Occasionally two separate projects overlap in my head, creating bubbles of thought. (The process is a bit like pouring vinegar on baking soda: the end product is active and slightly acidic.) This is one of those times.
As I mentioned before, I’ve been reading about Boudica’s revolt against the Roman empire. At the same time, I read and reviewed Mary Beard’s latest book about Roman stuff. for Shelf Awareness for Readers.* It was one quick mental step from Roman Britain and Roman jokebooks to Lindsey Davis‘s excellent series of murder mysteries set in ancient Rome (and its empire) shortly after the British revolt.
If I had access to my fiction collection** I probably would have re-read Silver Pigs (set partially in post-Boudica Britain) and Last Act in Palmyra (which deals in part with a jokebook) and this blog post would have never been written. Instead I found myself thinking about the role of the historical novel in my reading life and understanding of history.
I will be the first to admit that historical novels–genre and literary alike–have shaped my image of historical periods, places, and people outside of my specific area of expertise. They’ve often spurred an interest in a period I otherwise knew nothing about. At their best, they provide a vivid picture of a moment in time, adding details of daily life and the experience of “normal” people to the big picture. At their worst? *Bleah*
I’m pretty clear about what I want in historical fiction: impeccable historical detail that supports the story but does not call attention to the author’s research and characters who are rooted in their time.*** What’s your stand on historical fiction? And what authors should I add to my To-Be-Read list?
* Coming to a blog post near you sometime after it runs on Shelf Awareness
**Currently in boxes in the living room waiting the installation of new floor to ceiling bookcases.
***My pet peeve? Breaking historical plausibility to create an appealing character. I’m happy to have a female character push against the constraints of social mores; don’t give me a modern woman in historical costume.