Taking a look at what’s new this year with historical fiction set in the Middle Ages. Here are seven (plus one) novels recently published or about to be.
By Sharon Kay Penman
G.P. Putnam’s Sons
The Kingdom of Jerusalem, also known as Outremer, is the land far beyond the sea. Baptized in blood when the men of the First Crusade captured Jerusalem from the Saracens in the early twelfth century, the kingdom defined an utterly new world, a land of blazing heat and a medley of cultures, a place where enemies were neighbors and neighbors became enemies.
At the helm of this growing kingdom sits young Baldwin IV, an intelligent and courageous boy committed to the welfare and protection of his people. But despite Baldwin’s dedication to his land, he is afflicted with leprosy at an early age and the threats against his power and his health nearly outweigh the risk of battle. As political deception scours the halls of the royal court, the Muslim army–led by the first sultan of Egypt and Syria, Saladin–is never far from the kingdom’s doorstep, and there are only a handful Baldwin can trust, including the archbishop William of Tyre and Lord Balian d’Ibelin, a charismatic leader who has been one of the few able to maintain the peace.
By Jeri Westerson
Severn House Publishers
London, 1396. A trip to the swordsmith shop for Crispin Guest, Tracker of London, and his apprentice Jack Tucker takes an unexpected turn when Crispin crosses paths with Carantok Teague, a Cornish treasure hunter. Carantok has a map he is convinced will lead him to the sword of Excalibur – a magnificent relic dating back to King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table – and he wants Crispin to help him find it.
Travelling to Tintagel Castle in Cornwall with Carantok and Jack, Crispin is soon reunited with an old flame as he attempts to locate the legendary sword. But does Excalibur really exist, or is he on an impossible quest? When a body is discovered, Crispin’s search for treasure suddenly turns into a hunt for a dangerous killer.
By Hilary Mantel
Henry Holt and Co
England, May 1536. Anne Boleyn is dead, decapitated in the space of a heartbeat by a hired French executioner. As her remains are bundled into oblivion, Thomas Cromwell breakfasts with the victors. The blacksmith’s son from Putney emerges from the spring’s bloodbath to continue his climb to power and wealth, while his formidable master, Henry VIII, settles to short-lived happiness with his third queen, before Jane dies giving birth to the male heir he most craves.
Cromwell is a man with only his wits to rely on; he has no great family to back him, no private army. Despite rebellion at home, traitors plotting abroad and the threat of invasion testing Henry’s regime to breaking point, Cromwell’s robust imagination sees a new country in the mirror of the future. But can a nation, or a person, shed the past like a skin? Do the dead continually unbury themselves? What will you do, the Spanish ambassador asks Cromwell, when the king turns on you, as sooner or later he turns on everyone close to him?
By Cassandra Clark
Severn House Publishers
London. July, 1399. As rumours spread that his ambitious cousin, Henry Bolingbroke, has returned from exile in France, King Richard’s grip on the English throne grows ever more precarious. Meanwhile, the body of a young woman is discovered at Dowgate sluice. When it’s established that the dead woman was a novice from nearby Barking Abbey, the coroner calls in his friend, Brother Chandler, to investigate.
Who would cut the throat of a young nun and throw her remains in the river? And what was she doing outside the confines of the priory in the first place? Secretly acting as a spy for Henry Bolingbroke, Chandler is torn by conflicting loyalties and agonising self-doubt. As the king’s cousin marches towards Wales and England teeters on the brink of civil war, Chandler’s investigations will draw him into affairs of state – and endanger not only himself but all those around him.
By Edoardo Albert
Conrad is a monk, but he has become a monk through trickery and against his will. So, it is fair to say that his heart isn’t really in it. Conrad is also clever, charming, entirely self-serving, self-absorbed and almost completely without scruple — but in Anglo-Saxon England, when the Danish invaders come calling, those are very helpful attributes to have.
And so it comes to pass that Conrad finds himself constantly dodging death by various means, some reasonable, some… less so. His tricks include selling his brother monks into slavery, witnessing the death of a king, juggling his loyalties between his own people and the Danes, robbing corpses and impersonating a bishop. By his side throughout is the gentle and honourable Brother Odo, a man so naturally and completely good that even animals sense it. He is no match of wits for the cunning Conrad but can he, perhaps, at least encourage the wayward monk to behave a little better?
By Jenny Elder Moke
Isabelle of Kirklees has only ever known a quiet life inside the sheltered walls of the convent, where she lives with her mother, Marien. But after she is arrested by royal soldiers for defending innocent villagers, Isabelle becomes the target of the Wolf, King John’s ruthless right hand. Desperate to keep her daughter safe, Marien helps Isabelle escape and sends her on a mission to find the one person who can help: Isabelle’s father, Robin Hood.
As Isabelle races to stay out of the Wolf’s clutches and find the father she’s never known, she is thrust into a world of thieves and mercenaries, handsome young outlaws, new enemies with old grudges, and a king who wants her entire family dead. As she joins forces with Robin and his Merry Men in a final battle against the Wolf, will Isabelle find the strength to defy the crown and save the lives of everyone she holds dear?
In Hood, author Jenny Elder Moke reimagines the world of Robin Hood in lush, historical detail and imbues her story with more breathless action than has ever come out of Sherwood Forest before. This novel is a must-read for historical-fiction fans, adventure lovers, and reluctant readers alike!
By Ida Curtis
She Writes Press
Just before taking her vows, Sister Gilda, along with Lord Justin, King Louis’s counselor, is given a task: investigate grounds for the annulment of a marriage between Count Cedric and Lady Mariel. Together, they discover that Mariel believes she actually married Cedric’s younger half-brother Phillip―Cedric’s surrogate―at the marriage ceremony, and that Cedric plans to marry Lady Emma as soon as the annulment is granted. Emma and Phillip, meanwhile, have declared their love for each other.
Gilda and Justin must find a fair and just solution that will satisfy the principals, the archbishop, and the king―and at the same time deal with the distracting passion developing between the two of them. As they work together to unravel the mysterious circumstances of the count’s marriage, their attraction grows―threatening Gilda’s freedom and Justin’s reputation.
Set in ninth-century France, The Nun’s Betrothal is a suspenseful, romantic tale of court intrigue and forbidden love.
And one more novel, kind of set in the Middle Ages…
By Jamie Pacton
Page Street Kids
Working as a Wench―i.e. waitress―at a cheesy medieval-themed restaurant in the Chicago suburbs, Kit Sweetly dreams of being a Knight like her brother. She has the moves, is capable on a horse, and desperately needs the raise that comes with knighthood, so she can help her mom pay the mortgage and hold a spot at her dream college.
Company policy allows only guys to be Knights. So when Kit takes her brother’s place, clobbers the Green Knight, and reveals her identity at the end of the show, she rockets into internet fame and a whole lot of trouble with the management. But this Girl Knight won’t go down without a fight. As other Wenches and cast members join her quest, a protest forms. In a joust before Castle executives, they’ll prove that gender restrictions should stay medieval―if they don’t get fired first.