I’ve always loved reading fiction and having a Kindle has meant being able to read in a place where books are scarce to find, expensive to buy and bulky to transport. When it comes to historical fiction, I prefer stories which are about ordinary people against the backdrop of great figures, over fictional accounts of famous historical figures. I’m disappointed when I come to the end of a good book, so long is better than short, and series are excellent. Here are three I’ve been reading this year.
Outlander, Diana Gabaldon
Wendy raves about this series so I thought I’d give it a go. It follows Claire who finds herself somehow transported from the 20th century back to the 18th. I loved discovering the new world with Claire and enjoyed entertaining the question of whether we can change history as well as the ethical deliberations about how to make a new life in a different place and time. There’s nothing particularly highbrow about this writing and it becomes a bit fantastic at times (how else do you write a book of such length and interest other than by adding new plot elements?!) but it’s an awful lot of fun. All the books are long and there are several of them so it’ll keep you going for a while. (A gentle warning if you don’t like sex scenes that the first book has quite a few though this seems to settle down in subsequent books.)
Daughters of England, Philippa Carr
This series looked promising because there were so many books in it (19!). The Miracle at St Bruno’s is a strong start, telling the time of the English reformation from the perspective of a Catholic family. Subsequent books follow the generations to come (hence the name of the series) but the storytelling became tedious because each narrator appears to be ignorant of what happened in her mother’s generation, while the reader is not! I’d also add a strong trigger alert for anyone who’s been a victim of sexual abuse or domestic violence. There are several characters who fall in love with men who either rape or verbally abuse them, and this is presented as acceptable in the end, and sometimes even exciting or attractive. It’s a glaring example of romanticising rape culture and, to be honest, I’d rather read Twilight. I persevered until the fourth book, when the ridiculous stereotypes about the love lives of twins caused me to abandon it without hope of further improvement in the series!
When Women Were Warriors, Catherine M Wilson
The first book in this trilogy is free on Kindle which is how I came across it. However, I quickly bought the others. Tamras is the eldest daughter of her house and when she is fostered with a neighbouring house, as is custom, she longs to become a great warrior like her mother, aunts and grandmother. She is apprenticed to Maara, a stranger to the house, who teaches her far more than she’d thought possible. This elegantly written tale is set in a matriarchal culture and deals with issues of friendship, family, belonging, power and pride. The backdrop of matriarchy means there’s quite an extensive treatment of female sexuality as well, including lesbian themes. Of all the books reviewed in this post, these were my favourite and I expect I’ll return to them again some time!
Tamie Davis is an Aussie living in Tanzania, writing at meetjesusatuni.com.