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historical novels recently read

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historical novels recently read

Postby daivid » Sat Oct 12, 2013 5:52 pm

Hannibal, Enemy of Rome, Ben Kane.

It starts just before the 2nd Punic War and ends with the Battle of Trebia. It is the first volume of a trilogy.
The main characters are three teenagers, Hanno (from Carthage) and Quintus and Aurelia (Roman citizens without the franchise from Capua).
The novel describes how the three become friends and how that friendship is tested in the face of war between their two cities.
There is a tension in such novels between creating characters that are believably of the time and yet are the kind of people that a modern reader can root for. I think Kane just about manages it.
He has populated his world with mainly unrealistically nice and honorable folks and some extremely nasty psychopaths with nothing in between.

He did give my ability to suspend disbelief a severe kick by choosing to describe the Carthage that existed at the time of the third Punic war rather the time of the novel. He really could have left that description out - as soon as I recognized one detail that was out of place I started doubting everything from then on. However, in the main the novel seems to be well researched with intelligent filling in of the gaps when the story drifts in to areas that we don't know about.
On one area I would have quite liked him to diverge from the sources. He assumes all reports of Carthaginian atrocities reported by Livy and Polybios to the absolute truth and merely attempts to give such events a pro Carthaginian spin to stop the Carthaginians appearing as monsters. At least some of those incidents must surely been Roman propaganda.




 The plural in the subject is an invitation to others to add what they have read.
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Re: historical novels recently read

Postby daivid » Tue Oct 14, 2014 10:18 pm

The Sweet Girl by Annabel Lyon

This is a coming of age story based on Aristotle's daughter Pythias. It is very well researched and the use of the present tense gives it an immediacy that very effectively creates the illusion of reality.


However, the illusion of reality depends on the author being invisible. That is to say, however carefully crafted a noel is the authorial hand needs to be camouflaged. While reading the novel Lyon's use of the present tense did that but once I finished reading I found myself remembering the novel as a whole. Annabel Lyon has far too clearly crafted the novel so as to include all her research with Pythias exploring every possible role open to women (not that many). Hence Pythias quickly ceased to be a believable character. So this is not a novel that I will long remember.

Edit:

While reading the only bit that jarred was Aristotle being shocked at the joy displayed by Athenians on death of "their king" ie Alexander. Even Alexander wasn't so stupid to claim to be a King of Athens.
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Re: historical novels recently read

Postby Scribo » Fri Oct 24, 2014 11:04 pm

I'm really enjoying these btw, so do please keep letting us know if you read more. I know I recommended both Tom Holt's "The Walled Orchard" and another called "The Assyrian" by someone to you last time, I still haven't finished either of them myself yet lol.

In order to contribute let me add (warning, stream of consciousness, will edit later):

"The Praise Singer" - Mary Renault.


I seem to be almost unique in generally disliking Renault's novels. They're pretty enough but I find her version of ancient Greece is so awfully plastic I'm astonished anyone ever treats them with anything but disdain. This is on another level though, it's wonderful. It's a fictional autobiography of Simonides - one of my favourite poets - and I must have read it three times or so by now.

She really gives Simonides a distinctive voice. I really, really, wish she wouldn't try to give so many of her characters nicknames though. Simonides is Sim or "Black Sim" (because like many of her period Greek = North European looking and any Mediterranean is clearly the result of racial impurity), Herakleides Herc and so on. I've always found this jarring since it violates Greek rules of hypocoristics and also sounds awful in English.

It really somehow captures the sentiment of one world, the archaic world centred around Asia minor, ending and a new (Athenian) beginning. I love that it abounds with poets! We meet Hipponax (a disappointing caricature tbh) and Anacreon (who really comes to life), Pindar remains unmentioned but Bacchylides is a background character. The poetic training Simonides receives is done quite plausibly too.

It's just a real good read.
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Re: historical novels recently read

Postby AllenTrendin » Mon Oct 27, 2014 7:53 am

historical novels recently read

The Republic
Gates Of Fire


The Republic:
The Republic is a socratic dialogue, written by Plato around 380 BC, concerning the definition of justice , the order and character of the just city-stste and the just man for this reason, ancient readers used the name On Justice as an alternative title.


Gates of Fire:
At Thermopylae, the allied Greek nations deployed a small force of between four thousand Greek heavy infantry against the invading Persian army of two million strong. Leading the Greeks was a small force of three hundred Spartans, chosen because they were all "series"-men who had to have sons whho could preserve their blood line, should they fall in battle.
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Re: historical novels recently read

Postby daivid » Wed Jun 24, 2015 12:32 pm

Three's Company by Alfred Duggan

We all know who Lepidus was but he is a bit of gray character. Duggan manages to make very interesting novel even though his main character is bore, basically incompetent, and with absolutely no self awareness. To my mind Duggan does exactly what a historical novelist should do in taking an aspect of history that is not the main story and brings it successfully to life. In doing so, as far as I can see, keeps closely to the historical facts and portrays his characters as convincingly of their era.
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Re: historical novels recently read

Postby Scribo » Thu Jun 25, 2015 8:42 pm

So I've been reading "Conspiracies of Rome" by Richard Blake. It's set around the time of Phokas and the plot concerns an English monk who heads off to Rome and is then embroiled in plot and conspiracy.

It has a few points to recommend it: This period isn't really seen in fiction, it's treatment of the decaying empire in many ways is good - people forget that Rome did not fall in 457 and that the East were still Roman and the remnants of Roman civilisation in the West thought in those terms. It really characterises the shift in power away from the city of Rome to Ravenna and Constantinople and the perfidy of the emergent Catholic church. The frame story has Aelric at Jarrow tutoring a young Bede.

But...there are areas where it falls flat. It's just too damn modern. The dialogue and often the way the characters act and think. The main character, Aelric, just happens to have several modern sensibilities - he loved classical Latin and wants to save their texts, speaks Greek, the church is uncouth, there's a pagan (!) character and so on and forth. It often reads almost like a modern fantasy of what someone thinks they would do if they were sent back in time.

It is a good example of English blokish wit, however. I'd say it's better than some of the more popular stuff.
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Re: historical novels recently read

Postby daivid » Mon Jun 29, 2015 11:34 am

Scribo wrote:So I've been reading "Conspiracies of Rome" by Richard Blake. It's set around the time of Phokas and the plot concerns an English monk who heads off to Rome and is then embroiled in plot and conspiracy.<snip>

But...there are areas where it falls flat. It's just too damn modern. The dialogue and often the way the characters act and think. The main character, Aelric, just happens to have several modern sensibilities - he loved classical Latin and wants to save their texts, speaks Greek, the church is uncouth, there's a pagan (!) character and so on and forth. It often reads almost like a modern fantasy of what someone thinks they would do if they were sent back in time.


The way the slaves in Annabel Lyon's book portrayed the slaves as silly and sneaky children, incapable of being free made me distinctly uncomfortable. As the novel is a first person account seen through the eyes of Aristotle's daughter this is arguably a strength as member of the upper classes of the era would recollect just those aspects that played into such a view. But there is a fine line between being too modern and too alien for a modern reader to sympathize with.

But is it really a sign of being too modern to want to save the texts and to speak Greek?
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Re: historical novels recently read

Postby Scribo » Mon Jun 29, 2015 2:48 pm

Interesting recommendation - such a pov would be in line with Aristotle's ideology about slavery. That said, flicking through the blurb on her blog the books seem to suffer from typical presentism. You know, girl power! so modern and logical! Well...I've ordered one, so let's see.

You make a very good point, it is a fine line between accuracy and readability. My problem tends to be when a work feels jarringly disconnected from the period its portraying. This can be visual (In 90% of novels nothing of the description of people, environment or weather ever feels Mediterranean) as well as cultural. It doesn't need to be 100% correct but there is a line. The fact is most historical novelists don't know the basics. Conversely, when you get an author who knows the period and culture really well (like H. Sidebottom) the writing can suffer a bit.

I don't think historical (in the genre sense) fiction is the best place for this things. I'd be interested in what would happen if you took a highly literary/experimental author who know the source material well. Sigh..probably an unsaleable novel.

Re: Greek and books. Yes and no. The idea that the collapse of Roman power in the West saw the end of Greek learning until the Renaissance - much touted by Ren. writers themselves - is of course wrong* but the situation where you've got an English monk reading Thucydides fluently (or whatever) is...unlikely. There are some very modern sentiments involved here. At one point we're even told that a character's father accurately reconstructed the pronunciation of Greek and the main character now even speaks like a modern Classicist...eh, yeah...



* Not least because there was still elements of the Roman state in the West for a while after.
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Re: historical novels recently read

Postby CanadianGirl » Mon Jul 06, 2015 10:44 pm

Can't say I've read (or even heard of) all these-unlike Scribo, I love Mary Renault. She may not be strictly accurate, but she does seem to be able to "enter" the classical world, unlike many writers. Somebody just gave me a copy of Lindsey Davis' 'A Body in the Bathhouse,' One of the Detective Falco series-I've heard good things about this series, but this is the first one for me. Pretty good so far.
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Re: historical novels recently read

Postby daivid » Mon Jul 06, 2015 10:57 pm

Scribo wrote:Interesting recommendation - such a pov would be in line with Aristotle's ideology about slavery. That said, flicking through the blurb on her blog the books seem to suffer from typical presentism. You know, girl power! so modern and logical! Well...I've ordered one, so let's see..


Pythias is portrayed as the kind of son Aristotle would have liked to have had and so it is plausible that she show grow up to feel she can push the boundaries of what is permitted to a woman. That she pushes every possible boundary I put down to an author not wishing to waste any of her research rather than presentism but I would be interested to know what you think should you read it.
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