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  1. #1
    Registered User Zsinj's Avatar
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    Historical fiction with epic battles

    I'm really into ancient history so I was wondering if anyone here could recommend some good historical novels set in ancient history with epic battle and swashbuckling fight scenes like the ones you read in fantasy novels such as Robert E. Howard's Conan stories, Tad Williams' Memory, Sorrow and Thorn Trilogy, and George R.R. Martin's Song of Ice and Fire Series? Any help would be dearly appreciated.
    Thanx!

  2. #2
    Bernard Cornwell's Warlord series: The Winter King, Excalibur, Enemy of God.

    Basically, the story of King Arthur set in the historical framework of the orignal Arthur, thought to be a romno-british warlord who briefly held off the tide of the saxon invasion of england in the post-roman britain of the sixth century. Plenty of battles large and small. Cornwell cleverly integrates the people and events of later legend back into the historical context of dark age britain, I highly recommend it.

  3. #3
    Lord of the Wild Hunt Mithfânion's Avatar
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    This raises a question I've been pondering about as far as the Arthurian leegnds are concerned:should we list Cornwel''s Warlod trilogy under historical fiction, or Fantasy?

  4. #4
    Registered User UberDarkLord's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Mithfânion
    This raises a question I've been pondering about as far as the Arthurian leegnds are concerned:should we list Cornwel''s Warlod trilogy under historical fiction, or Fantasy?
    From what I've read from "Winter King" (about 50 pages) it should be classified as Fantasy because it is just chockful of anachronisms. And not just a few in language, but also in the world. It's just plain stupid because it certainly was Cornwell's intend to do a historical - and he can do that, if one checks out the Sharpe novels; these are quite good, but ihmo his Arthurian thingie sucked big time.

    [As a side-note, had Cornwell succeeded in 'doing a historica'l', or course it should be considered histfic, not fantasy. Just because the source-material is considered fantastic doesn't mean this iteration of it must be; of course it does remain just plain fictitious).

    About Historical fiction with epic battles: Steven Pressfield and Michael Curtis Ford are the obvious names. Other than these two, I'm at a loss. It seems to me that most historical fiction tends to be, like 'regular' fiction, not as 'epic' as many SF/F books.
    Maybe some historicals dealing with the American Civil War? But that was never my fav subject.
    And, from the top of my head, I think Robert Harris "Pompey" might have something epic to it. Dunno why, haven't read it, but multiple viewpoints and exploding volcanoes promise cool stuff [imho].
    Last edited by UberDarkLord; August 14th, 2005 at 04:48 AM.

  5. #5
    OK, that's fair, it does have fantastic elements and he bends or invents some things, its mythic story telling, just like its roots. maybe then we shouldn't call it historical, though people interested in history will like it. Call it legend.

    But to say it sucked big time...that's ridiculous: using that criteria I suppose we could never read and enjoy Walter Scott, the stories of Robbin Hood, or, hell, Harold Lamb! Warlord is a ripping good yarn, doubley so if you are familiar with the arthurian legends. and I think it gives a good feel for the period, with its clash between paganism and christianity, and the contrasting of roman, celtic, and germanic cultures. I'd say it was Cornwell's best work precisely because he was willing to juxtapose elements, and risk anachronisms, to bring the dark ages to life through the legends of arthur. and I think he is very clever in taking all the later elements of the legend and working them back into its dark age context.

    If you're the kind of person that just can't stand a historical anachronism...then call it fantasy and enjoy it that way, just as people have been enjoying he original legends for centuries without picking any scholarly nits about their accuracy. I think its tragic when some people are so straightjacketed by genre and convention that they can't recognize excellent storytelling when they see it.
    Last edited by Ward; August 14th, 2005 at 10:51 AM.

  6. #6
    Registered User UberDarkLord's Avatar
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    Perhaps I've been unfair to Cornwel here. Let me add a bit.

    First of all, I gave my opinion on Warlord as not being historical but fantasy becasue Mith here explicitly asked for something historical. It was - to me at least- slightly ironic the first rec was a series I'd definately would classify as fantasy (per reasons in my previous post).

    Second, "sucked bigtime" was a bit harsh. I got drawn into buying The winter King because, at leat overhere in Holland, it was marketed as historical fiction.[The same way that the horrible Jerry Bruckheimer raping of arthurian myth was supposed to be "the real thing"...but that's an aside]
    And when I saw historical fiction & bernard Cornwell, I expected things along the line of Sharpe - which is, as far as I can see, as historical as a fictitious stroy can be. So my expectations went wrong. Had I been searching for a fantasy book, I miht have enjoyed it. But I wasn't (if I had been looking for something fantasy might have picked up several other authors before Cornwell).
    I might add I also disliked Cornwell's Stonehenge because, like Warlord, it was supposed to be historical (at least, I understood it this way) but really it wasn't.

  7. #7
    We've all had experiences when our expectations colored our enjoyment of a book, I can understand where you are coming from.

    I approached the book not so much as a historical but as another facet of the author legend, and I was ready for Cornwell to play some games with history. But you both raise a very valid point, and if zsinj is putting the emphasis on the first rather than second part of 'historical fiction' then he should be aware of it.

    Any other recommendations out there? I'd hate to turn this purely into a Warlord discussion.

  8. #8
    Registered User Leiali's Avatar
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    I find the discussion on Bernard Cornwells Arthurian Trilogy intriguing. There is so little information about the time he writes about, but I think he did research it well enough for it to be considered Historical Fiction, may be I don't know enough about the time, when I thought I did, but it struck me as a more realistic representation of 5th century england than say the Mists of Avalon. Anyway, I personally think the best historical fiction ever is by Dorothy Dunnet and there is an excellent recounting of a battle which I have forgotten the name of, between the knights of St John and the saracens in Malta. The story is woven around true events and there are plenty of detailed descriptions of battle as well as fascinating insights in medieval warfare.

  9. #9
    Christ Is Risen! Eperitos's Avatar
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    If you want ancient history and epic battles you have to go with Steven Pressfield's Gates of Fire, its about the battle of Thermopylae. All of Pressfield's books set in ancient Greece are worth checking out.

    You can also check out Pride of Carthage by David Anthony Durham, which is about the second Punic War.

    I also want to recommend Robert Graves' I, Claudius and Claudius the God. Niether of them have much in the way of epic battles, but they are great Historical Fiction

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    I highly recommend Mary Renault's Alexandriad novels: Fire From Heaven, The Persian Boy and Funeral Games. They're about Alexander the Great, and chronicle the entire span of his life, and in the case of Funeral Games, several decades after his death. You will find mostly battles in Fire from Heaven and Funeral Games, and the historical detail will take your breath away. Wonderful books.

  11. #11
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    Historical epic

    Sorry to blow my own trumpet
    But my trilogy "Watchers" retells the 1745 Jacobite rebellion with the highlanders as an army of vamps attacking defenders of Hadrians Wall... heavily influenced by Howard, ZULU, Last of the Mohicans, Highlander, Captain Kronos: Vampire Hunter and anything by David Gemmell.... folks seem to like it.

    Willie
    http://www.willie.meikle.btinternet.co.uk

  12. #12
    Lord of the Wild Hunt Mithfânion's Avatar
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    Sunne in Splendour-Penman
    Shogun-Clavell
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    Brothers Gwynedd Quartet-Pargeter
    Bruce trilogy-Tranter
    Eagle in the Snow-Breem
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  13. #13
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    "Gates of Fire" by Steven Pressfield about the battle of Thermopylae is an awesome read, just behind that "The Ten Thousand" by Michael Curtis Ford and "Eagle in the Snow" by Wallace Breem. Conn Iggulden is in the middle of a series detailing the life of Julius Caesar, I've got the first two but haven't read them yet, but I'm assuming there's the odd battle or two within its pages!!

  14. #14
    Anitaverse Refugee FicusFan's Avatar
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    There is a new book out here in HC, called Men of Bronze by Scott Oden. It is about the Persian Empire's invasion of Egypt in 526 BC. I haven't read it yet, but several people in my discussion group have and they enjoyed it, though they say pretty much everyone dies at the end. Given the title of the thread, it seems to be a plus.

  15. #15
    Gentleman and Scholar Wulfa_Jones's Avatar
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    A few of decent writers... Ross Leckie, Micheal Curtis Ford and Valerio Massimo Manfredi.

    I've read Mandredi's Alexander trilogy which was pretty good but I hear The Last Legion and Spartan are much better.

    I've only read Ross Leckie's account of Hannibal and while it is quite a short book there are some well described battles scenes. The rest of his books that I know off are all based around the same time I think...

    With Micheal Curtis Ford I've again only read one of this books - The Ten Thousand. This was alright but not great.

    The thing I find with this type of historical fiction is that the battle scenes focus more of the overall tactics rather than individual acts.


    I hear Steve Pressfield is quite good as well but I've never read anything by him.

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