The best books to read after The Druid by Steven A. McKay

The Books I Picked & Why

The Magus

By John Fowles

Book cover of The Magus

Why this book?

At the time I read this book I was a fan of old sci-fi and some historical fiction. The Magus was recommended to me and, honestly, I didn’t think I’d like it. It wasn’t ‘my genre’. Then I started reading it and knew I was right – it was quite boring. But I read on and it really started to suck me in. A story about a young teacher being manipulated on an isolated Greek island by an older gentleman and a colourful cast of strange characters, the writing is just magical and evocative and the story is like nothing I’ve read before or since. When the end came I was genuinely bereft – I didn’t want it to end the way it did and I was quite upset by it. These were emotions I had never felt before when reading a book and it shocked me!

I read it again ten years later and loved it in a completely new way. It’s such a rich, powerful book that has a lot to teach us about how to live. And the ending? I realised it was the perfect, indeed ONLY way it could have finished, and it inspired me to let my own readers use their imaginations to fill in the blanks at times, particularly with my novel Lucia.

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The Winter King

By Bernard Cornwell

Book cover of The Winter King

Why this book?

When this came out I was only just discovering historical fiction. I was in my very early twenties and was already quite familiar with the legend of King Arthur but this truly brought it to life in a realistic, yet immersive and exciting way. I was completely drawn into this world of heroes, legends, and magic and amazed that ‘real’ people could be so exciting without the author taking it into the realms of fantasy (wizards shooting fireballs from their fingers or turning people into toads or whatever). The Winter King, and the other two books in the series, are really what inspired me to write both of my own series. First of all, when I decided I wanted to try and write a book, I knew I wanted to do something similar to The Winter King, in a similar bygone age, with a backdrop of British forests and hills, so when I saw a house called ‘Sherwood’ I knew I should try and retell the story of Robin Hood the way Cornwell had done with Arthur’s tale. Then, for my current Warrior Druid of Britain Chronicles, I took a similar period in the Dark Ages as The Winter King but came at it from a slightly different angle. My druid is no Merlin, he’s a young, massive warrior, but he is rooted in reality, with no fireballs or teleportation spells, just like Cornwell’s character.

I think if you asked a hundred historical fiction authors to name their favourite books The Winter King would feature on many of those lists. And the Audible version is superb too!

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Jane Eyre

By Charlotte Brontë

Book cover of Jane Eyre

Why this book?

This might be a surprising choice for anyone who’s read my books, and it was a HUGE surprise to me too! I bought this on Audible because it was in a sale, and it lay untouched in my account for months until, at last, with nothing left to listen to, I gave this a try.

I was amazed to find I absolutely loved it! Yes, it’s rather far-fetched in places, but I found myself really enjoying the tale and invested in the characters who were interesting and likeable (unlike the horrors who populate Wuthering Heights which I tried after this). Some books stay with you and you’re able to look back months or even years later and vividly remember where you were when you were reading (or listening to) a particular section and Jane Eyre is one of those books for me. I truly loved it and decided to explore more books in a similar style. That led me to Daphne Du Maurier’s work (the Audible versions of Jamaica Inn, Rebecca, and Hungry Hill being huge favourites of mine) and, eventually, I decided I should try writing a standalone novel about a strong woman. That led to Lucia, a book nothing like any of my other work but perhaps the one I’m most proud of. It felt like some outside influence was guiding me to write the novel and, given the fact it was so heavily influenced by my listening on Audible, it was amazing when Audible bought the rights to Lucia from me. It all stemmed from Jane Eyre, a fantastic book everyone should read, even bluff Scotsmen!

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Hero of Rome

By Douglas Jackson

Book cover of Hero of Rome

Why this book?

Another book that inspires a strong memory of where I was when I read it. This time I was on a winter holiday in Scotland with my family and certain scenes are burned into my mind, so expertly were they written. This novel has a superb hero, great setting in Roman Britain, and the legendary warrior-queen, Boudicca. What more could you ask for? Hero of Rome is full of action and adventure and kicks off an excellent series that really doesn’t get the attention it deserves.

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A Day of Fire: A Novel of Pompeii

By E. Knight, Stephanie Dray, Ben Kane, Sophie Perinot, Vicky Alvear Shecter, Kate Quinn

Book cover of A Day of Fire: A Novel of Pompeii

Why this book?

A collection of interlinked short stories about the volcanic destruction of Pompeii which works better than I thought it would. A lot better, as this is one of the most moving books I’ve ever read, bringing me to tears in places. Six authors, all looking at the doom of quite different characters, from gladiators to senators to a pregnant woman and more, you expect the whole thing to be utterly depressing but, somehow, it isn’t. I must admit I read this when I was in a very fragile state of mind having just suffered a terrible tragedy of my own, so it’s possible that affected my reading of A Day of Fire and how I responded to it, but I know it was extremely well written and I was so glad to have read it. I think you should too.

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