Thursday, November 19, 2015

Book Review: Castles, Customs, and Kings (Volume 2)

Title: Castles, Customs, and Kings: True Tales by English Historical Fiction Authors (Volume 2)
Author: Debra Brown and Sue Millard, eds.

First line: Perhaps you know the significance of the year 1066, or the gist of the English Civil War, or that Mary, Queen of Scots, lost her throne.

Review: This beefy volume of articles about British history, ranging from pre-Roman to 20th century, is drawn from the fabulous English Historical Fiction Authors blog.

I love books that come from blogs. At first blush, it seems counter-intuitive, buying a book with content from a free blog, but this volume proves how awesome the idea is.

At close to 600 pages, this book anthologizes a whole year's content from nearly fifty authors, compiling their intriguing blog posts in chronological order. It's a welcoming format: I can dip into and out at my leisure, and a book like this begs that kind of languid reading.

In her introduction, Brown writes this volume is meant to evoke "the soul of the past with personal stories and strange happenings", and it does just that. Each piece has a warm, conversational tone (so those expecting something deeply academic should look elsewhere). What I most enjoyed about these pieces is that they make up a love letter to the genre of historical fiction, as well as a behind-the-curtain expose of hard work and miraculous, plot-affirming surprises that bolster writers.

It is that tone, excited and nerdy, that hooked me and kept me paging through these pieces. Even for eras I'm not typically fascinated by, there were still essays that intrigued me (like Nancy Bilyeau's article on Mary Shipton, Tudor prophetess).

The group of participating authors is impressive; some of the names that I'm familiar with include Sandra Byrd, Anna Belfrage, Nancy Bilyeau, Patricia Bracewell, Stephanie Cowell, Christy English, and Deborah Swift. (You can see a complete list of participating authors at the blog.)

Fans of British historical fiction will want this book; it's a bit like the extras on a DVD, loaded with trivia that helped me have a better sense of life for the characters of many of the books I love to read. Keep bedside or even loaded on your smartphone for when you need a few minutes of reading (and be prepared to look up and see an hour or two has passed!).

Genre: Non-Fiction (History / UK / Medieval / Tudor / Stuart / Georgian / Victorian / 20th Century / Writers on Writing)
Publisher/Publication Date: Madison Street Publishing (9/30/15)
Source: Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours


  1. Thank you so much for the thoughful review, Audra!

  2. Thank you so much for the thoughful review, Audra!

  3. Clever idea for a book and I do enjoy reading about British history.