Every so often a book comes along that manages to be both wonderfully mystical yet still grounded in realism and humanity. The Golem and the Jinni by Helene Wecker is a book that melds worlds, cultures and literary genres seamlessly. The setting of the novel, New York City in 1899, is a prefect locale to tell a story that deals with a multicultural and magical events. The story revolves around two magical creatures from different cultures as they learn to live transplanted into a city packed with danger.
The Golem and the Jinni is a book that refuses to be easily classified. On the surface the story is a historical fiction and fantasy novel, but there is more to it than that. It’s certainly a fantasy novel, dealing with a Golem, created out of clay to be the perfect wife for a Jewish immigrant and a Jinni, trapped for centuries and unknowingly transported to America by a Syrian family, the novel is also deals with history, religion and culture in a strong and realistic way that lands the story firmly in the literary fiction tradition. (more…)
The latest novel from Chris Bohjalian, The Light in the Ruins is an amazing accomplishment: historical fiction, suspenseful who-dun-it and a compelling character study meshed into a fascinating novel. Moving effortlessly between 1943 and 1955 Florence, Italy, the story follows police investigator Serafina Bettini as she investigates a series of grisly murders involving the Rosati family. The Rosati’s history intersects with Serafina’s own mysterious past and the actions of many in the waning days of WWII.
As an avid reader of historical fiction, I have read countless novels set during WWII in various countries: England, France, the US, and Germany, but this is the first work of fiction that I can remember reading set in Italy. Bohjalian does a wonderful job of bringing history to life through his characters and events without devolving into a history lesson or list of events and characters. Italy in 1943 was facing the reality that that their German allies had become their occupiers. The variety of feelings and reactions to the Germans from the Italians in the novel reminds the reader of the depth of confusion and complexity of the ever-changing dynamics of WWII. (more…)
C.W. Gortner’s historical fiction novel The Queen’s Vow is a lavish tale depicting the life of Isabella of Castile. Queen Isabella and King Ferdinand are mostly remembered for funding the explorer Christopher Columbus, thus expanding the Spanish empire and becoming a legendary part of history. However, as this expansive novel portrays, Isabella’s life and reign were filled with complexity, with Isabella at all times rooted in her belief in God’s will guiding her.
Separated into four parts, the novel follows Isabella from her childhood as the Infanta from Arévalo to the port of Palos in 1492 as she watches Don Cristobal Colon depart Spain for his own epic journey. The story is extensively researched, and Gortner imparts a history lesson without becoming tedious or straying too far from Isabella as the central character of the novel. (more…)
Anne Lyle embarks on an ambitious series in The Alchemist of Souls, combining alternative history, fantasy and historical fiction in Elizabethan England. In Lyle’s England, not only has Queen Elizabeth married her devoted friend Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester, but they also have two sons, Robert and Arthur, creating a twist in history that changes the world of Elizabeth as we know it. The second surprising shift in history comes in the form of an intelligent, mysterious race called the skrayling, encountered in the New World by explorers and brought back to England as allies.
The two major historical twists notwithstanding, the world Lyle creates in The Alchemist of Souls is still filled with Elizabethan tradition. Acting and the theater play a large role in the story, and Lyle’s attention to the behind the scenes backstage world of the theater is one of the high points of the novel. Court intrigue and mystery abound, which should delight the reader throughout the book. (more…)by Kate
After reading the excellent War Brides by Helen Bryan not too long ago, I was excited to pick up her latest novel The Sisterhood. Bryan’s detailed depiction of different eras in her novels is truly remarkable. Her level of research and thoroughness make her novels must reads for me. The Sisterhood is a sprawling piece of historical fiction that will take the reader through centuries and around the globe; from 16th century Spain to modern America and many points in between readers are taken on a journey with a mysterious medal and a book that passes hands between many women
The story opens in 1552 in Andalusia, Spain inside Las Golondrinas Convent, narrated by Sister Beatriz, who writes of secret doctrines hidden in their convent passed down from their Foundress, who is hinted to be a descendant of the Virgin Mary. Bryan begins the story in 1552 in Andalusia, Spain inside Las Golondrinas Convent. The convent is old, with a history that predates its current Catholic occupants, and the nuns run an orphanage, are educated, and are well respected in the community. However, the Spanish Inquisition is threatening to unearth secret Jews and Moors in Spain and the nuns have reason to worry about what the Inquisition would find in an area that was ruled by Moors for many years. The nuns know that their gospel and Chronicle must be protected. (more…)by Kate