Newest Historical Fiction Reviews

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The Willow King by Meelis Friedenthal and Matthew Hyde (translator)

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Meet Laurentius. He's a scholar newly arrived in Estonia in the seventeenth century, aiming to study more. But things aren't going well for him – a long-standing illness seems to be returning, the weather and roads are awful, he's late – and his only friend, a parakeet, won't even survive the first two days ashore. He's entering a weird world, what's more – one imbued with evil smells, peopled by strange characters with stranger ideas. Can his modern ideas, and thinking about the soul, bear him through his course? Full review...

The Mask of Command (Twilight of Empire) by Ian Ross

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Warning: spoilers ahead for previous books in the series. 305AD: Castus Aurelius, following the death of his predecessor, has been promoted to commander (or vir perfecctissiums) of the Roman forces at the Rhine. He's also been ordered to take Crispus, Constantine's son and heir, for the character-building experience. That complicates matters as when Castus isn't trying to keep Crispus alive, he's finding it difficult to increase his own chance of survival, especially considering how the last Rhine commander met his end. Full review...

The Vanishing by Sophia Tobin

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1814. In the middle of the Yorkshire Moors in an isolated spot lies White Windows, a house shadowed in mystery and intrigue. Living in this desolate household is Marcus Twentyman, a hard drinking and complicated man and his sister, the hardened widow Hester. Brought to White Windows is Annaleigh, a young runaway from London who has come to Yorkshire to be the new housekeeper to the Twentyman's with the hope of leaving her painful past behind her. At first, Annaleigh believes she may have found sanctuary but soon realises she has become entangled in a web of conspiracy and danger, leaving her trapped and more alone than ever. Full review...

Bourbon Creams and Tattered Dreams (The Factory Girls) by Mary Gibson

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Where did it all go wrong? Only a short time ago, Matty Gilbie was a star of the silver screen with a glittering future predicted for her. As the 'Cockney Canary', her melodic singing voice and stunning good looks had ensured that her first foray into movies was a runaway success. Unfortunately that success came with a price: Matty's business partner Frank Rossi frittered away their money and turned violent and controlling. Bruised and battered from a particularly vicious beating from Frank, Matty secretly makes her escape back to her home in Bermondsey, and the comfort of family and friends. Frank is not one to be crossed, however, and vows to do whatever it takes to win Matty back. Can she ever be truly free? Full review...

1588: A Calendar of Crime (A Hew Cullan Mystery) by Shirley McKay

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A lot of crime happens in St Andrews during 1588 and therefore in the life of law lecturer and local investigator Hew Cullen too. As we travel through the year with him, his recently wedded English wife Frances, doctor brother in law Giles and his sister Meg, the wise woman, we also encounter some of his most interesting cases. In fact there's one to match each of the year's big festivals: Candlemas, Whitsun, Lammas, Martinmas and Yule. Full review...

The Last Debutante by Lesley Lokko

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In 1936 in Chalfont Hall in Dorset young Kit Algernon-Waters can't really understand what's going on: at thirteen years old she's been banished to have supper in the nursery whilst everyone else is dining downstairs with the guests. Even her elder sister, Lily, who's sixteen is dining with these unnamed 'guests'. Kit has tapped all her usual sources to find out who the visitors are, but to no avail. All she's managed to work out (well, let's be honest 'find out by eavesdropping' is closer to the truth) is that the visitors are German. Kit's parents, Lord and Lady Wharton, are short of money and it's important that at least one of their daughters makes a good marriage. Six months later Lily is married to one of the German, living in some style in Germany. Within a couple of years she's mixing with some dubious company, including Unity Mitford. It was even rumoured that she'd met Hitler. Full review...

Under a Pole Star by Stef Penney

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1948: Elderly Flora Mackie is invited on a press trip to the North Pole; a trip that takes her back through her life. Flora remembers her childhood with her father on whaling ships in the seas around Greenland, her marriage born of ambition and misaligned lust and the result: the Arctic exploration team she led in the late 19th century. This was a trip that had many knock-on effects including death and love. Full review...

The House of Birds by Morgan McCarthy

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Oliver has spent years trying to convince himself that he's suited to a life of money making in the city, and that he doesn't miss a childhood spent in pursuit of mystery, when he cycled around the cobbled lanes of Oxford, exploring its most intriguing corners. When his girlfriend Kate inherits a derelict house - and a fierce family feud - she's determined to strip it, sell it and move on. For Oliver though, the house has an allure, and amongst the shelves of a discarded, leather bound and gilded volumes, he discovers one that conceals a hidden diary from the 1920s. So begins a quest to discover the identity of the author, Sophia Louis. It is a portrait of war and marriage, isolation and longing and a story that will shape the future of the abandoned house - and of Oliver - forever. Full review...

The Smoke Hunter by Jacquelyn Benson

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Eleanora Mallory is an educated young woman living in Victorian London but she is restricted by the strict social codes of the late nineteenth-century. She's a historian, a suffragette, and is years ahead of her time much to the chagrin of her male work colleagues at the Public Records Office. After losing her job and finding a mysterious map abandoned on her former employer's desk, Ellie decides to take a chance at an adventure. She packs her bags and sets off on a journey to Central America, where the map shows the way to a legendary historical city. It's the expedition of a life time, but little does Ellie know that a team of fortune hunters are hot on her trail. Full review...

Ardnish Was Home: A Novel by Angus MacDonald

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A tiny peninsular lying on the west coast of Scotland, Ardnish provides a beautiful setting for a book that entices the reader to devour it all in one sitting. Duncan Peter Gillies (DP to friends and family) leaves Ardnish as a young man to sign up for the Lovat Scouts in 1915. What a tragically sweet story is to follow! Posted to Gallipoli, brutal scenes of the realities of the First World War face the reader from page one. Tragically, the young DP is desperately wounded and the medical support is woefully poor. The Gallipoli Campaign seems doomed to fail. DP learns that the order has been given for the allied troops to withdraw to the safety of Malta. Distressingly, the rescue boats are unreliable and DP with other casualties and nurses, find themselves in an impossible position stranded in enemy territory. This fast paced story charts DP's progress in escaping from the war zone, in recovering from his injuries, and, in the most desperate of circumstances, finding love. Full review...

The Sword of Hachiman by Lynn Guest

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Set at the dawn of the Shogun era, The Sword of Hachiman follows two warrior clans, the Minamoto and the Taira, as they struggle for power under the Emperor. At first the Taira are in uneasy control, but the three Minamoto sons, separated at birth, plan to secretly reunite in order to defeat the Taira and avenge their Father's death. The youngest, Yoshitsune, is deemed most worthy and is granted the family heirloom, the Sword of Hachiman, the War God. Initiated into love and espionage by a young Taira noblewoman, and tested in the ferocious hand to hand combat that is his birthright, we follow Yoshitsune as he meets his faithful retainer, Benkei, and as he goes behind the scenes of the Cloister court, where two extraordinary women enter his life… Full review...

Conquest: Daughter of the Last King by Tracey Warr

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Princess Nest ferch Rhys is the only legitimate child of Rhys ap Tewdr (there's a surname to make hist-fict addicts smile!), the last king of Deheubarth, Wales. Playing on the beach with her brother one day she's captured by Norman soldiers. From there she's held hostage by the noble Montgomery family, loyal to King William Rufus. The standard of captivity in which Nesta is kept isn't bad. Lady Sybil is particularly kind to her, realising that Nest is still mourning the deaths of her father and most of her siblings at the hands of men from that same household. There is an ulterior motive though. The object of Sybil's attentions is to make Nest a suitable wife for English nobility but she's already promised to a Welsh prince. Who will Nest actually marry and, more importantly, will Nest have any say in it? Full review...

Eugene by John G Smith

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Eugene is the youngest of 13 children, born into a family for whom the future seems assured due to their parents' butchery business in a small, close East Midlands community. But they can't see what lies ahead: war in the world and between the siblings. For Eugene, from his birth in the 1920s through the war in Burma and trying to settle down afterwards, the impact will last a lifetime. Full review...

The Odessans by Irina Ratushinskaya

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The Petrovs, Geibers and Teselenkos may all live as friends in the Ukrainian town of Odessa, but this is the dawn of the 20th century: changes are afoot that will test their friendship as well as their existence. Be they Russian establishment, Russian Jews or Polish, each family will see tragedy alongside the birth pangs of a future Soviet state, not to mention the struggle for survival that will be more successful for some of them than for others. Full review...

Clover Moon by Jacqueline Wilson

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Clover Moon lives in Cripps Alley, a slum street in Victorian England. Her father works at the factory and the heavy work has taken a toll on his health. He likes to drink an ale or two after work, spending money the family can barely afford. Clover's mother died giving birth to her younger sister, Megs, a wispy, shy child. Father married again - to Mildred, a sharp-tongued woman who is free with a beating, particularly if the beating goes to Clover. Clover has another four half-siblings and it's Clover, rather than Mildred, who takes care of them. Full review...

The Last Days of Night by Graham Moore

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The night-time of our ancestors is ending. Electric light is our future. The man who controls it will not simply make an unimaginable fortune. He will not simply dictate politics… The man who controls electricity will control the very sun in the sky.

Graham Moore's latest novel is set in 19th Century New York City following the War of the Currents immediately after the discovery of electricity. Paul Cravath is a young lawyer, recently graduated from Columbia Law School, who finds himself at the centre of the biggest lawsuit in American history to date: who invented the light bulb. Enlisted to defend George Westinghouse against 312 lawsuits and a sum of one billion dollars, Paul embarks on a seemingly impossible case to win. Going up against the incredibly intelligent and extremely resourceful Thomas Edison, who has newspapers at his disposal and the support of J.P. Morgan himself, Paul is nonetheless determined to win by any means necessary. In his unwavering quest for victory, Paul encounters Nikola Tesla, the eccentric genius, who could have the power to stop Edison, Alexander Bell, the inventor of the telephone and only one to beat Edison before, as well as Agnes Huntington, the astonishingly beautiful opera singer. With the stakes so high, Paul will discover that everyone is desperate to win, setting in motion their own plans with disastrous consequences. Full review...

Circling the Sun by Paula McLain

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Beryl Clutterbuck was just two when she was taken by her parents from Abingdon in England to Kenya, to a farm at Njoro in the Rongai Valley in what was then the British East African Protectorate and which would become Kenya. Her mother was dismayed - amazed that her father would have sold everything to get little more than a few mud huts - and it was only a couple of years before she returned home with Dickie, Beryl's brother, leaving Beryl and her father to cope as best they could. Beryl grew up wild - largely brought up by the local tribespeople - and was catapulted into a disastrous marriage when she was just sixteen. It taught her one thing, though - she needed to take charge of her own destiny. Full review...

Invader by Simon Scarrow and T J Andrews

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Modern technology gives a writer far more options on how to present their book. They are no longer bound by a yearly cycle of releasing a book in hardback and then waiting a few months for it to be released in paperback. The e-book gives you license to play with the format; how about a set of regular instalments? These segmented books worked for the likes of Charles Dickens, but pleasing a modern crowd used to quick thrills, as well as those used to the longer drawn out format, is not easy. Did Simon Scarrow and T J Andrews achieve their goals in the combined novel Invader? Full review...

The Sisters of St Croix by Diney Costeloe

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On her 21st birthday Adelaide discovers a family she wasn't aware of: a Mother Superior aunt in a French convent and a father who died in WWI rather than Richard - her mother's husband and the man who raised her. Adeline decides to go to France for a short holiday in order to learn more from her aunt that her family knew as Sarah Hunt. Both Sarah and Adelaide part, hoping that they will see each other again soon and they will, but in circumstances that neither of them envisaged. As the Second World War begins and Germany captures France, there's danger ahead for each of them. Full review...

The Ballroom by Anna Hope

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Ella Fay does not know how a simple impulsive act landed her in the strict confines of a Yorkshire asylum. She does not know the stories of the other women there, or why the strange doctor plays them the piano, or where the patients go before they are never seen again. But there are two things she does know: she is not insane, and she will never stop struggling for freedom. Her spirit of escape ignites a spark of life within fellow patient John Mulligan, and a courtship flares into being as the couple are thrown together weekly in the ballroom for the Friday night dance. Yet with the odds stacked against them, and hope as fragile as the eggshells on which they have to tread, they find themselves in equal fear of what it is they are running away from, and what it is they are running towards. Full review...

Death's Bright Angel (Matthew Quinton’s Journals 6) by J D Davies

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Captain Sir Matthew Quinton of King Charles II's navy sets out for another day at work. He and his men are charged with helping to subdue the Dutch town of Westerschelling. It's only afterwards that the true consequences hit him, along with some other consequences that are and will be open to conjecture. For the year is 1666 and London is about to face a disaster that will be discussed and theorised over for centuries… Fire! Full review...

The House in Quill Court by Charlotte Betts

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England 1813: When Venetia's father dies suddenly, Venetia receives a bigger shock than is customary on such occasions. The wonderful rural idyll and family life for Venetia, her mother and brother has been based on a lie. This means Venetia's family has to go to London to live with a half-sister and adopted brother she didn't know existed. No one is happy about it and now Venetia has to learn to live on her wits and her father's lessons in a position that not even her father had envisaged for her. Venetia's brother becomes more unruly among the temptations of the city while Captain Jack Chamberlaine, her father's step son, makes his annoyance at having Venetia around all too clear. But these will become the least of her worries… Full review...

Dodger of the Revolution by James Benmore

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Once the undisputed 'Top Sawyer' and most artful of thieves, events have taken a sharp downturn for Dodger of late. His recent close brush with death has left him agitated and disturbed, seeking solace in the murky opium dens beneath the city. His dependence on the poppy has left him clumsy and shaky, no longer the light-fingered pickpocket he used to be. Even the local youths, who used to respect and emulate him, enjoy playing pranks on him and laughing behind his back. There is no doubt about it: Dodger is a mere shadow of his former self and at risk of becoming an opium fiend. Full review...

A Death at Fountains Abbey (Thomas Hawkins 3) by Antonia Hodgson

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John Aislabie thinks that Thomas Hawkins has arrived at Aislabie's country mansion to investigate murder threats. That's part of it but Thomas' main reason is to carry out a command from Queen Caroline connected to the recent South Sea Bubble scandal. The command was phrased nicely enough, but the sinister intent was clear: Tom's failure or refusal means loss of Kitty, the person he loves most in the world. Those murder threats are a little concerning though… Full review...

Lydia: The Wild Girl of Pride and Prejudice by Natasha Farrant

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Lydia Bennet has just turned fifteen and has received, amongst other gifts, a diary from her bookish older sister Mary. She'd rather have received some ribbon or some lace; after all, writing in a diary every day seems such a tedious pastime. But when a handsome regiment of scarlet-coats arrives in Meryton, Lydia decides that there just might be something exciting to write about after all... Full review...

Resolution by A N Wilson

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In 1772 Reinhold Forster and his son George were hired as ship's naturalists for the Resolution, the vessel Captain James Cook piloted to New Zealand and back on a three-year voyage of discovery. Once a Lutheran pastor near Danzig, Reinhold seemed unable to settle to one line of work and had a higher opinion of himself than was prudent. In Wilson's vision of life on the Resolution, Reinhold seems fussy, argumentative and rather heartless, as when he offers George's dog up as fresh meat when the captain is desperately ill. George, just 18 when he joins the expedition, is a self-taught illustrator and botanist with a keen ear for languages. Though precociously intelligent, he is emotionally immature and cannot keep a handle on his masturbation habit or deal with their servant Nally's crush on him. Full review...