Tuesday, September 13, 2011

From Fact to Historical Fiction - Book Reviews

Among the wide-reaching arc of genres that populate fiction, historical fiction is particularly broad, offering both readers--and writers--the opportunity to explore what was real through the eyes of fictional characters, imagine what might have been real by fictionalizing accounts of real people, or bending both to suit the needs of the story.

My own work Island Dawn, for example, begins the story of a fictional Japanese immigrant and his family through the late 19th century into the post WWII era. In my case I have characters buffeted by the real-world events and circumstances of the times over the course of a trilogy.

Such an approach is also taken in Guernica, the debut novel for Seattle journalist Dave Boling.  Set in the moments before the outbreak of WWII in the Basque region straddling southwestern France and northwestern Spain, this novel is a beautiful meditation on the power of love and a heart-wrenching exploration of the devastation the machinery of war visits upon the innocents of all ages.  While this book tells the tale of the people at the heart of Basque culture in Guernica, it paints on a canvas even larger than Picasso did for his epic mural. This intimate portrait paradoxically sprawls across the sweeping events of the era and illuminates--through fiction--the horror of war, the heroism of living a meaningful life in the face of unimaginable heartache, and the dignity of doing the best you can in the worst of circumstances.  This was a five-star read for me, and is a fine example of how fiction at its best illuminates and informs the best and the worst in us.

Guernica, A novel by Dave Boling
Published by Bloomsbury, New York City.
Paperback ISBN: 978-1-59691-637-1

Stepping back five centuries Saltspring Island resident C.C. Humphreys uses a different approach by taking a historical figure shrouded in myth and legend and imagines what the life of the real person might have been in Vlad - The Last Confession.  Within these pages is an epic novel that gathers historical data and casts Vlad Dracul--the real Dracula--as the reviled impaler to his enemies, the Dragon's Son to his people and ultimately the hero of his homeland.  This richly textured narrative, as told by those who knew him best (remember, this is fiction), casts the cartoonish figure of Stoker's novel in an entirely different light. It brilliantly brings into sharp focus the twists of fate, political and theological machinations and external forces that may have driven Vlad to the intense and excruciating means so vividly depicted by Humphreys.  The rich characterizations and exquisite eye for detail make this an epic read, though not for the faint of heart. As Vlad Dracul learned the hard way in the 15th century, 'we torture so that we will not be tortured'.

Vlad - The Last Confession, a novel by C.C. Humphreys
Published by Sourcebooks Landmark Naperville, Ill.
Paperback ISBN: 13: 978-1-4022-5351-5

Taking yet another avenue in Blood of the Reich, Anacortes based William Dietrich takes a peculiar true historical incident, in this case a Himmler sponsored expedition of German scientists to Tibet--the roof of the world--and combines it with a fictional power supposedly left by the ancients in a remote monastery awaiting the 'blood key' to unlock the secrets.  Convinced of their Aryan superiority the Nazi expedition treks treacherously to the forbidden gates and discovers 'Vril' only to have its power denied them by the interdiction of an intrepid American archeologist and an adventurous lady pilot, presumably saving the world from Nazi domination--for now.  Dietrich cleverly switches to and from pre-war German obsessions and a modern day thrill ride as destinies separated by seven decades race toward a breath-taking collision.  Here the elements of history, fiction and the supernatural are blended seamlessly with the peculiar world of sub-atomic physics to produce an exciting page turning adventure that will keep you on the edge of your seat right till the last page.  A great read, and I will note for the record, Bill's work is among my favorite reading.  His scholarship is evident, but always serves the story well without distraction.  When you finish this one, try Hadrian's Wall or the Ethan Gage series.  I promise you won't be disappointed!

Blood of the Reich, a novel by William Dietrich
Published by Harper Collins New York City
Hardback ISBN: 976-0-06-198918-6