Wednesday, April 1, 2009

From the Shelves of the Paco Library

A few more authors of historical fiction that you may enjoy.

Kenneth Roberts was a brilliant author of historical novels, specializing in the American colonial period. One of the most intriguing aspects of his books is his treatment of characters such as Benedict Arnold (a fine commander and popular leader before he went bad), and Robert Rogers (also a popular commander, during the French and Indian War, but driven to alcoholism later in life by financial woes, and winding up on the British side during the Revolution). The books are superbly researched, the characters well-drawn, and the action exciting. Arundel, Rabble in Arms and Northwest Passage are three that I have read and that I highly recommend.

Poet and novelist Robert Graves is probably best known (at least in the United States) for his novel, I Claudius (which was followed by the sequel, Claudius the God). He also wrote the great WWI memoir, Good-bye to All That (which I will deal with separately in a future book review). But I wanted to mention here his novel of the American Revolution, Sergeant Lamb’s America. The book is a first-person narrative, written in an engaging 18th century style, that charts the war-time career of an Irish soldier, ending with his capture after the Battle of Saratoga. The title character is a conscientious and intelligent soldier, whose observations of the (frequently) threadbare rebels and the uneven quality of their political and military leadership help to underscore the wondrous achievement of their final victory.

Alfred Duggan was an English historian and archeologist who began writing novels in the 1950’s. He was much admired by Evelyn Waugh, and justly so, for his books are models of clear and straight-forward prose, enlivened by subtle wit and supported by thoroughgoing research. Duggan’s historical interest extended from ancient Rome to the Crusades to medieval England. Waugh’s favorite Duggan novel was Conscience of the King, a brilliantly imaginative retelling of the life of Cerdic, founder of the kingdom of Wessex. My own favorites are his novels of the crusades - Count Bohemond and Lady for Ransom - but they are all excellent, and succeed on two levels – as entertainment and as historical instruction.


Isophorone said...

I did read The Long Walk by Slavomir Rawicz that you had recommended in an earlier post. It was a good book! Apparently, though, there is some controversy as to whether the story is real.

Here is a recommendation for you: The Lost King of France by Deborah Cadbury. It's about how DNA analysis solved the mystery of the fate of the uncrowned Louis XVII, son of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette. You get a rather royalist perspective on the French Revolution, and see an inkling of where the totalitarians of the 20th century may have learned their methods.

RebeccaH said...

I must say, I'm now enjoying Steven Saylor's mysteries of ancient Rome (recommended by you), as an addition to the ancient Roman historical novels of Colleen McCollough. They may be potboilers by genre, but the research into ancient Roman daily life is impeccable.

Next: the English and American historical novels you've noted.


RebeccaH said...

Oops. Colleen McCullough. Wouldn't want to hamper anybody's googling.