There is much to be said for the escapist power of historical fiction. Turning the first page of a great book is like stepping into a time machine and hurtling to another age far removed from the hurly burly of the modern world.
The Boat Runner (2017) by Devin Murphy is a stellar debut novel of sacrifice, loss and suspense. It is set in Holland during the Second World War and tells the coming-of-age tale of Jacob Kooperman, the 14-year-old son of the successful owner of a lightbulb factory.
The local factory has a big contract with Volkswagen and Jacob’s father, in an effort to curry favour with the Nazis and secure more German contracts, sends Jacob and older brother Edwin to a Hitler Youth summer camp in 1939. The purpose of the camp is readily apparent to readers if not to the Koopermans.
When Germany invades Poland and blockades the North Sea, the Koopermans can no longer escape on Uncle Martin’s fishing boat. Jacob loses his entire family, with the exception of his Uncle Martin, scorned as a Nazi collaborator. But the truth is far more complicated and Jacob faces impossible choices as he grows to manhood through six years of war.
The Half-Drowned King (2017) by Linnea Hartsuyker, is another top-notch debut novel that can stand alongside Frans G. Bengtsson’s The Long Ships. It is a deeply immersive work that brings to life the savage world of the Viking warriors of ninth-century Norway.
Ragnvald Eysteinsson is sailing home from a raiding expedition when he is betrayed by his captain, Solvi Hunthiofsson, and flung overboard. A passing fisherman rescues him and he eventually returns home to his beloved sister Svanhild, miserably betrothed to an older man, Thorkell, and discovers his stepfather Olaf plotted with Solvi to kill him so he could steal his land and thralls.
Ragnvald exposes his stepfather and goes to fight alongside Harald Halfdansson, the future king of Norway. At the same time his sister Svanhild seizes a chance to escape and transform her life by marrying Solvi, the man responsible for betraying her brother, and the sworn enemy of Harald. The stage is set and the question is what will happen when Ragnvald meets his brother-in-law in combat?
The Janissary Tree (2009) is an award-winning novel by Jason Goodwin, the first book in a historical mystery series that features Yashim Togula, a tough new investigator who just happens to be a eunuch. It is 1836 and the influence of the elite, corrupt Janissaries, crushed a decade earlier, appears to persist in the twisted alleys and secret places of Istanbul.
Just before the Sultan announces sweeping changes, in an effort to modernize the empire, a series of crimes, including the barbaric murders of several soldiers and the theft of some precious jewels, leads Yashim to explore the past in order to discover the truth. He leads readers into the place’s luxurious seraglios and the teeming streets of Istanbul and draws on his wide network of contacts to try and solve the crimes that threaten the fragile balance of power in the Sultan’s court.
These three titles are available through your Okanagan Regional Library www.orl.bc.ca.