Top 10 Historical Novels
Love historical novels? After “Love or Loyalty”, here are our favorites:
- “The Saxon Chronicles,” by Bernard Cromwell. Lift the veil of history and see what the Dark Ages in the nascent island of England were really like, and find invading Vikings, desperate Saxons, treachery, heartache, and, well, life, in a milieu that’s seldom been written about and never this well. What makes this series is the bad boy, ruthless, rude, yet curiously loyal hero Uhtred – born a Saxon, raised as a Dane, and constantly torn between political allegiances and affairs of the heart as he fights to regain his lost patrimony. Manipulated by the tricky King Alfred, threatened by his former Viking allies, and in love with various unsuitable and complicated women, Uhtred keeps you and everyone else guessing as to his strategies and plans. To visualize this remarkably vivid world, watch “The Last Kingdom” series on BBC, especially Alexander Dreymond, the gorgeous actor who gives hot-blooded Uhrtred his proper edge, charisma, and (gasp) vulnerability.
- “Gone with the Wind,” by Margaret Mitchell. The great American classic is as engrossing today as it was 80 years ago. Amidst the dashing Southern Cavaliers, the emerging strength of Scarlett O’Hara (in many ways, one of the first feminists) and the heartbreaking tragedies of the nation’s greatest war, I especially remember the descriptions of the lives of the women at the time. They may have showed up at the barbecue all dimples and corseted waists, but behind the scenes they experienced their own form of slavery in dawn-to-past-dusk labor to run their huge households.
- “All the Light We Cannot See,” by Anthony Doerr. This recent book topped the best seller list for more than a year, and deservedly so. An original, realistic yet romantic story of a blind French girl and a German boy-soldier, their separates lives and destinies in World War II, leading up their inevitable and tragic meeting.
- “Pillars of the Earth,” is the first book in Ken Follett’s series about the geniuses who performed miracles with stone and created the awe-inspiring cathedrals of the Middle Ages, plus the dramas that engulfed them, their families and their communities. Also read his series, the Century Trilogy, that traces the progeny of an Edwardian English family throughout Europe and America, during the oft-overlooked drama of the Great War, through World War II and America’s Camelot.
- “I, Claudius,” by Robert Graves. Lame, stuttering Claudius feigned mental retardation to make himself seem harmless while his murderous family did away with each other in a ruthless grab for power. Literally the last man standing, Claudius became emperor and revealed himself to be smarter than all the royal assassins put together. His droll and biting insights made me laugh out loud.
- “The Persian Boy,” by Mary Renault. Never given a name, the Persian Boy is captured, mutilated and then sold into the service of Alexander the Great, becoming his friend and eventually his lover. Renault is the author of a series of books set in classical times, all worth reading.
- “Lincoln” and “Burr” by Gore Vidal. Raised in the world of politics and Hollywood, Vidal’s gift is giving new insights into famous people by telling their stories through the eyes of their associates, with irony, humor and a style that makes even dry events in history and politics, high drama.
- “People Books” series, by Michael and Kathleen Gear. This multi-volume series is the only one I know of about America’s Native Americans, dramatizing their lives in different time periods and geographies – from prehistoric Canada to the Southwest, Florida, New England, the near-paradise of the Pacific Northwest, and many more times and tribes.
- “London,” “Sarum,” and “Russia,” by Edward Rutherford. A la James Michener, Rutherford picks a geography and chronicles the lives of the inhabitants starting with the first settlers, and into the present day. You’ll enjoy picking out the descendants of the various families and learning their fates as the centuries roll by.
- My number 10 choices are not historical novels per se, but two series of mystery novels that will immerse you into the realities of another time. From the Flapper days through the 1960’s, Agatha Christie’s novels thrust you into an England evolving from the great houses and families (think Downtown Abbey) to the deprivations of the war years to the new world of sex, drugs and rock’n’roll. If this doesn’t make you want to experience that “green and pleasant land,” nothing will. Anne Perry’s mystery novels are so steeped in Victoriana that you can almost see the potted plants, reach into your reticule for your handkerchief, drink a strong cup of tea, and then sedately find a way to fight the many injustices perpetuated in this class-bound society.
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