This modern world undoubtedly has its ups and downs. Sure, we have all sorts of glorious technology to make our daily lives easier, and that’s all well and good, but the now-requisite gaggles of gadgets constantly vying for our limited attention span often create more stress than they can solve. Lack of penicillin and road networks aside, wouldn’t it be lovely to have the option to escape to an earlier, simpler, quieter time? It seems that – until time travel is perfected – the closest we can get is to be whisked away by a good book set well in the past.
Historical fiction has been exploding in popularity in the past several years, to which the likes of Hilary Mantel and Philippa Gregory can attest. The genre can be tricky though. For many authors, finding a way to crack that perfect balance between historical accuracy, literary prowess and escapist imagination is no easy feat. Some historical novels are drowning in the dryness of their numerous facts, whereas others drift so far from any noticeable elements of truth that it seems almost a crime to file them under “historical”.
But when it’s done well, historical fiction offers one of the most satisfying and pleasing reading experiences available. It not only transports readers to a new place but to a completely different era as well, leaving us feeling just a bit more erudite – regardless of how much reality actually populates the stories at hand.
We’ve gathered some of our most captivating historical fiction titles to help you fully exercise your imagination, whether you’re interested in a fictionalised account of a real person’s life or simply a unique novel that takes place in a time wholly unlike the present day.
In this novel, which stars Charlotte Bronte flexing her sleuthing muscles, the renowned author sets off for London to clear her name upon learning she has been falsely accused of plagiarism. But when she unintentionally witnesses a murder, Charlotte finds herself embroiled in a dangerous chain of events that forces her to confront demons from her past. With the clandestine aid of the other Brontë sisters, Emily and Anne – and of the suspiciously well-informed but irresistibly attractive brother of the victim – Charlotte works to unravel a deadly web of intrigue that threatens not only her own safety but the very fabric of the British Empire. Will Charlotte be able to stop a devious, invisible villain whose schemes threaten her life, her family and her country?
The Romantic Times say, “This delightful and sophisticated mystery transports readers through an era of Victorian history, with Charlotte Brontë leading the way… This is a must read for historical fans.”
1839, Messina, Italy. Marshall don Peppino di Opiri’s daughter Agata has fallen in love with wealthy Giacomo Lepre but she must forsake her love for the good of her family, their illicit affair must be put to rest. Her mother takes her to Naples to garner a stipend from the King but they are rebuffed and she is sent to a convent – rife with rancour, jealousy and illicit passions. Agata remains aloof and devotes herself to medicinal herbs, reads books sent to her by an English Captain but is divided – she longs to be part of the world and yearns for the Captain… A Mediterranean sister to the heroines of Jane Austen and Emily Brontë, Agata fully inhabits her own time. Yet in Hornby’s rich characterization she also embodies strength of will and a spiritual fortitude that is timeless.
Italy’s Books & Books calls the original Italian edition “A splendid novel that takes us back to the days of the fight for freedom of thought and self-determination, to a glorious era in Italian history when every single woman had the chance to enact a private revolution.”
GOD CARLOStransports the reader to a voyage aboard the Santa Inez, a Spanish sailing vessel bound for the newly-discovered West Indies with an arrogant bunch of gold-seekers. When they arrive they find no gold; only a merciless climate that nurtures deadly disease. There are also the Arawaks, a native tribe who believed the Europeans had come from heaven. This impossible entanglement of culture, custom and beliefs ultimately ends in doom. Written by acclaimed Jamaican author Anthony C. Winkler, GOD CARLOS is a gripping tale that virtually pulls readers into the story.
Publishers Weekly writes, “With a sharp tongue, Winkler, a native of Jamaica, deftly imbues this blackly funny satire with an exposé of colonialism’s avarice and futility.”
When Sir Archibald Latham of the War Office dies of a heart attack while visiting her brothel, Madam India Black is unexpectedly thrust into a deadly game between Russian and British agents who are seeking the military secrets Latham carried. Blackmailed into recovering the missing documents by the British spy known as French, India finds herself dodging Russian agents – and the attraction she starts to feel for her handsome conspirator.
“I would love to read more caper novels along this vein, especially if they feature female protagonists, so I do look forward to the next India Black novel,” says DearAuthor.com.
More than half a century after her death, Frida Kahlo continues to inspire a devoted following. Her paintings command more money than any other female artist and her work was the first by a Mexican artist to be purchased by the Louvre. Haghenbeck was inspired to write this book after a series of notebooks and sketchbooks were recently discovered among Frida’s belongings in Casa Azul. Although her family never confirmed their authenticity, Haghenbeck imagines that one of the notebooks was a gift from her lover Tina Modotti after Frida nearly died. In a rich, luscious style bordering on magical realism, F.G. Haghenbeck takes readers on an intriguing ride through a fictional account of the life of Frida Kahlo.
Kirkus Reviews writes, “Kahlo remains a rich character and inevitably irresistible.”
9781451632835 368pp p/b £10.99 Published by Atria Books