Tag Archives: historical fiction

Is it Night or Day? by Fern Shuman Chapman

Farrar, Straus, Giroux     ISBN: 9780374177447

This novel is based on the experiences of the author’s mother who, in 1938, at the age of twelve was sent from Germany to Chicago to live with an aunt, uncle, and cousin. Her older sister had been sent separately a year before. Edith travels with a group of other Jewish children, escorted by a young woman who was part of an American rescue effort that placed 1000 children in foster homes in the United States.

Arriving in Chicago, Edith discovers that her presence is only tolerated because her aunt wants someone to do the chores, and because the family receives a small stipend for taking her in. Kept constantly busy with housework, it is weeks before Edith can see her sister, Betty, who has emotionally replaced her with the daughter of her foster family. Meanwhile, Edith is doing everything she can to raise money to rescue her parents.

Chapman makes effective use of a first person, chronological narrative to develop the story. She chooses her scenes well to reveal Edith’s loneliness and isolation as she tries to adjust to her circumstances, and the reader is quickly engaged, and cares what happens to her. Edith comes across as a complex and realistic young person who has much to struggle with. Dialogue is effective and realistic, sometimes painfully so. The ending leaves the reader wanting to know what happens next, and is perhaps the only part of the book where Edith seems older than she really is in the story.

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Marion Zimmer Bradley’s Sword of Avalon by Diana L. Paxson

Roc, 2009     ISBN: 9780451462923

Paxson envisions here the circumstances of the creation of the sword, Excalibur, which will later come into play in the King Arthur legends. Based on archaeological evidence of technology, she sets the time period in the latter part of the Bronze Age / into the beginning of the Iron Age when iron-smithing was a technological possibility.

The tribes of the British Isles are descending into war with each other as the climate is increasingly hostile and food becomes scarce. What is needed, believes Anderle, the current Lady of Avalon, is a King to lead the tribes back into unity. She believes this to be the destiny of the infant Mikantor, who she rescues from the fiery destruction of his tribe by that of a marauding band of renegades.

She does what she can to keep his existence hidden, but ultimately, the boy’s enemies realize that he is living. When he is finally captured, his life is spared when his captors sell him into slavery instead of killing them as they have been ordered to do.

Mikantor then spends some years in the Mediterranean, as the slave, and then companion and friend of Velantos, the smith of the soon to fall City-State of Tiryns. Mikantor learns the art of weaponry, and together with Velantos, who has had a vision that he is to forge a sword to be wielded by a mighty king, returns to the British Isles to take up his destiny.

Paxson’s character development does not live up to that of Zimmer Bradley’s, and the episodic, plot-driven story ultimately falls short of expectations, providing a quick read that doesn’t have a lasting impact, although teens may be satisfied with the action of the story.

The Gypsy Crown by Kate Forsyth

Hyperion, 2008     ISBN: 1423104943

This book draws the reader from the beautiful cover art into a story full of adventure, danger, and history, as the two main protagonists, Luka and Emilia, members of a Rom family in Cromwell’s Puritan England, seek out the members of four other Rom families for assistance in getting their family out of jail before they come to trial and are all executed. Traveling with them are Emilia’s horse, Alida, their performing bear, Sweetheart, their dog, Rollo, and Luka’s monkey, Zizi.

Emilia has been instructed by their grandmother to reunite the family’s five magical charms, whose separation many years past has brought bad luck on the Rom. Each family is supposed to have one charm, but finding each family, and then convincing them to part with their charms even temporarily is a struggle. Emilia has to leave her horse with one family in surety for their charm, and Luka ends up leaving his violin with another.

On their trail are a group of henchmen led by a man called the thief-taker who is under orders to capture and imprison them with the rest of their family. There are many near misses and their travels are exhausting and nerve-wracking, and are well-plotted to keep the interest of the reader.

A subplot involving Royalist spies and secret meetings about restoring Charles the Second to the throne add to the suspense and danger. Various historical figures play a role in the story and the author provides detailed notes about the history of the time, and about the Rom culture.

This book is highly recommended to readers between the ages of ten to fourteen, and anyone who enjoys historical fiction with some good adventures thrown in.

The Mandrake Broom by Jess Wells

Firebrand Books, 2007     ISBN: 1563411520

Set in Europe in the 14-1500s this is a well-researched, complex, and exciting historical novel about the efforts of a family of women to hold onto, and pass along medical and herbal knowledge in the face of witch hunts. Luccia Alimenti, daughter of a female medical professor at the University of Salerno is entrusted and ordered by her mother to carry out this task, which she does against all odds. Never dull, there is plenty of danger, adventure, and love in this small package.

Published as an adult novel, teens who enjoy historical fiction will find this a worthwhile read.

Rapture of the Deep: Being an Account of the Further Adventures of Jacky Faber, Soldier, Sailor, Mermaid, Spy (A Bloody Jack Adventure) by L.A. Meyer

Harcourt Children’s Books, 2009     ISBN: 0152065016
Seventh in the Bloody Jack Adventure series, this latest offering by Meyer doesn’t disappoint.

Dressed in her wedding finery, and about to set out for the church, our heroine is nabbed by thugs, and is given the choice of being pressed once more into service by the Royal Navy Intelligence in order to pay off her debt to the crown  for absconding with a naval vessel during her brief career as a pirate, or facing hanging. When put to her that way, Jacky opts for an extension of her brief life.

Her assignment: Disguised as a scientific exploration with naturalist on board, she is to sail her vessel, the Nancy B., to the waters off of Cuba, searching the area for interesting biological and botanical specimens, while in fact testing out a new diving bell which should enable her to reach depths deep enough to recover the treasure of a wrecked Spanish galleon.

The advantages: She will be captain of her own ship, she will be in a position to pay off her debt to the King, and best of all her fiancé Jaimy will be aboard the British vessel that will be accompanying the expedition.

The troubles: Crossing the bad side of a Spanish Lieutenant, running into some pirate friends who catch on the treasure seeking and want a cut, the kidnapping of one of her crew, and a couple of sea battles.

The temptations: Can Jacky’s better nature keep her on the straight and narrow when it comes to retrieving treasure from the bottom of the sea? And can she and Jaimy keep the vow of celibacy demanded by the Navy.

In conclusion: Another rip-roaring adventure filled with cock-fights, gambling, pirates good and bad, man- or girl-eating crocodiles, sexual temptation, and yes, treasure.