by surviving and outlasting the will of the occupying country.



I think you've hit on it there, Matt. All of the above, plus the fact that Colonial forces were ill-fed, ill-clothed, ill-armed, ill-paid and Washington was always up against a lack of sufficient troops and the constant threat of more leaving as soon as their enlistment was up. Not exactly fodder for great, sweeping, romantic historical fiction!

P.S. Not to mention the fact that Washington was always fighting the Continental Congress (usually unsuccessfully) for adequate pay and supplies for the troops. It was one thing, I guess, to sign the Declaration of Independence, but another thing entirely to actually pay for the war to make said independence a reality.
Last edited by Michy on Wed July 28th, 2010, 12:14 am, edited 1 time in total.

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Ariadne
Bibliophile
Location: At the foothills of Mt. Level

Postby Ariadne » Wed July 28th, 2010, 2:07 am

I'll second the recommendation for Sally Gunning's The Rebellion of Jane Clarke (reviewed here) as well as Margaret Lawrence's Hannah Trevor series. I thought the writing style of The Iceweaver felt a bit ethereal, but I still enjoyed it.

I'll also recommend John Ensor Harr's Dark Eagle, biographical fiction about Benedict Arnold. He's portrayed sympathetically but with flaws, and the Americans don't come off looking real well in this version. It's an interesting perspective with which to see the Revolution.

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Margaret
Bibliomaniac
Interest in HF: I can't answer this in 100 characters. Sorry.
Favorite HF book: Checkmate, the final novel in the Lymond series
Preferred HF: Literary novels. Late medieval and Renaissance.
Location: Catskill, New York, USA
Contact:

Postby Margaret » Wed July 28th, 2010, 2:56 am

I never cared for Rutherford, but someone who writes in a similar but much better way is Michner.


Just goes to show how individual taste is. I like Rutherfurd much better than Michener. And The Source, which was one of Michener's most popular novels and often recommended as his best, was the one that turned me off Michener for good. I just couldn't get interested. With Michener, and also with the early chapters of Saylor's Roma, I found the character development lacking. That's naturally difficult to do in a format that requires a writer to move very fast through a huge swath of time, but I feel like Rutherfurd does it well enough to keep me engaged.

This is a great thread - I'm going to have to try some of the recommended Revolutionary War suggestions.
Browse over 5000 historical novel listings (probably well over 5000 by now, but I haven't re-counted lately) and over 700 reviews at www.HistoricalNovels.info

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Michy
Bibliophile
Location: California

Postby Michy » Wed July 28th, 2010, 3:46 am

"Margaret" wrote:Just goes to show how individual taste is. I like Rutherfurd much better than Michener.


I'm with you here. I've enjoyed Rutherfurd's books more than the few Micheners I've read -- I think because, as you say, I've found his characters more interesting, and I like that he often works little bits of irony into his scenes.

Chris Little
Reader
Location: Going back in Time

Postby Chris Little » Wed July 28th, 2010, 6:42 am

Do multi-genre authors of HF have a larger likelihood of producing a failsafe creation than HF specialists? If an author’s body of work covers multiple genres, can that author be considered HF if only a small segment of their work is HF? (Michy, it was Binchy’s “Light a Penny Candle” that sparked insertion on my original post. Also, Crichton’s Viking “Eaters” tale led me to put him on the pre-edited post.)

Conversely, what is the HF failsafe discount factor for the multi-genre writers? Gillian Bradshaw’s non-HF is an intriguing assortment of books; however, potential readers of her excellent HF may never make the discovery because of first picking one her SF tales. I sometimes had trouble convincing readers (teen boys in particular) to try Mary Stewart’s Merlin trilogy, because they had previously tried one of her other venues and hadn’t cared for it.

I liked Michener in 60s and 70s … haven’t become engaged much since … tried “South Africa” recently and did engage with the early settlement chapters, although his opening anthropology was not good … have never gotten far in any Rutherford …

Hybrids = transcend genre = the venns of HF …
Rutherford overlaps Michener to what percent …
I’ve not developed a taste for Cornwell … one Sharpe completed and about 10 dnfs.
Forester for me set the standard Napoleonic.

About USA starting in 1750s: I like the Canadian author James A. Houston’s “Ghost Fox” for its French Indian War setting. For the Revolution, told from the perspective of a just arrived Scot immigrant, Douglas Jones’ “Shadow of the Moon” might appeal to some of you.


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