The similarities in the setting, culture, level of technology, and the appeal of the stories themselves make a case for a broad look across Medieval and Renaissance fiction set in Europe.
These books use castles as backdrops for tales of court intrigue and a rich tapestry of historical detail.
Collecting Medieval, Tudor era, and Renaissance historical fiction together in one category factors in the appeal of the similarities in the setting, but it is historically inaccurate, and somewhat unfair to the number of books available in the genre. Honnold and Rabey each treat the time periods more separately.
Authors: Anne Rinaldi, Karen Cushman, Rosemary Sutcliff, Kevin Crossley Holland (also does Arthurian fantasy)
The Gentleman Poet: A Novel of Love, Danger, and Shakespeare’s The Tempest.
Avon 2010, 319 pages, age 13 and up
In 1609, Elizabeth Persons, a servant girl, is shipwrecked in the Caribbean, along with a handful of other would-be settlers. She makes a place for herself in their small community, with a talent for cooking the foods of their new land.( A few historical recipes are included.) Elizabeth befriends Will Strachey, a historian who is writing the account of their travel. If the title didn’t give away Will’s identity, his writing, and the Shakespeare references dotted throughout the text, would. Will even calls Elizabeth Miranda.
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt 2012, 549 pages
After escaping an abusive father and an equally abusive new husband, Ismae finds refuge at the Convent of St. Mortain, where she is trained as an assassin, carrying out the god’s justice in the service of Brittany and the realm. Handmaidens of Mortain dispense the god’s justice by killing when they see their victim’s marque, a shadow on the body. Ismae’s powers to sense death and speak to the recently dead give this a distinct spooky fantasy feel, and there are also strong elements of romance.
The Plague– Joanne Dahme (Running Press, 2009, 272 pages.) At first, Nell thinks that looking like Princess Joan, enough to serve as her double, is a stroke of luck. Nell can rise above her lowly station, and experience life in the royal court. But then the plague comes to the royal entourage, and Nell’s life and future are endangered. The Black Prince, Joan’s ominously named brother, wants Nell to pose as Joan instead, and marry the Prince of Castile to seal an allegiance between their two kingdoms. With the aid of her friends, Nell manages to escape in secret, in this historical adventure. (Readers 7th grade and up.)
A Proud Taste for Scarlet and Miniver– E.L. Konigsburg (1973, reissued by Aladdin in 2011, 208 pages) fictionalizes the life and memories of Eleanor of Aquitaine. Eleanor and others from her life, and her life with Henry, tell the story of life at court and her marriage, interspersed with scenes of Eleanor pacing heaven impatiently, waiting for Henry to arrive. The story is rich in both historical detail and character detail, making Eleanor’s voice real. A great read for middle grade readers.
The Second Mrs. Gioconda, also by E.L. Konigsburg, (Simon Pulse 2011, 160 pages) gives a name and a personality to the figure of the Mona Lisa, as Leonardo DaVinci paints her portrait. A 14-year old boy, DaVinci’s apprentice, anchors the young teen reader to the story.
From the Adult Shelf
Touchstone, 2012, 405 pages.
Joanna Stafford, a young novice nun, sneaks away from her convent because her favorite cousin is about to be burned at the stake. Joanna and her father are captured in the uproar that follows. To win her freedom and her father’s, Joanna must begin a secret search for an important religious relic. Spooky, a little bit gory, with plenty of suspense and adventure, Adult Books 4 Teens also picked this as a good bet for high school students.
Other genre possibilities: In terms of setting, imagery, even some elements of plot and character, there’s plenty of room for interplay between fantasy readers and readers drawn to this historical period. Arthurian legend has some ties to history as well as plenty of adaptations in the fantasy genre. Here’s an Arthurian list.