I’ve written before about the tendency in modern historical fiction to focus almost exclusively on World War II, and how frustrating it can be. Yes, World War II is important, and it’s recent enough that readers can have some sense of what the world was like then, but when you’re talking historical fiction, you’re talking about the entire span of history from the dawn of time to last year (or a decade ago); the years from 1939 to 1945 are just a tiny fraction of that.
So I’m delighted to call attention to Robert Harris’ new novel, Act of Oblivion, which takes on a fascinating and little known historical fact and turns it into a suspenseful thriller.
In the aftermath of the restoration of King Charles II to the English throne in 1660, all the people who’d been involved in the execution of King Charles I were hunted down and executed. Or rather, most of them were. Act of Oblivion tells the gripping story of two men who were deeply involved in the trial and execution of King Charles I who escaped to New England, and were pursued there by an agent of the Crown.
Puritan New England is practically a different world, and the betrayals and confused loyalties of the English Civil War are little known, even to people who are familiar with historical fiction, and when you add a chase between an implacable and clever hunter and two experienced military men, all of them in a strange country where the stakes couldn’t be higher (in the 17th century, you would be lucky to be simply executed; punishments for treason were ghastly and drawn out), you have the makings of a different kind of exciting historical novel. Robert Harris has written some famous alternate histories (Fatherland, about a world in which Hitler won WWII, was made into a movie) and has a keen grasp of historical detail.
If you, like me, are interested in historical fiction that looks at the whole breadth of history, of if you’re looking for a good, gripping read that’s different from other thrillers, check out Act of Oblivion.