Four new books made their way into my home last week, but since we here in Canada have been living through a postal strike for the past couple of weeks, they arrived via a trip to the bookstore rather than through my mailbox.
All four books fall within the historical fiction genre and I have high hopes for each one of them:
Queen by Right by Anne Easter Smith (synopsis from Chapters.indigo.ca):
In Cecily Neville, duchess of York and ancestor of every English monarch to the present day, she has found her most engrossing character yet. History remembers Cecily of York standing on the steps of the Market Cross at Ludlow, facing an attacking army while holding the hands of her two young sons. Queen by Right reveals how she came to step into her destiny, beginning with her marriage to Richard, duke of York, whom she meets when she is nine and he is thirteen. Raised together in her father's household, they become a true love match and together face personal tragedies, pivotal events of history, and deadly political intrigue. All of England knows that Richard has a clear claim to the throne, and when King Henry VI becomes unfit to rule, Cecily must put aside her hopes and fears and help her husband decide what is right for their family and their country. Queen by Right marks Anne Easter Smith's greatest achievement, a book that every fan of sweeping, exquisitely detailed historical fiction will devour.
Plague Child by Peter Ransley (synopsis from Chapters.indigo.ca):
September 1625: Plague cart driver, Matthew Kneave, is sent to pick up the corpse of a baby. Yet, on the way to the plague pit, he hears a cry - the baby is alive. A plague child himself, and now immune from the disease, Matthew decides to raise it as his own.
Fifteen years on, Matthew's son Tom is apprenticed to a printer in the City. Somebody is interested in him and is keen to turn him into a gentleman. He is even given an education. But Tom is unaware that he has a benefactor and soon he discovers that someone else is determined to kill him.
The civil war divides families, yet Tom is divided in himself. Devil or saint? Royalist or radicalist? He is at the bottom of the social ladder, yet soon finds himself within reach of a great estate - one which he must give up to be with the girl he loves.
Set against the fervent political climate of the period, Plague Child is a remarkable story of discovery, identity and an England of the past.
The People's Queen by Vanora Bennett (synopsis from Chapters.indigo.ca):
The country is in turmoil, the king is in debt to the City, and the old order had broken down - a time of opportunity indeed, for those who can seize the moment.
The king's mistress, Alice Perrers, becomes the virtual ruler of the country from his sickbed. Disliked and despised by the Black Prince and his cronies, her strong connections to the merchants make her a natural ally for the king's ambitious second son, John of Gaunt. Together they create a powerful position in the city for one of his henchmen, Geoffrey Chaucer. In this moment of opportunity, Alice throws herself into her new role and the riches that lay before her, but Chaucer, even though her lover and friend, is uneasy over what he can foresee of the conspiracies around them.
At the centre of these troubled times and political unrest stands the remarkable figure of a woman who, having escaped the plague which killed her whole family, is certain she is untouchable, and a man who learns that cleverness and ambition may for him sit too uneasily with decency and honesty.
The Forgotten Legion by Ben Kane (synopsis from Chapters.indigo.ca):
An epic Roman novel which follows three men and one woman bound in servitude to the Republic.
Romulus and Fabiola are twins, born into slavery after their mother is raped by a drunken nobleman. At thirteen-years-old, they are sold - Romulus to gladiator school, Fabiola into prostitution where she will catch the eye of one of the most powerful men in Rome.
Tarquinius is an Etruscan warrior and soothsayer, and an enemy of Rome, but doomed to fight for the Republic in the Forgotten Legion. Brennus is a Gaul; the Romans killed his entire family. He rises to become one of the most famous and feared gladiators of his day - and mentor to the boy slave, Romulus, who dreams night and day of escape and revenge.
The lives of the four are bound together into a marvellous story which begins in a Rome riven by corruption, violence and politics, and ends far away at the very border of the known world.