Historical Novels Review August 2021 issue

Historical Novels Review is out now, in print and online

Another issue of the Historical Novels Review, the journal of the Historical Novel Society, is out now, and with it, three more of my reviews.

As before, they are three very different books, but as before, all linked by a common thread – in this case, love.

Secret plots set the scene for forbidden love

In A Marriage Made in Secret, by Jenni Fletcher, love is to the fore.  Set in 1325, amidst plots to depose the King, politics are swiftly summarised, while illicit lovers live, breathe, long and yearn just as lovers do today.

Fleeing grief, haunted by death, characters are vividly brought to life

In The Long Journey Home, author Cecily Blench deals with love in a wider sense, of family and friends as well as romantic attachments.  Set in Burma in 1941, the landscapes are vividly portrayed, as is the grief of those fleeing for their lives.  I loved this book – it’s the one I would wish I could have written.  Despite the destruction of the war, Blench concentrates on the lived experience of her characters.  Her book is filled with wisdom, and left me with a hope of redemption.

Time slip story explores fit young Viking

Whispers of the Runes, by Christina Courtenay, was a contrast to the other books, a time slip romp with a dishy Viking.  Never mind pillage: this Gentleman Viking was fit, strong and toned – but respectful and caring.  By a fortuitous twist, 21st century protagonist Sara just happened to speak Old Norse, enabling her to go adventuring with her Viking.

Fictitious protagonists create opportunity for the unknown

Whether serious or fun, what all three books shared was a fictitious protagonist.  Many historical novelists delve into the character and motivations of a known historical figure.  This can, of course, be very interesting.  However speculative, it helps us to understand what forces may have led pivotal characters to do what they did.

But the downside is, we know the ending.  Ultimately, we know that Anne Boleyn gets beheaded, that Catherine Parr will outlive her murderous husband.

But with a fictitious character, there is opportunity for the unknown.  There is space for suspense, for emotional tension – and for unexpected turns.  What will happen to them?  Will there be a Happy Ever After – or not?

With a fictitious character, we have to read on, to discover their own unique ending.

Read More

Read more reviews of historical fiction at https://historicalnovelsociety.org/, the website of the Historical Novel Society.

About Helen Johnson

Freelance writer specialising in Yorkshire's history and heritage.

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