Thursday, October 19, 2006

A few Roman and medieval novels

Not much new of late, because I haven't been reading much lately - walking two miles every evening, followed by HNR proofing and bad reality TV (sorry, I know it's responsible for the decline of western civilization), has been taking up too much of my reading time. But I am about 3/4 way through Karleen Koen's Dark Angels and enjoying it.

Return of the Roman: Prospect Magazine (UK) has a nice, lengthy essay by Allan Massie, detailing why novelists are attracted to the ancient world - and explaining why historical novels interest readers in general:
"... The novelist does something that academic historians rarely succeed in doing. He reminds us, as Carlyle said of Walter Scott, that people now long dead were not abstractions, but living beings made of flesh and blood. The novelist may perform another service to historical understanding. By its nature the historical novel teaches, or reminds, the reader that events now in the past were once in the future."
Also of interest to me, the deal highlighted on Publishers Marketplace's home page yesterday was Anne Perry's latest:

Victorian mystery writer Anne Perry's THE SHEEN ON THE SILK, her first stand-alone historical epic, set in the late days of the Byzantine empire, telling the story of a woman masquerading as a eunuch physician who is searching for the truth about her condemned brother -- and the path to heaven, to Susanna Porter for Ballantine, in a major deal, by Donald Maass of the Donald Maass Literary Agency (NA).
A departure not only in terms of time period, but also that this is the first of hers in a while (besides her fantasies Tathea and Come Armageddon) not to form part of a lengthy series. (I hope to talk more about the "series" bit later.) The "woman disguised as a eunuch physician" plotline has been done before - by Gillian Bradshaw in The Beacon at Alexandria, set in the 4th century Roman Empire, and probably by others as well - but the later Byzantine Empire is one not often explored in fiction. And I love the title of this one. It's on my wish list.

Also announced in Publishers Marketplace yesterday, deals for Anne Easter Smith's next two historical novels, both set during the Wars of the Roses. I understand the first should be out in 2007, with Margaret, Duchess of Burgundy (sister of Edward IV) as its subject.


  1. Anonymous4:44 PM

    Yes, the Byzantine empire has always fascinated me but it hasn't been done all that much in fiction. The classic is Lew Wallace's "The Prince of India" which is probably out of print. The woman physicisn/scholar disguised as a eunuch is a very old legend and some people think it had some connection with the Pope Joan story.

    Those comments from Prospect Magazine are excellent and worth remembering, "that people now long dead were not abstractions." Historical fiction is a way of making history alive, which is why the writers must have a certain integrity, and be truthful as well as vivid! Thanks, Sarah, for the inspiration!!

  2. Hm, I better get those Roman Empire books finished and submitted for publication then. :)

    I liked Beacon of Alexandria, but I'm not sure about this one. "...and the path to heaven," smells a bit much like the sort of inspirational books I don't want to read.

  3. Hmm, hard to say. She has written inspirational fiction before - check out the reviews of Tathea on Amazon (trade reviews, that is, not just the reader reviews). Haven't read it myself, but they're rather mixed. The setting of this one intrigues me, though, so I'll be giving it a try.

    No pub date was given, so I'm guessing it's at least a year away, probably more, as she already has two books coming out in early '07, same publisher.

  4. Anonymous11:56 AM

    This may sound strange but I do not ever read inspirational fiction. Most of it is too sappy. I prefer biographies, and a few very well-written historical novels.

    I always wanted to write a novel about Byzantium, maybe with Empress Theodora as the heroine. (Has that been done?) But for me to write about it, I would have to spend a few days in Istanbul, absorbing the atmosphere of the bazaars, the Hagia Sophia, the port. Maybe someday. Similarly, I can't write about Bonnie Prince Charlie until I visit Culloden.

  5. The novels I know of with Empress Theodora as the heroine are quite old. She appears in Gillian Bradshaw's The Bearkeeper's Daughter, which is pretty good, though the storyline there is completely fictional.