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March 4, 2020

3 Books of Historical Fiction

by MK French


Historical fiction covers so much ground. Today, I have reviews of 3 very different stories of historical fiction. The first is an adventure story set during Mayan times and then we move the 1900s with two stories looking at the limited options of women.

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Son of the Sea, Daughter of the Sun by Marc Graham

September 2019; Amphorae; 978-1943075638
ebook, print (394 pages); adventure
Idulia had been a prince in Visigothic Spania of early 600's Europe but was taken in by pirates endured much before he reached adulthood. By the time he was shipwrecked along with a pirate crew with a strange map that indicates a landmass beyond the great sea that they were in. Across the ocean, Chakin is a princess in what we now know as the Mayan culture. She has responsibilities as a princess as well as in their bloody religious ceremonies. Their paths finally cross, but even then their destiny isn't assured.

There is a lot of abuse and blood in this novel. Some of it is a feature of the times; we all know that Mayans sacrificed humans as part of their religion to make sure that the sun rose again. Others are basically handwaved and taken as accepted but terrible features of characters. There's the pirate captain is a pedophile that uses fear as a means of keeping control on his ship. Idulia's uncle Lemuel is beaten, tortured and nearly scalped for being a Jew and not conforming to the strict Christian village ways of the Dark Ages, then turns around and nearly rapes the woman that had been one of his accusers. There's almost too much detail on this, as well as the bloodthirsty aspects of the Mayan culture and the predations of Chakin's uncle, the shaman, and believer in the older and even bloodier ways.

By coincidence, Idulia and Chakin both know Hebrew, and there are holy relics to both cultures present in Mesoamerica. They're drawn to each other right away, and see that their marriage would be the destiny foretold in visions. I would have preferred to spend more time on their courting and marriage, as well as the time they had together. It went by so fast, and I sincerely doubt that there was nothing eventful in their life together prior to the ending. What did happen was disturbing in a different way than the horrors that had been detailed earlier in the book, but felt very rushed in comparison.

Some of the religious aspect is fascinating when we finally get to it, and it's a new twist on some of the variations that have been told about Jesus and Mary (not his mother!) who is known as Miriam here. Marc explains his research and the storytelling choices he had made with his spelling (Shibalba instead of Xibalba, for example) as well as the list of which characters were actually borrowed from history. There's a lot we don't know about the Dark Ages or Mayan culture, after all, and Marc had put together a story that slots in very well with what is actually known at this time.

Buy Son of the Sea, Daughter of the Sun at Amazon

Everything My Mother Taught Me by Alice Hoffman

December 2019; Amazon Original
audio, ebook (24 pages); short story
Adeline is observant and knows that her mother is as faithless as her father is faithful. Her mother always told her to keep her mouth shut, and she didn't speak after her father's death. They move to an old lighthouse where Adeline's mother is the housekeeper, and she remains a silent witness to what goes on there.

Adeline is twelve and it's 1908, so options are limited for women. No one says much when her mother hits her, or when there is domestic violence on the island. In keeping with the times, that sort of thing was felt to be best handled within the family. Her mother has no particular love for her, but one of the other women on the island does take on a more motherly role for her. She blossoms under that attention, even without speaking, and the two bond and remain friendly regardless of the stresses placed on them.

This is a short story within a collection of other stories specifically written for Amazon. Alice Hoffman has a wonderful way of evoking the atmosphere of the time period even with a shorter span of pages, and it carries the same melancholic feeling that some of her longer works can have. Relationships are key here, as they are in the novels she writes, and the strength of nurturing relationships is quickly described. This makes Adeline help her surrogate mother escape abuse when no one else will step in, and gives her the hope she needs for a better life.

I've always been a fan of Alice Hoffman novels, and this short story is just as good. The only downside? It's a short story. I would have loved to see this story continue in a novel-length, so I know what happens next.


The Girls with No Names by Serena Burdock

January 2020; Park Row;  978-0778309994
audio, ebook, print (336 pages); coming of age
In 1910's New York, there are limits on the roles that women can play. Sisters Luella and Effie Tildon realize this, especially after they see the hypocritical secrets that their father keeps. When Luella takes off, Effie is sure that she was sent to the House of Mercy, a place where young women in need of "correction" are sent. But Luella was not actually there, and her trust in Mable might be the only way she makes it out.

I rapidly read this novel, immediately drawn into the sisters' stories. The Gilded Age has a sharp divide between the rich and poor, and their pains are of a different quality. Either way, it means that their lives are dependent on the men around them. Luella and Effie had always thought highly of their father, and seeing his infidelity is a slap in their faces as well as an insult to their idea of family. There had been a Romani encampment near their home as well as the House of Mercy, and it makes for a stark contrast. Their camp has squabbles, of course, but there is more honesty and less concern about presenting a perfect facade to Society. Always the outspoken one, of course, Luella would leave the sheltered life she'd led when the disillusionment set in. Effie, long dependent on her sister due to her heart defect, of course, looks for her the only way she knows how.

Mabel's life had been difficult in a different way, as she was the daughter of immigrants and no one offered her any opportunities. When she's manipulated out of her own ignorance and loneliness, as well as abused by a system that never cared for her, of course, she took on a different name. She was swept up into the House of Mercy where she met Effie, and there are still abuses to be had in a place like that. She had to grow callous in the face of that, but deep down is still a young woman seeking connection and family. This theme runs throughout these girls' lives, each looking for their independence as well as a place to belong when they don't quite fit the mold of the time period. Some of the struggles that the girls endure don't exist at this time, but the emotional resonance is still there.

Buy The Girls with No Names at Amazon

Born and raised in New York City, M.K. French started writing stories when very young, dreaming of different worlds and places to visit. She always had an interest in folklore, fairy tales, and the macabre, which has definitely influenced her work. She currently lives in the Midwest with her husband and three young children. 

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