Newest Historical Fiction Reviews

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Larchfield by Polly Clark

5star.jpg Literary Fiction

I It's early summer when a young poet, Dora Fielding, moves to Helensburgh on the west coast of Scotland and her hopes are first challenged. Newly married, pregnant, she's excited by the prospect of a life that combines family and creativity. She thinks she knows what being a person, a wife, a mother, means. She is soon shown that she is wrong. As the battle begins for her very sense of self, Dora comes to find the realities of small town life suffocating, and, eventually, terrifying; until she finds a way to escape reality altogether. Another poet, she discovers, lived in Helensburgh once. Wystan H. Auden, brilliant and awkward at 24, with his first book of poetry published, should be embarking on success and society in London. Instead, in 1930, fleeing a broken engagement, he takes a teaching post at Larchfield School for boys where he is mocked for his Englishness and suspected - rightly - of homosexuality. Yet in this repressed limbo Wystan will fall in love for the first time, even as he fights his deepest fears. Full review...

Before the Rains by Dinah Jefferies

4.5star.jpg Historical Fiction

Eliza has tragically punctuated childhood memories of India that have feed her desire to return. Therefore in 1930, following the death of her husband, when the British government commission her to photograph scenes of Indian life, she jumps at the chance. What she doesn't realise is that not everyone she comes across is delighted with the idea. Living within the Sultana's opulent palace complex is definitely an attraction for her, as is Jay, an Indian price who shows Eliza the real India. However, attractions are sometimes dangerous and even deadly. Full review...

The Longest Night by Otto de Kat and Laura Watkinson (translator)

3.5star.jpg Literary Fiction

Emma has a philosophy – let the dead rest, and love the living. The problem with that, as a 96-year-old, is that there are too few living left, and so while the love remains she will go through her memories, taking a woozy, diaphanous path through all the major events of her life. Starting in wartime Berlin with one husband, who gets snatched from her at work, fleeing to another place to wait for peace, and wait for him in vain, moving to Holland and finding new love, and so on – this wispy journey will show all the impacts of war, from rationing right up to exile, death and survival. The memories are coming strongly here and now, as Emma is waiting for at least one of her two sons to visit, and then she will die… Full review...

Vindolanda by Adrian Goldsworthy

3.5star.jpg Historical Fiction

AD 98: in the northern fields of Britannia lies Vindolanda, a Roman auxiliary base situated on the edge of the Roman world. Far from the prosperity and decadence of Rome, the wild and untamed lands around Vindolanda are ripe with rebel tribes and druids set against the destruction of Rome and its armies. In the midst of this destruction is Flavius Ferox; a Briton and Roman Centurion who has been given the task of keeping the peace in this desolate edge of the world. But life in Roman Britain is full of danger and betrayal at every turn, and Ferox knows it will take more than courage to overcome what lies ahead. Full review...

The Yellow House by Jeroen Blokhuis and Asja Novak (translator)

3star.jpg Literary Fiction

If you were the needy kind, would you really join in the drumming-out of town of two people accused of murder purely because of their nationality? Would you get a feeling of belonging just because you were there when someone carried a dead dog down off a mountain? The main character in this novel does. But he has something that will really get him noted, well-thought-of, included. He has come to the south of France to set up an artists' collective, where he can live and work alongside his counterparts, who can inspire each other and best each other to create wonderful art. In fact a much-respected guest is on his way now, so surely he can find kinship? The guest's name is, after all, Gauguin. The main character is, of course, Vincent van Gogh… Full review...

Retribution Road by Antonin Varenne and Sam Taylor (translator)

4.5star.jpg Historical Fiction

Sergeant Bowman wasn't just a hard man, he was something else: a dangerous man. If, indeed, there was someone who was ideal for a suicide mission, it was him. Working as a soldier for the East India Company in the rural, remote, outlaw hotbeds of Asia in the 1850s, he's tasked with taking a boat of unknown prospects up the Irrawaddy to try and combat local warlord Pagan Min. It doesn't go well – to start with, he's supposed to run the rule over ruffians saved from the gallows, but can't command them until he's forced his way to having the knowledge of the mission he needs first, only for all hell to break loose. But get back he does, only to find that while his nightmares about what really happened are met with equally dark goings-on, the official record suggests the mission never actually existed… Full review...

A Mighty Dawn (The Wanderer Chronicles) by Theodore Brun

3.5star.jpg Historical Fiction

A story like this needs a strong central character; it needs a warrior who has conviction, heart and honour. Hakan has all these in abundance, but he didn't get them easily. In this coming of age tale, he goes on a quest to find himself after experiencing the most tremendous of betrayals. Full review...

The Sins of Soldiers by S J Hardman Lea

5star.jpg Historical Fiction

Anson Scott wants to join the British army and World War I for a different reason than most of his fellow Americans. He's a journalist wanting the uncensored inside story to send back home; a deadly enterprise as, if the Germans don't get him, the Brits may deem him a spy. Unperturbed he carries his plan through and finds himself on the French front in 1916. He has an ally in British officer David Alexander, which is just as well since not all his enemies are across no man's land. The two men have a lot in common, more than they know and perhaps more than is good for them as the Somme approaches. Full review...

Viper's Blood (Master of War) by David Gilman

5star.jpg Historical Fiction

Bowman and commander Thomas Blackstone is one of Edward III's greatest weapons, bringing him potentially head to head against the Dauphin once again. However, faced with an elongated stale mate, Thomas' role becomes that of scavenger leader as the chances of victory make way for a greater chance of starvation amongst the armies. There is a light at the end of the tunnel though. Blackstone is to go on a trip: an escort mission to Italy, delivering the French King's daughter Isabelle to Milan and her wedding. Having said that, the light at the end of the tunnel may be an oncoming lance. Isabelle's prospective groom is one of the brothers who killed Thomas' wife and daughter. Death is definitely on the cards… but whose? Full review...

Corpus by Rory Clements

5star.jpg Crime (Historical)

A suicidal overdose and the murder of upper class Cecil Langley and his wife are two events that may be unconnected. However this is England in 1936, a magnet for opposing forces and their first moves in preparation for the coming conflict, assisted or prevented by a royal crisis (depending on which side you're on). Cambridge history professor Tom Wilde may fall into the middle of this accidentally to begin with but his curiosity has been piqued enough to ensure he's not walking away. Full review...

To Capture What We Cannot Keep by Beatrice Colin

4star.jpg Historical Fiction

Paris, February 1887, and work on the foundations of Eiffel's daring tower is about to begin. Engineer Emile Nouguier, taking photographs of the site from a tethered hot air balloon for tourists nearby, chances to meet a young widow from Glasgow named Caitriona Wallace, and his own foundations start to shift. Over the next two years as the tower slowly rises in the Champ de Mars, what began as an impossible dream becomes solid reality – Cait and Emile's love for each other. In a world where more than bustles and corsets hem her in, will Cait be able to break free of her oppressive future, and given their different social strata, can Emile re-shape his? Full review...

A Perilous Undertaking (Veronica Speedwell Mystery) by Deanna Raybourn

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Veronica Speedwell did not choose to be an investigator by profession. She was, first and foremost, a scientist; a lepidopterist and adventuress who travelled the world looking for exciting butterfly specimens. However, when her latest expedition was cancelled due to an unfortunate incident with a giant tortoise, Veronica and her taxidermist friend Stoker took up the challenge of a murder investigation as an interesting diversion. The case seemed to an open-and-shut one; Miles Ramsforth, an art patron, had been accused of murdering his pregnant mistress, Artemisia. He was discovered at the scene, covered in her blood and had both the motive and circumstances to commit the crime. He would hang by the end of the week if Veronica and Stoker could not find the 'real' killer. Full review...

Counting the Cost by Jemima Brigges

4star.jpg Historical Fiction

The year is 1794 and we meet our young protagonist, Maria, in desperate circumstances. Alone and terrified, she has concluded that her only option is to take her own life by throwing herself into the surging river waters. Months previously, she was cruelly violated by the master of the house where she worked and now, in the advanced stages of her pregnancy, the future seems bleak. Luckily, a pair of gypsy women find Maria and take her in. Following a traumatic labour, Maria becomes desperately ill and when she recovers, her baby is gone. Alone again, Maria is free to start a new life. With a clever disguise, she becomes the dowdy 'Miss Dinchope' and takes a position as a housekeeper for the village rector. Full review...

The Night of The Eleventh Sun by Steven Burgauer

4.5star.jpg Historical Fiction

The word 'Neanderthal' has become equated with people deemed to have a backward attitude and outlook. But what do we know of the original Neanderthals from over 200,000 years ago? Here American author Steven Burgauer melds the knowledge of anthropologists, archaeologists and historians with the story of Strong Arms, his family and their struggle to survive in a very effective, and informative way. Full review...

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

3star.jpg Historical Fiction

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

5star.jpg Historical Fiction

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

3star.jpg Historical Fiction

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

4star.jpg Historical Fiction

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

4.5star.jpg Crime (Historical)

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

4star.jpg Historical Fiction

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

4.5star.jpg Historical Fiction

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

4star.jpg Historical Fiction

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

4star.jpg Historical Fiction

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

4star.jpg Historical Fiction

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

4.5star.jpg Historical Fiction

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...