I love historical fiction because it lets me get inside history. Rather than a cold, objective analysis of historical probability based on incomplete records, we can read a plausible narrative, presented from within the characters' minds. But good historical fiction is hard to come by. Most authors seem content to put 20th century characters in a more remote setting. The characters' attitudes are contemporary, and only their surroundings change. (I'm thinking of Clan of the Cave Bear, World without End, the Sharpe series, and their ilk).
Not surprisingly, the best historical fiction tends to produce series. Once an author creates a plausible historical world, it makes sense to keep writing within it. McCullough's Ceasar series is one of these. So is Owen Parry's Abel Jones series. To my mind, the very pinnacle of historical fiction comes from two authors, Patrick O'Brian and C.S. Forester, and both deal with the Royal Navy of the Napoleonic Wars.
I got into Forester by watching A&E's Horatio Hornblower series. Each episode (and there are eight) tells a 100 minute story from the young Hornblower's career. The TV show led me to the books, which I've read a few times. I've been making my way through the series again the past few weeks, and I'm up to the penultimate book now.
As always when I'm reading anything historical, I'm getting inspired to try some wargaming with the period. I'm leaning toward Too Fat Lardies' Sharpe Practice to game out some shore actions, but I'm having a heck of a time finding figures that fit my mental picture of the Napoleonic Royal Navy. There's definitely a gap here that an enterprising figure company could exploit.
Lest you think I've gone soft with all this fiction, I'm also reading Gibbon and Thucydides at the moment. If you've followed this blog, you'll know that I don't need much encouragement to game classical ancients.
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