After a failed attempt at Ghislaine Schoeller's Lady Jane, a (deservedly?) obscure and rather emotionless biographical novel about Lady Jane Digby (I made it 150 pages in), I've begun reading Edward Rutherfurd's The Princes of Ireland: The Dublin Saga in preparation for a read-alike article for NoveList. It's first of a two-volume series, and fortunately it looks less dense than Sarum or Russka - the print's bigger, for one - but it's still 760pp long. For a while this afternoon I was vegging out on the couch, head propped against a cushion, but found it impossible to read Princes with a cat on my lap. I tried holding it in the air, but my wrists got tired quickly; I tried leaning it against my knees, but that wasn't comfortable. Eventually the cat got sick of being displaced by a book and jumped off.
That made reading a lot easier.
Historical novels have a reputation for being long books, don't they. Some are, I fear, unnecessarily so. Fantasy novels have a similar problem lately... read the review and comment trail for this heavily hyped upcoming work of epic fantasy, a 900-pager. That one did look interesting to me, but I'd have to be in an awfully ambitious mood to pick it up.
Length does make sense for the type of multi-generational epic that Rutherfurd writes, I suppose. It occurred to me to wonder what the longest historical novels in my collection were, because I knew that Princes probably wouldn't come close. These ranked at the top:
Paul Anderson's Hunger's Brides: A Novel of the Baroque, at 1376pp. (The paperback edition, called Sor Juana or the Breath of Heaven: The Essential Story from the Epic Hunger's Brides, is just over half the length.)
Henryk Sienkiewicz's With Fire and Sword, at 1135pp.
Mary Gentle's Ash: A Secret History, at 1113pp. (UK edition. The US edition was split up into four paperbacks, released a couple months apart. I heard this was one reason that Ash didn't succeed stateside.)
James Michener's Centennial and Alaska, at 1088pp and 1073pp respectively.
Daniel Peters' The Incas, at 1057pp.
Rutherfurd's Sarum, at 1056pp.
Donna Gillespie's The Light Bearer, at 1024pp. (Mass market paperback edition.)
Diana Gabaldon's A Breath of Snow and Ashes, at 992pp.
Margaret George's The Memoirs of Cleopatra, at 964pp.
In case you're curious, Susanna Clarke's Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell, at 800pp, is somewhat further down the list.
Figuring this out was easy - I opened up my catalog in Readerware and sorted the books by # of pages. Page length doesn't always correlate with word count, since I suspect Faulks' Human Traces, with its tiny print and 570pp+ of text, is probably just as long as anything written by George or Gabaldon. No easy way to count words, though.
I've read Rutherfurd before, but I have to say that Princes really hasn't grabbed me yet, and I'm 75pp in. Lots of emphasis on geography and history, not so much on character or action. The maps of Dublin and environs are a big help, with all the references to places and bodies of water and what directions they are in relation to other things. I hope Princes picks up some before the scene switches to a later time period, as I know it's bound to do soon.