I'm a huge fan of the Matthew Shardlake mysteries, and in this third installment we're taken on progress to York, where Matthew must contend not only with the chaos of a royal progress but also the protection of a dangerous political prisoner. There are no anachronisms here: Shardlake's world is claustrophobic, treacherous and at times terribly cruel -- a Tudor England rarely depicted in fiction. Available in hardcover.
2) Patrick McGrath, MARTHA PEAKE
This haunting, gothic tale set during the American Revolution kept me up well into the night. Through the story of a young man facing an eerie legacy, we learn of the legendary Martha Peake, her eccentric, tormented father, and unexpected journey to the American colonies, where she finds herself immersed in the struggle for independence, both outwardly and in her spirit. Available in trade edition.
3) Judith Merkle Riley, THE WATER DEVILThe conclusion to her bestselling Margaret of Ashbury trilogy was first released in Germany, and it took more than fifteen years to be finally published here - but it was well worth the wait. With her trademark wit and sparkling prose, Ms Merkle Riley launches the resourceful Margaret and her family on a tumultuous, dysfunctional visit to her husband's familial manor, where supernatural events collide into human foibles, often with darkly humorous, spine-chilling results. Available in trade edition.
4) Michelle Lovric, THE FLOATING BOOK
The story of the first printer to set up shop in Venice is only one velvet layer in this evocative novel set in Venice in the 16th century; through the story of a vengeful woman, a poetic printer and the girl who loves him, Ms Lovric combines breathtaking lyricism with an ambitious storyline filled with delicate word gems. Available in hardcover and trade editions.
5 - 8) Pauline Gedge, THE LORD OF THE TWO LANDS Trilogy
THE HIPPOTAMUS MARSH, THE OASIS, and THE HORUS ROAD are three novels that comprise Ms Gedge's epic reconstruction of the Egyptian princes' revolt against the invading Hyskos, which led to the founding of the 18th Dynasty, arguably the most famous of ancient Egypt. This is taut, compelling storytelling; while more military in theme than her other books, Gedge's uncanny ability to immersh you in the fascinating details of a vanished world without resorting to anachronisim is a wonder in of itself. The trilogy is best read in order. Available in hardcover and trade editions.
7) Margaret Ball, DUCHESS OF AQUITAINE
Eleanor of Aquitaine is the Plantagenet poster girl and I'm not often drawn to books about her simply because I've read so many. Ms Ball's novel lanquished for years after it sold before her publisher decided to release it; who knows why it sat for so long, because Ball's take on a young, impetuous Eleanor who's a little pagan in her outlook on life is unexpectedly original. Combine it with a facility for description, and you've got a book worth reading, even if you think you know everything about this charismatic queen. Available in hardcover and trade editions.
8) Patricia Finney, GLORIANA'S TORCH
The conclusion to her trilogy featuring the tormented spymaster Becket and his posse of friends is as compulsively readable, and graphically accurate, as the previous two books. Here, Becket finds himself tracking a munitions plot that may lead to a Spanish attack on England, even as his friend Simon is captured as a spy by the Inquisition and chained to one of the Invincible Armada's galleys. The depiction of the Spanish point of view is rare, and the events surprise, even if the Armada's attack on England is an oft-told tale. Available in hardcover and trade editions.
9 - 12) Alice Borchardt, WOLF Trilogy
Alice Borchardt's death in 2007 was a loss to the historical / fantasy realm. I've had THE SILVER WOLF, NIGHT OF THE WOLF and THE WOLF KING in hardcover for years, but they got buried under subsequent purchases. When I finally unearthed them, I found Ms Borchardt's writing is lush and surprisingly unsentimental, and her tale of shapeshifters in Rome and France during the Dark Ages thrilled me without sacrificing historical detail. For me, these books strike that elusive balance between historical fiction, romance, and the supernatural. The trilogy is best read in order. Available in mass market paperback.