Any series worth its salt does not have to be read in order, although many patrons choose to read this way. Each book in a great series will stand on its own and can be read out of hand.
In terms of historical fiction, few works compare to the brilliant series crafted by Patrick O’Brian. This engrossing series features two of the most complex and fascinating characters in English literature, Captain Jack Aubrey and his surgeon and friend Dr. Stephen Maturin, and a stirring narrative of high adventure firmly rooted in meticulous research.
But what truly sets it apart, in addition to the integral relationship between Aubrey and Maturin, is the author’s acute sense of humour and human nature. The series, beginning with Master and Commander (1970), is simply a wonderful joy to read.
Dictator (2015) by Robert Harris is the third and final book in a superb trilogy that traces the decay of the 500-year-old Roman Republic to its fatal collapse through the life of statesman Marcus Tullius Cicero. The final volume features a large cast of characters, including Clodius, Cicero’s bitter enemy and the man responsible for his exile in the second volume; Julius Caesar, who allowed him to return to Rome; and Octavian, a man fond of the elder statesman but still willing to sign his death warrant all the same.
Cicero stands at the centre, a great orator and political genius popular with the masses but ultimately unable to restore the Roman government he views as “mankind’s noblest creation” or save himself from betrayal. Dictator and the first two books of the trilogy (Imperium and Conspirata) are gripping dramas that tackle powerful themes, such as the fragility of democracy and the imperfection of human beings, that vividly illuminate the conflicts of that era and our own.
Blackout and All Clear (2010), an award-winning two-volume work by acclaimed author Connie Willis, are both remarkable, enormously entertaining novels of time travel, war and the deeds of ordinary people who often shape history. In the first of the two volumes, three history researchers, time travelers from Oxford 2060, find themselves trapped in England during the Second World War when their portals to their own times disappear.
Michael, Merope and Polly face air raids, blackouts, unexploded bombs, dive-bombing Stukas, rationing, shrapnel, V-1s and two of the most incorrigible children in all of history — not to mention a growing feeling that their assignments and the war and history itself are spiralling out of control.
In Blackout the three historians not only struggle to find their way home but to simply survive as Hitler’s bombers attempt to pound London into submission. They also discover small discrepancies in the historical record that seem to indicate that one or all of them have somehow affected the past and changed the outcome of the war.
All three of the works previewed are available at your Okanagan Regional Library www.orl.bc.ca.