The Reign of King Henry IX

Laura Andersen’s The Boleyn King set the stage for the reign of Henry IX, son of Henry VIII and his queen (and eventual widow) Anne Boleyn.


The Boleyn Deceit brings on more alternate Tudor history. Political intrigue, star-crossed The Boleyn Deceitlovers, military action, enough characters to be confusing at times, thoroughly enjoyable. This volume veers a bit farther from our history, of course, and I found myself hopping onto Wikipedia from time to time to check on the real lives of the historical characters. As this is the middle volume in a trilogy, the cliff-hanger ending was not a surprise, and thanks to the immediate availability of ebooks, it took only a moment to grab the third book.


The Boleyn Reckoning continues the reign of Henry IX, still known as Will to his sister Elizabeth and their close friends Minuette Wyatt and Dominic Courtenay. But the relationships between the four are changing rapidly, and not for the better. Meanwhile tensions rise with both France and Spain, people move in and out (the lucky ones) of the dread Tower of London (some innocent, some guilty), and William becomes more like his father—and more unpredictable—as time goes by.


I don’t want to give away any of Andersen’s plot twists. I love being surprised by books. The Boleyn ReckoningBut in this case I’d accidentally stumbled over spoilers myself. I read the beginning of The Virgin’s Daughter, the first volume of Andersen’s Elizabethan trilogy, before realizing it was really the fourth book in the series. So I knew the fates of several characters ten years later. I’m not going to share the details, but instead of “spoiling” anything, that knowledge raised the suspense and kept me racing through The Boleyn Reckoning.


The main action of The Virgin’s Daughter picks up some twenty years after The Boleyn Reckoning. I fought its efforts to drag me back into Andersen’s glittering and all-too-believable alternate Tudor world (it wasn’t easy). I’m going to save the second trilogy for a while—I’m afraid I’ll race right through it.


The Boleyn King

What might have happened if Anne Boleyn had borne a healthy son? That’s the premise of Laura Andersen’s The Boleyn King. As the novel opens, Henry IX is turning 17. He has been King for several years, since the death of his father, but he has one more year to wait before Lord Rochford (his uncle George Boleyn) steps down as Regent. Known as William to those closest to him (his older sister Elizabeth, his cousin and confidante Dominic Courtenay, and Minuette Wyatt, an orphan born on the same day as Will was and raised in Queen Anne’s court), the young King is eager to rule on his own.


The story centers on the lives of these four young people as they navigate the excitement and danger of the Royal Court. They deal with political intrigue, gossip, illicit affairs, and even a questionable death. Beyond the concerns of everyday life, there is war with France, tension with Spain (will Elizabeth marry King Phillip?), and diplomatic jousting on the rest of the continent.


The Boleyn KingIn this version of Tudor England, Anne remains Queen Mother (and a controversial figure), and four of Henry VIII’s famous marriages never happened. Catherine of Aragon, his first wife, is long dead, but her daughter Mary (demoted from Princess to Lady and removed from the line of succession) lives on, doing her best to incite a Catholic rebellion. Lady Jane Grey is alive and well, suggested as a suitable wife for Henry. (I always thought poor Jane, with her nine days as Queen, got the worst deal of the period.)


I love alternate history, and I thoroughly enjoyed The Boleyn King, but I have to say it reads as historical rather than speculative fiction, perhaps because the change in history occurs less than twenty years before the beginning of the novel. This leaves Andersen free to write her vision of the Tudor period without worrying too much about what’s going on in the rest of the world.


The Boleyn King has a very different feel from Randall Garrett’s Lord Darcy stories, set in a twentieth century Britain fair removed from the “hinge” that changed its history, in which Richard I stayed home and enjoyed a long and successful reign, and the Plantagenet line still rules Britain, or S. M. Stirling’s The Peshawar Lancers, in which a twenty-first century British royal family rules from India, driven there by a nineteen century meteorite fall that destroyed much of Europe and derailed the Industrial Revolution.


I know enough about the Tudor period to enjoy Andersen’s imaginings and not enough to troll for historical errors. Now, of course, I have to know what comes next, in the rest of the Boleyn trilogy (The Boleyn Deceit and The Boleyn Reckoning) and in the Tudor Legacy trilogy about the reign of Elizabeth (The Virgin’s Daughter, The Virgin’s Spy, and The Virgin’s War).


Sigh. This is what happens when I download those interesting loss-leader titles from the daily ebook emails. Next thing I know I have another series to pursue, and even more books in my Amazon cloud.


The Man in the High Castle

When I joined Amazon Prime a couple of years ago, I was mostly in it for the fast free shipping, but I did plan to take advantage of the access to videos and music. Good plan, but not much came of it. Then Amazon announced it was producing an adaptation of Philip K. Dick’s classic SF parable The Man in the High Castle, and my interest in the video side jumped.


I’ve always been a fan of alternate history tales, and I’d read High Castle back around 1980, so I downloaded a copy to my Kindle (later discovering that I still had an old Science Fiction Book Club edition on a high shelf) and read it last November. That convinced me that an adaptation was going to take a lot of work.


The Man in the High Castle

New cover, based on adaptation, sure to confuse unsuspecting readers

The Man in the High Castle is a very cerebral novel, based on the premise that the U.S. and its allies lost World War Two. The eastern half of the country is now part of the Greater German Reich, the west coast is ruled by the Japanese, and a strip just east of the Rockies is a Neutral Zone. In the novel, an array of (not particularly sympathetic) characters spends an inordinate amount of time consulting the I Ching and discussing the probable political fall out from Hitler’s eventual death. Interesting enough to read, but not the stuff of great cinematic drama. The action, such as there was, took place in the Pacific States (where Dick was interested in the problems of Americans trying to adapt to the very different basics of Japanese culture) and the Neutral Zone (where the Man in the High Castle, who appears only in the last few pages, lived).


Turning this relatively short philosophical novel into a ten-hour (and more—the third ten-episode season is currently in production) was clearly going to take a great deal of expansion. When I finally begin watching the series (on my new WiFi powered tablet), I quickly began piling up “I don’t remember that” moments.


For good reason. Much has been added, much has been changed, and much has been improved. The basic premise remains, of course—the United States is no more. It is 1962, and the Reich rules the East, the Japanese the West, and the Neutral Zone is essentially lawless. The main characters, Juliana, Frank, and Joe, are younger, more interesting, and far more active, and relationships between them have changed. Major characters have been added, as have important motivations.


One change at the core of the adaptation involves the McGuffin of the story, The Grasshopper Lies Heavy. In Dick’s novel, this was an alternate history novel, written by Hawthorne Abendsen, the Man in the High Castle, banned in the Reich, available in an under the table sort of way in the Pacific States, and sold openly in the Neutral Zone. In the adaptation, it is a collection of newsreel films showing alternate time lines, sought by both the Reich and the Japanese, extremely dangerous for the Resistance members attempting to smuggle the reels to Abendsen, who may be responsible for them or merely collecting them. The films provide danger, conflict, and mystery to propel the action.


Major new characters include Chief Inspector Kido of the Japanese Kempeitai in San Francisco, terrifying and ruthless in pursuit of his duties and the newsreels, and Obergruppenfuhrer John Smith, the American head of the SS in New York, a man with a home in the suburbs (where neighbors wave at one another with a cheerful “Sieg Heil”), a family he loves dearly, and the ability to push a disloyal subordinate off a building ledge without wrinkling his uniform.


I could go on and on. As a lover of alternate histories, I’m totally engrossed by the story, the characters, and the production values. As a reader and writer I’m fascinated by the changes and expansions made to bring the novel to the screen. And I’ve lost so much sleep staying up late watching it that I’ve promised myself that I’ll wait until August (after I return from the RWA conference in Orlando next week) before I start on Season Two. Then, alas, I’ll have to wait with everyone else for the release of Season Three, probably late this year.

Nazi Times Square

Naomi Novik’s Temeraire

I didn’t discover Naomi Novik’s Temeraire novels until the first three books had been published and I picked up an omnibus edition from the Science Fiction Book Club, back in 2006. It was with some regret that I read the ninth and last novel in the series, League of Dragons. I hate to see the saga end.


The quick description of the series is hard to resist: “the Napoleonic Wars—with dragons.” The dragons are sentient and vary in size, with some able to carry large crews of soldiers. The British dragons are organized into the Aerial Corps; dragon-borne forces have become a mainstay of warfare, but the dragons and their captains and crews remain largely outside the traditional military social structure.


In the first novel, His Majesty’s Dragon (2006), Royal Navy Captain Will Laurence captures a French ship carrying a precious dragon egg intended for Bonaparte himself. TemeraireWhen the dragonet Temeraire hatches prematurely and bonds with the captain, Laurence finds he must leave his Naval career behind to join the Aerial Corps, a tight-knit organization very much separate from the rest of the British military.


In Throne of Jade (2006), Laurence and Temeraire travel to China, to discover Temeraire’s origins, and step into intrigue at the Emperor’s court. Black Powder War (2006) takes them to Istanbul to bring three precious dragon eggs back to Britain.


In Empire of Ivory (2007) an epidemic strikes the dragon population, and Laurence and Temeraire travel to Africa in search of a cure. Victory of Eagles (2008) brings new troubles all around: Laurence has been convicted of treason, he and Temeraire have been separated, and Napoleon has invaded England.


Tongues of Serpents (2010) sees Temeraire and Laurence transported to Australia, taking with them three dragon eggs intended to establish a new dragon covert in the colony. There they meet the recently overthrown military governor, William Bligh, who tries to enlist their help in restoring himself to office. A survey expedition into the outback brings more surprises.


In Crucible of Gold (2012), Laurence and Temeraire are restored to their positions in the Aerial Corps and sent on a mission to Brazil, where the Portuguese rulers have been besieged by invaders from Africa. On the way they find themselves in the midst of danger in the Incan Empire.


Blood of Tyrants (2013) finds Laurence shipwrecked in Japan, with no memory of the last few years, while Temeraire searches for him. Reunited, they travel west to Moscow, where Napoleon has turned on the Tsar, his former ally. The last volume, League of Dragons league-of-dragons(2016) wraps up the long war and the many other story lines.


Such a brief listing can’t possibly convey the joys of this series. The alternate history is detailed and believable (well, dragons, sure) and the culture of the Aerial Corps is fascinating (there are some breeds of dragons who will only accept female captains).


Most of all, though, I love the characters, the dragons even more than the humans. Laurence is very much the British officer and gentleman, concerned above all with honor and duty. Temeraire is practical, concerned with everyday matters—and with the condition of dragons as they strive to be accepted as partners and fellow citizens rather than possessions or slaves.


The dragon characters’ personalities vary as much as the humans, as do their lives in various parts of the world. The cultures of the dragons and their relations with humans vary from place to place, and there are “feral” dragons who owe allegiance to no one but themselves.


The quality of Novik’s writing is always excellent; the plots vary a bit, one or two reading more like filler than novel. But the characters and the exploration of an alternate history so fascinatingly different from our own never failed me. League of Dragons answered all the questions I had and brought the story full circle. I may just have to find time to read the whole series again one of these years.

Recent Reading

I don’t travel very often, and I don’t use my credit cards a lot, so I haven’t paid much attention to rewards point or miles accumulating on my accounts. Recently, rather to my surprise, I found emails from three cards in my in box offering gift cards for my points. Two of them offered Amazon cards, so I now have a nice chunk of credit there to make those Daily Deal and Big Deal emails even more tempting. And yesterday, while looking for something else in my wallet, I found that B&N card from Christmas that still has sixty dollars or so on it. We all know what this means: more books for the ever-expanding To Be Read shelves. Meanwhile, I’ve taken a few more off that list.

Gone TropicalGone Tropical, by Robena Grant, is a romantic suspense story set on the north coast (make that the northeast coast—I just checked my forty-five-year old atlas, practically an historic document by now, but I’m pretty sure Cairns, Cooktown, and Laura haven’t moved in the interim) of Australia, in the sparsely populated rain forest country. American Amy Helms is on the trail of the embezzling ex-husband she has been tracking for years, only slightly hindered by Jake Turner, the private investigator her father has hired to keep an eye on her. Soon they join forces (when Jake realizes there’s no way Amy’s going to wait patiently in Sydney. Or Cairns. Or anywhere else), and discover that Amy’s ex has stumbled into something a lot more dangerous than his typical con game. Throw in Australian friends and allies, a snake in the room Amy and Jake’s cover story forces them to share, and a cyclone named Robert, and you have an action-packed romantic adventure.

I’ve been reading Joan Hess’ Claire Malloy mysteries since the first one, Strangled Prose, came out in 1986. Murder As a Second LangMurder As a Second Languageuage is the nineteenth in the series, but fortunately Claire and her teenage daughter Caron have aged only a few years. Claire’s circumstances have changed, though. The early books revolved around her bookstore in Farberville, Arkansas, and the local college, but now that Claire has married the deputy police chief, hired a bored graduate student to run the Book Depot, and moved into her dream house, she’s looking for something to do. Caron’s summer plans drag Claire into volunteering at the Farberville Literacy Council, where she is quickly drawn into local intrigue and, of course, a murder. Hess’ books (her Maggody series is another old favorite of mine) combine mystery and humor and are always enjoyable.

Three PrincesI’m afraid I did not love Ramona Wheeler’s Three Princes as much as I had hoped to. Although it started with the alternate nineteenth-century political intrigue I expected, that plot line soon dwindled away as the main characters set off on a trip across the Atlantic, from Egypt to the Incan Empire in Peru, on board a fascinatingly human-powered airship called a Quetzal. The world building in the book is great: history changed when Caesar (why does it always take me three tries to spell Caesar correctly?) and Cleopatra settled down in Memphis to raise a family and rule an Empire. In the 1870s their descendants still rule much of the Old World, and the depiction of a relatively modern Egyptian Empire is well done. The rather bland (and flawless) characters and wandering plot, not so much.

It’s unfair to the author to complain about the things I wanted to find in the book but didn’t. I wanted to know more about the British Isle background of the main character, Lord Scott Oken, loyal Egyptian, descendant of Caesar; what’s going on in Britain, and why are Victoria and Albert ruling Osterreich from Vienna? What’s going on in North America? The obvious (to me, anyway) Aztec influence on the Incan Empire and language wasn’t explained until late in the book, with a throw-away line about a long ago merger between the Incans and the Aztecs, leaving Mayaland somewhere in the middle. I don’t know if Wheeler plans a sequel. Three Princes didn’t leave me with a burning desire to know what happens next to the characters, but I’d read another installment to find out what else is going on in their well-imagined world.

What have you been reading lately?




Speculative Fiction for History Buffs

Alternate History is one of my favorite subgenres. When I searched for “alternate history romance” I was given a long list of steampunk romances, but that wasn’t what I was looking for. I vaguely remembered coming across a couple of genuine alternate history based romances, and between Google and one of those trivia files in the back of my mind I tracked them down, two long-out-of-print novels by Maura Seger: Fortune’s Tide (1990), set in a world where the American Revolution failed, and Perchance to Dream (1989) in which the Confederate States were victorious. Apparently that subgenre never took off, alas.

But the idea of alternate history has always been popular over on the science fiction shelves, although such stories don’t usually have a lot to do with science. Steampunk certainly presents an alternate Victorian world, but my suspicion is that it’s based more on technology and society than on history. I haven’t read enough steampunk to be sure, but I plan to remedy that. (In my spare time.)

I do have several favorite alternate history novels on my keeper shelves (and on my To Be Read stacks). Such stories generally have a point of change, sometimes called a hinge, some specific event that changes the course of history from what we know to what the author imagines. Some are straight history, while some add a fantasy or science fiction element.

Harry Harrison went way back in time for his hinge, setting the trilogy West of Eden, West of EdenWinter in Eden, and Return to Eden (1984-1988) in a world in which the cataclysm that ended the age of dinosaurs 65 million years ago never happened, leading to conflict between the highly evolved dinosaur civilization and the rising Ice Age human race. Geeks like me will also enjoy the appendix detailing the biology, culture and language of the dinosaurs. And who can resist domesticated mammoths?

Peshawar LancersS.M. Stirling’s The Peshawar Lancers (2001) is set in twenty-first century India, now the seat of the British Empire, after a disastrous fall of comets in the 1870s destroyed much of Europe, changed the planet’s climate, and brought technological advance to a standstill. The book includes a set of fascinating appendices on history, technology and language. Stirling, a prolific author, has also written other alternate histories, including the dark and violent Domination series and two enjoyable novels based on Venus (The Sky People, 2006) and Mars (In the Courts of the Crimson Kings, 2008) as the inhabitable planets they were imagined to be a century ago.

Lord DarcyRandall Garrett’s Lord Darcy novels (written in the 1960s and collected in one volume in 2002) have a big fantasy element (think CSI with magical technicians), but the world is the twentieth century as it might have been if King Richard the Lionheart had stayed home where he belonged, changing the course of British history with a long and successful reign. Lord Darcy himself has no magical Talent; he is a criminal investigator with a sorcerer assistant. Together they solve cases in tales full of in-jokes and references that will delight any mystery fan.

Jo Walton’s Small Change trilogy (Farthing, Ha’penny, and Half a Crown, 2006-2008)Farthing describes a world in which Britain made peace with Germany before WWII began, leading to a very different and dark mid-century. The books are mystery/thrillers tied together by a police detective with deep secrets of his own.

Harry Turtledove is the acknowledged master of alternate history, writing dozens of novels, many in long series, about everything from the survival of the Byzantine Empire to an alien invasion changing the course of the Second World War. Two on my shelf are Guns of the South (1992), in which time-travelers provide the Confederacy with AK-47s, and Ruled Britannia (2002), in which the Spanish Armada has conquered England, and Shakespeare is writing a play about King Philip. Turtledove has written something for everyone who loves history.

I could go on. And on. When I was planning this post I found a notice of a new book, Three Princes, by Ramona Wheeler, a novel of nineteenth century intrigue in a world dominated by the Egyptian and Incan Empires. How could I resist that? Hence a trip to the bookstore (I bought a steampunk romance, too, as long as I was there.)

Sharing these books makes me want to read them again–that’s why they live on my keeper shelves. And while I’m at it, maybe I should take a shot at writing an alternate history romance. Heaven knows I’m becoming an expert at writing in subgenres no one knows how to sell.

For even more ideas, visit this list of The Most Unusual Alternate History Novels Ever Published.

Book Shopping, Again

To no one’s surprise, I’ve bought a few more books than I’ve managed to read in the last few weeks.  A couple of weeks ago I headed over to the Local Barnes & Noble to pick up a book I’d seen mentioned on a site I enjoy,  I was Three Princesresearching an article on alternate history at the time, and Ramona Wheeler’s Three Princes, a tale of 19th century intrigue in a world ruled by the Egyptian Empire sounded like just the sort of book I love.  As long as I was there, with a gift card in my wallet, I also bought Gossamer Wing, a steampunk romance by Delphine Dryden, which I’d seen on another blog I follow (Paranormal Unbound).

Yesterday I stopped at the local Half-Price Books, not looking for anything in particular.  I picked up Marie Brennan’s A Natural History of Dragons (because, well, dragons!) from the New BestsellerA Natural History of Dragons rack.  It isn’t new (the hard cover edition was released last year), just new in trade paperback, and the cover grabbed me, as did a quick look at the back blurb and the preface.  Then I wandered back through the science fiction racks and made two (possibly contradictory) decisions.  I bought a paper copy of Hugh Howey’s Wool, which I already have on my Kindle but would prefer to read on paper (the book is highly recommended by my friend Colleen Thompson), and I rejected an older paperback copy of an alternate history novel because the print was small and cramped and I know I can get it in digital format and increase the type size.

Then I went back to Barnes & Noble to look for a new book by another friend, Sharon Sala.  I have been looking forward The Curl Up and Dyeto reading The Curl Up and Dye, and I have a companion novella, Color Me Bad, waiting on my Kindle.

Of course I have also been feeding my Kindle faster than I read the books that pile up on it, too.  In the last month or so I have downloaded three Daily Deals: Why Shoot a Butler? by Georgette Heyer, Artifact by Gigi Pandian, and Bride of the Rat God by Barbara Hambly.  I try to restrain myself on the Daily Deals, and I think three in the last month is pretty restrained.  I also bought a few by writer friends: Up to the Challenge by Terri Osburn, Archer’s Sin by Amy Raby, and Draw Me In and What’s Yours is Mine by Talia Quinn.

Currently I’m reading three books, in my usual scattered fashion.  Three Princes is proving to be every bit as good as I had hoped.  The Searchers: The Making of an American Legend, by Glenn Frankel, is a fascinating work about the background and making of the famous movie.  I bought this book some time ago, after reading a review in the Houston Chronicle, but just opened it to read this weekend.  I’m having trouble putting it down.

Bride of the Rat GodAnd on my Kindle, I’m halfway through Bride of the Rat God.  I’d read several chapters before I realized that I’d read the book before, back in 1994 when it first came out (I could confirm this thanks to a slightly OCD compulsion to keep all those lists of books I’ve read on my computer–the lists actually predate the first computer by several years, and I must have typed them in after the fact).  Clearly the setting, Hollywood in the 1920s, is just as appealing twenty years later (and wonderfully described), but I’m sorry I no longer have the paperback copy, if only for its delightfully pulpy cover.

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