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Historical Novels

A bad historical novel can be cringe-inducing and cause anger for some people, and I’ve seen some pretty lousy attempts. While you must remember you are reading fiction, the facts and details must be absolutely historically accurate, an extremely difficult trick to pull off.

Hilary Mantel’s current books can be readily found on shelves now, as well as on best-seller lists. “Wolf Hall” and “Bring up the Bodies” are excellent reads about the reign of Henry VIII, focusing on his assistant Thomas Cromwell. She tells a great story of the background behind Henry, whom we know a lot about, but focuses on Cromwell whom we don’t. These are good books.

I was sad when I came to the end of the “Patrick O’Brian Series” just a couple of weeks ago after spending three years reading them. Off and on as I was sitting in the desert wishing for some old-time sea tales. There are twenty books covering the life of Jack Aubrey and his shipmate Dr. Stephen Maturin from about 1770 to 1820 (roughly). They were in the British Royal Navy (think tall ships) and traveled a good hunk of the world’s seas waging war, stealing cargoes, fomenting revolutions, and piling up huge personal riches. Aubrey and Maturin are fictitious, but based on actual characters, campaigns, and the activities of the British Empire at the time.

O’Brian is meticulous to a fault in his attention to the detail of sailing the old Man O’ Wars, the battles fought, the sailing terminology, even the ship-board slang. The first try at reading book 1 I failed at because I was so confused. The second try several years later worked better and by book 3 I was completely hooked. Like I said, I was sad when completing the series because I felt like I was saying goodbye to old friends.

This is a popular series here in Port Townsend, what with all the wooden boats and tall ships in the region. Equally popular is the “Hornblower” series which I will start soon, hoping I’ll enjoy them as much.

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