Readers' Favorite

December 29, 2022

2 Interesting Novels of Historical Fiction

by MK French

Today I have two historical fiction stories for you. Both stories are based on true people. The first is a WWII story about sisters who smuggled people out of Europe and the second is about 15th-century artist Giorgione “Zorzo” Barbarelli. Both are interesting stories.

Amazon affiliate links are used on the site. Free books were provided for an honest review.

The Secret Society of Salzburg by Renee Ryan

book cover of historical fiction novel The Secret Society of Salzburg by Renee Ryan
December 2022; Love Inspired Trade; 978-1335427564
audio, ebook, print (368 pages); historical fiction

In 1933 London, Austrian-born opera singer Elsa Mayer-Braun doesn't have much in common with the English typist Hattie Featherstone. Even so, the two instantly become friends and use that friendship as a cover to rescue as many Jews as possible from Nazi persecution. WWII threatens their network, draws the attention of the British government, and also creates opportunities to thwart the Germans. Elsa’s now Hitler’s favorite opera singer, however, and is secretly of Jewish descent. She is now both a weapon and a target, her future in the balance.

Elsa is arrested by the Gestapo in chapter one, which is startling and unsettling as an opening. From there, we skip back and forth between the past and the present of WWII, so we see how Elsa and Hattie develop their friendship. We also see how the tension in Europe is high and grows even higher as the SS and Hitler gain power. The stories told by the Jews within the context of the novel are heartbreaking, as is Elsa's treatment, no matter how much it's only minimally told. 

The time period had its devastating tales of triumph and despair, and this novel contains them both. I feel like that aspect is given more weight than the romances; Wilhelm is controlling from the start and Oliver worked for MI6 but at least valued Hattie's autonomy. The two women's lives are contrasted as the book goes on, and it's based on real-life sisters that had smuggled people out of Europe. This book honors their efforts and shows us the legacy they leave behind. 

The Color Storm by Damian Dibben

book cover of historical fiction novel The Color Storm by Damian Dibben
September 2022; Hanover Square Press; 978-1335015938
audio, ebook, print (336 pages); historical fiction

Giorgione “Zorzo” Barbarelli has a difficult time as an artist in Venice. Amidst his debts, Zorzo hears about a new pigment that might bring him fame. A rich man brought it to Venice, and Zorzo gets the commission to paint a portrait of his wife Sybille. Instead of getting access to the pigment, he's embroiled in a conspiracy spanning Europe even as the water levels rise in Venice and the threat of plague is present. Zorzo doesn't know who to trust, or if Sybille will lead him astray.

Zorzo, like every other artist of the period, must look for commission work and rich friends to stay afloat. He's generous and kind most of the time, and I thought it was an interesting contrast that he sought out Sybille and tried to befriend her as much as beg for work, compared to famous painters like Michaelangelo being rude in a bar and waiting for people to approach him. The secret of the prince orient pigment is sold to several artists, Zorzo included, in the hopes that they can find it in one of Jakob Fugger's mines. The artists are all about color, painting, and reputation, after all. In the background are floods, ships quarantined in the harbor because of plague, and infighting between artists jockeying for the better commissions. 

The art world of the period comes alive in this book, with wonderful details regarding paints, pigments, and the entire process of portrait painting. The people around Zorzo feel real for the most part; Sybille feels like such a cipher and even Zorzo comments at one point that she behaves so differently in each situation that he doesn't know who he's dealing with. We eventually learn parts of her story, though I'm sure there's more she hasn't told Zorzo. Jakob is like the boogeyman here, brooding and foreboding, the threat of his influence enough to keep some people scurrying. No one confronts Jakob, instead doing whatever he wants due to his money and their hopes for some of it. Zorzo is the only one who tries, even if it seems like Jakob won't listen.

Zorzo remains optimistic to the end, trying to talk diplomatically rather than turning to violence. He has a vision for himself and others, that leaving a mark on the world and preserving beauty for its own sake is important and vital. His world from beginning to end is color and love for others, sharing everything he has. The influence he has on others is the same we would hope for ourselves. 

Buy The Color Storm 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, three young children, and a golden retriever.

Enjoyed this post? Never miss out on future posts by following us. Get even more book news in your inbox, sign up for our newsletter today! Girl Who Reads is an Amazon advertising affiliate; a small commission is earned when purchases are made at Amazon using any Amazon links on this site. Thank you for supporting Girl Who Reads.


Post a Comment