The best novels that capture a moment in history

Leigh Grant Author Of Mask of Dreams
By Leigh Grant

Who am I?

I started out on this journey with an entirely different book in mind based on a Chinese tale about beauty, masking, and deception. Somewhere along the way, I transposed the idea to 15th-century Venice where Neo-Platonic beliefs were parallel to those in the fairy tale. The country that preceded Montenegro became part of the story and I fell in love with both those places. Finally, I read everything I could find in nonfiction on the 15th century, and developed two characters, a Slav brigand, Rade, and a Venetian maiden, Caterina. To my great surprise, the book began to write itself.


I wrote...

Mask of Dreams

By Leigh Grant,

Book cover of Mask of Dreams

What is my book about?

In 15th-century Venice, Caterina struggles against an arranged marriage to a man her father's age. Powerless, she is consumed by dread. The betrothal fails. A letter meant to manage future suitors goes astray. Out of the violence of the Balkans comes Rade, a lawless, charismatic Slav. Having won the letter at cards―containing a belief that the soul's beauty is reflected in the beauty of the face―he sees it as the hand of fate. Though scarred, Rade attempts through the artifice of a lifelike mask, to enter her world of wealth. To protect Caterina, her father negotiates a lengthy agreement. The mask, meant to be temporary, becomes permanent. Rade finds himself hopelessly entangled in her life. Desperate, he is unable to continue the deception. 

The books I picked & why

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Wolf Hall

By Hilary Mantel,

Book cover of Wolf Hall

Why this book?

In Wolf Hall, Hilary Mantel recreates the world of Thomas Cromwell in such a personal, tangible way that you feel you are immersed in his time. You can imagine the historical period, the buildings, the clothes, the knife's edge balance of political actions, the manipulation of events, the tragedy of power and illness. Henry VIII becomes much less of a cipher for a king without an heir and more of a complicated, sometimes capricious, personality. The man, Cromwell, who Holbein immortalized in his portrait, lives as a complicated individual: a man driven by ambition and at the same time, a sentient, often likable family man – I think his daughter's “feathered wings” will stay with me forever.

Wolf Hall

By Hilary Mantel,

Why should I read it?

16 authors picked Wolf Hall as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Winner of the Man Booker Prize Shortlisted for the the Orange Prize Shortlisted for the Costa Novel Award

`Dizzyingly, dazzlingly good' Daily Mail

'Our most brilliant English writer' Guardian

England, the 1520s. Henry VIII is on the throne, but has no heir. Cardinal Wolsey is his chief advisor, charged with securing the divorce the pope refuses to grant. Into this atmosphere of distrust and need comes Thomas Cromwell, first as Wolsey's clerk, and later his successor.

Cromwell is a wholly original man: the son of a brutal blacksmith, a political genius, a briber, a charmer, a bully, a man with…


Hamnet

By Maggie O'Farrell,

Book cover of Hamnet

Why this book?

In Hamnet, set in the late 16th century, I can “see” the town, the room, the farm, the children, the kittens, even the furniture. Agnes' role as a healer, a free soul, a caring mother, makes her an unforgettable heroine. The terrible transposing of the illness from one twin to the other is something O'Farrell makes one believe could happen. Add to that the desperate plight of Agnes' son in a world that, despite her reputation as a healer, has no remedy for most illnesses and especially the plague. The grief she feels enters your psyche and is made more terrible by her having to experience it alone. That Hamlet could be based on Hamnet, is Hamnet, is Shakespeare's son too, is to me entirely credible.

Hamnet

By Maggie O'Farrell,

Why should I read it?

19 authors picked Hamnet as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

WINNER OF THE 2020 WOMEN'S PRIZE FOR FICTION - THE NO. 1 BESTSELLER 2021
'Richly sensuous... something special' The Sunday Times
'A thing of shimmering wonder' David Mitchell

TWO EXTRAORDINARY PEOPLE. A LOVE THAT DRAWS THEM TOGETHER. A LOSS THAT THREATENS TO TEAR THEM APART.

On a summer's day in 1596, a young girl in Stratford-upon-Avon takes to her bed with a sudden fever. Her twin brother, Hamnet, searches everywhere for help. Why is nobody at home?

Their mother, Agnes, is over a mile away, in the garden where she grows medicinal herbs. Their father is working in London.

Neither…


The Game of Kings

By Dorothy Dunnett,

Book cover of The Game of Kings

Why this book?

In the character of Francis Crawford of Lymond, Dorothy Dunnett created one of the most memorable heroes in historical fiction. I lived for the next book in the series. Lymond was mercurial, malicious, loving, insouciant, flawed, and fearless – and yet believable and very human. Dunnett brought 16th-century Scotland and the borderlands to life, even to the songs and the literature. It was a world entirely real to the reader and one in which, despite unexpected tragedy, elsewhere in the story, there could be a sense of humor.

The Game of Kings

By Dorothy Dunnett,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Game of Kings as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Discover the compelling and addictive adventure from one of the nation's favourite historical writers, perfect for fans of Game of Thrones

'A brilliant storyteller, The Lymond Chronicles will keep you reading late into the night' The Times Literary Supplement
________

'I despised men who accepted their fate. I shaped mine twenty times and had it broken twenty times in my hands'

1547. After five years imprisonment and exile far from his homeland, Francis Crawford of Lymond - scholar, soldier, rebel, nobleman, outlaw - returns to Edinburgh.

But for many in an already divided Scotland, where conspiracies swarm around the infant…


The Last Kingdom

By Bernard Cornwell,

Book cover of The Last Kingdom

Why this book?

Cornwell is another student of history whose understanding of his time brings it to life. Uhtred, the dispossessed son of a nobleman, is brought up as a Dane. He is a memorable hero in a world that straddles the 9th and 10th centuries in what constituted the earliest kingdoms of Christian England in the time of Viking raids. I am fascinated by Cornwell's understanding of Viking life, of warfare and how weapons were used and to what effect. He seems to know more about historical weaponry that anyone else I have read in fiction. Uhtred is both likable, courageous, and believable.

The Last Kingdom

By Bernard Cornwell,

Why should I read it?

5 authors picked The Last Kingdom as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The first book in the epic and bestselling series that has gripped millions.

A hero will be forged from this broken land.

As seen on Netflix and BBC around the world.

In a land torn apart by conflict, an orphan boy has come of age. Raised by the Vikings, deadly enemies of his own Saxon people, Uhtred is a fierce and skilled warrior who kneels to no-one.

Alfred - Saxon, king, man of god - fights to hold the throne of the only land still resisting the pagan northerners.

Uhtred and Alfred's fates are tangled, soaked in blood and blackened…


The Silence of the Girls

By Pat Barker,

Book cover of The Silence of the Girls

Why this book?

The story of Briseis, Achilles' prize that he was forced to give up to Agamemnon, is an eye-opening account of what happened to women at the time of the Trojan War. Their male relatives were slain and they were assigned as booty, spoils of war. Achilles, who was famously paired with Patroclus, is given depth of character here as is the long wait to attack Troy. Once again, the reader is transported to another world and that world becomes real. Barker's description of Achilles' relationship with his mother is another twist in the story and one for which there is a very funny line partway through the book. But in this book, the real hero is Briseis. I loved the imagination that Barker brought to this story.

The Silence of the Girls

By Pat Barker,

Why should I read it?

4 authors picked The Silence of the Girls as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A GUARDIAN BEST BOOK OF THE 21ST CENTURY

'Chilling, powerful, audacious' The Times

'Magnificent. You are in the hands of a writer at the height of her powers' Evening Standard

There was a woman at the heart of the Trojan War whose voice has been silent - until now. Discover the greatest Greek myth of all - retold by the witness that history forgot . . .

Briseis was a queen until her city was destroyed. Now she is a slave to the man who butchered her husband and brothers. Trapped in a world defined by men, can she survive…


5 book lists we think you will like!

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