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Tag: Historical fiction Page 2 of 9

Mad Boy by Nick Arvin

I’m a fan of Nick Arvin.  I have enjoyed his work including Articles of War and The Reconstructionist and have been lucky enough to have him do some Q&A’s for the site (see here and here).  So I was excited to learn he had a new novel coming out this month and was able to get a review copy from NetGalley.

Mad Boy, which was released on Tuesday, is a wild, at times hilarious, at times touching, romp set during the War of 1812. The central character, Henry Phipps, is great.  Despite possibly being “mad” he has a fierce determination but also a sense of duty and loyalty that carries him through some very difficult circumstances.  But he is also obviously a boy; unlike some fiction where the child acts and thinks in ways that are not particularly childlike. The are also many intriguing secondary characters that Henry interacts with along his journey; his mother (dead and alive), his addiction prone father whose luck is always just about to turn, his honor bound brother, an avaricious and traitorous Redcoat, and the wealthy and brutal man who may be his real father.

In the setting and dialog Arvin transport you to a different world. Redcoats and Bluecoats face off, slaves seek their freedom, looters and pirates hope to take advantage of the chaos of war, while many people are trying to survive. Henry just wants to honor his mother’s wishes but doing so, with her voice still in his head, is far from easy.

I found Mad Boy to be a very different book than Arvin’s previous work, but a creative and entertaining one for sure.


The Half-Drowned King by Linnea Hartsuyker

The Half-Drowned King by Linnea Hartsuyker is the first book in a trilogy about Norway’s unification. A promising beginning to an interesting story.

The book starts with a twist that is very surprising. Hartsuyker keeps you reeling from that point on with many other plot twists.

The character development is great. You come to respect both of the main heroines – Ragnvald and his sister Svanhild. Both have a streak of stubbornness in them, but they also have a fairly strong moral compass that keeps them grounded. Although their initial goals line up with each other, they quickly go in diverging paths. Despite these different paths, you have a sense that they will both end up determining the fate of a united Norway.

The action is raw – describing the cutting off of heads and the cutting into of flesh. Although it is raw, it is not overdone – meaning Hartsuyker does not get into the too gory details. She realistically describes Norwegian warfare or all European warfare during that time period.

Although there is a little mysticism at times, it does not seem out-of-place. In particular, there is a scene on an “undead” person who turns out to be still alive, but near death.

I look forward to the next installment in the trilogy.


Fools and Mortals by Bernard Cornwell

Bernard Cornwell’s Fools and Mortals is an interesting book that is a bit away from Cornwell’s style. I say a bit because he is known for war drama and Fools and Mortals deals nothing with war. But, it is heavy in drama with a dash of action.

The writing is excellent, as usual with Cornwell, with regard to character and plot development. The reader has the usual feelings for Cornwell’s heroines – likability with a dash of unsavoriness. In this case, it is Richard Shakespeare – brother to William. Richard is an actor in William’s company, but he is poor and resorts to thievery at times. He works hard to get bigger parts despite his brothers disdain for him.

The reader also has the usual feelings for the villains – disdain and hatred for their actions. There are many villains in this book – from Sir Godfrey, the churchman who preyed on young boys for their acting talents and their vulnerability, to Mister Price, a Puritan bent on ridding England of Catholics. The various villains do their best to thwart Richard.

The plot moves along fairly quickly until the end. It leads to climax where the villains are confronted and handled with a few twists along the way. One note on the plot, with a plot including Shakespeare, you have to expect a heavy influence of his plays. In Fools and Mortals, you will not be disappointed. However, I think Cornwell leans a little too much of the book’s text on dialogue from Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream. The inclusion of the dialogue seemed to take up more of the book than deserved.

Although not one of his best, still a good read from Bernard Cornwell.


The Girl in the Tower by Katherine Arden

I listened to the first book in this planned trilogy, The Bear and the Nightingale, on audio book last year.  So I figured I would continue with book two, The Girl in the Tower, in that same format.

And like the first, I really enjoyed it. In fact, I may have enjoyed the second book more.  It is a fascinating blend of history, magic and drama with religion, politics and family dynamics thrown in. Arden balances the old world’s magic and the new world’s religion well, and treats each seriously or at least with a sense of history. The characters have depth and personality even those that are not a central focus.

Also like the first, there is a feminist thread running throughout in the sense that the limited options of woman are quite obvious. Marriage and family or the convent basically. But what makes it powerful is the personality of Vasya. Imagining her in either role illustrates the lack of freedom without becoming preachy or lecturing.

Vasaya’s relationship with Morozko and her attempts to understand her place in the world, and where he might fit into it, is a thread within the story.  But again the family dynamics, politics and cultural/religious environment all make up a fascinating non-magical element and were the parts I found most fascinating and entertaining.

Arden successfully allows you to imagine the world of medieval Russia and the complex society that Vasya finds herself caught up in.  The layer of secrets that make up her life really builds the tension and the resulting emotions are quite powerful.  Twists and turns and surprises abound as you rush to the conclusion.

I highly recommend this series. If you have a long car ride or trip ahead, even better.

The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden

OK, enough navel gazing about blogging, how about some book reviews?

Regular readers will be aware of my interest in folklore, fairy tales and fiction dealing with faith and/or religion.  The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden touches on all of these elements which piqued my interest when it was released.  I had it on the To Be Read list for some time. I didn’t buy it, however, as I was unsure it would suit my tastes despite the subjects above.  Last year I was able to listen to the audiobook via Overdrive.  I recently listened to the sequel, The Girl in the Tower, and figured I should post a review.

I found it to be a fascinating and enchanting listen; a truly epic tale of life in the north where magic and religion still live side by side. I don’t know enough about the Russian fairy tales and legends to know how closely this tracks with them, but I found it engrossing and suspenseful; full of history, family life, religious conflict and fantastical folklore.

Vasilisa is a great character and her unique personality and gifts really drive the novel.  Arden does a great job describing the unique setting and building her characters.  She builds the tension and even as she paints this wonderful and complex picture of the world of Russian wilderness.

It has a fairly strong feminist streak, the main protagonist’s goal is both to protect her family and escape the role society expects of her. It also has an element that seems anti-religion. But no matter your opinion on these topics or others, it is wonderful written and highly entertaining.

Kathleen Gati does a great job with the narration.  She really helped to bring the characters alive and is just right with the tone, pace, etc.  It is an audiobook it is easy to lose yourself in. And those are the best kind.

I usually avoid historical fiction but this one is in a time period I am not very familiar with and the folklore/magical elements give it a different feel. Recommended for sure.


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