Tuesday, January 20, 2015

My Top Seven Historical Fiction Novels

Inspired by the post over at Anna's Book Blog on her top ten favorite historical fiction novels. Here are my top seven favorite historical novels:

  1. Hand of Isis by Jo GrahamHand of Isis by Jo Graham.
    The amazon.com blurb:
    Set in ancient Egypt, Hand of Isis is the story of Charmian, a handmaiden, and her two sisters. It is a novel of lovers who transcend death, of gods who meddle in mortal affairs, and of women who guide empires.

    I love the mix of history and fantasy in this series of Jo Graham's novels.
  2.  Black Ships by Jo Graham.
    The amazon.com blurb:
    The world is ending. One by one the mighty cities are falling, to earthquakes, to flood, to raiders on both land and sea.

    In a time of war and doubt, Gull is an oracle. Daughter of a slave taken from fallen Troy, chosen at the age of seven to be the voice of the Lady of the Dead, it is her destiny to counsel kings.

    When nine black ships appear, captained by an exiled Trojan prince, Gull must decide between the life she has been destined for and the most perilous adventure -- to join the remnant of her mother's people in their desperate flight. From the doomed bastions of the City of Pirates to the temples of Byblos, from the intrigues of the Egyptian court to the haunted caves beneath Mount Vesuvius, only Gull can guide Prince Aeneas on his quest, and only she can dare the gates of the Underworld itself to lead him to his destiny.

    In the last shadowed days of the Age of Bronze, one woman dreams of the world beginning anew. This is her story.
    Black Ships is set in the same world as Hand of Isis, but covers the time-period just after the Trojan War.
  3. Snow Flower and the Secret Fan by Lisa See
    The amazon.com blurb:
    In nineteenth-century China, in a remote Hunan county, a girl named Lily, at the tender age of seven, is paired with a laotong, an “old same,” in an emotional match that will last a lifetime. The laotong, Snow Flower, introduces herself by sending Lily a silk fan on which she’s written a poem in nu shu, a unique language that Chinese women created in order to communicate in secret, away from the influence of men. As the years pass, Lily and Snow Flower send messages on the fan and compose stories on handkerchiefs, reaching out of isolation to share their hopes, dreams, and accomplishments. Together they endure the agony of footbinding and reflect upon their arranged marriages, their loneliness, and the joys and tragedies of motherhood. The two find solace in their friendship, developing a bond that keeps their spirits alive. But when a misunderstanding arises, their relationship suddenly threatens to tear apart.

    Snow Flower and the Secret Fan is a captivating journey back to an era of Chinese history that is as deeply moving as it is sorrowful. Now in a deluxe paperback edition complete with an expanded Random House Reader’s Circle guide and an exclusive conversation between Lisa See and her mother, fellow writer Carolyn See, this lyrical and emotionally charged novel is, as the Seattle Times says, “a beautifully drawn portrait of female friendship and power.”
    I've read this book a couple of times now, and seen the movie, loving it every time.
  4. Cleopatra's Daughter by Michelle Moran
    The amazon.com blurb:
    The marriage of Marc Antony and Cleopatra is one of the greatest love stories of all time, a tale of unbridled passion with earth-shaking political consequences. Feared and hunted by the powers in Rome, the lovers choose to die by their own hands as the triumphant armies of Antony’s revengeful rival, Octavian, sweep into Egypt. Their three orphaned children are taken in chains to Rome; only two– the ten-year-old twins Selene and Alexander–survive the journey. Delivered to the household of Octavian’s sister, the siblings cling to each other and to the hope that they will return one day to their rightful place on the throne of Egypt. As they come of age, they are buffeted by the personal ambitions of Octavian’s family and court, by the ever-present threat of slave rebellion, and by the longings and desires deep within their own hearts.

    The fateful tale of Selene and Alexander is brought brilliantly to life in Cleopatra’s Daughter. Recounted in Selene’s youthful and engaging voice, it introduces a compelling cast of historical characters: Octavia, the emperor Octavian’s kind and compassionate sister, abandoned by Marc Antony for Cleopatra; Livia, Octavian's bitter and jealous wife; Marcellus, Octavian’s handsome, flirtatious nephew and heir apparent; Tiberius, Livia’s sardonic son and Marcellus’s great rival for power; and Juba, Octavian’s watchful aide, whose honored position at court has far-reaching effects on the lives of the young Egyptian royals.

    Selene’s narrative is animated by the concerns of a young girl in any time and place–the possibility of finding love, the pull of friendship and family, and the pursuit of her unique interests and talents. While coping with the loss of both her family and her ancestral kingdom, Selene must find a path around the dangers of a foreign land. Her accounts of life in Rome are filled with historical details that vividly capture both the glories and horrors of the times. She dines with the empire’s most illustrious poets and politicians, witnesses the creation of the Pantheon, and navigates the colorful, crowded marketplaces of the city where Roman-style justice is meted out with merciless authority.

    Based on meticulous research, Cleopatra’s Daughter is a fascinating portrait of imperial Rome and of the people and events of this glorious and most tumultuous period in human history. Emerging from the shadows of the past, Selene, a young woman of irresistible charm and preternatural intelligence, will capture your heart.
    I really need to re-read this one actually. The blurb is calling out to me again.
  5. Outlander by Diana Gabaldon
    The amazon.com blurb:
    Claire Randall is leading a double life. She has a husband in one century, and a lover in another...

    In 1945, Claire Randall, a former combat nurse, is back from the war and reunited with her husband on a second honeymoon--when she innocently touches a boulder in one of the ancient stone circles that dot the British Isles. Suddenly she is a Sassenach—an "outlander"—in a Scotland torn by war and raiding border clans in the year of our Lord...1743.

    Hurled back in time by forces she cannot understand, Claire's destiny in soon inextricably intertwined with Clan MacKenzie and the forbidden Castle Leoch. She is catapulted without warning into the intrigues of lairds and spies that may threaten her life ...and shatter her heart. For here, James Fraser, a gallant young Scots warrior, shows her a passion so fierce and a love so absolute that Claire becomes a woman torn between fidelity and desire...and between two vastly different men in two irreconcilable lives.
    I remember reading this one for the first time over ten years ago. It was a book I picked up on a whim from a charity-sale table, and once I started, I couldn't put the book down. Then I discovered there were sequels...Except, I was about to go away for a month so couldn't borrow them from the library until I got back. Oh, the wait.
  6. Lammas Night - Katherine Kurtz
    Lammas Night by Katherine Kurtz
    The back cover blurb:
    What magic can stop Adolf Hitler - History's most evil Black Magician?

    Modern War
    The year is 1940
    Hitler's Germany is about to employ the secret arts of evil witchcraft to destroy England. What can stop them?

    Ancient Weapon
    It is the mission of John Graham, colonel in British Intelligence, to stop the onslaught of evil with an extraordinary strategy that defies all the rules of twentieth-century warfare: Unite the different witches' covens throughout England, drawing upon powers that reach back through dark centuries, in a ritual of awesome sacrifice on the first night of August, the magical Lammas Night.
    An older book that's well worth the hunt if you like historical fantasy.
  7. Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden
    The amazon.com blurb:
    In this literary tour de force, novelist Arthur Golden enters a remote and shimmeringly exotic world. For the protagonist of this peerlessly observant first novel is Sayuri, one of Japan's most celebrated geisha, a woman who is both performer and courtesan, slave and goddess.

    We follow Sayuri from her childhood in an impoverished fishing village, where in 1929, she is sold to a representative of a geisha house, who is drawn by the child's unusual blue-grey eyes. From there she is taken to Gion, the pleasure district of Kyoto. She is nine years old. In the years that follow, as she works to pay back the price of her purchase, Sayuri will be schooled in music and dance, learn to apply the geisha's elaborate makeup, wear elaborate kimono, and care for a coiffure so fragile that it requires a special pillow. She will also acquire a magnanimous tutor and a venomous rival. Surviving the intrigues of her trade and the upheavals of war, the resourceful Sayuri is a romantic heroine on the order of Jane Eyre and Scarlett O'Hara. And Memoirs of a Geisha is a triumphant work - suspenseful, and utterly persuasive.

    I've only read the book once, but it's stuck with me ever since.
I'd meant for this to go to a full ten books, but I'm reaching a point where they wouldn't truly be my favorites any more, only books I've thrown in to fill out the list.
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