‘Success rests on an effective combination of historical accuracy, breathing life into history, dramatic plots, emotional engagement, accessible writing and food for thought. The top 10 historical fiction authors have mastered each of these ingredients.’
The Washington Independent
The Top 10 Historical Fiction Authors
MK Tod, Sept 19, 2013
Six of the Best
Here are some authors of Historical Fiction that make the grade.
Bernard Cornwell’s The Last Kingdom Series turns the spotlight on the making of the English Nation under King Alfred the Great of Winchester in the C9th. Well researched with a fast-paced narrative, with a laddish hero Uhtred at its centre, our sword-wielding Saxon cannot however keep his several women alive from one series to the next.
Philippa Gregory’s long-running, meticulously researched Plantagenet series in five books, flows effortlessly from her pen, using the same narrative spokes at each turn of the wheel for each new book – fragile political allegiances in pursuit of power, and driving the need for male heirs driving the round of arranged marriages. Ten million readers can’t be wrong.
Robert Harris‘s Cicero Series is a masterful combination of very credible background in the dying days of the Roman Republic and a gripping portrayal of the rise of the Caesars, told in the first-person by Tiro, the inventor of short-hand and Cicero’s indefatigable secretary.
Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall takes a much closer view of Cromwell and his rise to power, in a writing style different from the other top Historical Fiction authors. Agonisingly meticulous, sporadic, forensically thorough, the working day ranging from eight to twelve hours at her desk, and most crucially her ability to inhabit her characters in a close, continuous intangible exchange that brings the person very much alive for her. That’s what taking it seriously looks like. And here too, her fan base can’t be wrong!
CJ Sansom also puts up his tent on the Plantagenet lawn, in the period of Henry VIII. Shardlake, a compassionate lawyer, perennially unlucky in the affairs of the heart, is dragged reluctantly into each new plot, painfully aware he is the political pawn of the powerful figure of Cromwell and others, as he exercises his detective skills on behalf of his clients. Sansom is less interested in the character of Cromwell than Mantell, but provides an excellent fictional account of the impact of the dissolution of the monasteries, where Henry’s reforms begin.
Umberto Eco’s fictional Name of the Rose has Brother William of Baskerville and his young assistant arrive at a wealthy Franciscan monastery, under suspicion of heresy, in time to investigate seven bizarre deaths. A masterful piece of detective work set in the early C14th in Italy and an intellectual rinse using the insights of Aristotle, Bacon and Aquinas.