A vivid and scholarly portrait of England in the reign of Charles II. The joy of the Restoration is a fading memory, and conflicts of land ownership and religious toleration are raging. The story is set on the Furness Peninsula in Northern England, now part of Cumbria, and concerns how ordinary folks survive, live and love in times of political upheaval and social conflict. There is a feisty heroine who keeps an eye on how her very own Restoration bawdy comedy is progressing, a chilling villain, a proto-Darcy hero, and a gallery of characters from real history. This is Kathleen Herbert at her rich best: a book which is intelligent, full of humour and above all, deeply humane.
I'll be doing a more detailed writeup once I have the chance to read it myself. It's available on Amazon UK and US and from the Book Depository (£11.99, 410pp, trade pb), and you can also read an article from the Cumberland News on how the book came to be published.
Yesterday I saw a review of the book posted on the right, Meg Clothier's The Girl King, and immediately ordered a copy. It's royalty fiction - still one of my favorite topics - but set in medieval Georgia. That's the country, not the Peach State. How refreshing!
The protagonist is Tamar of Georgia, the first woman to rule said country in her own right. I'll link to the Wikipedia article even though I haven't read it; it probably has spoilers.
There are entries about Queen (or King, as she was also known) Tamar in two of my favorite reference books, Vicki Leon's Uppity Women of Medieval Times and Guida M. Jackson's Women Who Ruled. Any would-be historical novelist in need of a subject should delve through these books for ideas. Both contain lively biographies of hundreds of strong, powerful women from around the world, many of whose stories have never been told in fiction. So there's no need to write a novel about Eleanor of Aquitaine unless you have a burning desire to do so. (And I know some authors do; just sayin'.)
The Girl King is published by Century (Random House UK) at £12.99.
From the Daily Mail, reviews of three new historical novels: Anthony Quinn's Half of the Human Race, Stewart Binns's Conquest, and Samuel Black's The Ground is Burning.
There have been many historical novel deals rotating through Publishers Marketplace over the last few weeks. Here's a sampling of them.
Jean Zimmerman's first novel THE ORPHANMASTER, centered around a serial killer who is preying on young orphans in 1663-64 in the Dutch colony of New Amsterdam, and starring a fiercely independent 22-year-old Dutch woman who is herself an orphan, and a dashing British spy who becomes her lover, to Paul Slovak at Viking, for publication in Summer 2012, by Betsy Lerner at Dunow, Carlson & Lerner.
Filmmaker Duncan Jepson's ALL THE FLOWERS IN SHANGHAI, about a young Chinese woman caught between tradition and personal desires in 1930s Shanghai, pitched as reminiscent of THE PIANO TEACHER and MEMOIRS OF A GEISHA, to Wendy Lee at Harper, by Marysia Juszczakiewicz at Peony Literary Agency (world).
Oxford classical-historian Harry Sidebottom's THE CASPIAN GATES, in the "Warrior of Rome" series, pitched in the tradition of Patrick O'Brian and Mary Renault, to Alex Clarke at Michael Joseph, in a major deal, in a three-book deal, for publication in 2011, 2012, and 2013, by James Gill at United Agents.
Nelle Davy's OF BLOOD AND DUST, pitched as reimagining I, Claudius in the rural Midwest of the 1930s; the last generation of a farming clan must retrace the family's mottled history to put their legacy to rest, to Krista Stroever at Mira, in a two-book deal, for publication in February 2012, by Beth Davey at Davey Literary & Media (World).
Jennifer McVeigh's THE FEVER TREE, set against the raw backdrop of nineteenth-century diamond fields in Colonial South Africa, its deprivation and beauty alive in equal measure, to Amy Einhorn for Amy Einhorn Books, in a two-book deal, at auction, by Stephanie Cabot of The Gernert Company on behalf of Araminta Whitley at LAW.
Some terrific, underutilized settings there. And along those lines: this weekend I finished Chelsea Quinn Yarbro's An Embarrassment of Riches, set in 13th-century Bohemia, as a precursor to an interview with the author. Before that, I found myself glued to Deborah Harkness's A Discovery of Witches, which, I just noticed, has a weird rhyming thing going on with the other title. Both excellent reads, both with vampires in them, but how they're depicted is very different. I really don't think I'm developing a taste for blood, but there you have it.