Monday, March 07, 2011

Bits and pieces

Moon in Leo, Kathleen Herbert's fourth and final novel, has recently been published by Trifolium Books, a company set up by her good friend Connie Jensen.  Last September, I'd reposted a comment which Connie left on my site after seeing a mention about the Georgette Heyer Historical Novel Prize, which Ms. Herbert won in 1983.  Moon in Leo is set not in Anglo-Saxon times but during the Restoration, in northwest England close to the Lake District.  Here's the description:

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.


  1. Based on what little you said I have added The girl King to my TBR list!

    I am looking forward to A Discovery of Witches as well. I just picked it up from the library just the other day.

  2. It's a real tribute to Connie's tenacity that she and her friends have succeeded in getting Kathleen Herbert's "Moon in Leo" published. Lovely to read a good news story and imagine Kathleen's pleasure at being able to actually see a published copy of her book. Now, if we could just get the "Northumbria" trilogy reprinted...

    I'm starting to wonder if I read an alternate version of Stewart Binn's "Conquest", which everyone else seems to love. I wanted to love it, but found the characters lacking in depth and the pace of the story spoilt by too much "telling". Binns would have done better to let the story speak for itself more often, imo. I must be overly picky :)

  3. Meant to say I'm intrigued by the novel about Queen Tamar of Georgia. I came across her awhile ago when i discovered her daughter Rusudan in Harold Lamb's historical novel, "Durandal". Rusudan also ruled as Queen of Georgia, but didn't do as well as her mother. During her reign Georgia was overrun by the Mongols and in effect became a client state within the Mongol Empire.

  4. Of course, I had to go read the Wikipedia article, spoilers or no. THAT was interesting, especially since I just finished reading The Queen of Attolia, and The King of Attolia--both more fantasy than historical, but much along the same lines.

    Thanks for the links, Sarah--I really think half the fun is looking up the history behind some of these books, and it broadens my education considerably. :)

  5. I'm always looking for more books to add to my ever growing library. Thanks for sharing these reviews.


  6. I haven't read Conquest yet, Annis, but the Hereward trend has me curious... I haven't read a book about him in ages. I'll post my thoughts once I've done so!

    The monarchs of the Bagration Dynasty are completely new territory for me; aside from the mentions in the biographical dictionaries (and Wikipedia) I know little. I hadn't heard of Rusudan before. By some coincidence I've found myself in 13th-c eastern Europe and Asia a lot lately, between Daughter of Xanadu, the Yarbro, and now this.

    Queen/King of Attolia aren't familiar to me either, though I recognize the titles. Must go investigate.

    I did end up looking at Wikipedia - especially the wonderful photos of historic sites and frescoes.

  7. Simon Schama published his wonderful history,The Embarrassment of Riches: An Interpretation of Dutch Culture in the Golden Age in 1996.

  8. Sarah, if you do look it up--the King/Queen of Attolia is part of a YA trilogy, starting with The Thief, by Megan Whelan Turner (think I spelled that right), and the author herself admits that it doesn't hold tight to any one historical period, though it weaves between Greek and semi-Byzantine.

    That said--I loved it--I think the King of Attolia, the last book, was absolutely the best of the three. I got these books out of the library, but now I want my own copies. I won't spoil it for you by raving about it too much, but the King, and The Queen, are the kind of books I find myself thinking about long after I've read them.

  9. Thanks, Lucy! I went to the author's website, and she also warns about spoilers, so I appreciate your saying enough about the setting without giving away anything either. I will check them out.

  10. Thank you so much Annis for your kind comments, and to you Sarah for all your encouragement and help. Kathleen was delighted to have her copy of Moon in Leo- I have put a short post about it on my blog. I am considering very seriously publishing the Northumbrian Trilogy again and have written to Kathleen's former agent to ask about the rights. I'm also researching e-publishing, but am not sure if historical fiction will sell this way. Any thoughts/comments on that would be welcome!

    The sooner I can cover costs for Moon in Leo, the sooner I can start on the next book, so tell all you friends! I don't think they will be disappointed: I am receiving daily verbal feedback from friends who are just finishing it. The general verdict is that it's a cracking good read! If you enjoy it, please post a review on Amazon.

    I am now working on a new blog page of notes (historical / geographical / general interest) to enrich the reading experience. It will eventually have links to fashions, pictures and music of the time, and will transfer to the website ( being built by my daughter Kate (who designed the cover)

    I shall try to address any queries or comments readers make on this page. Please take a look!

  11. Anonymous2:23 PM

    Ooh! Ooh! More 17th-century British historical fiction!

    Sarah other Librarian

  12. Is the Davy/Davey spelling for Blood and Dust a typo (are they related?) or just a coincidence? The title sounds like mine, only minus the blood.

    Speaking of the Midwest, I wonder if a generation from now, someone will be writing a great historical novel about the tragic/heroic events in Wisconsin....