BOOKS AND BANKRUPTCY
I’m sorry it has taken me so long to do a new blog. My usual version of “The dog ate my homework” excuse was “Henry and Eleanor are running roughshod over their lowly scribe again” or with LIONHEART, “Richard is being a typical bloody-minded Angevin.” But this time I can’t blame Coeur de Lion; he has actually been cooperating lately since we’re drawing near to one of his most celebrated exploits—the rescue of Jaffa. The delay was caused by my chronic back problems, which flared up while my chiropractor was out of town; the next time he goes on vacation, I am stowing away in the trunk of his car. But he has returned and I no longer have to severely limit my time at the computer. So before I plunge into Chapter 34, I am going to do a blog about a subject dear to all our hearts—books.
I have a new batch of books to recommend, which makes the “bankruptcy” reference self-explanatory. Many of you have probably seen that bumper sticker, “So many books, so little time.” Well, a variation of that ought to be “So many books, so little money,” for a number of temptations are coming our way. Let’s start with the good news from Sourcebooks, which is reprinting some novels beloved by readers of historical fiction.
1) LEGACY, by Susan Kay, out now; this is, IMHO, the best novel written about Elizabeth Tudor.
2) GREAT MARIA, by Cecilia Holland, my favorite Holland novel, out now.
3) FOR THE KING’S FAVOR, by Elizabeth Chadwick, September 1st; this was published in the UK as THE TIME OF SINGING. Sourcebooks has already published Elizabeth’s excellent TO DEFY A KING, set in King John’s reign, and her acclaimed novels about William Marshal, THE GREATEST KNIGHT and THE SCARLET LION.
4) HAWK OF MAY, by Gillian Bradshaw, the first book in her Arthurian trilogy, September.
5) DESIREE, by Annemarie Selinko, October 1st; I read this as a teenager and developed a huge crush on Napoleon, of all men!
6) ELIZABETH, CAPTIVE PRINCESS, by Margaret Irwin, October 1st, the second in her trilogy about Elizabeth Tudor.
7) FOREVER QUEEN, by Helen Hollick, November 1st; this is her novel about Queen Emma with a new title, and I can recommend it highly.
A BLOODY FIELD BY SHREWSBURY, by Edith Pargeter, November 1st; this is my favorite Pargeter novel, considered a classic by many.
9) CHILD OF THE NORTHERN SPRING, by Persia Woolley; this is the first in her wonderful trilogy about Guinevere.
10) LADY OF HAY by Barbara Erskine, October 1st; I haven’t read it, but I know many readers loved it.
The above books are reprints. Sourcebooks is also publishing Susan Higginbotham’s new novel about Margaret of Anjou, titled QUEEN OF LAST HOPES, in January, 2011. And here’s a novel about Richard III that is already out, THIS TIME, by Joan Szechtman. As many of you know, I usually do not read other writers’ novels about “my” characters; after living with them for so long, I tend to get rather possessive! But Joan’s novel is near the top of my TBR pile, which is almost scraping the ceiling by now, for it has a very clever premise–Richard is transported from Bosworth Field and into our time. It has gotten enthusiastic reviews from people whose opinions I respect, including Brian Wainwright, author of the excellent WITHIN THE FETTER-LOCK, a novel of Constance of York, and the fiendishly clever Ricardian spoof, THE ADVENTURES OF ALIANORE AUDLEY. I’m looking forward to reading it as soon as I complete LIONHEART, and I am happy to report that Joan is busy at work on a sequel. Another Ricardian novel on the horizon is Anne Easter Smith’s QUEEN BY RIGHT, about Cecily Neville, to be published in May of 2011; Anne, of course, is the author of three other historical novels, A ROSE FOR THE CROWN, about Richard III, DAUGHTER OF YORK, about his sister Margaret, Duchess of Burgundy, and THE KING’S GRACE, about Perkin Warbeck.
Detouring into the twelfth century, it has been a busy year for Eleanor of Aquitaine. Cecilia Holland has a new novel out about her, titled THE SECRET ELEANOR. In the spring, Christy English’s THE QUEEN’S PAWN, came out. And Elizabeth Chadwick intends to write about Eleanor after her novel about the Empress Maude/Matilda, LADY OF THE ENGLISH, is published.
I am not done doing damage to your bank accounts. Margaret George will have a new novel out next April, ELIZABETH I. And in February a novel is coming out that I really loved. It is called EXIT THE ACTRESS by Priya Parmar, and is a delightful account of the love affair between Charles II and the most famous and appealing of his mistresses, Nell Gwyn. And since I proclaimed LEGACY to be the best novel I’ve read about Elizabeth Tudor to date, I might as well do the same for Norah Lofts’s THE CONCUBINE, for I think it is the best novel written about Anne Boleyn. I also have news about three of my favorite mystery writers. Lindsey Davis has a new Falco mystery coming out at the end of August, NEMESIS; it is already published in the UK. Priscilla Royal’s latest, VALLEY OF DRY BONES, comes out on November 2nd, and we have another Margaret Frazer to look forward to, A PLAY OF PIETY, which will be published on December 7th.
In previous blogs, I’ve often mentioned the various chronicles that I’ve been using for LIONHEART, and I’ve been asked for additional information about them. I highly recommend them, for they offer an amazingly intimate glimpse into the medieval world. THE CHRONICLE OF THE THIRD CRUSADE is a translation by Helen J. Nicholson of The Itinerarium Peregrinorum et Gesta Regis Ricardi. I was able to get two translations of Ambroise’s Estoire de la Guerre Sainte, but I would suggest going with the most recent one, THE HISTORY OF THE HOLY WAR, translated by Marianne Ailes. The other side is represented by THE RARE AND EXCELLENT HISTORY OF SALADIN, written by Baha al-Din ibn Shaddad, a member of Saladin’s inner circle, translated by D. S. Richards, and by THE CHRONICLE OF IBN AL-ATHIR FOR THE CRUSADING PERIOD,THE YEARS 541-589/1146-1193: THE AGE OF NUR AL-DIN AND SALADIN, also translated by D. S. Richards. For those who read French, there is CONQUETE DE LA SYRIE ET DE LA PALESTINE PAR SALADIN, written by another of the sultan’s intimates, Imad al-Din al-Isfahani, translated by Henri Masse. There are a number of other chronicles, too, of course—Roger de Hoveden and William of Newburgh and the snarky Richard of Devizes, who sniped that Berengaria was “probably” still a virgin when she and Richard left Sicily for the Holy Land. When I compose a reading list of the books I consulted for Lionheart, I will put it up on my website, but I am holding off until the novel is done.
For those who’d like to read about Richard’s reign before Lionheart is published next year, John Gillingham remains the gold-standard for biographies of Richard I; his primary biography was published in 1999, and he has also written numerous articles about Richard, many of which are included in RICHARD COEUR DE LION, KINGSHIP, CHIVALRY, AND WAR IN THE TWELFTH CENTURY. Frank McLynn has also written a biography of Richard and John; in the US, it is titled RICHARD AND JOHN, KINGS AT WAR, and in the UK, LIONHEART AND LACKLAND. I have not read the half of the book pertaining to John, so I can’t comment upon it, but I have found very few errors in the half devoted to Richard. A much older biography of Richard by Kate Norgate has stood the test of time surprisingly well. And I highly recommend the biography of Eleanor of Aquitaine by the British historian Ralph Turner.
There are so many books written about the Crusades, although oddly, not specifically about the Third Crusade. The best that I’ve read so far is Thomas Asbridge’s THE CRUSADES: THE AUTHORITATIVE HISTORY OF THE WAR FOR THE HOLY LAND. I may not always agree with his conclusions, but his research is very compre-hensive and if you want to read only one book about the crusades, this is the book. The definitive account of the crusades from Saladin’s point of view remains Malcolm Cameron Lyons and D.E. P Jackson’s SALADIN, THE POLITICS OF THE HOLY WAR. I also recommend Carole Hillenbrand’s THE CRUSADES, ISLAMIC PER-SPECTIVES, and David Nicolle’s CRUSADER WARFARE, VOLUME II, MUSLIMS, MONGOLS, AND THE STRUGGLE AGAINST THE CRUSADES. Before this list gets totally out of hand for a blog entry, I will confine myself to mentioning just a few others, books that focus upon the brutality of medieval warfare: Sean McClynn’s BY SWORD AND FIRE, Yvonne Friedman’s ENCOUNTERS BETWEEN ENEMIES, and NOBLE IDEALS AND BLOODY REALITIES, edited by Niall Christie and Maya Yazigi.
Sadly, many of the above books are rather expensive, but thank God for libraries. I was recently horrified to hear that Camden, New Jersey was going to close all of its libraries by year’s end as a drastic budget-cutting measure; Camden is one of the poorest cities in the country and this would be a devastating loss for its citizens. Fortunately, it now looks as if something may be worked out. I cannot imagine a city without a library, nor would I want to; just as an aside, my favorite Founding Father, Ben Franklin, is often given credit for establishing the first public lending library in the United States. And by pure serendipity, Stacy Schiff, the author of a wonderful book about Ben Franklin, titled A GREAT IMPROVISATION: FRANKLIN, FRANCE, AND THE BIRTH OF AMERICA, is also the author of a new biography coming out in November likely to be of interest to many of my readers, titled CLEOPATRA, A LIFE Obviously I have not read all of the fiction I’ve mentioned in this blog, but they are all books that I thought worthy of bringing to your attention.
Lastly, I have a favor to ask. We are seeking to make all of my books available in the e-book format, no easy task at times, for the writer has no say in the matter. This is particularly important for WHEN CHRIST AND HIS SAINTS SLEPT since it is the first book in my trilogy about Henry II and Eleanor of Aquitaine. I would be very grateful if you could stop by Amazon.com, http://www.amazon.com/When-Christ-His-Saints-Slept/dp/0345396685/ref=sr_1_3?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1282358719&sr=1-3, and click onto that feature that says “Tell the publisher you’d like to see this book as a Kindle.” St Martins is currently trying to get HERE BE DRAGONS restored as a Kindle, after being dropped for reasons none of us understand, so maybe you could also do the same on the DRAGONS page. I certainly will thank you and probably Llywelyn and Joanna would, too, if they were magically transported from the 12th century and somehow comprehended that the books laboriously copied out by monks can now be downloaded to computers in the blink of an eye. I wonder how Joan Szechtman’s Richard copes with such modern marvels in THIS TIME?
August 21, 2010