Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Historical Fiction by Century, Part III

As the old year ends and the new year begins, many take the opportunity to use that time for serious reflection. I have chosen to reflect on my favorite historical fiction books. It is my favorite genre to read--which doubtless explains why I also love to write it--but I have never tried to list out all of my top picks before now. This post concludes my list of favorites ordered by the century in which they are set. In Part I, I shared my favorites from BC through the eighth century AD. In Part II, I continued with the ninth century through the fourteenth. Today I am pleased to begin with the fifteenth century.

Fifteenth Century

Men of Iron
by Howard Pyle

For several years during my later childhood, Howard Pyle took first prize in my favorite author category. I loved his retellings of the King Arthur stories accompanied by his beautiful pen and ink illustrations. But the story that most captured my imagination was Men of Iron. Myles Falworth, the son of an English lord wrongfully attainted with treason, learns the trade of arms so that one day he can challenge his lifelong enemy and clear his father's name.

Fifteenth Century Runners-Up: The Black Arrow, by Robert Louis Stevenson; A Bloody Field by Shrewsbury, by Edith Pargeter

Sixteenth Century

Prince of Foxes
by Samuel Shellabarger

When the story begins our dashing hero, Andrea Orsini, is a captain/spy in the employ of the notorious Cesare Borgia. The illegitimate son of the pope, Cesare's plan is to conquer all of Italy and bring the independent cities under his control. At first Andrea is a willing tool in Cesare's hands, but when he falls in love with Camilla, the lady of Citta del Monte, he begins to sympathize with those who stand for freedom against the Borgia tyranny.

Sixteenth Century Runner-Up: Captain from Castile, by Samuel Shellabarger

Seventeenth Century

Captain Blood
by Rafael Sabatini

When doctor Peter Blood provides aid to the men from Monmouth's rebellion, he is condemned to a life of slavery in the colonies. Using his wits and skills as a physician, he finds a way to freedom and becomes the captain of a pirate vessel, the terror of Spanish galleons up and down the Caribbean.

Seventeenth Century Runners-Up: The Scarlet Letter, by Nathaniel Hawthorne; The Three Musketeers, by Alexandre Dumas

Eighteenth Century

by Rafael Sabatini

When an arrogant marquis murders Andre-Louis' best friend, the clever and spirited Andre-Louis goes on a path of vengeance that carries him through the theater, fencing school, and into the very heart of the French Revolution.

Eighteenth Century Runners-Up: Lord Vanity, by Samuel Shellabarger; The Last of the Mohicans, by James Fenimore Cooper

Nineteenth Century

Master and Commander (series)
by Patrick O'Brian

Patrick O'Brian's superb naval books are set during the Napoleonic Era and star two of the most lifelike characters ever penned. Big, bluff, impulsive Jack Aubrey is a natural on the sea commanding a ship in the English navy, but he is a little less than competent when it comes to dealing with women and money. His close friend and foil is Stephen Maturin, a broody and sensitive doctor who moonlights as a naturalist and a spy.

Twentieth Century

Every once in a while you will run into a nearly empty page in a book with a few words printed in the center: "This page purposely left blank." That message might just as well be applied to this section. I've only read two or three books set during the twentieth century, and none of them jump out at me as being particularly excellent. If you know any must-reads that would fit here, please tell me about them!

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