Those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it. Those who enjoy history, however, are blessed with the ability to reread it. The iron is hot in the forge of historical fiction these days. There are scandalous queens, royal enmity, upstart young women, Shakespeare in love, and so much more coming out of the fictional woodwork. To prove it, here are just six of the new and upcoming titles you need to add to your to-read lists.
The Marriage Game, by Alison Weir
Oh, those zany Tudors. They’re the royal line that launched a thousand books—and many of them great, like Weir’s juicy tale of romance. Elizabeth I often doesn’t get the credit she deserves for being a saucy minx. So it is with great pleasure that she is portrayed here, newly crowned and in the throes of eyebrow-raising flirtation—and maybe more—with her married courtier, Lord Robert Dudley. Weir is a practiced hand when it comes to Tudor temptations; she’s plumbed their depths in nonfiction works. But here, in the follow-up to her novel The Lady Elizabeth, she gets free rein to imagine the inner life of one of England’s most complex queens.
The Accidental Empress, by Allison Pataki
The hallmarks of good historical fiction are romance and intrigue. Both are plentiful in The Accidental Empress, and come courtesy of the Habsburg court. For 15-year-old Elisabeth, duchess of Bavaria, this world of splendor is overwhelming and enthralling. The same can be said for Sisi’s feelings for the Emperor Franz Joseph, who impulsively weds her in defiance of his mother’s plan that he wed Sisi’s sister, Helena. Of course, if history were fairytales, they’d have lived happily ever after, but the royal life isn’t charmed. She may have been thrust onto the throne, but Sisi’s main priority is to learn how to rule her own fate.
The Price of Blood, by Patricia Bracewell
Bracewell introduced us to Emma of Normandy in the first novel of her medieval series, Shadow on the Crown. Then, she was a teenager dispatched to marry the older King of England, Aethelred. She spent most of her time trying to secure her unsteady place in court, while maturing as a young woman chained to an unworthy husband. In this second outing, Emma has grown into the protective mother of a royal heir. Her husband is still awful, her standing ever unsure in a court full of enemies. And there are also Vikings.
Of Irish Blood, by Mary Pat Kelly
Bringing the action closer to our time period is Nora Kelly, a lively and scrappy Irish-American heroine fleeing an abusive relationship. In the sequel to Mary Pat Kelly’s Galway Bay, Nora, ever plucky, winds up in Paris on the eve of World War I. There she encounters an astounding array of characters from the 20th century, including but not limited to: Gertrude Stein, James Joyce, William Butler Yeats, and Henri Matisse. She also finds a little romance in the guise of a hunky academic and adventure in the form of Irish revolutionaries. It’s a tale to make tongues wag.
The Tutor, by Andrea Chapin
Things have a way of circling back to Elizabeth I. And where there is Elizabeth, there is one William Shakespeare. For a man so widely known of, Shakespeare is so little known. But in Chapin’s hands, the Bard is at his most salubrious and salacious. Being a Catholic is precarious in Elizabeth’s England, which is where Katharine d’Lisle finds herself—and widowed, too. Even more unnerving? When a brash young poet named Shakespeare shows up as a family tutor. As is the way with so much in love, Katharine is both annoyed with the new schoolmaster, but also a little bit hot for teacher. But is the wordsmith an Adonis or a playboy? That is the question.
Shame & The Captives, by Thomas Keneally
The author of Schindler’s List explores a different side of the same conflict in his latest. World War II was a clash of nations; in Keneally’s wartime Australia, it is a clash of cultures we are privy to, centered primarily on a POW camp filled with Japanese prisoners, eager to erase the shame of being captured in battle and with the resolve to act. At the same time, Alice, whose husband is being held as a POW in Europe, is introduced to an Italian prisoner when he’s assigned to work her family’s farm. The interaction affects her in ways she doesn’t expect—and just as unexpected are the lengths to which the Japanese captives will go to redeem themselves.