Featured Genre Friday: Historical Sagas

December 13, 2013 at 5:24 pm Leave a comment

ImageOnly Time Will Tell by Jeffrey Archer / Pub Date: Aug 2011 / 400 pgs

The first in a planned 5-book series called The Clifton Chronicles (books 2 and 3 were published in 2012 and 2013, respectively, with books 4 and 5 still to come), Only Time Will Tell follows Harry Clifton, the only son of hardscrabble, hardworking Maisie Clifton and her dearly departed husband Arthur, an English dockworker.  Or…..is he? Harry could in fact be the son of the wealthy Hugo Barrington, whose family owns the shipyard that had employed Arthur Clifton and Maisie’s brother, Stan.  And just how had Arthur Clifton died, anyway? Had Hugo played a role in his mysterious disappearance?

Overcoming the odds of his humble life, Harry wins a vocal scholarship to a prestigious boarding school, where he befriends Hugo Barrington’s son, Giles.  Harry and Giles soon become inseparable, and at Giles’ birthday party, a twelve-year-old Harry meets Emma Barrington–Giles’ younger sister– for the first time.  Harry is charmed by the Barrington family, but Giles’ father seems to take an instant dislike to young Harry.  Like it or not, the Cliftons and the Barringtons will be inextricably linked for years to come.

Archer’s epic tale has elements of a soap opera, yes, but even I–not usually a soap opera fan–thoroughly enjoyed the story and characters.  The characters were rather “stock,” but well-developed enough that I truly cared about them and was interested in what happened.  I rooted for the “good” characters while gasping at the dastardly deeds of others.  In fact, Harry’s lowly upbringing, boarding school experience, and his predestination for greater things bring to mind another Harry. (Potter, anyone?)  Fans of BBC dramas such as Downton Abbey might also particularly enjoy Archer’s sumptuous, satisfying tale.

ImageThe House of the Spirits by Isabel Allende / Pub Date: 1982 / 520 pgs

For a more literary feel, try Isabel Allende’s The House of the Spirits.   Allende published this, her first novel, in 1982, and was soon considered the heir(ess) apparent to Latin American literary great Gabriel Garcia Marquez.

Allende’s novel unfolds slowly, treating the reader to much description and setting up a sense of place.  The South American country is never named, but is understood to be Chile. (Allende herself is a cousin of ousted Chilean president Salvadore Allende.)  We start at the turn of the twentieth century in the childhood home of Clara del Valle, an ethereal, clairvoyant girl who predicts major events in her family.  Clara eventually marries Esteban Trueba, a hacienda owner originally intended for her late sister, Rosa the Beautiful.  We follow this pair, their children and eventual grandchildren, as Allende’s timeline traces important events in Chilean history, climaxing with the 1973 coup.

A big part of Allende’s style is magical realism, where magical elements exist in an otherwise realistic setting (Rosa the Beautiful’s green hair and yellow eyes, for instance, or Clara’s prophesies).  This will require a degree of suspension of disbelief.  However, readers looking for an epic literary tale spanning many years and several generations, with a political backdrop, will have much to celebrate here.

-Becky

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Entry filed under: Family sagas, Genres, History.

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