Tag Archives: historical fiction

The Kings of Vain Intent!

Our book today is the lusty 1970 historical novel The Kings Of Vain Intent by Graham Shelby, a mid-20th century hack book reviewer who struck historical novel gold with his book The Knights of Dark Renown, the prequel to this present book. Shelby is a largely artless writer, but he knows full well the visceral […]


Our book today is 1812, a meaty, fantastic 1996 historical novel by David Nevin, who wrote a string of first-rate books in the fifteen years before his death in 2011. 1812 is the dramatic story of fledgling America’s second fight with the British Empire, and it centers on President James Madison and his strong-willed wife […]


Our book today is Joseph Markulin‘s big fat new historical novel Machiavelli: A Renaissance Life, which seeks to do for the author of The Prince what Irving Stone did with such resounding sense for Michelangelo in The Agony and the Ecstasy half a century ago: dramatize the life of a famous figure in history from […]


Our book today is another Victorian masterpiece of melodrama, Lew Wallace’s 1880 novel Ben-Hur. Sub-titled A Tale of the Christ, it was an immediate hit upon publication, sold in record-setting numbers on four continents, and was very quickly translated into virtually every language on Earth (several different classes of college undergraduates vied for the dubious […]

Penguins on Parade: Sigrid Undset!

Some Penguin Classics get the royal treatment – whether they deserve it or not. By ‘royal treatment’ I of course mean not only induction into the Classics line itself, honor enough though it is for one lifetime, but the bestowal of one of Penguin’s gorgeous “Deluxe” volumes, extra-sized, deckle-edged, supremely aesthetic re-packagings that not every […]

My Enemy, the Queen!

Our book today is the tense and yet lush Tudor novel My Enemy the Queen, which that champion quiller of historical romances, Victoria Holt, wrote in a free afternoon one day in 1978. ‘Victoria Holt’ was a pseudonym for an Englishwoman named Eleanor Hibbert, who was born in 1906, endured a brief, tedious interval learning […]

From the BPL: The Time of the Wolf!

In 2012 more than in any previous year, I found myself playing catch up at my beloved Boston Public Library, the best public library in the world. Some of you will already know of my affection for the sumptuous solidity of the McKim building – and especially for the soaring beauty of Bates Hall, under […]

Soldiers of ’44!

Our book today is Soldiers of ’44, a taut and tightly-focused WWII novel by Bill McGivern, who published it in 1979 to some enviable reviews (the Atlantic Monthly called it “altogether a remarkably fine book,” and the indefatigable John Barkham said it was “combat writing raised to the level of literature”). It’s the story of […]


Our book today is the pebble that started an avalanche: Sir Walter Scott’s 1814 novel Waverley. In its ponderous, irresistible pages dealing with heroic young Edward Waverley, living through the Jacobite Rebellion of 1745 (the book’s ‘subtitle’ was ’tis sixty years since’), Scott did what so many great male creators have done throughout human history: […]

Flambard’s Confession!

Our book today is Marilyn Durham’s massive 1982 novel Flambard’s Confession, which takes the form of a one long deathbed confession by Ranulph Flambard, who’d been a nominal priest and legendarily rapacious revenue agent for the wave of invading Normans to take over England in the 11th Century, William the Conqueror and his sons. The […]


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