This may or may not become a regular feature, or at least semi-regular. But it’s pretty much what it says on the tin – my various recommendations from different genres! Today, after finally finishing the beast of a book that is Outlander, I wanted to share my recommendations of historical fiction, a genre that is very close to my heart just behind fantasy and science fiction.
So prepare to travel back in time, and whisk yourself away by reading…
The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller
Achilles, “the best of all the Greeks,” son of the cruel sea goddess Thetis and the legendary king Peleus, is strong, swift, and beautiful— irresistible to all who meet him. Patroclus is an awkward young prince, exiled from his homeland after an act of shocking violence. Brought together by chance, they forge an inseparable bond, despite risking the gods’ wrath.
They are trained by the centaur Chiron in the arts of war and medicine, but when word comes that Helen of Sparta has been kidnapped, all the heroes of Greece are called upon to lay siege to Troy in her name. Seduced by the promise of a glorious destiny, Achilles joins their cause, and torn between love and fear for his friend, Patroclus follows. Little do they know that the cruel Fates will test them both as never before and demand a terrible sacrifice.
- Time Period: Pre-8th century BC, when the Iliad was written.
- Location: Various Greek city-states, Troy.
- Why Should I Read It? This is a beautiful love story based on ancient works, and one of the most gorgeous portrayals of ancient Greece I have ever read.
Gates of Fire by Steven Pressfield
At Thermopylae, a rocky mountain pass in northern Greece, the feared and admired Spartan soldiers stood three hundred strong. Theirs was a suicide mission, to hold the pass against the invading millions of the mighty Persian army.
Day after bloody day they withstood the terrible onslaught, buying time for the Greeks to rally their forces. Born into a cult of spiritual courage, physical endurance, and unmatched battle skill, the Spartans would be remembered for the greatest military stand in history–one that would not end until the rocks were awash with blood, leaving only one gravely injured Spartan squire to tell the tale…
- Time Period: 480 BC.
- Location: Sparta, Thermopylae.
- Why Should I Read It? If you’re a fan of the film 300, then give this one a try. It is told from the point of view of a Spartan, captured by the Persians, and through him we get a glimpse into Spartan society. Definitely one for the ancient history buffs!
Blood and Beauty by Sarah Dunant
Is there a family in history more dazzling, dangerous and notorious than the Borgias? A powerhouse of the Italian Renaissance, their very name epitomizes the ruthless politics and sexual corruption of the Papacy.
The father, Pope Alexander VI, a consummate politician and a man with a voracious appetite both as Cardinal and Pope. The younger Juan, womanizer and thug, and their lovely sister, Lucretia, whose very name has become a byword for poison, incest and intrigue. But how much of the history about this remarkable family is actually true, and how much distorted, filtered through the age old mechanisms of political spin, propaganda and gossip?
What if the truth, the real history, is even more challenging?
- Time Period: The 15th century AD.
- Location: Rome.
- Why Should I Read It? The Borgias were a fascinating family, and although the truth about them is now pretty much lost amongst all the gossip and scandal of the past, Sarah Dunant writes a fabulous version of their story. Just enough back-stabbing and political corruptness to keep you turning the pages, without being over the top.
La Reine Margot by Alexandre Dumas
Margot is one of several in line to inherit the crown in France, where Roman Catholics and Protestants are jockeying for power. Margot’s mother, Catherine de Medici, is intent on seeing her son take the throne once the reign of King Charles IX ends. After being married to a man she doesn’t love and starting a tryst with one she does, Margot contends with her mother’s at-all-costs plan to control the political fate of the volatile country.
- Time Period: 1572 during the reign of Charles IX.
- Location: Paris.
- Why Should I Read It? It’s a fascinating period of history, and Dumas illustrates it wonderfully. I had to study this particular period for history at school, and ended up reading lots of books set in around it.
Outlander by Diana Gabaldon
The year is 1945. Claire Randall, a former combat nurse, is just back from the war and reunited with her husband on a second honeymoon when she walks through a standing stone in one of the ancient 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 is catapulted 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 love so absolute that Claire becomes a woman torn between fidelity and desire—and between two vastly different men in two irreconcilable lives.
- Time Period: 1945 and 1743.
- Location: Scotland – Inverness and the Highlands.
- Why Should I Read It? Jamie Fraser. Is that enough? Oh, well… the only time I really enjoy romance is fiction is when it is in historical fiction, and this book basically has it all. A time travel element, a female lead who doesn’t take crap from anyone, sexy Scotsmen in kilts, castles, beautiful landscapes, adventure, intrigue… ahh just read it please.
The Scarlet Pimpernel by Emmuska Orczy
Armed with only his wits and his cunning, one man recklessly defies the French revolutionaries and rescues scores of innocent men, women, and children from the deadly guillotine. His friends and foes know him only as the Scarlet Pimpernel. But the ruthless French agent Chauvelin is sworn to discover his identity and to hunt him down.
- Time Period: During the French Revolution (1789-1799), but specifically in 1792.
- Location: Paris, Calais and London.
- Why Should I Read It? ODDS FISH, M’DEAR! Percy Blakeney is one of the best characters of all time – acting out a foolish aristocrat in order to keep his cover, he is really incredibly clever and charming. The whole book is a real adventure, and I also highly recommend the film version starring Anthony Andrews.
Empress Orchid by Anchee Min
To rescue her family from poverty and avoid marrying her slope-shouldered cousin, seventeen-year-old Orchid competes to be one of the Emperor’s wives. When she is chosen as a lower-ranking concubine she enters the erotically charged and ritualised Forbidden City. But beneath its immaculate façade lie whispers of murders and ghosts, and the thousands of concubines will stoop to any lengths to bear the Emperor’s son.
Orchid trains herself in the art of pleasuring a man, bribes her way into the royal bed, and seduces the monarch, drawing the attention of dangerous foes. Little does she know that China will collapse around her, and that she will be its last Empress.
- Time Period: 1852.
- Location: The Forbidden City and Beijing.
- Why Should I Read It? It’s a fascinating look at one woman’s rise to power. For me it really appealed because I hadn’t read many books about China, and was interested in learning more. I would not recommended the sequel though!
Have you read any of these recommendations, or do you have any recommendations of your own?
Hello, and welcome back to the Museum of Literary Wonders! Are you ready for the second part of the tour? Perhaps some of you have just joined us for the first time today, in that case let me explain. I am Rinn, the curator and your tour guide for today. The museum holds many wonderful objects from many different worlds and universes, preserved in this museum because of their importance – perhaps they hold a lot of meaning, perhaps they’re important plot points or maybe just because they’re pretty… For whatever reason, they have been carefully stored in the museum collection so that generation after generation can learn about them. Without further ado, let us go on!
There have been many reports that these strange objects are in fact dragon’s eggs. Perhaps they were at one time, but now they’re petrified and will never hatch – good thing too, imagine the damage they could do. But no need to worry, that will never happen! They were found in a wide expanse of grassland known as the ‘Dothraki Sea’, and kindly donated by a bearded and behatted gentleman.
This signet ring may not look very flashy or expensive, but it certainly has a lot of meaning. It supposedly belonged to the Scarlet Pimpernel, a mysterious and elusive (and demmed!) figure who rescued various members of the French nobility from the guillotine during the French Revolution. Every time he freed a family or person, he would leave a note, complete with a wax seal stamped by this very ring. Odd’s fish, what a brave man!
This strange contraption is a Voight (or Voigt)-Kampff test. Supposedly it was used as an interrogation tool, to determine whether someone was human or android, as at the time the two were almost indistinguishable – apart from an androids lack of empathy. Therefore the interrogator would ask questions to design emotional responses. Fascinating!
Are there any questions? What exhibits would you like to see next?
Admittedly, if you are looking to read some historical fiction set during the French Revolution in order to learn more about that period of time, this really isn’t the book. It is much more a story about the people, than the events. But what you do get, however, is a fun-filled adventure story with a very unusual hero, at least at first glance.
Sir Percy Blakeney is a lazy, dim-witted Baronet, married to Marguerite St. Just, one of the cleverest women in Europe. No-one understands the pairing, and least of all would they expect him to be the Scarlet Pimpernel – which is exactly who he is. The slow, stupid Percy is purely a mask; a mask so opaque that even his wife does not suspect. Yet as both a complete fop, and as the brave Pimpernel, Percy is such a loveable character. He is charming, in both manner and speech, and very much the classic hero. Add to this his quirky speech ‘ “odd’s fish!” – and you get a character that it is impossible not to fall for.
In contrast, Marguerite, whilst described as clever, comes across as a rather selfish woman, who marries Percy only because he worships her. However, the story gives her a chance to prove herself a worthy character, and she rises to the challenge. As well as the classically handsome hero and beautiful, intelligent female protagonist, Chauvelin, the French envoy to England, plays the role of the typical villain. Often described as thin, with pointed features, and walking with a slight stoop, he brings to mind a rat or other vermin. So whilst all the characters are actually very typical stereotypes of their roles, it works very well – and it must be remembered that this was the book that inspired many future ‘masked avenger’ titles.
Overall, despite the subject material, the book is just very funny – from Percy’s various disguises (including an old hag), to Chauvelin’s soldiers obeying his orders to literally every last word, thereby actually disobeying them – and one of the easier classics to read. If you tend to struggle with classic books, you should still try this one; the slightly later publication date than many others means the language is a little easier, and it really is a story not to be missed.
Also, another note: if you enjoyed the book, watch the film version from 1982, featuring Anthony Andrews, Jane Seymour and Ian McKellen. Or just watch the film, regardless of whether you have read, or plan to read the book – Anthony Andrews gives a fantastic performance and really embodies the character of Percy.
I’m taking a break from my Community marathon to join in this week’s Top Ten Tuesday, hosted by The Broke and the Bookish. This week’s theme is a Top Ten Freebie, meaning each blogger can pick their own theme. I’ve looked through the past themes, and chosen:
Top Ten Book to Film Adaptations
1. The Lord of the Rings by J. R. R. Tolkien
Films directed by Peter Jackson – one of my favourite book and film series. I know there is plenty that was changed, added or left out, but I believe that Peter Jackson created the very best he could without making something that was days long, nor cutting out too much. I know Tom Bombadil would have been awesome but would he really have been necessary? Yes, it was Glorfindel, not Arwen, who took Frodo to Rivendell and over the Bruinen Ford, but Jackson and co worried that the lack of female characters would cause complaints – and as an avid lover of the books, I have no problem with the creative liberty taken.
2. The Harry Potter series by J. K. Rowling
Films directed by David Yates, Alfonso Cuaron, Chris Columbus and Mike Newell) – when the first one came out, I was 11 and a massive fan. I was so, so disappointed – and I hated the films until the fourth one. I think they slowly improved with time and now, even though the first few aren’t great, I enjoy them because they’re Harry Potter and they show the changes the series went through. And the cast makes me SO proud of my nationality.
3. The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
Film directed by Gary Ross – I feel this adaptation was really faithful, and Ross did so well in making it violent but still appropriate for a younger audience. Plus some fantastic casting.
4. Jurassic Park by Michael Crichton
Film directed by Steven Spielberg – although the book is a lot more technical (read it if you haven’t!), and the adaptation maybe isn’t as faithful as some, I absolutely love this film. When I was younger I wanted to study dinosaurs – but somehow I ended up as an archaeologist, rather than a palaeontologist!
5. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson
Film directed by David Fincher – I somehow feel bad for admitting that I preferred the American version to the original Swedish version, but I just did. Salander was more how I imagined her. Honourable mention to Niels Arden Oplev though!
6. Mrs Doubtfire by Anne Fine
Film directed by Chris Columbus, original book title ‘Madame Doubtfire’ – this is on my list because it’s one of my ‘comfort’ films (for when I’m feeling down), Robin Williams is my favourite actor ever, and this film turned a frankly quite depressing book into something really sweet and funny, but also touching.
7. Bridget Jones’ Diary by Helen Fielding
Film directed by Sharon Maguire – how did I nearly forget Bridget Jones?! I’ve read and watched it so many times, it’s like an old friend. I’m really not a chick lit/flick person, but I make an exception for these books/films.
8. The Scarlet Pimpernel by Baroness Orczy
Film directed by Clive Donner (1982 version) – so I haven’t actually read the book yet… it’s on my list! But I just can’t ignore Anthony Andrews’ fantastic take on Sir Percival Blakeney (or should I say ‘Blakenehhh…), Baronet. It’s really hard to get hold of this film (at least in the UK), but it’s worth it!
9. Shutter Island by Dennis Lehane
Film directed by Martin Scorsese – I think the film really caught the essence of the book – creepy and unsettling.
10. We Need To Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver
Film directed by Lynne Ramsey) – as with Shutter Island, this is every bit as harrowing as the book. Ezra Miller is outstanding.
And one book to film adaptation I’m not sure about – maybe it was too hyped up – is Blade Runner. I really loved the book, by Philip K. Dick (published as Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?). It’s my dad’s favourite film and he kept telling me to watch it, which I finally did after reading the book, and it just wasn’t that great. It was good, but really didn’t live up to my expectations – and is very different from the source material.