My posts during April form part of the Blogging from A to Z Challenge. I will be writing to a theme: book genres, largely taken from the comprehensive Goodreads list.
I cannot say that historical fiction as a genre is a favourite. I am a lover of people - how they behave and interact - and if I don't get fully fledged characters, historical detail alone just doesn't compensate.
I have read Bernard Cornwell and Conn Iggulden fairly recently - both were book club choices. Whilst they were full of historical information and detail, were well-written and pretty enjoyable, neither was I minded to rush out and purchase the next in the series by either author. Iggulden's characters contained more flesh - for me - than Cornwell's, but perhaps I simply didn't connect with the latter. I haven't written either author off and wouldn't be at all unhappy reading one of their offerings in the absence of one of my more usual choices.
Philippa Gregory has made a name for herself writing about the Tudor court of Henry VIII, specifically about the women in his life. There's a lot of rich description and the stories are weaved around known historical figures, with only the odd entirely fictional character, oh and there's also a lot of sex. "The Other Boleyn Girl" wasn't a bad read, but other offerings in her back catalogue are so excrutiatingly awful, that I have been put off returning.
Far more interesting for those who have an interest in that period are the works of Hilary Mantel and C J Sansom. The descriptive prose of both authors has drawn much praise and both provide us with well-drawn characters; of course, Sansom has created all his characters from scratch, whereas Mantel has put flesh onto known individuals from history.
Mantel's "Wolf Hall" and "Bring up the Bodies" have turned Thomas Cromwell into, if not a well-loved character, certainly one with more humanity. She does have a quirky way of writing, but I barely noticed that the further and further into the books I got. Mantel re-tells history as we know it, but from a different perspective. I was surprised they both won Bookers, but great reads they certainly are! We are still waiting for the final part of the trilogy and I cannot have been the only one to be decidedly cranky that she published another book in between, leaving us still waiting ...
C J Sansom's Shardlake series is a corker. The central character of Matthew Shardlake, a lawyer with a hunchback, is warm character who suffers much from his disability, both in terms of physical pain and verbal slurs. He is drawn into contact with the royal court first via Thomas Cromwell and then Thomas Cranmer. He feels the growing danger in each encounter, but is often drawn in by his unfailing courtliness towards ladies. In Jack Barack, we have a wonderful balance to the more cerebral and courtly Sharkdale. Barack is a lad - handy in a fight and having a sharp wit, but he is kind and loyal to Shardlake. These are tales of wrong-doings and of their investigations, seeking to right those wrongs. Thrillers, if you like, but Tudor ones.
Robert Harris, another writer whose work could be included in the genre of thrillers, has always placed his fiction into a historical timeframe. More recently, he has travelled further back with "Pompeii" and the Cicero series. Harris paints a good historical picture, but I always feel I am reading history viewed via a modern eye. It does nothing to take away from my enjoyment, Harris writes too well for that, but I retain a slight preference for Sansom's work as they seem to retain a more old-fashioned feel to them.
Are you a fan of historical fiction? What key aspects do you look for? Is it the historical detail, or the characters?