If you enjoy historical fiction, The Flashman Papers by George MacDonald Fraser is a powerful antidote to the staid seriousness of Gore Vidal or the heavy import of David Mitchell’s The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet or E. L. Doctorow’s The March.
Some recent historical fictions about slavery have been arresting, (The Known World by Edward Jones) or hilarious (The Good Lord Bird by James McBride) or surreal (The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead).
In fact, all the writers and books mentioned here are excellent, they’re just not as fun as Harry Flashman, the cowardly con man who runs from danger to danger, and from bed to bed, meeting some of the more interesting real-life characters of the nineteenth century, and some of the British Empire’s most lusty ladies. Fraser wields a tone similar to that of Edgar Rice Burroughs in his efficient plot-pushing adventurism.
If you’re a devotee of The Flashman, here are a number of feisty historical plots that brim with action and historical accuracy.
The Carpathian Assignment by Chip Wagar
Freud meets Dracula in this Gothic mystery. It starts with a romantic tryst and quickly spirals into mass murder. Embracing the latest detective techniques in the burgeoning world of science, a Hungarian police captain and a cosmopolitan investigator from Budapest team up to solve the murders.
THE CARPATHIAN ASSIGNMENT is a superbly-written novel, with obvious pains taken on research and presentation, and should delight fans of Dracula, the Gothic, and old-school horror.
This book won the 2015 Indie Reader Discovery Award for its gender-splicing intrigue. You can read the IR review here.
Constant Guests by Patricia Nedelea
This book is a hybrid adventure novel, swinging across Europe between history, mystery and fantasy.
There’s a mother in a coma, a monk writing memoirs, a woman on a quest, and an ancient Tarot deck that may hold the answers to a deep and widening mystery.
Past and present intermingle, from the Roman Empire to the Middle Ages to the modern day. Mediums and murder, history and the supernatural, many threads are woven into a complex tapestry that is both literary and thrilling.
The Strange Birth, Short Life, and Sudden Death of Justice Girl by Julian David Stone
For those born into the digital age, this story recounts the chaos and seat-of-the-pants productions that preceded broadband downloads. For those who were born in the black and white era of early TV, this is a wonderful remembrance of the earliest days of the Information Age.
Jonny Dirby is an up-and-comer in the fast-paced world of live-action TV, but he throws it all away when he decides to stand up to the fear-mongering McCarthy. He gets in one dig in on what he thinks is his way out, and in doing so creates Justice Girl, a character the American People love. Will Justice prevail?
A winner in the Historical Fiction category in the 2014 Indie Reader Discovery Awards. You can read the IR review here.
The Confessions of Becky Sharp by David James
The narrator of William Makepeace Thackeray‘s Vanity Fair was famously unreliable, relying on secondhand gossip about its anti-heroine Rebecca Sharp to tell his story so that the author could skewer the foibles of nineteenth-century England.
David James ups the meta by having Thackeray declared a liar by the “actual” Rebecca Sharp, who recounts the “true” story in flashbacks. The young Becky finds and loses love repeatedly, and the old Becky revels in the memories of sexual heat. It’s true to the history of the time and to the source material, without being slavish to Thackeray. Read Rebecca Sharp’s life again as if for the first time, if you can believe this source any more than the puppet show of Vanity Fair.
Outrageous by Neal Katz
Yes, it’s another novel where clairvoyant sisters meet Cornelius Vanderbilt. It’s also the fictionalized story of Victoria Claflin Woodhull, a suffragist who advocated free love and was the first woman to run for president of the United States.
This rags-to-riches tale of a woman who broke barriers and even bumped up against the great glass ceiling has won a number of prizes, including the IBPA Bill Fisher Award for Best First Book, and the IPPY Award for Best Historical Fiction. Everyone should know this woman’s tale, and this is a rambunctious way to learn it.
Read IndieReader’s review here.
Loves of Our Lives: A Novel by A. C. Chenier
A rich and compelling novel exploring romances past and present, Loves of Our Lives centers on Katie Benjamin, a happily married woman whose interest in the theory of past lives changes her understanding of herself and the world around her forever.
Katie’s an eighteenth-century Englishwoman in love with her pastor. She’s an American in the Civil War, in love with a black soldier. Is John, the man she meets in her modern incarnation, the soul mate these other men were, reborn?