Historical Fiction from Sourcebooks at BEA 2012

While searching the web this morning, I discovered on Sourcebook’s website that Susannah Kearsley will be signing copies of The Shadowy Horses in booth on Tues from 10-11am. This is exciting, as I may get a chance to tell her in person how much I loved Mariana!  (description from GoodReads)

The dark legends of the Scotland were an archaeologist dream. Verity Grey was thrilled to be at a dig for an ancient Roman camp in the Scottish village. But danger was in the air — in the icy reserve of archeologist David Fortune. In the haunted eyes to the little boy who had visions of a slain Roman sentinel. And in the unearthly sound of the ghostly Shadowy Horses, who carried men away to the land of the dead.

 

Also, Sourcebook’s galley giveaways include A Place Called Armageddon by CC Humphries (Tues) and Before Versailles by Karleen Koen (Thurs.)

Armageddon: To the Greeks who love it, it is Constantinople. To the Turks who covet it, the Red Apple. Safe behind its magnificent walls, the city was once the heart of the vast Byzantine empire.

1453. The empire has shrunk to what lies within those now-crumbling walls. A relic. Yet for one man, Constantinople is the stepping stone to destiny. Mehmet is twenty when he is annointed Sultan. Now, seeking Allah’s will and Man’s glory, he brings an army of one hundred thousand, outnumbering the defenders ten to one. He has also brings something new – the most frightening weapon the world has ever seen…

But a city is more than stone, its fate inseparable from that of its people. Men like Gregoras, a mercenary and exile, returning to the hated place he once loved. Like his twin and betrayer, the subtle diplomat, Theon. Like Sofia, loved by two brothers but forced to make a desperate choice between them. And Leilah, a powerful mystic and assassin, seeking her own destiny in the flames.

This is the tale of one of history’s greatest battles for one of the world’s most extraordinary places. This is the story of people, from peasant to emperor – with the city’s fate, and theirs, undecided… until the moment the Red Apple falls

 

Versailles: After the death of his prime minister, Cardinal Mazarin, twenty-two-year-old Louis steps into governing France. He’s still a young man, but one who, as king, willfully takes everything he can get—including his brother’s wife. As the love affair between Louis and Princess Henriette burns, it sets the kingdom on the road toward unmistakable scandal and conflict with the Vatican. Every woman wants him. He must face what he is willing to sacrifice for love.

But there are other problems lurking outside the chateau of Fontainebleau: a boy in an iron mask has been seen in the woods, and the king’s finance minister, Nicolas Fouquet, has proven to be more powerful than Louis ever thought—a man who could make a great ally or become a dangerous foe . . .

Meticulously researched and vividly brought to life by the gorgeous prose of Karleen Koen, Before Versailles dares to explore the forces that shaped an iconic king and determined the fate of an empire.

Review: Hawk of May by Gillian Bradshaw

Gillian Bradshaw was only 17 years old when she finished the first draft the first book in her acclaimed Arthurian fantasy trilogy: Hawk of May. It was released in 1980, and won an award in its manuscript stage. I’ve seen many hyped-up versions of “super-hero” beginnings of  a literary career, just like this, only to be disappointed in the final product. This, however, is NOT one of them. I was highly impressed with this book. Supposedly a young adult-targeted novel, I say this novel can teach us adults quite a lot!

Although Hawk of May is an interpretation of Arthurian legend, and many of those already existed by the time the novel was published, this book is unique. Telling the story of Gwalchmai (otherwise known as Sir Gawain), the novel approaches the person and history of King Arthur from a backdoor perspective. The early years of Gwalchmai are featured here, and it is he who is the subject–his struggles with the temptation of darkness (one could say evil or the dark arts), of proving himself against opposition and odds,  and the topic of faith even when all seems to be crashing in around him. Gwalchmai is the younger son of the evil sorceress Morgawse, and her warlord husband, King Lot of the Orcades. Our hero is not a typical warrior–he is a loner, is as talented as the great bard, Taliesin, with words and song, and fights with his mind and intellect as well as through the unconventional method of  battling from horseback.  His brother Aggravain is both loving and cruel to his younger brother, and quite obviously his father’s favorite. Medraut, the youngest son, is closest to Gwalchmai, at least in the beginning.

After battling his inner demons (as well as a few tangible ones), making daring escapes, and testing his own faith, Gwalchmai’s one desire is to join Arthur’s innermost circle, “The Family,” yet no matter how he tries to prove himself, he is rejected. We all know that Sir Gawain was one of Arthur’s trusted warriors, but how he manages to overcome Arthur’s distrust is the mystery this book seeks to unravel.

The topic of spirituality  is dealt with here, very intelligently and thoughtfully, in my opinion. In some ways, I saw this story as a metaphor of our human struggle with faith in a power we cannot see or hear; faith that a succession of events will culminate in our ultimate best good, and in a grand plan for the good of all.

The story is also a commentary on the corruptive effects of power, a philosophizing about the nature of man and right and wrong, and a consideration of the spiritual control of a higher power over the will of man.

The Light* of its–his–own nature must always be right . . . and I believed that it was. But the world of man is mixed, good and evil together, and there was no simple and clear struggle . . .(p. 219)

(*is what I interpret as being a metaphor for God, as opposed to the Darkness, the devil)

This quote is just one of many such ponderings, which is one of the aspects of this book that turn it into more than just an entertaining story (which it is as well). It caused me to think deeply about my own faith, my own trust in a higher power and ability to “let go and let God” and “to do His will” that is the basis of my personal spiritual beliefs. I can only guess that the concepts of light and darkness spoken of in this book were a reference or comparison to Christianity of a sort, although I may be wrong.

This is no preachy plot, however. It is a gentle discourse of spiritual issues with no reference to a particular religion, and for the author’s delicate handling of this topic, I have great respect. The magical elements in this book fit seamlessly and believably within the tapestry of the story and the topic of spirituality as well.

If you haven’t yet read Hawk of May, I highly recommend it. And you can be sure I’ll soon be digging into books two and three in the series.

***On a practical note, Gillian Bradshaw is the daughter of an English mother and American father, attended the University of Michigan and then proceeded to Newnham College, Cambridge. She currently lives in Britain, which explains the mystery of why I was reading British spellings in this reissue, when her short biography on the back page stated that she grew up in Northern Virginia!