Historical Adventure – 2nd Titles

Here are the second titles that we read for Historical Adventure! Please submit yours if you haven’t done so yet! In alphabetical order by author…

Title: Brethren
Author: Robin Young
Main Appeal Factors: Crusades; Knights Templar; secret society
Genre: Historical Adventure
Annotation/Thoughts:
Very detailed settings during the 1200s: Britain, France, Middle East included what life was like for the Muslims who were fighting both the “Franks” and the Mongols. Lots of battles with realistic details about the weapons and strategies. Lots of secrets and a secret society. Quest for redemption for many of the main characters: Will, Bayber, Garin Historical characters throughout play important parts especially Edward, son of Henry III. Language appropriate for time period. Maps. Pace: takes place over years and sometimes feels slow. Ending has some resolution, but is obviously part of a trilogy. Tone generally dark. Lots of violence. Multiple storylines that are all coming together.


Title: Gentlemen of the Road

Author: Michael Chabon
Main Appeal Factors: Beautiful language, likable characters
Genre:
Historical Adventure
Annotation/Thoughts:
Amram and Zelikman could not be more different. Amram is a towering African, while Zelikman is a blonde Frank resembling a scarecrow; nevertheless, they have formed a strong bond while travelling together. The beginning of the story finds the companions attempting to deliver Filaq, a fugitive Khazar prince, to his relatives for a hefty price. Filaq,intent on exacting revenge on the usurper who slaughtered most of his family, keeps trying to escape and raise an army to help put his brother on the throne. When the usurper’s army captures Filaq, a secret he’s been keeping is revealed. Like most adventure tales, this one includes life-and-death situations and battles. It differs from many other adventures in the literary quality of the author’s language. The characters are immensely likable and complex, with their own back stories and sorrows. The tone is lighthearted in its dialogue and tone. I don’t think this book would appeal to your typical adventure reader. While the action and exotic locale are there, the language is too dense to make this escapist reading. This story first appeared in installments in the New York Times magazine, and the language may have been more digestible in that format. I believe this book would most appeal to a reader of literary fiction looking for a short and witty read.

Title: Master and Commander
Author: Patrick O’Brian
Main Appeal Factors: realistic naval action; humor; bromance
Genre:
Historical Adventure
Annotation/Thoughts: 
Start of a 20+ book series. Set in Napoleonic time period: the Age of Sail. Realistic naval action based on real incidents Banter between main characters and the secondary characters is funny although some jargon. Main characters, Aubrey and Maturin, come with complicated backstories and complicated emotions that play out throughout the series, including their love lives with two cousins. Audio read by Patrick Tull especially brings the humor to life.

Title: River God
Author: Wilbur Smith
Main Appeal Factors:
ancient Egypt, historical, very descriptive
Genre: Historical Adventure
Annotation/Thoughts: This title is the first of 6 of the Ancient Egypt series by Wilbur Smith. The setting is ancient Egypt around 2000 BC. It is a long book at 530 pages with periodic small breaks in the text marked by a hieroglyphic. Egypt was unstable during this time period, with bandits and invaders, and the book reflects this with many incidences of violence and battles as the current pharaoh struggles to maintain or expand his kingdom. The book is told in the first person by Taita who is a slave and a eunich. He takes care of his lord’s daughter but is also a valuable asset to his lord because he is loyal, clever and skilled. Taita will also do anything for Lostris, his lord’s daughter, because Taita has always been in love with her. The setting of ancient Egypt and the Nile is fascinating but the pacing is somewhat slow due to a lot of description and the narrative is densely written. There are a fair amount of characters and a lot of action which includes blood and gore. I would recommend this book to anyone that enjoys history and a descriptive narrative which includes scenes and battles involving loss of body parts and death.

Title: Sea Witch
Author: Helen Hollick
Main Appeal Factors: historical, sea adventure, pirates, romance, witchcraft
Genre:
Historical Adventure
Annotation/Thoughts: 
Sea Witch by Helen Hollick is part sea adventure, part historical fiction, part romance, and part magic. It takes place in the early 1700’s, the “golden age of piracy”. The story is told from the alternating perspectives of Jessamiah Acorne, who is a pirate, and of Tiola Oldstagh, who is a witch. The story has as much swashbuckling, pillaging, plundering, and rum drinking as you’d expect with pirates at the center, but is not overly violent. The love story between Acorne and Oldstagh is a main theme of the book and, as a result, may be considered too “lovey dovey” for most adventure fans. While the pace of the book is never slow, it is much more leisurely than most adventure novels. I would reccomend this to fans of Outlander and historical fiction.

Title: Sea Witch
Author: Helen Hollick
Main Appeal Factors: Pirates, Age of Sail, witchcraft/healing powers
Genre:
Historical Adventure
Annotation/Thoughts: 
This story about pirate Jesamiah Acorne during the Golden Age of Pirates in the Caribbean (roughly 1680-1725) starts out as historical adventure but when the story brings in Tiola Oldstagh, the mysterious young woman with the gift of Craft (i.e. she’s a healer and a witch) the romance that develops and too much talk about feelings swamp the adventure with sensuality, so it ends up seeming to me more historical fiction than adventure.
Pacing is overall not that fast, mainly because the story unfolds over the course of a few years. There are adventure scenes on the ship and on land, but the storyline of this book (first in a series) is more focused on pirate Jesamiah’s and gentlewoman Tiola’s difficulties in coming together as a couple and staying together than on high-seas piracy or life on board ship. Characters are suitable for an adventure story, as the hero Jesamiah is a handsome, brave, and strong leader of men, but has been deeply hurt in the past, with a few close friends who would die for him.
The tone and the language are suited to the Age of Sail type of adventure story, except again with too many details when it comes to lovemaking and feelings. The frame/setting of early 18th-century land and shipboard life seems realistic, although the author admits she takes some liberties with historical accuracy.

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Adventure Genre Discussion – Feb. 7, 2018

cover imageThe Southeastern Mass. Reader’s Advisory Roundtable (SE-RART) met Wed., Feb. 7, at the Attleboro Public Library to discuss Historical Adventure, a subgenre of Adventure fiction.

The benchmark title was The Last Kingdom by Bernard Cornwell, first in a ongoing series. (The tenth book in The Last Kingdom series came out in 2016.)

First we talked about characteristics of Historical Adventure, based on our supplemental readings:

  • Hannon, Michael. Blood, Bedlam, Bullets, and Bad Guys. Introduction, pp. ix–xii
  • Hannon, Michael. Blood, Bedlam, Bullets, and Bad Guys. Chapter 11: On the High Seas, pp. 217-18
  • Hooper, Brad. Read On…Historical Fiction, Action-Packed Adventures, pp. 85-89

We also used the Adventure chapter from The Readers’ Advisory Guide to Genre Fiction, 2nd ed. by Joyce Saricks, which we used in December’s meeting, and which we will continue to refer to throughout our study of the Adventure genre.

We discussed key elements of historical adventure fiction:

  • Often slower pace, longer time span than in contemporary adventure
  • Still a story focused on life-and-death situations, often a mission
  • Usually a satisfying ending with order restored in some way
    (“Romance for men”)
  • Identifiable hero, likeable and extremely capable, often has a sidekick (Bromance)
  • Often continuing series with same characters
  • Detailed battle scenes, realistic military/historical period setting
  • Often have historical notes at the end, as well as maps, ship plans
  • Tone often dark, due to danger, but humor can lighten tone
  • Language usually colorful, often with military jargon, makes reader feel knowledgeable. Pronunciation guides are common.

“The adventure/suspense story is probably the oldest of human kind’s fiction genres and can be traced back to tales that prehistoric people told around a flickering fire or scratched with charcoal onto cave walls. The archetypal hero who must surmount overwhelming obstacles is not only the basis of much of our earliest literature, he (and now she) is also the foundation of all modern adventure stories. The Iliad and The Odyssey by Homer, Beowulf, the Song of Roland, Shakespeare’s tragedies are gripping adventure stories as well as classic literature”                    – Blood, Bedlam, Bullets, and Bad Guys

We talked about whether historical adventure had to be about war, and decided that, although it often may be set during times of war, it didn’t need to be, but there needed to be some sort of danger, a visible enemy, and some amount of fighting involved.

We discussed The Last Kingdom by Bernard Cornwell, our benchmark title, in reader’s advisory terms:

  • Very accurately described battle scenes, not as much humor as the authors Sharpe series
  • Historical note to say where author departed from historical fact
  • Lots of dialogue helps keep pace up, though story spans years
  • First-person point of view lends immediacy and lightens the tone
  • Were there exotic locales, foreign countries?
  • Military strategy is important to the story
  • Main character sees events on both sides, English and Danish
  • Characters are fully developed, some strong women
  • There is a villain character, but the shifting loyalties of main character add subtlety and depth to the story, which is set in a period of time when nationality was more fluid than it is now

Second titles will be posted soon; it’s OK to submit yours still, if you forgot! We had a lot of overlap in our second titles in the Historical Adventure subgenre this month, but the ones we discussed in terms of reader’s advisory appeal factors – frame, tone, pacing, plot/storyline, characters – included the following:

Brethren by Robin Young
Gentlemen of the Road: A Tale of Adventure by Michael Chabon (2)
Master and Commander by Patrick O’Brian
(audiobook highly recommended)
River God by Wilbur Smith
The Sea Witch by Helen Hollick (2)

Please register online for the Tuesday, April 3rd meeting, 10am-12pm, at the Hanover Public Library to talk about Espionage/Political Thrillers. (Please note location change!) The benchmark title will be The Camel Club by David Baldacci.

New members are always welcome to jump in at any point in the year.

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