Monday, November 14, 2011

Putting the History into Historical Novels

Putting the history into an historical novel is not as easy as it sounds. Although it might seem that just a bit of research and flinging a few facts into the mix will do, trust me, it won’t. Historical novels can be both under- and overwhelming. The first kind either have glaring anachronisms, where the hero or heroine living a few hundred years ago comes out with a thoroughly modern saying, or curse, or pattern of speech/behaviour. On the other hand, some writers positively drown their readers in facts that, while interesting and pertinent, are too much. The story is swamped by an excess of detail. How to get it right? The perfect mix is just enough detail to create the setting and keep the reader in the era without an excess of technical and historical detail. I recently reviewed two books by the same author, Lucinda Brant, who has captured the essence of an age (Georgian England) and made it her own. Deft, subtle touches of details place the reader firmly in the history and society of this abundantly opulent age. For a reader like myself, gently reared on Jane Austen, Georgette Heyer and post-Regency plots, the heroics of this brash, endearing, and vital period in history came as a wonderful surprise. I have included my two reviews in the hopes that they will persuade you to discover this eminently readable and skilled historical novelist.

Salt Bride
The Earl of Salt Hendon, with good looks, fortune, and the reputation of a lover par excellence, could have any woman he pleased just by crooking his little finger. So when he seemingly lost his reason and married a squire's daughter, Jane Despard, Society is aghast. Despite being a noted beauty, Jane's reputation is clouded, an incident in her past having cast a shadow over her marital prospects. What Society does not know is that Jane and the Earl share a dreadful secret: a past encounter that brought them both nothing but misery, misunderstanding, and mistrust. Their marriage four years after that encounter is sealed so that the Earl can discharge a promise to a dying man and Jane can save her stepbrother from financial ruin. Jane holds out the hope that the Earl will finally come to love her. Her husband, alas, is deeply influenced by the scheming Diana, Lady St. John, widow of his cousin and the mother of his nominated heir, his young godson. Can Jane's love prevail and will the Earl finally open his eyes to the Machiavellian maneuvers of the wicked Lady St. John?

It is the year 1763 and King George III is on the throne. Georgian aristocratic life is synonymous with elegance and a devil-may-care pleasure, and the upper classes enjoy a kind of amorality in their love lives. Men, and women, are inclined to take their pleasure where they choose. It is this angle, the tawdry underbelly of high society that the author captures so brilliantly in this eminently readable novel. The rakish, raucous character of the Georgian period is contrasted superbly with the sophistication of the age. The author has created a love story that fans of historical romance will relish. Details of the politics, manners, social mores, and dress are deftly interspersed within the plot lines to fully flesh out the era and the people in it. The author's characterization, even with secondary characters, is accurate and believable. The plot is complex and interesting; the author guides the reader through the maze of misunderstandings without ever giving the game away. The dialogue is witty and sparkling, with the characters' words often belying their actions and vice versa, thus further adding to the love confusion. I thoroughly enjoyed this book and highly recommend it.

Autumn Duchess
Antonia, Dowager Duchess of Roxton, has been in mourning for three years for her beloved dead husband and soul mate. Antonia has lost the man who meant everything to her and it appears she no longer has any enjoyment for life. That is until Jonathon Strang, a larger-than-life, forceful character bursts into her life like a hurricane, and turns it upside down. Although Antonia is easily ten years older than he is, her amazing beauty and enchanting aura soon have him captivated. Jonathon began life as the second son of an impoverished second son. However, by virtue of hard work and good fortune in the colonies, coupled with several family deaths that have put him in line for a title, Jonathon is very eligible indeed. He also has links with the Roxton family that he wishes to pursue, namely, the illegal misappropriation of property that rightfully is his. One of these properties can only be signed over to him by Antonia herself.

Antonia is initially repelled by the buccaneer; a man whose casual manners are almost insulting in a society obsessed with the niceties of conduct. His blunt approach, his sharp brain, his sense of humor and finally his blatant adoration serve to break down her icy disdain. Set in 1777, in Georgian England, against a backdrop of the imminent French Revolution and the American War of Independence, this compelling love story will appeal to romantics of all ages.

I recently reviewed Salt Bride by the same author and was keen to revisit Georgian England. Lucinda Brant has carved a niche for herself in this particular patch of history and she is gifted in weaving both story and history into a compelling read. Passion is the keynote of this novel; abundantly clear in the passion of the main characters, the robust energy of the age, and the pulse of action that creates an energetic and well-paced novel. The author has a wonderful turn of phrase, creating a sense of the opulence and oftentimes excessive luxuriance of the era. Food, drink, clothing, entertainment, appetites are all described in glowing detail in an era that celebrated abundance and sensual gratification. Although this is the third book in a series, and readers would derive even greater enjoyment by reading the first two as well, this story stands alone with enough back history threaded through to keep readers in touch with prior events. Highly recommended.

Both books by Lucinda Brant first reviewed for Readers Favorite by Fiona Ingram