A Real Life Game of Thrones

A fascinating story out of Britain today: the remains of the last Plantagenet king, Richard III, have been identified after being discovered under a municipal parking lot. Richard was killed in battle against Henry Tudor (subsequently known at King Henry VII) and the whereabouts of his body remained a mystery for several hundred years. The death of Richard, and the marriage of Henry to Elizabeth of York (who, trivia buffs, was a daughter, sister, niece, wife and mother to various kings of England) ended the War of the Roses.

There’s a reason why George R.R. Martin cites the War of the Roses as inspiration for his epic fantasy A Song of Ice and Fire – the political intrigue and positively dysfunctional dynamics of the Plantagenet family are legendary. They are also marvelous source material for contemporary authors of historical fiction.

And no one is doing historical fiction better right now than Hilary Mantel, the two time Booker Prize winning author. She struck gold first with Wolf Hall, a novel about Henry VIII, his marriage to Anne Boleyn and his failing out with Sir Thomas More, all told from the perspective of one of Henry’s principle advisers, Thomas Cromwell. Mantel presents Henry as an almost sympathetic character, no small feat considering his popular image as a lustful, obese consumer of roasted turkey legs.

Last year, a  sequel called Bring Up the Bodies was released to widespread acclaim. It tells the story of Anne’s downfall and execution and Henry’s match with Jane Seymour.  A third novel, chronicling Cromwell’s own fall from grace and subsequent execution is planned for the future.

Following close behind Martel is Ken Folltet who has authored two novels featuring medieval English politics. The Pillars of the Earth and World Without End are set in a fictional town called Kingsbridge and closely follow various English royalty including the Empress Maud, Henry II and his “troublesome priest” Thomas Beckett. Pillars of the Earth has also been made into a TV miniseries.

Finally, Sharon Kay Penman has a stand alone novel – The Sunne in Splendour – about Richard III, whom she casts in a good light. She also has a great series featuring Henry II and his queen Eleanor of Aquitaine starting with the novel When Christ and His Saints Slept.

Historical Fantasy

Do you enjoy reading fantasy? What about historical fiction? If you’re a fan of both, you might enjoy one of these historical fantasies, books that have fantastic elements but which are based on historical events. Some books are set in a place almost the same as our world, and some are quite different, but all of them are pretty great!

For adults:

Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clarke: English magic has died out, or so everyone thinks. Those who call themselves magicians are scholars of magic, rather than practitioners. It is a shock for everyone when a gentleman named Gilbert Norrell demonstrates undoubtable magical ability. Eventually he takes a pupil named Jonathan Strange, whose approach is as different from Mr. Norrell’s as night from day. This book tells their story, in effortless and beautiful prose.

His Majesty’s Dragon, and sequels, by Naomi Novik: Best described as Master and Commander with dragons, His Majesty’s Dragon follows the British Navy’s Captain Laurence as he unwillingly becomes a dragon captain. Full of adventure and intrigue, this is a great series!

The Curse of Chalion, and sequels, by Lois McMaster Bujold: Three in a planned five-book series, the Chalion books take place in a world roughly analogous to early Renaissance Spain. There are plenty of courtly intrigues and a few good battles, and even a little bit of romance.

For teens:

Chime by Franny Billingsley: I know I’ve already said I enjoyed Chime a lot. One of the reasons for that is the fantastic setting, which takes its inspiration from the atmosphere of the English fen country in the early 1900s. That sounds kind of boring, but it’s a great way to look at a changing world, with an added sense of gloomy atmosphere and tension.

Foundling, and sequels, by D.M. Cornish: Probably geared toward younger teens, Cornish tells the story of Rossamünd, a Foundling in the Half-Continent, a world something like Baroque Europe. Cornish spent years inventing this world, and his work shows. He’s also a skilled artist whose drawings add depth and realism to the story.

The Thief, and sequels, by Megan Whalen Turner: This is one of my all-time favorite series, so I take every chance I can to mention it. But really, it’s also a great example of historical fantasy, with a meticulously-detailed world based on Byzantine Greece. With plenty of twists and surprises, plus awesome characters, this is definitely one to check out!

The Vespertine by Saundra Mitchell: A neat book by an Indianapolis author! Set in the high society of Baltimore in 1889, The Vespertine tells the story of a girl who is not what she seems to be. Mitchell nails the voice from the beginning of the book and I totally bought the romance. A nice blend of authentic detail and contemporary drama.

For younger readers:

The Wolves of Willoughby Chase, and sequels, by Joan Aiken: This book is the first in the series of the same name. In an England that never was, wolves are crossing the ice to threaten London. Meanwhile Sylvia must escape from an orphanage with the help of Simon the gooseboy. Madcap fun.

The Cabinet of Wonders, and sequels, by Marie Rutkoski: Set in 17th century Prague, The Cabinet of Wonders and its sequels tell the story of Petra Kronos, daughter of a master metal-worker whose ability to work metal with his mind lands him on the wrong side of the mad Prince of Bohemia. Petra is a fantastic, spunky character, and Rutkoski writes a chilling, thrilling story.

Kat, Incorrigible by Stephanie Burgis: Set in Regency England, this is the story of Kat Stephenson, the youngest of three sisters. While Elissa and Angeline try to be proper young ladies, Kat doesn’t care for polite society, or its decrees that magic is improper. Kat is a great character and her trials and tribulations are at times hilariously funny.