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Old January 12th, 2017, 10:40 AM   #1

DaveK's Avatar
Joined: Jan 2017
From: Tampa, FL
Posts: 882
Seeking HF: Early Medieval Period and Byzantium

So I imagine most of you here have a pretty high standard for scholarship within historical fiction. I absolutely loved Robert Harris's Cicero Trilogy. (Don't midn that there are four books listed. Lustrum was retitled Conspirata for US sale)

What was great was reading it on my kindle, looking up stuff in Wikipedia (the completely definitive and accurate source of all information) as I read. It was greatly immersive and pleasurable, and I was very sad when it was over.
(Edit: Film Possible. I hope it's true.)

The bar was really raised for me after reading Harris. I've read Steven Saylor's stuff and I could barely get through it, though I loved it in concept. It just wasn't nearly as rich ,and the Characters were flat.

Anyway, I am now interested in the Early Medieval period and the Byzantine empire. (I'll come back to Rome at another time).

The Saxon Stories by Bernard Cromwell has now been made into a TV series (which I am purposely avoiding watching until I have read the stories.) Does anyone have an opinion on it?

It starts just a little bit later in time than I would like to start. I am really in post-Roman Britain. Of course I understand that this would be a tough period to write about. I'm probably left with King Arthur tales or some variants or modern reinterpretations. I am not opposed to reading anything of the sort as long as it's not too utterly fantastical. The original Le Morte D' Arthur can be found for free in ebook format, but I am not always up for the language.

Anything on the Byzantines/Eastern Roman empire? I found Justinian by H. N. TurleTaub. I was amused to find that this is actually another pen name for Harry Turtledove, whose science fiction I've read in Analog Magazine.

That doesn't tell me how good his HF is though. Any thoughts?

-Dave K

Last edited by DaveK; January 12th, 2017 at 10:51 AM.
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Old March 17th, 2017, 07:49 PM   #2

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Joined: Jul 2007
From: Australia
Posts: 1,609

I like Jack Ludlow's books on the Normans in Southern Italy & Sicily.
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Old September 20th, 2017, 03:17 AM   #3

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Joined: Feb 2016
From: Dublin, Ireland
Posts: 76
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I always enjoyed Alfred Duggan's novels, most of which were set in medieval times (with a focus on the Normans) but with some in Classical times.

He had a very dry, wry style, which suited his stories very well.

Alfred Duggan's Past

Most successful of all Duggan's "hard" fiction, in my opinion, is Three's Company, the story of Marcus Aemilius Lepidus, who was the third man in the Second Triumvirate that followed the death of Julius Caesar (the other members being Antony and Octavian). Of this person, the Oxford Classical Dictionary says: "Lepidus lacked the character and energy to use the opportunities which high birth and Caesar's favour placed in his way." Taking this as his key, Duggan delivers a devastating and often hilarious portrait of a man who, while intelligent, level-headed, brave, and dutiful, nurses an image of himself and his possibilities drastically at odds with his actual qualities. The book's only drawback is that it assumes more understanding of the very complicated constitution of republican Rome than a modern reader is likely to have. An ideal edition would have explanatory appendices like those very helpful ones included in Colleen McCullough's "Masters of Rome" novels, to help us distinguish among aediles, praetors, quaestors, and so on.

Three's Company employs a successful "framing device": a brief running commentary on events appended to each chapter, in the very Waughian voice of one Lady Clodia, usually speaking from her dressing-table or bed of lust. Though plainly no fan of Modernist experimentalism, Duggan was not averse to departures from plain narrative, and deployed the full range of traditional novelist's tools to engage and hold the reader's attention. Last-minute surprises? Do not peek forward at the final pages of Leopards and Lilies.

It is in the "soft" sub-genre of historical fiction that Duggan truly excels, though. This becomes plain if you ask a Duggan fan to name his favorite of the fifteen books. My own, admittedly very small, sample yielded two votes for Conscience of the King and one each for Leopards and Lilies, The Little Emperors, and Lord Geoffrey's Fancy — all "soft" fictions. Two of these books deal with actual persons, though such obscure ones that Duggan can make free with their personalities.

Conscience of the King purports to be an autobiographical memoir of Cerdic, First king of Wessex, about whom little more is known but that he died in A.D. 534 after establishing the first Saxon kingdom on the ruins of Roman Britain. Cerdic is claimed as ultimate ancestor of all subsequent British monarchs, including the current one, though these claims depend on some genealogical sleight of hand by the later Saxons. He presents a puzzle to historians, his name being of obviously British (that is, Romano-Celtic) origins. As a king of the Saxons, he therefore appears to be playing for the wrong team. Duggan squares this circle brilliantly, giving Cerdic a mixed Roman, German, and British ancestry, and turns him into an amoral survivor, a sort of Dark Ages Harry Flashman, who manages to dispose of, or arrange for the disposal of, or fail to avert the disposal of — though regretfully in every case — all those who get in his way, notably his wife, his brother, and his father.
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Old January 7th, 2018, 03:30 PM   #4
Joined: Dec 2017
From: Australia
Posts: 35

In terms of Byzantium I've read Robert Graves Count Belisarius but can't say I'd recommend it. However Lest darkness fall is an amusing and easy to read old time travel story set in Ostrogothic Italy both immediately before and during Justinian's invasian and its surprisingly well researched. My main recommendation if your ok with fantasy however would be Guy Gavriel Kay's Sarantine Mosaic which is a two book series starting with Sailing to Sarantium and ending with Lord of Emperors. These are fantasy novels but are VERY light on magic (though its definitly present at times) and are based very heavily and deliberately on Byzantium and the Byzantium of Justinian in particular and in that regard are impressively well researched. Frankly for much of my read part of me wondered why the pretense and not just make it historical fiction. In any event its very well written and is one of my favourite series.
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