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Your Top HF and Other reads of 2012

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.
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Post by annis » Sun December 23rd, 2012, 7:30 am

Roman Wall, Bryher. An outpost of the Late Roman Empire in what is now Switzerland, just at the point of bring overrun by German tribesmen. A brilliant evocation of a particular time and place and the crowning jewel in Bryher’s body of work in my opinion.

The Dark Island, Henry Treece. A savage, affecting story of British tribal king Caratacus' defeat at the hands of the Romans. Treece's historical fiction is quite idiosyncratic, verging on fantasy and written with a compelling bardic sensibility. His Iron Age Britain is wild, vibrant and richly textured; touched with mythic undertones and shadowed by dark, bloody shamanic magic.

Christian Cameron,
1) Poseidon’s Spear, latest in Cameron’s Long War series set during the Peloponnesian War. Loved hero Arimnestos' travels around the ancient world (travelling galley-slave class), including a side trip to Britain.
2) God of War. Cameron’s take on Alexander the Great – plenty of admiration but not so much hero worship.

Crowbone, Robert Low. Great storytelling skills honed on the sagas plus a deep understanding of the Viking psyche make this an excellent addition to Low's Oathsworn series. A no-holds-barred tour around Scotland, Ireland, the Isle of Mann and parts further afield during the 10th century in the wake of ruthless Olaf (Crowbone) Tryggvason, who’ll do anything to reclaim his patrimony, the Kingdom of Norway.

Splintered Kingdom (sequel to Sworn Sword). Further adventures of a Norman knight who settles in England following the Battle of Hastings. Thumbs up for Aitcheson, who stands out among the blood ‘n’ guts HF brigade as a writer with excellent literary skills and a genuine sense of story. A prime candidate to take on Bernard Cornwell’s mantle in the future.

The Seven Wonders, Steven Saylor. Cleverly takes the premise of the 18th century Grand Tour of Europe and transposes it to the ancient Roman world. This prequel to the Roma sub Rosa mystery series sees Gordianus the Finder as a smart but rather naive 18 year old touring the Seven Wonders of the World with his Greek tutor and learning a lot about life along the way.

The Flower Reader. Elizabeth Loupas. Murder, dark shadows and dangerous secrets in an appealing story set during the early years of Mary QOS’s reign. A particularly engaging heroine - strong without being anachronistically feisty.

Wallace Breem
I read Breem’s classic Eagle in the Snow many years ago, but somehow never got to his other two historical novels till now. I personally believe Breem to be one of the finest historical novelists ever and feel it was a tragedy that he was discouraged from writing any more historical fiction.
1) The Legate’s Daughter
2) The Leopard and the Cliff

Robert Lyndon, Hawk Quest. Set in the 11th century, this is a cracking return to old-style epic historical adventure.

Woe to Live On Daniel Woodrell. A powerful, deceptively simple coming of age novel set during the US Civil War.

Merivel: A Man of his Time Sequel to Restoration, featuring an older and more thoughtful Merivel suffering the fashionably 17th century malaise of melancholia as he contemplates his future.

John Saturanall’s Feast by Lawrence Norfolk. Hard to categorize, this sumptuous cross between HF and fable set around the start of the English Civil War is about food, love, religion and keeping alive the spirit of joy and gratitude for life’s blessings during the dark times as well as the good. The tale of a young boy who rises from scullery boy to Master Cook brings to vivid life the bustling bureaucracies and tyrannical hierarchies of a 17th century manor house. You’ll be filled with an irresistible desire to go out and cook up a storm after reading this one!

Cloud Cuckoo Land, Naomi Mitchison. Athens in decline towards the end of the Peloponnesian War - lyrical and evocative, and with a strong message about the perils of totalitarianism.

And its counterpart

The Fox by M N J Butler. The decline of Sparta following the Peloponnesian War is the subject of this haunting novel. Although in theory the winner of the lengthy conflict with Athens, it proved in the end to be a Pyrrhic victory.


River of Destiny, Barbara Erskine. One of the best Erskine’s written to date. Bags of eerie atmosphere to get the hair lifting at the back of your neck, and the balance of interest between the present-day story and the one from the past is more evenly weighted than is usual with her work.


Icefall by Matthew Kirby - wise and warm-hearted Viking-era coming of age story.

Non HF fiction

The Yellow Birds, Kevin Powers
Compelling, intense and poetically written little story about a young soldier who returns home from the Iraq War suffering from post-traumatic stress.

On a similar subject and also excellent, though more satirical in tone, Billy Lynn’s Long Half Time Walk, by Ben Fountain.

No room for the many excellent non-fiction, mystery and fantasy titles I've also read this year :)
Last edited by annis on Mon December 24th, 2012, 5:04 pm, edited 28 times in total.

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Post by emr » Fri December 28th, 2012, 2:19 pm

This year I have read more books than any other year before but not that many of them were historical.
My top list would be in no particular order:

The Terioki Crossing by Alan Fisher
God of War by Christian Cameron
When Maidens Mourn by C.S. Harris
The Flower Reader by Elizabeth Loupas
The Thief-Taker by T.F. Banks
River God by Wilbur Smith
The Butchered Man by Harriet Smart. This book has a serious editing problem but the story behind was a page turner.
The Gilded Age mystery series by P.B. Ryan. (6 books that read like one)
Edited to add Rome: The Eagle of the Twelfth (Rome #3) by M.C. Scott. Very very good. How could I forget this one?

I am glad I “found” some more authors that got me hopelessly hooked like Barbara Cleverly, Chelsea Cain, Ashley Gardner, John Dunning, Craig Johnson, Colin Cotteril, and Ben Aaronovitch.

And I was very disappointed with Deanna Rayburn, Jeaniene Frost and Charlaine Harris. I’ll be reading the new Sookie because it’s the last in the series (or so she says now) (and I might still fly the book through the window if she shaves her legs only once more) but that’s it.
Last edited by emr on Fri December 28th, 2012, 5:12 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Post by fljustice » Fri December 28th, 2012, 5:15 pm

Like MLE and EC, I'm getting pickier as I get older. I enjoyed most of the books I read this year (half HF, the other half all others.) The vast majority were solid stories, well-told, but only three fiction books stood out as special (to me):

The Whale Rider by Iti Ihimaera (the beauty of this short tale inspired a trip to New Zealand)
Lincoln by Gore Vidal (impeccable research combined with great writing; reminded me why I so enjoyed Vidal's Julian--I must read more of his stuff)
The Song of Troy by Colleen McCullough (pure story-telling combined with great craft to tell a complicated tale)

Non-fiction fared better:

Stilicho the Vandal that Saved Rome and Aetius: Attila's Nemesis by Ian Hughes (great research for my chosen writing period)
Hillary's Choice by Gail Sheehy (Hillary Clinton's life through the first lady phase--great insight into what makes Hillary tick)
Imagine: How Creativity Works by Jonah Lehrer (always like the brain stuff)
The Influencing Machine: Brooke Gladstone on the Media by Brooke Gladstone (graphic book on how the media influences our lives for good and ill)
When Everything Changed: The Amazing Journey of American Women from 1960 to the Present by Gail Collins (a nostalgic--and well documented--journey through my own times and feminist development)
Faith L. Justice, Author Website

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Post by Divia » Fri December 28th, 2012, 10:52 pm

I'm with fljustice. I'm getting picker too, and I'll be honest there wasnt anything that jumped out when it came to historical fiction this year, and how sad is that ????

One YA book I read that had the wow factor was BoyToy. :eek:

For Nonfiction I loved Marmee & Louisa. I thought it was excellent and built the case that it was Louisa's mom not her father that shaped her the most.
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Post by sweetpotatoboy » Sat December 29th, 2012, 1:47 pm

I've read some historical novels this year that I've absolutely loved. That hadn't happened so much in recent years.

My favourite historical fiction reads this year. These were all excellent:

A Bloody Field by Shrewsbury - by Edith Pargeter
The Greatest Knight - by Elizabeth Chadwick
The Song of Achilles - Madeline Miller

Honorable mentions in historical fiction go to the following, which were not perfect but well worth reading:

The Paris Wife - by Paula McLain
Half of the Human Race - by Anthony Quinn
The Ground is Burning - by Samuel Black
A Spell of Winter - by Helen Dunmore

My two other favourite books of the year that I absolutely loved were:

Snowdrops - by A. D. Miller
The Imperfectionists - by Tom Rachman

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Post by Madeleine » Mon December 31st, 2012, 4:38 pm

My top 10 for 2012 is (in order)

Dark Matter by Michelle Paver - ghost story set in 1937 but not really hf
Tom All-Alone's by Lynne Shepherd - crime mystery set in Victorian London which is sort of based on Bleak House
Sleep, Pale Sister by Joanne Harris - Victorian Gothic mystery
Now You See Me by S J Bolton - modern crime
A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness - urban fantasy
Demelza by Winston Graham - second in the Poldark series
The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern - UF, Victorian/present day
The Black House by Peter May - modern crime
A Clash of Kings by George R R Martin - second in The Song of Ice and Fire series
The Somnambulist by Essie Fox - Victorian Gothic
Last edited by Madeleine on Mon December 31st, 2012, 4:48 pm, edited 2 times in total.
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Post by EC2 » Mon December 31st, 2012, 5:12 pm

Annis: "Splintered Kingdom (sequel to Sworn Sword). Further adventures of a Norman knight who settles in England following the Battle of Hastings. Thumbs up for Aitcheson, who stands out among the blood ‘n’ guts HF brigade as a writer with excellent literary skills and a genuine sense of story. A prime candidate to take on Bernard Cornwell’s mantle in the future."

One I intend reading this year. Totally agree about Aitcheson. He stands head and shoulders above most of the slash and bash bunch I've looked at.

FL Justice: "
The Whale Rider by Iti Ihimaera (the beauty of this short tale inspired a trip to New Zealand)"

Loved, loved, loved The Whale Rider. It's on my keeper shelf. :)

Justin: "The Greatest Knight - by Elizabeth Chadwick
The Song of Achilles - Madeline Miller "

Thank you for the first :) And I really must read the second. It's been on my mental TBR for quite a while.

"Dark Matter by Michelle Paver - ghost story set in 1937 but not really hf"

I loved Dark Matter too. One of my best of last year. I need to read The Sonambulist too.
Les proz e les vassals
Souvent entre piez de chevals
Kar ja li coard n’I chasront

'The Brave and the valiant
Are always to be found between the hooves of horses
For never will cowards fall down there.'

Histoire de Guillaume le Mareschal


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Post by Vanessa » Tue January 1st, 2013, 11:44 am

My top ten in the order I read them are:

The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern
Tell the Wolves I'm Home by Carol Rifka Brunt
The Flower Reader by Elizabeth Loupas
A Clash of Kings by George R R Martin
Green City in the Sun by Barbara Wood
The Elephant Keeper by Christopher Nicholson
A Humble Companion by Laurie Graham
The Knot by Jane Borodale
Penmarric by Susan Howatch
Shadow of the Night by Deborah Harkness

Other books I gave 5* to:

The Somnambulist by Essie Fox
The Lace Reader by Brunonia Barry
House of Silence by Linda Gillard
Now You See Me by S J Bolton
The Girl You Left Behind by Jojo Moyes
The Little Stranger by Sarah Waters
The Misinterpretation of Tara Jupp by Eva Rice
Summer of the Bear by Bella Pollen

It was so hard to choose my final 10!
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Post by Brenna » Wed January 2nd, 2013, 4:56 pm

[quote=""Lady of Bennachie""]Off the top of my head, my favourite HF novels that I read this year were:
I don't think I actually read any new releases this year. I even held off buying SKP's Lionheart, because I want the paperback to fit next to the others on my shelf :) [/quote]

I'm getting my paperback edition today! I am super excited about it because I held off for the same reason you did!

[quote=""Susan""]My five star books for 2012 in no particular order:
  • A Discovery of Witches (All Souls Trilogy, #1) by Deborah Harkness
  • Shadow of Night (All Souls Trilogy, #2) by Deborah Harkness
  • Mariana by Susanna Kearsley

Those are certainly my top three!

[quote=""Divia""]I'm with fljustice. I'm getting picker too, and I'll be honest there wasnt anything that jumped out when it came to historical fiction this year, and how sad is that ????


I feel the same. 2012 was a bit of a letdown because 2011 was so amazing. The three listed above were certainly goodies and I will have to add a non-fiction that I just finished-Masie's Catherine the Great. Awesome, awesome, awesome book!

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Post by annis » Wed January 2nd, 2013, 5:29 pm

I just realised that I left Andrew Miller's Pure off my list- definitely a literary highlight for me this year. Brilliantly written with a compulsive dreamlike quality - loved the appearance of the genial Dr Guillotin, brimful of unsettlingly detached scientific curiosity. Apart from being wonderfully readable in itself, it's also a clever parable about death and destruction as transformative elements in the cycle of change and renewal - in this case prefiguring the French Revolution. People seemed to struggle with that royal elephant - to me it was clearly a metaphor for the moribund French monarchy.

Madeline Miller's Song of Achilles was a mixed bag for me. It's a bold and beautifully written interpretation of the Iliad, but I couldn't accept her portrayal of Patroclus. My thoughts on that one here.
Last edited by annis on Wed January 2nd, 2013, 10:19 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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