Books Historical fiction Recommendations

Two good lists from the Seattle Times

Mary Ann Gwinn of the Seattle Times asked historical fiction readers to name their favorites, and got so many replies that she’s been reporting their responses in installments:

  • Part I deals with historical novels set in the US, and mentions Nancy Horan’s Loving Frank, which is about my distant relative, Mamah Borthwick Cheney. I’m definitely interested in Russell Banks’s Cloudsplitter, too, though I really didn’t like the film version of The Sweet Hereafter (I should try the book some time, I know).
  • Part II includes historical fiction set outside the US and is notable for including novels by Ken Follett and Michael Crichton, only mentioning two Philippa Gregory books, and totally skipping Heyer, Jean Plaidy, etc. It’s like the exact inverse of most of the historical fiction blogosphere! So interesting! I do want to read Susan Sontag’s The Volcano Lover, because I did a seminar paper on Emma Hamilton — has anyone read it? Thoughts?


  1. I expect these things to ignore the utterly wonderful Naomi Mitchison (sigh) but do I see a massive lacuna where Mary Renault ought to be, or did I scan with insufficient attention?

  2. Part II is one of the few lists of compiled favorites in which I’ve read over half of them. That almost never happens. The Sontag isn’t one of these, but I have enjoyed the Allende, Romano-Lax, Amirrezvani, Undset, Year of Wonders…

    There was an odd piece I saw in the Guardian (I think) recently about Mary Renault and why she was a forgotten writer nowadays. I didn’t think she had been forgotten at all. (Except on that list.)

  3. Thanks for noting your favorites, Sarah. And yeah, I don’t think of Mary Renault as languishing in obscurity, either. People certainly still mention her to me in the context of Alcestis all the time — though I’ve only ever read one of her books.

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