The creator of Sharpe recommends reading from across human history.
Few contemporary novelists have ranged as widely over the fields of English history as Bernard Cornwell. The creator of the beloved rifleman Sharpe, whose exploits during the tumultuous period of the Napoleonic wars are contained in a score of bestselling books, has also brought to vivid life the world of Dark Ages Britain in his Saxon Chronicles. Here, he offers three of his favorite books, which also span centuries and sensibilities.
By Stuart MacBride
“Mix a talent for suspenseful story-telling with a devilish sense of humour, add realistic characters and an imagination that is hellishly inventive, and you have Stuart MacBride’s wonderful Scottish noir novels. Cold Granite was the first, and there are now five books featuring Logan McRae, an Aberdeen detective who is doomed to investigate crimes of appalling brutality. MacBride is really not for the squeamish. He writes in the same vein as Ian Rankin, but MacBride’s imagination comes from a much lower circle of hell. Detective Inspector Steel, sometimes Logan’s boss and always a disastrous human being, is a creation of pure genius. MacBride is not for the faint hearted, but irresistibly readable.”
By John Keegan
“This book, first published in 1983, turned the writing of military history on its head. John Keegan (though he would detest this description) is handicapped. He was unable to pursue a soldier’s career, but had a burning curiosity to discover what the experience of battle was really like and The Face of Battle was the brilliant result. He examines three battles, Agincourt (1415), Waterloo (1815) and the Somme (1916), but instead of telling the stories from the lofty position of the commanders, he gets down into the mud where fear, chaos, confusion and terror prevail. By doing that he brought military history writing down to earth, and produced a classic book.”
By C. J. Sansom
“Dissolution was the first novel about Matthew Shardlake, a hunchbacked lawyer who practices in the reign of Henry VIII. The background to the Shardlake stories will be familiar to anyone who enjoyed (as I did) Hilary Mantel’s Man-Booker prize winning novel, Wolf Hall, and Sansom writes with a similar sophistication and intelligence. Shardlake is a decent man of scrupulous honesty who gets drawn into the murky world of Tudor politics. Christopher Sansom’s portrait of Henry VIII in Sovereign is devastating and, I suspect, accurate. There have been four Shardlake novels so far, and a fifth is promised soon. Sansom is himself a lawyer, but he is also a great story-teller and in Shardlake he has created one of the most memorable characters of historical fiction.”