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November 25, 2020

4 Books for Fans of Historical Fiction

by MK French

A reader can explore so many time periods with historical fiction. And the genre has a multitude of subgenres that pretty much whatever your favorite genre is who can find elements of it in historical fiction.
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The Conspirator by Ashley Albi

The Conspirator
June 2020; Indie; 978-1072406648
ebook, print (358 pages); historical fantasy
Jane is forced to leave her home because of her gift of second sight and is on the run. Far away, an organization known as the Covenant could lose everything unless an unreliable prophecy comes true. The two forces collide in the court of Queen Elizabeth I.

Because of the time period, anything supernatural is called witchcraft. Jane has flashes of the future, nothing terribly earth-shaking most of the time, but it would be enough to have her burned at the stake as a witch. She has a helpful nature, which led her to save Walsingham's life; as advisor to Queen Elizabeth, he of course suspected treachery from the first and then sought to enlist her as a potential spy to protect the crown. She becomes Jane Morley, one of the ladies in the court, and has absolutely no interest in marrying or following the fashions of court. This allows her to stay focused on protecting the queen with her visions.

There's little about the Covenant in the novel, and it frames the current novel's contents. The bulk of this story is about Jane, first as a member of Queen Elizabeth's court, then as a spy with Queen Mary of Scots in her imprisonment. The tension between the two Queens' households is high, and there are many historical names thrown about as Jane moves through history and helps to shape it by keeping Elizabeth alive and safe. I found that aspect more interesting and enjoyed reading about Jane and her exploits in this era. There's more in Jane's future, and likely the Covenant will play a larger role in future books of this series.

Buy The Conspirator at Amazon

Megge of Bury Down by Kightlinger

Megge of Bury Down
January 2020; Rowan Moon; 978-1734316803
ebook, print (316 pages); medieval
Megge is of a long line of seers in Cornwall and is to become apprenticed to her mother, the healer of Bury Down. She doesn't want the responsibility, especially when it also includes taking care of the Book of Seasons, which her ancestor created centuries ago. The book feels alive, and she can't take the vow to protect it. When a Blackfriar abbot intent on rooting out heretics imprisons her mother for not handing over a "demon book," Megge has to decide if she will take the vow after all.

This is the first book of the Bury Down Chronicles and takes place in the thirteenth century. This is a time when religion and the Church carried a lot of power and being branded a heretic was practically a death sentence. As with any witch trial, jealousy, greed, and lies permeate the testimony given. Megge is innocent of a lot of that intent, as the book begins when she is six years old, and her own family wrestled with how much to tell her about her legacy. I'm never a fan of keeping characters intentionally in the dark and then blaming them for it, so the fact that Megge doesn't know anything and irritates others with her questions bother me. Life in a Medieval Cornwall village is interesting and seems very similar in some ways to life in small towns even now.

The book starts off fairly slowly in the first half, going from when Megge is six years old to a fully grown adult. Even so, she is a young woman living with her mother, cousin, and aunt; her father and uncle had died before she was six, so there are no men to provide physical labor on the farm or to protect them when the abbot comes to the village. Even the married women in the town can't help; the only one able to countermand the abbot is the earl. When even he is too late to do anything to reverse the abbot's witch hunt, you know something is very off about them. The second half has more intrigue to it, and it soon becomes clear why the abbot was as scary as he was. I really felt for Megge, who was caught up in something bigger than herself and pushed in all directions. There is so much heartbreak for her to endure, and she sometimes blames herself for it even though it was not her fault. When she makes her decision at the end of the novel, it's only the start of a lifetime of work to guard the books and her family.

Buy Megge of Bury Down at Amazon

Saving Ruby King by Catherine Adel West

Saving Ruby King
June 2020; Park Row; 978-0778305095
audio; ebook; print (320 pages); black history
Ruby King’s mother was found murdered on Chicago’s South Side, which was dismissed as a random act of violence. She’s left with her violent father, and her only outlet is Layla, her best friend. Layla’s father is their pastor, and he urges Layla to stay away from Ruby. Layla won’t stay away, and starts to unearth ties between the two families.

Catherine Adel West is from Chicago, and it shows in the nuance of the neighborhood descriptions as characters travel from one part of town to another. We deal with three generations of Black families, with secrets binding them together long before Layla and Ruby are even born. The story shifts between the perspectives of the characters and even Calvary Church itself, which gives an interesting outlook that the characters themselves would never admit to.

In addition to racism, there are elements of incest, domestic violence, depression, suicide, and crises of faith. It's a lot to weave together, but it works here because of the generational trauma that is discussed. The events that were hidden only serve to worsen the trauma, so that it isn't until secrets are revealed and we actually know what happened that the characters are able to heal and grow. Saving someone isn't just removing them from abuse, after all. Its shadow will follow them long after they're in a quiet place. Truly saving someone involves giving them the means to make real choices for the future, and that's what we get at the end of the novel. It isn't unrealistically hopeful, and saving Ruby is a group effort that I was glad I was able to read about.

Buy Saving Ruby King at Amazon

The Woman in the Green Dress by Tea Cooper

The Woman in Green Dress
June 2020; Thomas Nelson; 978-0785235125
audio, ebook, print (336 pages); WWI
Fleur Richards had married after a whirlwind romance, but her husband died on Armistice Day. She feels that his relatives in Australia deserve his fortune more than she does, but once there is in charge of a remote farm and a dilapidated curio shop full of items, and a mystery that began over sixty-five years ago. Fleur soon discovers the story of an opal and a woman in a green dress.

This is a dual timeline novel with a slow and steady start, dealing with grief and change of different kinds. Fleur's thread takes place in 1919, and her whirlwind romance with Hugh leaves her confused about the inheritance in Australia. She has to track down the properties on her own when the solicitor's office is in disarray, learning more about Hugh and his family. In the 1853 thread, we have Captain Stefan von Richter meeting Della, who is gifted in taxidermy and is friendly with the Darkinjung, one of the Aboriginal tribes.

The two threads are intertwined in the final third of the book, and the explanation tied it all together. I feel it's a fantastic look into the race and class relationships of the time period, with beautiful descriptions of the land and animals. This is a book that focuses on the characters and relationships as well as the meaning of legacy. 

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, three young children, and a golden retriever.

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  1. The Woman in the Green Dress sounds good, but it's Saving Ruby King that sounds excellent to me.