Thursday, 22 September 2011

The Godfather of Historical Fiction

Thirty years ago I picked up a book in the local library that opened the door to decades of reading pleasure and a contract with excellence that has more or less been annually renewed ever since. That book was Sharpe's Eagle.

Sharpe opened my eyes to Wellington's Peninsular campaign in a way no teacher ever could. Here was the blood and guts of Talavera laid out before me through the eyes of a man destined to become an epic hero of literature. I loved, and still do, the meticulously researched history of the Sharpe books, but it is so much more than that. There are the wonderful, carefully woven fictional stories of love and death and betrayal, the heroines, heroes and especially the villains; who will ever forget the despicable Sergeant Hakeswill, the duplicitous Ducos or the odious Simmerson?

Yet Bernard Cornwell, surely the Godfather of historical fiction, is more than Sharpe. Take your pick from the Grail Quest, Redcoat, Starbuck or Uhtred, but for me the best of them all is the Arthur trilogy, an epic achievement by a remarkable writer.

And he's still going strong! On Monday Mr Cornwell begins a book tour to celebrate the publication of what is, by my count, his 49th solo novel, The Death of Kings. If you get the chance go along and say hello to a true legend.


applegarth said...

Hi Doug,all i can say is ME TOO ,i sarted my passion for Historical Fiction with Hornblower but then moved on to Dudley Pope Ramage who was quickley follow by Alexander Kent Bolitho,then the great Patrick O`Brian set sail with Jack Aubrey,you could say i was all at sea to begin with,but then along come Mary Stewart and her Merlin series,which until Bernard produced his Author series i thought was the best,but then i found Sharpe and the standard that i look for in my Historical reading was set.I feel that Bernard Cornwell has inspire so many to put pen to paper and that is one reason way we now have so many excellence writers producing such good characters,and that`s is why my book cases are filling up so fast.I would also encourage all of us book buyers to get out there and meet the author`s at their book signings or at events like Goldsboro Books History in the Court next week,if only because they such good fun and it adds that little bit more to the pleasure of reading their latest offering when you get it home.I will now look forward to picking up my copy of Death of King`s at History in the Court and have the chance to past on my thanks to "THE GODFATHER OF HISTORICAL FICTION" for all the pleasure he has given over the years.

Doug said...

I'm with you all the way Jim. I sailed on the same seas and was awed by the genius of the people who recreated these fascinating eras. Hornblower, O'Brian, Cornwell? How can you choose between them. Fantastic writers who sustained their quality over decades, which is an astonishing achievement. Look forward to seeing you on the 29th if you manage to squeeze your way through all that talent!

Gabriele C. said...

I started with Sutcliff and some German YA hist fic writers, and the retellings of the Classiacal sagas and epics by Gustav Schawb, which made me read the Illiad and Odyssey in the original (not Greek, of course, but the complete hexameter translations by Voss). Then it was Sir Walter Scott (Ivanhoe was the second book I read in English; the first was Brave New World), Dumas, Hauff, the Hornblower novels, Dunnett's Niccolo series, Druon's Accursed Kings, and others, including War and Peace which became one of my favourite books.

Btw, The Three Musketeers was the first book I read in French (though I had read the original before), and my first Swedish book was a historical novel as well, Ryberg's Singoalla. Guess what I gave my nephew as his first English book - Cornwell's Warlord trilogy. The books school assigns for reading practice is boring stuff most of the time, but I knew he would stick with Cornwell. ;)