Thursday, July 30, 2009

Starter for Twenty - Medieval novels from my collection

Having recently finished my latest novel and having handed it in, I got round to a bit of tidying around and came to perusing my keeper bookshelf. This gave me the idea for a post listing twenty medieval historical novels that live there. All are friends I wouldn't dream of parting with. I haven't listed them in order of preference - just in order of scanning, and they are only representative, but here they are with brief notes. A selection of the well-worn and the slightly newer that have taken me on far-ranging adventures, educated me, and kept me sane. (I know the latter is debatable, but you know what I mean)!


I was very tempted to put all of Sharon Kay Penman's novels on my list, just as I was tempted to put all my Dunnet's or Gellis' but that would have left room for nothing else. So I've put up my 'read most times' Penman as a representative of the rest. Sharon Penman has an unsurpassed talent for bringing the Middle Ages to life and for explaining the complex politics in a thoroughly readable way that leaves you wanting more. Her research is deep and her characters are of their time, but people you can still recognise. SKP is the true royalty when it comes to writing historical fiction set in the medieval period.


Part 2 of a trilogy, but I read this first and it stands alone. The story of Margaret Kendall, wealthy merchant's widow, who is forced into marriage with Gregory de Villiers, a younger son and unfrocked monk. A glorious, tongue in cheek romp. The others in the trilogy are A Vision of Light and The Water Devil. First read this around 1990


Arn de Gothia is given to the church, but his skills lie with the military arts. Something of a Parsifal character, this is the story of his early years and the forging of a Templar Knight. Don't expect a strong resolution at the end though. This is only the beginning of the journey.
Read this year.


I love all of Cecelia Holland's Medieval novels. Hammer For Princes and Great Maria could have as easily appeared here, but Until the Sun Falls is also a tour de Force. The story of the Mongol Empire following the death of Ghenghis Khan.


Another Holland. Kevin Crossley this time. This is the story of 12th century boy Arthur, living on the Welsh Marches and with a mystic connection to older legends. Holland has a gift for bringing the period to life. It's a young adult novel but easily makes the crossover.


The story of Henry I. Not many authors have tackled this particular king who is probably one of England's greatest monarchs - but in an understated kind of way. He ruled with a rod of iron and his nature was not always endearing, but the country had 35 years of peace under his rule. Juliet Dymoke writes his story with apblomb.


From the days when medieval romances were meatier tomes you could really sink into. Eden Hawkhurst's husband goes missing on crusade and of course she sets out to find him, but on her way she meets Tristan Damartin and things start to get complicated. A great romp - sexy and forthright but rich story telling nevertheless - or so I thought back in 1977!


More Crusader stuff. I read this one last year and it made me laugh out loud. The tale of a young lad who becomes a Templar squire, the narrative told through his irreverent and cheeky banter. Aimed at the YA market, but I loved it.


More Holy Land mayhem. The background to the events that led to the third crusade. This was probably the first 'gritty' historical that I read in the early 1970's. Retail price 30p


The incomparible Dorothy Dunnett and the first of her six books about Francis Crawford of Lymond. I can't say it better than one of the original quotes for this book from Neil Patterson of the Sunday Times: 'This is the first time I have stood in the market place and shouted and I wish I were more practised and my voice were bigger, for I have something of delight for all who care for excellence.'
There are historical novelists, and then there is Dorothy Dunnett. My edition, bought after having read it from the library, is the 1984 printing.


Another great dame of the genre, Roberta Gellis. Alinor has one of the best romantic heroes I have ever come across. Ian de Vipont is a tour de force - and so is Alinor. She's a woman of her time and yet she runs ring around the men. I've read this one to bits in the past. Ignore the cheesy cover. It's a well-researched, meaty historical novel.


Madselin - my favourite Norah Lofts. The story of a noble Saxon young woman forced to make adjustments in the wake of the Norman Conquest. A very fine novel.


Having read all the Dunnett and suffering from withdrawal symptoms, I came across this one. Vainglory by Geraldine McCaughrean is like stepping into a richly illuminated Book of Hours. I love the language, and I am still a little in love with the hero, Victoire de Gloriole.


Grace Ingram is also known as Doris Sutcliffe Adams. This particular novel is part romance, part medieval mystery, written in a pacy, tongue in cheek style with an endearing 'feisty' heroine very much of her time and a believable, vulnerable hero. A favourite comfort read for me.


Carla Nayland is a friend from the historical fiction community but I wasn't asked to read this; I did it of my own accord and read it just like any other book. This is early medieval - what used to be called the 'Dark Ages' but Carla skillfully weaves the story of Eadwine and his struggle for survival and inheritance.
I read this about a year ago or thereabouts.


Queen Melisande of Jerusalem and the Christian Holy Land in a state of flux comes to life in this one. Again, the rich texture and use of language puts this one in the Dorothy Dunnett field of operation. I was hooked from the moment I read the opening paragraph.


The first work of historical fiction I ever bought for myself with a book token. I was fifteen at the time. I'd bought books in other genres before, but this was the first historical. I'd recently fallen in love with the Middle Ages in a swash buckling romantic sort of way, and the cover sucked me in!


A fast-paced intelligent romance novel that isn't just about the bonk. In fact, although the intimate moments have you reaching for a cold drink, they are not over done and the story itself with its mystery and developing cooperation between hero and heroine, is very rewarding. One of the best historical romances I've read.


H.A. Douglas is a re-enactor friend and this is self-published by Lulu. Again, I wasn't pushed into reading it, nor obliged to say nice things, but this is a superb little novel about life in the north of England in the tenth century. The author is very good at writing a female viewpoint and the story has a powerful sense of time and place. It's as good as anything published by the big houses.


I was a fan of Ellis Peters' Cadfael looooong before the mainstream cottoned on. Here's my bookclub edition from 1979. This was my first meeting with the gorgeous Hugh Berenger for whom I formed a lifelong attachment. Never mind the mystery, never mind the monk, just give me dark-eyed light on his feet Hugh!
Seriously, I loved the Cadfael books and I have them all.


Jan Jones said...

With you all the way on sexy Hugh Berenger! I also read One Corpse Too Many first and then had to contain my soul in patience as the others were written. Love 'em all.

And yes, Pagan is just so laugh-out-loud splendid.

Lesley Haycock said...

Thank you - I'm always on the look out for this sort of thing. I came to medieval history a lot later than you, so whilst waiting patiently for your next, I sometimes wonder where to go. I read Sharon Penman after your recommendation too. I may try the Cadfael.

Jody said...

Wow what a wonderful list of books, of to find a few of those books-thank God for Alibris and ABE books. I have a list of favorite historicals that are listed in no particular order but all are on my keeper shelf ( some will be familiar to you:

Unknown said...

Think i'm a bit like Mahelt!*wink* lol I don't do damsel in distress.
Most of my read medieval novels aside from your own would be the templar ones ,Brethren, Crusade by Robyn Young,The Knights of Black and White by Jack Whyte.

Kit moss said...

A magnificent idea.. and the covers run the gamut. I see a few of my favorites here.. so glad. Splendid job.

Nan Hawthorne

Anne Gilbert said...

I've read about half the books you mentioned, at one time or another(yeah, that includes some of the Dunnett ones too, and you know already hwo I feel about her writing and style). Anyway, I have fond memories of many of them. However, sadly, you can't get many of these books any more. They're pretty much out of print in the US. I tried to find Madselin in the library a while back, just for old times' sake, and it wasn't there. I really felt sad about that. however, one of the characters in my book si called Madselin, partly as a tribute to this book.
Anne G

Anne Gilbert said...

I also forgot to mention that I loved the Kevin Crossley-Holland "Arthurian" books. They're one of the few treatments of Arhturiana that I can actually stand. And he writes very well. And I was a grown woman when I read themc.

Anne Gilbert said...

I also forgot to mention that I loved the Kevin Crossley-Holland "Arthurian" books. They're one of the few treatments of Arhturiana that I can actually stand. And he writes very well. And I was a grown woman when I read themc.

Anonymous said...

I love these, now off to see how many I can find on the cheap or at the library. Thanks for sharing.

Marg said...

I've only read one of these! Guess I will just have to red some more medieval novels! Added a few of them to be TBR list!

David Murdoch said...

I haven't read much historical fiction based in the middle ages. I wonder though, on the basis of the way historical fiction written in the modern time is often done, if it fails to address the christian basis of the worldview of the people involved. I say this because if you watch movies of things that happened before the 20th century many of the characters seem to display almost a kind of modern secularism in their rare mentions of religion or christianity.

God Bless,

Katherine said...

I've read a couple of these, but many I haven't. It's too bad that some of them look to be out of print or otherwise unavailable; they all look really good!

PS--I went to see Sharon Kay Penman read from Devil's Brood last night, and she had the nicest, well-justified things to say about you and your books!

Anne Gilbert said...

David, that assumes there was "a" Charistian viewpoint in medieval times. There were certainly many pious, believing men and women, but their "way of religion" was, in some ways, a lot different from that of those who live in more, shall we say, rationalistic times.
And like everything else, there were also degrees of belief and disbelief, though it's true few people directly challenged the Church.

Cindy Ash said...

if it fails to address the christian basis of the worldview of the people involved.

In books such as the Caedfael series, and books by EC and Penman, the church is a daily presence, and I think in these you can see the worldview of the time. IMHO of course

Ok Eliz, my summer pay has run out I don't get a school pay check for almost a month, and now you are putting up a list! Sigh. Actually some I've read, I agree about Tarr, Peters, and of course Penman and Dunnet. I have yet to read Cecelia Holland so thats first on my list, and have four othrs that look intriging. I'll check my library first. (seriously, thanks - I'malways looking for new stuff!)

Anne, many of the older books are available used; try BookFinder, which is an umbrella search engine for ABE, Albiris, Amazin and others. Also try Book Depository that lists used books and ships internationally for free!

Daphne said...

I have the Dymoke book but haven't read it yet. I absolutely love the cover for The Burnished Blade (very cheesy)!

Elizabeth Chadwick said...

Thanks for all the comments folks!
Many of the books on the list are long out of print because I'm going back through a lifetime of works I've loved and some had already been on the scene for a while before that. There are sins of omission, but I just chose 20 at more or less random from my favourites. So Valerie Anand is missing but still loved, so are Brian Wainwright, Anya Seton and Bernard Cornwell.
David, some of the fiction mentioned doesn't have detailed mention of religion because the story lines are about other things, but I would say that most of the books are aware of it as a part of everyday life and it isn't ignored. I do know what you mean and I would say that for an author writing fiction about the medieval period, there is a delicate balancing act to perform whereby the past is portrayed with integrity and realism, but is still accessible to a modern audience.
Katherine, thanks for that about Sharon's talk. She is one classy lady and a wonderful author.
Cindy, I think you will enjoy Cecelia Holland. Great Maria seems to be one of the favourites in the histfict community. If I owned it, I would have scanned it onto the list - alas I read it from the library (several times!).

Anne Gilbert said...

This is for Cindy. Thanks. I will try that outlet and see what I come up with. MIght be interesting!

Amy said...

Great list! I'll have to check out my lady's crusade....Sounds like a good, well-written romance, a rarity these days-:-D

Izzy said...

Thanks for the excellent list! It's such a pity so many titles are no longer available. I had a look at "Red Adam's Lady" - glowing reviews on amazon, but selling at $38 - $105 second hand! Yikes. I'm glad you put SKP at the top of the list - her novels are divine. I'm pacing myself with her remaining works.

Sharon Kay Penman said...

Elizabeth, what a good idea. I wasn't surprised to find we like the same authors. I liked Madselin a lot, too, also The Concubine, Norah Lofts's novel about Anne Boleyn. Robert Gellis, too; in addition to her Roselynde series, I like a stand-alone, Bond of Blood. My own favorite Brother Cadfael is Virgin in the Ice. Thanks for including one of my books on your list. I'd definitely return the favor, though it would be hard to select just one of your books. I'd probably narrow it down to The Falcons of Montabard and A Place Beyond Courage.

Nadine, Chewy and Lilibell said...

Elizabeth, thank you so much for posting these! I'm always on the prowl for a good book and from your list, I've found one already that's going on my "to be read" list! Feel free to add to this list from time to time....I do need something to read while I wait for your next book (spring 2010 is a looong time away!). Have you read any of Helen Hollick's books? Besides you, Valerie Anand and Sharon Kay Penman, she is another favorite author of mine!

Elizabeth Chadwick said...

Nadine, thanks for dropping in on the blog.
I will post further samples indeed now and then!
I am familiar with Helen Hollick's word and I do enjoy her novels very much - I've actually particularly liked her more recent 'Pirate mode' novels starring Jessemiah Acorne, but I did enjoy Harold the King a great deal.

faeriemyst said...

Thanks for this list, I haven't read any of them yet, so this is a good place to start. :D

cindy ash said...

Eliz, I just finished Vainglory. Oh my - I think this is going on my list of top HF books! Thanks so much for recommending it. She writes with wit, and yet how tragic the book was. I also learned a little about that time period in France, which I didn't know much about.