Fiction Previews, Jan. 2013, Pt. 1: Seven Debut Historical Novels with Buzz

Barber, Ros. The Marlowe Papers. St. Martin’s. Jan. 2013. 480p. ISBN 9781250017178. $25.95. HISTORICAL FICTION
History reports that Christopher Marlowe was killed in a tavern brawl in London in 1593. But, no, imagines Barber, actually he staged his death to avoid a conviction of heresy, then fled across the Channel, continuing to write poems and plays behind the mask of one William Shakespeare. More fuel for the ever-burning Shakespeare debate (which will attract readers), and Barber does know her stuff. She has three poetry collections and a Ph.D. in Marlowe studies to her name and won the Marlowe Society’s Hoffman Prize for this work. In-house enthusiasm, too, so watch.

Biaggio, Maryka. Parlor Games. Doubleday. Jan. 2013. 352p. ISBN 9780385536226. $25.99; eISBN 9780385536233. Downloadable: Random Audio. HISTORICAL FICTION
The Pinkerton Agency once called May Dugas the most dangerous woman alive, but psychology professor‚ turned‚ novelist Biaggio begs the question, telling us May’s side of the story. Seeking employment in 1887 Chicago at age 18, May is forced to reside in a bordello but uses her charms to wrestle money from men‚ and even manages to get herself engaged to a high-society type until Pinkerton detective Reed Doherty intervenes. So instead she marries a Dutch baron and cheerfully travels to London, Shanghai, and beyond, with Doherty always at her heels crying extortion. A woman wrong or wronged? The reader decides.

Mathis, Ayana. The Twelve Tribes of Hattie.Knopf. Jan. 2013. 256p. ISBN 9780307959423. $25.95; eISBN 9780385350280. CD: Random Audio. HISTORICAL FICTION
Winner of a Michener-Copernicus Fellowship, Mathis opens her career with a book about the Great Migration. Hattie Shepherd is only 17 when she leaves Georgia for Philadelphia, where she raises nine children after losing two babies because she cannot afford medicine. (Her subsequent children thrive when she turns to Southern folk remedies.) Theirs is a life of extraordinary hardship, reportedly told with unflinching beauty. A big push for this one.

Pidgeon, Sean. Finding Camlann. Norton. Jan. 2013. 416p. ISBN 9780393073294. $26.95. HISTORICAL FICTION
Calling all lovers of Arthurian legend: a British-born reference publisher at Wiley has a novel for you. There may be no real proof that King Arthur ever existed, but archaeologist David Gladstone wants to know the origin of the captivating medieval legends. Soon he has joined forces with a talented Oxford English Dictionary linguist, and, inspired by a dramatic find at Stonehenge, they start tracking down clues that have extraordinary resonance in their own lives. With much of the action taking place in the present, I’m cheating a bit by placing this book here, but Arthur’s clarion call must be heeded. Sounds fun!

Rubenhold, Hallie. Mistress of My Fate: The Confessions of Henrietta Lightfoot. Grand Central. Jan. 2013. 464p. ISBN 9781455511808. $25.95. CD/downloadable: Hachette Audio. HISTORICAL FICTION
British historian/broadcaster Rubenhold has already written two nonfiction titles, The Lady in Red: An Eighteenth-Century Tale of Sex, Scandal, and Divorce and Harris’s List of Covent Garden Ladies, which feed nicely into this first historical novel‚ also first in a trilogy. Abandoned young, Henrietta Lightfoot is raised with her cousins by their parents, an earl and a countess. But circumstance lands her on the mean streets of 1800s London, where she triumphs as a courtesan and eventually as an intellect. Enthusiastically pitched to the Alison Weir/Philippa Gregory crowd.

Wade, Christine. Seven Locks. Atria: S. & S. 352p. ISBN 9781451674705. pap. $15. HISTORICAL FICTION
Winner of the 2009 James Jones Fellowship Prize, given to an American author for a first novel-in-progress, this work was inspired by a renowned American folktale. In the pre‚ Revolutionary War Catskills, a husband and father disappears, and village wags claim that the poor man was so henpecked that he up and left. But then the circumstances start looking more sinister, and the wife sets out to find a means of assuring her family’s survival. A researcher in women’s health care choices who has traveled the world, Wade is now settled partly in the area of which she writes. Promising.

Wilhide, Elizabeth. Ashenden. S. & S. Jan. 2013. 352p. ISBN 9781451684865. $24.99. HISTORICAL FICTION
Siblings Charlie and Ros have inherited their aunt’s beloved home, Ashenden, which occasions not simply some soul searching‚ should they sell it?‚ but a tale neatly weaving through two and a half centuries. From the house’s construction to the Victorian family happily dwelling there for 40 years, billeted soldiers during World War I, a Roaring Twenties treasure hunt, and a young couple’s restoration project during the 1950s, Wilhide tells what should be a touching tale. Since she’s the author of more than 20 books on interior design, decoration, and architecture, she should take us right through the front door. Pitched as a must for Downton Abbey fans, and the feeling’s the same though the timeframe is of course much broader. For more specific reads, see Three Downton Abbey Readarounds.

Barbara Hoffert About Barbara Hoffert

Barbara Hoffert (, @BarbaraHoffert on Twitter) is Editor, LJ Prepub Alert; past chair of the Materials Selection Committee of the RUSA (Reference and User Services Assn.) division of the American Library Association; and past president, treasurer, and awards chair of the National Book Critics Circle.