In the High Peaks

Sunday, August 28, 2016

Do You Enjoy Medieval Historical Fiction?

Every now and then, at least once each year, I get a hankering to read a thick, atmospheric work of medieval historical fiction.

This late August I'm reading Sharon Kay Penman's When Christ and His Saints Slept, which is the first historical novel in her Plantagenet Series. This densely packed novel of 750 pages or so is about the generation between Henry I and Henry II of England. It's set in the 12th century, particularly the first half, during Stephen's struggle to reign (nephew of Henry I) and Maude's struggle (Henry I's only surviving legitimate offspring, his daughter Maude). Henry I's son William was lost at sea crossing from Normandy to Southampton years before this struggle took place.

I am at this time, after a week of devoted reading, only half-way through this novel. It fits the bill for excellent descriptions of setting, entertaining discussion of the history, and fascinating characters. What a horrible time, however, to be alive in England! Maude and Stephen continually battle for the Crown, and one city and castle after another are destroyed in the process, not to mention the villagers and townspeople who suffer without end.

Sharon Kay Penman may be an American, but she conducted research all over England for each of her books, consulting and incorporating primary source material. (She uses the name Sharon Penman in the UK.) I'm sorry to say I don't read authors of historical fiction unless I've researched their research, to make sure they've done theirs thoroughly. I'm looking forward to reading more of her books--she has lots. Her most recently published book was in 2014.


  1. I've heard good things about Sharon Penman but never read anything by her. There's a certain atmosphere around good Medieval writing isn't there? I can't describe it but it's not present in books set in other time periods. Katherine by Anya Seton is one of my all time favourites. And a book called Lady of Hay by Barbara Erskine. Also House on the Strand by Daphne Du Maurier. As to their research I honestly couldn't say... hopefully they did some! LOL

    1. Cath,
      I agree--there's something unique about being immersed in the medieval world. And oh! How I loved reading Katherine by Seton. What a wondrous immersion. I read it one summer when I was 17; my mother had recommended it.

      Thank you so much for the recommendations!! I'll look both of them up, and I've always been meaning to read Du Maurier's House on the Strand. (Maybe I could put it on my Classics Club List.
      Wishing you well!

  2. I used to find this time period fascinating but I don't read as much historical fiction as I used to; I do understand its appeal though. Enjoy!

    1. Nowadays I certainly prefer NOT to have a steady diet of historical fiction. But I do love well-written, well-researched books in the time periods I enjoy reading about. I haven't been able to read about the U.S. Civil War era for years, ever since I spent 5 years researching and writing an in-depth book about women's lives during that period.
      Fortunately, my moods and interests change with the years, which I find interesting and stimulating.