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Tag: Historical fiction Page 1 of 9

Sharpe’s Assassin by Bernard Cornwell

Bernard Cornwell, without exception, is my favorite historical fiction writer. He has written many historical fiction books and series, including the Richard Sharpe Series. He recently finished the final book in the Series entitled Sharpe’s Assassin.

A great book series is hard to find. It is difficult to keep intriguing story lines and continue to develop characters. Cornwell is a master at both of these in several different series.

Once an author decides to end a series, I always hate to read the last book. You get very familiar with the characters and there is a certain comfort knowing that another book is coming to continue the adventure. This is even more so with the Sharpe Series. I have been reading the books for more than 20 years, many of them twice. I know that Cornwell wrote many of them in order and later filled in some gaps with newer books, but this latest book seems a little more final. It appears that the Richard Sharpe character is finally done.

As with the other books in the Series, the character development is strong and the plot is engaging. Cornwell’s writing sucks the reader in and does not let go. In Sharpe’s Assassins, Cornwell introduces you to Alan Fox (an eccentric British art collector ordered to recover art stolen by Napoleon and who assists Sharpe in a plot to cause chaos with the Allied forces in Paris) and Colonel Lanier (a French officer reportedly helping to lead the chaos). These two men cause headaches for Sharpe. But, Sharpe is joined by the ever-faithful and powerful Sergeant Harper to help him with the latest adventure.

The action scenes are realistic, especially with the storming of a castle and the battle at the end. The plot is very believable. Sharpe and Fox are tasked by Wellington to hunt down and find a group of assassins.

Without revealing the end, I like how Cornwell ends Sharpe’s adventures in the last battle and afterward.

The Hidden Palace (The Golem and the Jinni #2) by Helene Wecker

Way back in 2013 I reviewed The Golem and the Jinni by Helene Wecker and I was a big fan:

A mix of history, romance, fantasy, folklore and psychological/philosophical musings it was both entertaining and thought-provoking. The story starts slowly by introducing us to the main characters and settings (primarily turn-of-the-century Manhattan) but these characters and settings are so engaging that you don’t mind the slow pace, or at least I didn’t, but settle in to enjoy the process and explore this fictional world.

But danger is always lurking for both the Golem and the Jinni and the tension begins to grow, the plot lines start to mingle and tangle and by the end you are feverishly reading to find out what happens. As you do so you find the questions about destiny and free will, about choice and character, intriguing and even challenging.

I am not usually a big fan of historical fiction but in this case the fantasy and folklore elements combined with the history to form a compelling blend.

So when the long awaited follow up, The Hidden Palace, was released last year I added it to the To Be Read list.

Publisher

Chava is a golem, a woman made of clay, who can hear the thoughts and longings of those around her and feels compelled by her nature to help them. Ahmad is a jinni, a restless creature of fire, once free to roam the desert but now imprisoned in the shape of a man. Fearing they’ll be exposed as monsters, these magical beings hide their true selves and try to pass as human—just two more immigrants in the bustling world of 1900s Manhattan. Brought together under calamitous circumstances, their lives are now entwined—but they’re not yet certain of what they mean to each other.

Both Chava and Ahmad have changed the lives of the people around them. Park Avenue heiress Sophia Winston, whose brief encounter with Ahmad left her with a strange illness that makes her shiver with cold, travels to the Middle East to seek a cure. There she meets Dima, a tempestuous female jinni who’s been banished from her tribe. Back in New York, in a tenement on the Lower East Side, a little girl named Kreindel helps her rabbi father build a golem they name Yossele—not knowing that she’s about to be sent to an orphanage uptown, where the hulking Yossele will become her only friend and protector.

Spanning the tumultuous years from the turn of the twentieth century to the beginning of World War I, The Hidden Palace follows these lives and others as they collide and interleave. Can Chava and Ahmad find their places in the human world while remaining true to each other? Or will their opposing natures and desires eventually tear them apart—especially once they encounter, thrillingly, other beings like themselves?

My Take

As I noted in my review of the first book, I don’t normally read or enjoy much historical fiction. The Golem and Jinni overcame that drawback but I think The Hidden Palace reminded me why I tend not to read a lot of this genre.  It just took a lot for me to get into the story and flow. I can appreciate the details and social interaction but it felt like the plot took a long time to really get moving. There was a lot of set up. But once it really got moving it was enjoyable. I liked it but didn’t love it.

I think this is a book that you have to be in the mood to just enjoy the characters, relationships and settings as the plot slowly develops. If you are happy just to be back in this world again, you can enjoy it for that aspect.  But the sequel just lacks the narrative flow and drive that the first book did.

The Heebie-Jeebie Girl by Susan Petrone

Cover of THe Heebie-Jeebie GirlYoungstown, Ohio, 1977. Between the closing of the city’s largest steel mill and the worst blizzard in more than 40 years, the table is set for remarkable change. Unemployed steel worker Bobby Wayland is trying hard to help his family and still pay for his wedding, but the only solution he can think of involves breaking the law. On the other side of town, a little girl named Hope is keeping a big secret, one she won’t even share with her Great Uncle Joe―she can make things move without touching them. Watching over both of them is the city herself, and she has something to say and something to do about all of this.

The Heebie-Jeebie Girl is the story of an era ending and the uncertainty that awakens. It’s the story of what happens when the unconscionable meets the improbable. It’s the story of dreams deferred, dreams devoured, and dreams dawning. It is likely to be the most distinctive novel you read this year, but it will startle you with its familiarity. Author Susan Petrone has created an unforgettable tale of family, redemption, and magic.

I was originally attracted to The Heebie-Jeebie Girl by Susan Petrone because of the time period, 1970’s of my youth, and the location, Youngstown-a place very different than my hometown of Grand Rapids, Michigan. I was lucky enough to get an advanced copy from NetGalley and started reading it almost immediately.

I waited to post a review until closer to publication, which happens to be today (for the ebook at least).

Sword of Kings by Bernard Cornwell

Sword of Kings by Bernard Cornwell continues the chronicles of Uhtred of Bebbanburg in the Saxon Tales.

Here is a brief summary of the book from the publisher:

It is a time of political turmoil once more as the fading King Edward begins to lose control over his successors and their supporters. There are two potential heirs—possibly more—and doubt over whether the once separate states of Wessex and Mercia will hold together. Despite attempts at pulling him into the political fray, Uhtred of Bebbanburg cares solely about his beloved Northumbria and its continuing independence from southern control.

But an oath is a strong, almost sacred commitment and such a promise had been exchanged between Uhtred and Aethelstan, his onetime companion in arms and now a potential king. Uhtred was tempted to ignore the demands of the oath and stay in his northern fastness, leaving the quarrelling Anglo-Saxons to sort out their own issues.  But an attack on him by a leading supporter of one of the candidates and an unexpected appeal for help from another, drives Uhtred with a small band of warriors south, into the battle for kingship—and England’s fate.

As with my other reviews of the books in this series, Sword of Kings does not disappoint. Everything from the plot to the character development is great–only difference with this book being that it has a twist for Uhtred. Cornwell shows Uhtred going through a little more adversity than normal – he is humbled. This humbling makes the story that much better.

Not only does Cornwell humble Uhtred, but he also continues to keep Uhtred human (rather than some superhuman that many authors tend to do for their protagonist). Cornwell often has Uhtred doubting his decisions–whether to rescue Queen Eadigfu or to honor his oath to Aethelstan to kill Aethelhelm and his nephew Aelfweard. It is refreshing to have the protagonist be unsure of him or herself.

The battle scenes are as epic as ever, which are visceral with a “down-in-the-trenches” description of men fighting with swords, axes, spears, and shields.

As I read each successive book, I have an increasing sadness knowing that Uhtred is getting older, thus his tale will end at some point in the nearer future.

The Horseman’s Song by Ben Pastor

The Horseman’s Song by Ben Pastor is another installment in the mystery series of Wehrmacht Officer Martin von Bora–this book is a prequel to the following five books in the series. This latest is set in Spain, 1937 during the Spanish Civil War. Bora investigates the murder of poet Garcia Lorca.

I have not read any of the other books in the series, but easily became familiar with Bora due to the excellent writing. I am fairly impressed with not only the writing, but the story line and character development as well.

Pastor begins the book with Bora finding Lorca’s body and developing the plot from there. She vividly describes the scene and gets the reader engaged immediately.

Not only is the story line well thought out, but the character development is just as strong. Pastor portrays Bora in a mainly positive light, but she also shows his weaknesses–including where he needs to gain more wisdom. I also appreciate her equal attention to Boras’ opponent–fellow “investigator” Philip “Felipe” Walton, an American volunteer fighting for the communists/anarchists/socialists.

Although Walton is cast in a bit of a more negative light, the reader can relate to him. His hardscrabble life in the United States embitters Walton and leads him from various battlefields, including Western Europe during World War I, to Spain. Pastor expertly weaves Walton’s disappointments in life into his current relationships.

Despite Bora’s many doubts, he doggedly pursues the killer of Lorca and eventually succeeds–despite the many obstacles placed in his way by his own side and the communists.

The book is a good story set during a turbulent time in Spain.

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