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Ten authors you should know about, who write about the 17th Century #HistFic

The Seventeenth Century is undergoing a bit of a revival, with best-selling authors like Philippa Gregory and Tracy Borman, all getting in on the act. Here is my first of two posts recommending authors who write about this period in European history.

Of course in England the 17th Century is rich pickings with the over-turning of the monarchy, a bitter civil war, new advances in science and medicine, not to mention the witch-hunts and religious persecutions. And London, England’s capital was besieged by war, plague and fire.

But there are many other authors writing about this period whose books should not be overlooked. Here’s a list of ten I can heartily recommend. Click on their names to find all their books.

L.C Tyler – the John Grey mysteries are wonderful who-dunnits and there is a lovely wit and irony to these books.

Alison Stuart – Her Guardians of the Crown series set in the English Civil Wars is full of swashbuckling, difficult choices, and romance.

M J Logue – Her ‘Uncivil War’ series and her Thomazine and Major Russell books have an insider’s view of the period and great characters.

Anna Belfrage – if you like time-travel you will enjoy being transported back to 17th Century Scotland in her gripping nine book series The Graham Saga.

Graham Brack – The Master Mercurius books of the 1670’s featuring a cleric who is both Catholic and Protestant are intricate well-researched mysteries with a dash of humour.

Cryssa Bazos – Her acclaimed romances in the ‘Knot’ series are much more than that. Expect impeccable research plenty of action and a thrilling ride.

Elizabeth St John – lovingly authentic reconstruction of a family’s difficulties through the 17th Century, rich with the real intrigue and political strife of the day.

J G Harlond – The Chosen Man Trilogy is chock full of seafaring, spies and treachery in the 1630s and beyond.

Linda Lafferty – her books about Caravaggio and Atremisia Gentileschi shows us the 17th Century movers and shakers in the art world.

Pamela Belle – The Heron Quartet and The Wintercombe Series provide us with fantastic insights into the life of the English Manor and the changing allegiances of its inhabitants during the 17th Century.

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Historical Fiction – Halloween winter reads #HistFic

The Dark Side of Magic

Sunday morning, and outside there is what my mother used to call a ‘mizzle’, which is a cross between rain and mist. Autumn is already here and after a hectic time launching Pleasing Mr Pepys, I’ve finally got the time to write reviews for some of the books I’ve read, including one I actually read in the summer. But it seemed appropriate just before Hallowe’en to feature two books which show the darker side of magic. In Anna Belfrage’s book the magic travels through time, through the Inquisition, to 17th century Scotland and even to modern times. In Pamela Mann’s book the magic is anchored in the Elizabethan world – it could be superstition or it could be magic – and Pamela leaves the reader to decide.

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A Rip in The Veil – Anna Belfrage

This one had been on my kindle for ages and came highly recommended, but I’m not really a fan of timeslip novels so I had kept putting it to one side. I think I always find that the actual time shift moment stretches my disbelief a little too much – the moment when someone falls through a picture, or gets sucked into a vortex. However Anna Belfrage is an expert at making the most of that moment, so I need not have feared it was going to be ‘too cheesy’. Instead we are treated to a moment which tingles all the senses, and allows us to feel what such a moment might really be like.

Of course being transported back into the 17th century gives Anna Belfrage a chance to refect on society both then and now. There is what you would expect – the repression of women, the narrowness of society, but also an understanding of just how violent society was before our modern judicial system, the importance of agriculture and land, and the lack of material possessions, all things that Alex Lind has to come to grips with in her new life in a new century.

More than just a romance, this will please readers who like accurate history, but also appreciate a passionate relationship that is realistically portrayed. I appreciated all the minor chracters in the book too, such as Matthew’s bitter and vengeful brother, and Alex’s traumatised husband, as they each have a story to tell. Multi-layered and exciting, this is romantic fiction at its best.

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Birth of GossipThe Birth of Gossip – Pamela Mann

I met Pamela Mann at the Historical Novel Conference where she first told me of this novel which sounded interesting, and an unusual way to approach an Elizabethan story. Midwife Margory has never lost a child, but becomes the subject of malicious gossip by two other midwives who are jealous of her success. Things take a darker turn, when Margory is invited to attend at the birth of one of Lady Winchester’s children and things do not quite go to plan.

Through the book we learn Margory’s backstory, how she met her husband Arthur, and became a well-respected wife in a big house, and then how her fortunes fell. Of course it is also a story about witchcraft and about rumour and the deliberate blackening of another’s name, not to mention the responsibility of midwifery in an age before anaesthetic, caesarians, or edpidurals.

It is also a story in which the narrator may not be all she seems, and Pamela Mann skilfully uses this twist at the end to untether the reader’s presumptions. Told in the first person, we are privy to all of Margory’s thoughts, and her changes in status, and she shows a strength, even a stubbornness, which is very convincing. The cover, in my opinion, does not do the book justice, as it conveys none of the colourful atmosphere and detail of the times which are present in the actual story. Pamela Mann’s descriptions of the Manor and how much Margory regrets the loss of its heyday, are very atmospheric. All in all, this is an immensely engaging read which rattles along at a good pace.

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The Prodigal Son – Anna Belfrage

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In retrospect, I suspect my subconscious had been doing its own little things for years before I finally sat down to write The Graham Saga. Since well over a decade, I had nursed an interest for the 17th century, and in particular for the religious conflicts that dominated this period in history. Why, you might ask, and the reason for that is quite personal.

My husband comes from a family old as the rocks (most of us do; it’s just that the majority of us spring from families that were illiterate and dirt poor, ergo leaving nary a trace in the historical documents) that emigrated from Scotland to Sweden in the early 17th century. In actual fact, the only ones that emigrated were a twelve year old boy called John, and his mother Joneta. This woman with her most unusual name was of Stuart blood – albeit a cadet line – but for whatever reason she was compelled to flee Scotland, citing religious persecution as her reason.

While subsequent research has never succeeded in establishing just how Joneta was being persecuted, it is undisputable that the 17th century was extremely turbulent from a religious perspective. The Reformation movements of the 16th century spilled over into the new century, and with the Protestant view that man was fully capable of reading the Bible and understanding it all on his own, the door was opened wide on multiple orientations. In Scotland, the formidable Scottish Kirk, originally headed by John Knox, proclaimed a “tough-love” version of Christianity, while in England the Anglican Church was more moderate.

As we all know, the religious divides in England would develop into a political schism that would explode into a Civil War. Of course Scotland was affected by this as well – Charles I was king of Scotland just as much as England – and people didn’t know what leg to stand on; become a Covenanter and support the Scottish Kirk, or remain a loyal subject of the king? Maybe this is what Joneta fled from, and even if she did make it over the North Sea to build a new life for herself and her son, the price was high; she was never to see her husband again.

The third book in The Graham Saga, The Prodigal Son, is set in the years just after the restoration of Charles II (and yes, it can be read as a stand-alone).  The reality Matthew Graham and his wife, Alex, experience is a consequence of the religious upheaval in the preceding decades. Charles II came to the throne with the intent of staying on it – and while he showed commendable clemency on most matters, he came down like a ton of bricks on the men who had signed the order of execution for Charles I and on anyone arguing religious matters fell outside the king’s control. This included those stubborn, loud-mouthed Scottish ministers and their refusal to kowtow to their king as overlord of their Kirk.

For men raised on the National Covenant, for men who had fought for their right to pray and believe as was taught by their Kirk, it was impossible to meekly abjure their faith. Instead, the congregations followed their ministers out on the moor to listen to the word of God as they considered it should be preached (a lot of brimstone and fire, no mealy-mouthed references to gambolling lambs in green pastures, not in a land defined by its core of harsh granite – both in its mountains and in its people). A deadly cat-and-mouse game followed, with the soldiers of the king chasing ministers and followers over the moors, while said ministers (and followers) did their best to evade them. Men were fined, they were flogged, and many of them were deported, some were executed in creative ways (such as being tied to a stake while the tide was out and left to drown when the tide came back in…) Still these stubborn Scots clung to their Kirk, still they refused to accept the hegemony of the king.

“Idiots,” Alex Graham mutters when she reads this. (For Alex all this religious stuff is totally incomprehensible. Well, it would be, seeing as she was born in 1976… Being yanked out of her time and propelled three centuries backwards comes with serious complications.)

“How idiots?” Matthew looms over his wife. He looks quite intimidating, but Alex seems unperturbed.

“You’re risking everything. What if…” She breaks off and turns her back on her husband. “One day your luck will run out, Matthew Graham, and then what?”

“I go canny, lass. But you can’t expect me to sit on my hands when…”

Alex wheels. “Why not? Why can’t you just stay out of it?” Her hands whiten as she tightens her hold on her skirts and her eyes are uncommonly dark in her pale face.

“I can’t. These are my brothers, Alex, these are my ministers. Of course I must help.”

“And risk your life – our lives.”

“It won’t come to that,” he tries, placing his big hands on her shoulders.

“How do you know?” Her voice wobbles. “How can you stand here and tell me things will be okay when both of us know that sometimes they go very, very wrong?”

“I…”

Alex holds up her hand and backs away. “I don’t want to hear, okay?” She stumbles off. I think she’s crying, but knowing Alex, she wouldn’t like me to go after her – at least not now. I throw Matthew a long look.

“She’s right, you know. Your involvement may come at a heavy price.”

He gnaws his lip. “I must follow my conscience.”

“And what about her?” I point at his wife, now halfway up the hill. “Who comes first, Matthew? Your wife and family, or your faith?”

“Both,” he tries.

I shake my head, “Ultimately you’ll have to choose. Don’t leave it too late, okay?”

“Too late?” His eyes are stuck on Alex.

“Too late,” I nod. “Some things lost can never be replaced.”

Matthew blanches and looks at me. “I have no choice,” he says hoarsely.

“Of course you do – all of us do.” I pat his arm. “Let’s just hope you make the right choice – for you and for her.” I’m talking to air. Matthew is bounding off in pursuit of his wife.

It is somewhat ironic that the two king(s) that succeeded in totally rubbing most of the Scottish Protestants up the wrong way were, in fact, Scots. Charles I and his son were Stuarts, a dynasty young on the English throne, old on the Scots, but they were quick to forget their old homeland when presented with the tantalising – and exceedingly richer – aspects of their new, southern kingdom. As we all know, pride comes before fall, and some years on the last Stuart king would lose his throne to a large extent due to the lack of support from the Lowland Scots. But those events, dear reader, are the matter for a future instalment in The Graham Saga.

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Find out more about Anna and the other books in the Graham saga –including the latest release  ‘A Newfound Land’ on her website:

http://www.annabelfrage.com