Friday, August 19, 2011

Reading Lists - Historical Fiction Set in France

Historical fiction is set in the past, before the author's lifetime and experience. Through its serious respect for historical accuracy and details of time, place, and character, historical fiction enhances a reader's knowledge of past events, lives, and customs. This list consists of historical fiction novels set in France.

The Druid King by Norman Spinrad
Spinrad recreates the world of the Gauls, residents of the territory that would eventually become France. Dubbed the king of the Druids, Vercingetorix unites the disparate tribes of Gaul into a fighting force determined to prevent Julius Caesar from adding more of their lands to his already vast empire.

The Angel and the Sword by Cecelia Holland
While Charlemagne’s grandson, Charles the Bald, struggles to preserve the remains of his grandfather's empire from the Vikings, young princess Ragny of Spain seeks to avenge her mother's death and reclaim her throne by masquerading as the warrior Roderick the Beardless. The story, based on a French legend, blends action, suspense, romance, and history.

Beloved Enemy by Ellen Jones
Duchess of Aquitaine in her own right, Eleanor longs for romance and shared power with her husband. Her disastrous marriage to the monkish Louis of France is dissolved for failure to produce an heir, and she then marries Henry, Duke of Normandy, 11 years her junior but her equal in ambition and passion. Her husband will become Count of Anjou and King of England.

Personal Recollections of Joan of Arc by Mark Twain
Twain’s work was published as the memoirs of Joan’s page and secretary, Louis de Conte. He is presented as an individual who was with Joan during the three major phases of her life—as a youth in Domremy, as the commander of the army of Charles VII of France on military campaign, and as a defendant at her trial in Rouen.

The Confessions of Catherine de Medici by C.W. Gortner
Catherine is betrothed to Henri d'Orleans, brother of the sickly heir to the French throne, at 13. She heads to France with a hidden vial of poison, and after negotiating an uneasy truce with her husband's mistress, she matures into a powerful court presence. Three of her sons become king in succession as the widow Catherine wields increasing influence.

Queen Margot by Alexander Dumas
Dumas relates the stirring events of the last years of Charles IX's reign in the late 16th century. The marriage of Catholic Marguerite de Valois, Charles IX’s sister, to Protestant Henri de Bourbon, King of Navarre, took place during religious wars and intensified an already burning power struggle between two clans in the royal family.

Before Versailles by Karleen Koen
This engaging story is told by lady-in-waiting Louise de la Baume le Blanc. As Louis XIV assumes the responsibilities of governing France, he embarks on a love affair with his sister-in-law, triggering a scandal that is complicated by a finance minister's growing power and a mysterious boy with an iron mask.

To Dance with Kings by Rosalind Laker
Laker chronicles contact between five generations of "women with flower names," descendants of a fan maker, and the Kings of France—from Louis XIV, builder of Versailles, to the Louis who lost his head in 1792. The tale is comfy, dense, and undemanding, full of stalwart heroines and warming touches.

Becoming Marie Antoinette by Juliet Grey
This first installment of a planned trilogy imagines the early life of Maria Antonia Josepha Johanna of the Hapsburgs, who at the age of 10 learns from her mother, the ambitious Empress of Austria, that she is to leave her coddled life in the Austrian court to marry the dauphin of France. This volume ends with the dauphin becoming Louis XVI.

Abundance by Sena Jeter Naslund
Naslund traces the life of Marie Antoinette from her "birth as a citizen of France" at age 14 to her execution, told from her own point of view. The novel provides a wealth of detail as Toinette savors life at Versailles, indulges in hair and clothing rituals, gets acquainted with the French court, and experiences motherhood and loss. The outcome is known, but the account is riveting.

Madame Tussaud by Michelle Moran
While the tensions rise between the royalty and the people, Marie is torn between two worlds. She tutors the king’s sister in wax sculpting while revolutionaries meet in her family’s salon. Marie, who will one day become Madame Tussaud, must perform a dangerous balancing act to find a way for her family to survive the coming revolution.

Victorine by Catherine Texier
While most of the action takes place outside of France, Victorine captures a piece of French colonialism. In 1899, Victorine leaves her husband and children to go to Indochina with another man and reinvent herself, though she finds herself as out of place in Indochina as she thought she was in Vendee. With lush, vivid description, Texier brings to life both the world around Victorine and the woman herself.

The World at Night by Alan Furst
Film producer Jean Casson is on the verge of developing his first real hit when his life is shattered by the Nazi drive through Belgium and into Paris. His long-brewing crisis of purpose gets him embroiled in an elaborate double-cross as he works undercover for the French and finds himself functioning also for the British and the Germans against his will.

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