Tag Archives: English history

“Facing Enemies” by Mary Ann Trail

The Napoleonic Wars seem to attract imaginative attention, being fictionalized by everyone from Patrick O’Brian (Aubrey and Maturin series, 20 volumes) to Suzanna Clarke (Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell, see my blog entry of February 2, 2018). The site Goodreads offers a list of 135 novels set in that era, but the number of authors involved is much fewer. What makes the Napoleonic era so compelling? Anyone have a theory?

Mary Ann Trail’s recently published second book, Facing Enemies, is set in 1803. It begins in Dublin, but most of the action takes place in France.

And there’s plenty of action! This book is engaging and fast paced. The characters are well drawn, and the bad guys are REALLY bad. I had no trouble dashing through this book during a busy week. I recommend it to anyone who enjoys historical fiction. I hope there’s a sequel pending! Some of the characters are too good to leave behind.

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“Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell” by Susanna Clarke

Do you believe in magic? Do you like historical fiction? If you answer “yes” to either question, this book is for you. It falls into the oddball category of fantasy historical fiction.

The setting is England (mostly) during the Napoleonic Wars. A number of characters are historical figures, like the Duke of Wellington and members of the British royal family.

Despite the title, there are many more than two important characters in this book, and sometimes I had trouble keeping them straight. Some characters that seem minor become the focus of important plot twists.

The author has a “grand scale” imagination, creating a world in which the supernatural intersects with “ordinary” life. The plot is mostly an adventure story. The language is lively.

Unusual for a work of fiction, this book has footnotes! I skipped them because my e-reader is awkward, but you will enjoy the book more, I think, if you read them as you go along.

Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell is long, but you couldn’t do better for a rainy weekend at the beach.

“The Agincourt Bride” and “The Tudor Bride” by Joanna Hickson

Nothing matches historical fiction for escape value! I particularly enjoyed these books because they were set in France. Maybe I’ve maxed out on English historical fiction.

I’ve decided historical fiction is part of the “fan fiction” genre (which I don’t actually read). People write “fan fiction” because they don’t want to let go of the character, settings and situations in their favorite fiction. I certainly sympathize with the inclination! Who isn’t frustrated about the delay in publication of more volumes of Game of Thrones?

A close friend of mine wrote a version of Homer’s Illiad. It’s a way of merging with the work and the author, a profoundly respectful assertion of co-ownership.

Will I ever take a stab at “fan fiction”? I doubt it. Historical fiction? Also unlikely… I like to write, but have stayed with non-fiction. Check out the works of Joanna Hickson if you need an agreeable dose of historical fiction.

“God’s Secretaries: The Making of the King James Bible” by Adam Nicholson

As a family, we have concluded that the best (audio) books for travel are non-fiction. (The exception being Arthur Conan Doyle, and we’ve got him memorized…) Faced with a trip of ten hours duration over a two-day period, we chose God’s Secretaries by Adam Nicholson. It kept us interested.

The creation of the King James Bible contradicts the notion that nothing good can be done by a committee. The churchmen involved did not think of themselves as writing a new translation of the Bible, but rather were told to reconcile inconsistencies so everyone would share the same text. Nicholson says “It…is one of the greatest of all monuments to the suppression of ego.” 

When I hear passages from the King James Bible, to me they sound and feel “right”. Why? I think the Bible I heard as a child was the King James version. Often I wasn’t really paying attention, but I believe it settled into my subconscious, and I recognize it unwittingly.

Oddly, when I was given a Bible in Sunday school, it was NOT the King James but the New Revised Standard.

I enjoyed this book and recommend it to anyone who is curious about the Bible. In our public discourse, it is so commonly referenced, but to me it seems to be rather little read.

If YOU read the Bible, I’d love to hear what version you use, and why!