I’ve always loved historical fiction. I think what started me on the kick was Edward Eager’s Half-Magic, one of the first “real” books I read as a kid. In it, the characters referred frequently to Ivanhoe. A few years later, I stumbled on Sir Walter Scott’s classic in our junior high school library and couldn’t wait to read it for myself. I followed this up with some of Scott’s other novels, then The Three Musketeers and its sequels, and later on, stories about Tudor queens: Mary Queen of Scots, Elizabeth I, and the hapless wives of King Henry VIII.
More recently, I’ve become enamored of historical mysteries. Colleagues at work introduced me to Sharan Newman‘s wonderful medieval series set in twelfth-century France, featuring Catherine LeVendeur, bookish daughter of a Parisian merchant. I discovered Barbara Hambly‘s A Free Man of Color and learned about the free black men and women who lived in New Orleans in the early nineteenth century, a fascinating culture I’d not known even existed. A new fave is Jeri Westerson‘s Crispin Guest series that takes place in Chaucer’s England, its hero a delightful mix of Philip Marlowe and Errol Flynn.
There’s room for all kinds here, all sorts of tones and moods, from romps through the desert with Elizabeth Peters‘ indomitable Amelia Peabody to the more somber hues of a trip through ancient Rome escorted by Steven Saylor‘s Gordianus the Finder.
I love these books because I love fiction that takes me to new places, to times that are so unlike our own. Yet the human element remains the same from age to age, and it’s endlessly intriguing to see how those who lived in other centuries had to deal with the universals that we all face: finding love, making a living, dealing with times of crisis.
What are your favorite historical novels? I’d love to add them to my list.