Monday, February 11, 2008

Knights In Shining Armor

Who can resist? Medievals, when they're well done, are such a lovely treat.

Yes, I know the real medieval knight bathed rarely, probably had bad teeth and beat his wife regularly with a stick no larger than his thumb, but ... but... well, just shaddup about all that OK? It's called suspension of disbelief.

I had an impulse to go back and re-read a bunch of these to be completely sure that I should recommend them to you, but, well, I have a stack of other things I haven't read yet calling my name, so here is a list based on memories from the last couple decades before Regencies took over as the only saleable era of the moment. If some of them don't hold up, I apologize, but what can I say, I enjoyed them at the time.

>Roberta Gellis, the Roselynde Chronicals (ooh, score, there are some new ones)! Well-researched without being cumbersome; densely plotted. Lovers of a great Robin Hood story will enjoy the royal politics and intrigue that drive these books. Gellis' heroines are appealing to me because they don't come off as hapless victims of gender oppression; they know they wield the political power of subtle influence. Women like Gellis' heroines are the reason for the saying "Behind every great man is a great woman."

>Catherine Coulter’s “Song” series: Those of you who don’t need magic or ghosts or time-traveling to imagine yourself atop the crenellated walls, bright pennants snapping in the breeze, should check these out. I’ll admit that I read them quite some time ago, so some of the details escape me. What I do particularly remember about them is that the women’s work of running the castle – ensuring that all of the household is clothed* and fed, and that the sick and wounded are attended to—is portrayed as important, and non-trivial, and not easy… (is that redundant?)… that the marriage and the responsibility of a fiefdom was a partnership, in a strikingly full-circle sort of way to modern times.

*bearing in mind that “clothing” a small town involves raising and shearing sheep, carding, spinning, weaving, & dyeing before they ever get to the sewing part, and scissors were high-tech…

>Lynn Kurland: Her books about Artane start out as straight historicals, then acquire a trio of entertaining comic-relief matchmaking ghosts, time travelers, and ever-more fantastical plots involving ghosts coming to life and other unlikely events. She has also written about cats who are angels in disguise and a number of straight up fantasy novels which I have heretofore missed. If you loved fairy tales as a child, if you've ever dreamed about going back in time (while retaining certain personal hygiene habits and products), Kurland knows exactly how to tap into those fantasies. The stories are rich with details, layered plots, and interconnected characters. Her protagonists, both male and female, have their flaws and challenges (frex, being dead) but they also have distinctive personalities, quirky humor, and best of all, the relationships are superbly written.

>Christina Skye’s Draycott Abbey series: A benevolent and powerful ghost guards Draycott Abbey through the centuries. Time-travel and an ongoing good-vs.-evil battle puts these squarely into the realm of romantic fantasy, so if you prefer more realism, pass these by. But if you like a little magic along with your castles, you won’t regret checking these out. I will concede that as the series continues they seem to get a bit labored or repetitive. I like her contemporaries too ("Code Name" series) and I think she probably switched just in time to keep from getting too stale.

>Marsha Canham—from Scotland to Wales, Sherwood Forest to “Bloodmore Keep”, Canham delivers. You’ll find little touches of magic in these books, but in a sort of mystical sense, without the comic effect of Kurland and Skye. Just enough to make you sigh and wish. Lots of adventure, politics, and passion. I strongly recommend, although I’m having a little trouble putting my finger on exactly why I like them. You’ll just have to trust me on these.

>Johanna Lindsey: It is with a certain reluctance that I include these. To be honest, I can’t remember a single thing about any of these, except that I really, really loved them, especially the Viking ones. The thing is, I was 13 or 14 at the time. And the cover blurbs sort of make me cringe today. So, if you’ve been living under a romance rock and never heard of JL, check them out, but at your own risk. Unless you're 13 or 14, in which case you should totally go for it.


Anonymous said...

Heh. I just commented on Lindsey (though I misspelled her) on your re-reading post, before reading this one. What is it about her books that are so appealing to the 13-14 year olds, eh? I used to have a huge collection of them, I'm pretty sure my Mom threw me out, so I just picked up a couple at Powells a couple of months ago and they're like *comfort food*

Jackie (Literary Escapism) said...

One series that I thought was really well done (even though it is a big paranormal) is Quinn Taylor Evan's Merlin's series.


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