Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Review: Historical Fiction/Bernard Cornwell

I do, on occasion, read historical fiction.

Some of you may be groaning right now. Historical fiction tends to have a bad reputation for being a bit dry, heavy with information and lacking in deep character development in favor of swashbuckling muscular men who have beautiful intriguing women falling into their beds--or being forced into their beds--at every turn, all being told in first person with a certain prefab style that is only just separated from sword and sorcery fantasy by the fact that the situations are based on real historical situations.

The great thing about historical fiction is that you, hopefully, learn something about history.

I've read Jack Whyte's Camulod Chronicles; Michael Curtis Ford's The Sword of Atilla, and The Ten Thousand; Michael Alexander Eisner's (Michael "Disney" Eisner's son? Looks like he could be.) The Crusader; Noah Gordon's The Last Jew; and I'm currently working my way through Bernard Cornwell's Alfred the Great Series.

Of these, I must say that The Crusader has been my favorite. It reads less like the standard format historical novel than any of the others. It, unlike all the others mentioned, is written in third person limited POV. Maybe that's why I like it so much. Who knows. I also liked The Last Jew.

I am enjoying Cornwell's books. They're historical adventure more than anything and spend less time than the usual with tedious historical detail. However, the hero, Uhtred of Bebbanburg, is the typical H.F. man's man. And something of a Harry Stu. He's just a LITTLE too perfect. He always knows the right thing to do, and no one else is as smart as he is. Part of that has to do with his personality. Remember, it's first person POV. So in part he comes off as arrogant, but it's believable to suppose that this sort of characteristic is a survival mechanism in chaotic times, so it doesn't bother me TOO much. I just hope my own characterization in writing isn't infected by it.

Of the two and a half volumes of Cornwell's series I've read so far, I probably liked the first best. Maybe because Uhtred was too young and untried to be quite so arrogant during the majority of it.

Still, as is the appeal of historical fiction to me, I'm learning some history in a slightly more interesting format than the majority of historical non-fiction. And I LOVE history.

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