There’s nothing like a well-written historical novel to take you out of the present world and give you a new perspective on life in the 21st century, and we have a number of new and fascinating historical novels for you to check out at the Field Library.
Let’s start with the Pennsylvania coal fields in the 19th century, in the riveting book, Coal River, by Ellen Marie Wiseman. The main character is Emma Malloy, born in the town of Coal River, Pennsylvania, who left the town hoping never to have to return. Orphaned and penniless at 19, she returns and finds work in the company store, an abusive arm of the coal company, and there she starts becoming aware of the breaker boys, young children who toil endlessly in the mines for pittances, and the poverty of their families. Determined to make a difference, she comes into conflict with the mine owners and with the police of the town, but she finds unexpected allies in her fight for justice for the mineworkers, and takes on a corrupt system for the good of her people.
Go farther back to France in the 16th century with Medici’s Daughter, by Sophie Perinot, and dive into the intrigue and double-crossing of France just after devastating religious wars. Margot, the protagonist, is the daughter of Queen Catherine de Medicis, known throughout Europe as Madame La Serpente, and Queen Catherine has plans for her daughter, which may or may not coincide with Margot’s own plans for her life and her future, however much Margot wants to be an obedient daughter and to help her family. Nothing in the French Court is as it seems and no one, not Margot’s mother or her brothers or the man she’s engaged to marry, can be trusted very far. When Margot’s intended wedding turns into the horrors of the St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre, she is forced to choose between her family and her conscience, in a thrilling example of the best kind of historical fiction.
But not all historical fiction has to be dark and depressing. Take Christopher Buckley’s new book, The Relic Master, for a counter-example. Set in the 16th century, it follows the adventures of one Dismas, a relic hunter, whose job is to procure “authentic” religious relics for nobles who can afford his services, and sometimes, with the help of his friend Albrecht Durer, to create relics that appear to be authentic. When the two of them create the Shroud of Turin and get caught faking it, they end up in the custody of some loutish mercenaries who are setting out to steal the Shroud of Chambery with their help. Of course, it’s much more complicated than that and along the way they run into quite a collection of odd and venal people, all with their own interests and designs on the shroud and on our characters. Fun and informative at the same time, The Relic Master is an excellent diversion.