I did not read a whole lot of historical fiction this year – it was either non-fiction or fiction on different matters. Still, there were a few books that stayed on my mind.
You can find the other posts in the Farewell 2021 series here:
Friedrich Schiller: Wallenstein
I went back to the (German) classics this year. One of them fit in with my reading/gaming of the Thirty Years’ War (non-fiction: Georg Schmidt: Die Reiter der Apokalypse [The Riders of the Apocalypse], board game: Francisco Gradaille’s upcoming Cuius Regio Eius Bellum): The Wallenstein trilogy traces the last months in the life of the greatest commander of the conflict. Reading the play, one wonders, though, what would have made him rise so high – not only is his judgement of character bad (and will get him killed), but he is also the most stolid and indecisive person theater has ever seen. Thus, he is the immovable center around which a whirlwind of activity rages, as all his underlings (be they for or against him) advance their personal and political agendas. This, however, cannot do for Wallenstein: He is compelled to either rise ever higher – or be shattered in his place. A chilling tale.
Colleen McCullough: Caesar’s Women
Volume 4 in the Masters of Rome series, beloved by ancient history enthusiasts (for example, Michal from The Boardgames Chronicle is reading them too!). As with the book above, it features a riser – yet where Wallenstein is unwilling or uncapable to go ever higher, Caesar knows no such limitations. Unlike in previous books, he is not entirely unchecked: His political enemies are now fully committed to stopping him and at least succeed in letting his consulate pass without anything of substance achieved. More importantly, they succeed in getting under his skin, and Caesar shows himself to be haughty and vengeful – the stage for the final conflict of the Roman Republic is set.
As in the previous instalments of the series, the book reads very much like the Roman source material (but edited for plot and modern accessibility), which always makes me want to consult Appian or Plutarch for this or that – a definite plus!
For my favorite piece of historical fiction, we go back to a previous author…
Friedrich Schiller: Fiesco
And another play by Schiller! This one is set in the 16th century in Genoa (so, Here I Stand (Ed Beach, GMT Games) material): The Doria family rules the city – old Andrea Doria at the helm, but young Gianettino planning to establish himself as ruler. The city’s republicans win over the charismatic nobleman Fiesco as the head of their conspiracy to preempt Gianettino and turn Genoa into a republic again. Yet Verrina, the head of the republicans, has his own plans lest Fiesco become too powerful in the new state…
Fiesco himself is a classical Schiller storm-and-stress hero – all talent, no purpose, and oscillating between political indifference, fascination with republicanism, and will to personal power. Obviously, there are love affairs, dramatic speeches, and, for well over half of the book, the coup, counter-coup, and betrayal to resolve. Very entertaining!
What were your favorite historical fiction reads this year? – Let me know in the comments!