A Trip Through the Past: New Historical Fiction at the Field

Welcome to the world of the past in new historical fiction at the library, a way to immerse yourself in history without having to study or memorize anything. This month we have a couple of books taking readers to ancient history, and one focusing on the horrors of the French Revolution.


Nearly everybody knows at least something about the famous (and infamous) Cleopatra, but hardly anyone knows about the rest of her family. Which is a shame, because while Cleopatra was becoming involved with Marc Anthony and the Roman Empire, her sister, Berenice, took the throne of Egypt and attempted to hold the country, while her youngest sister, Arsinoe, struggled to keep her head above water as coups and counter-coups rattled the government.  Berenice and Arsinoe are the main characters in a riveting new book, Cleopatra’s Shadows, by Emily Holleman, which explores the period when Cleopatra was out of the country and her sisters had to find their own paths, either to greatness (Berenice’s goal) or to survival (Arsinoe’s goal) and gives readers an intriguing new view of a legendary period and family.


And while we’re on the subject of legendary people of the past, who wouldn’t want to read a novel about the famous King David, especially one written by bestselling and critically acclaimed author Geraldine Brooks (who wrote People of the Book and March)?  Her new book, The Secret Chord, starts with the stories of King David from Scripture, but then digs deeper, placing him in the context of the historical period in which he would have lived, and looking at him through the eyes of his prophet, Nathan, and the people who knew and loved him, his wives and children. David here is not the perfect hero; he makes plenty of mistakes throughout his life and these aren’t downplayed or ignored, but in the end he comes across as a very gifted and powerful, but also very human, man.


Moving from the ancient world to more modern history, The Silent Boy, by Andrew Taylor,  is a thriller set during the latter part of the French Revolution, a fascinating and unsettling period in European history. The hero, Edward Savill, is living in London when he learns his estranged wife was recently killed in France.  Their ten year old son is brought to England to live in Charnwood, a house leased by French emigres, but Savill discovers, when he arrives at Charnwood, that his son has turned completely mute.  What horrors has the boy experienced that have rendered him incapable of uttering a single word?  The period detail is exact and well-researched; reviewers have compared the sense of setting to the work of Hilary Mantel and Charles Dickens, and the book has already been selected as Historical Book of the Year by the London Times.  Check it out and settle in for an unsettling visit to a particularly scary period of history.


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