I have nothing but praise for authors who set historical fiction in times and places that aren’t especially well-known. Because, you know, history is happening all the time, not just during wartime or significant political change or the discovery of new inventions. I’ve got to love a historical fiction novel that gives me insight into a period of history that is unfamiliar to me. As do the following three novels:
Cornwall, 1625: Jane Johnson’s The Tenth Gift is the story of Catherine Ann Tregenna, a young housemaid who yearns for a larger canvas on which to embroider her life story. Her life becomes more dramatic than even she has dared to hope when Moroccan pirates land on the coast of Cornwall and abduct Cat and the congregation of the church she is attending. Moving forward into the 21st century, Julia Lovat receives Cat’s own book of embroidery patterns as a breakup gift from her married lover. Cat uses her book as a journal, and Julia becomes fascinated with Cat’s story, especially her journey and new life in Morocco. Julia and Catherine’s stories are stitched together by their shared skill in creating and embroidering beautiful and elaborate patterns. This is a colorful narrative which brings together different times, cultures, and plot threads to form a beautifully complex story.
Scotland, 1892: Sarah Gilchrist, a young English woman, is one of the first woman students admitted to the medical school at the University of Edinburgh in Kaite Welsh’s debut mystery novel The Wages of Sin. Sarah has a dark past, which she is never allowed to forget by her aunt and uncle who unite in their enthusiasm to get her to quit university and marry an eligible gentleman. When the body of a young girl who has been working as a prostitute is one of the corpses Sarah is asked to dissect as a medical student, Sarah suspects murder due to the girl’s injuries. Her position in society as a genteel young woman hinders her investigation, but Sarah is determined to bring the murderer to justice, particularly since the victim’s story resonates with her own personal experience. Sarah’s musings on the role of women in Victorian society add a thoughtful element to this dark and intriguing mystery.
London, 18th century: Wray Delaney’s novel An Almond for a Parrot is an erotic genre mash-up of historical fiction, magical realism, and romance. Tully Truegood grows up isolated and imprisoned in her father’s house in Milk Street, London, seeing ghosts that she doesn’t realize nobody else can see. At the age of twelve, she is secretly married to a mysterious masked man. A few years later, during which Tully’s life remains unchanged, she believes she has a new stepmother and stepsisters. In a surprising turn of events, these women turn out to be Queenie Gibbs, one of London’s most famous madams, and two of her most desirable “gals.” Tully becomes a courtesan in Queenie’s “fairy palace” and falls in love with Avery Fitzjohn, her first client, while at the same time perfecting her supernatural abilities under the tutelage of Mr. Crease, the palace’s magician. Tully becomes a woman of the world in an engaging coming of age story.
More historical fiction:
The Butcher’s Hook by Janet Ellis
The Shivering Turn by Sally Spencer
Magic Flutes by Eva Ibbotson