Posts filed under ‘Historical Fiction’

‘The Muse’ by Jessie Burton

Jessie Burton’s back, people!

Some of Literary Transgression’s more loyal readers may recall my, ahem, lukewarm reaction to her, shall we say, disappointing The Miniaturist back in 2014. There was a lot of hype surrounding that book and, in the end, a lot of misplaced expectations. After reading it, I was actively irritated and very nearly swore never to read Jessie Burton again.

Despite that fiasco, however, I decided to give her a second try when this beautiful piece of Library Loot came my way. (more…)


March 6, 2017 at 4:18 pm 3 comments

‘Rustication’ by Charles Palliser

rusticationIf you like unreliable teenage narrators, then strap yourselves in for the bumpy ride that is Charles Palliser’s ode to the Victorian sensationalist novel, Rustication.

The book tells the story of Richard Shenstone — our 17-year-old, opium-addicted, wildly selfish narrator — who arrives home from Cambridge having been “sent down,” or rusticated, under mysterious circumstances and forbidden by the college from returning. After his father’s death (of which Richard was not informed until much later), Richard’s mother and sister, Effie, now live in abject poverty in a falling-down old family house at the edge of a moor. Richard can’t understand why any of this is the case, much like his mother and sister can’t understand what he’s even doing there. Shouldn’t he be at school making the family proud?

Meanwhile, a mysterious madman starts to terrorize the neighborhood by disemboweling pregnant animals, writing crude letters to ladies in the area, and threatening the local earl’s son with violent death. With his stunning obliviousness and propensity to wander around at night after taking too much opium, Richard is maneuvered into being the prime suspect — but by whom?

In his own utterly daffy way, Richard eventually puts the pieces together, but not before you want to wring his foolish little neck and possibly throttle his wishy-washy mother, a source of much misunderstanding. (more…)

October 5, 2016 at 6:31 am Leave a comment

‘Shadows on the Nile’ by Kate Furnivall

I could write a book unto itself about dodgy books I’ve read merely because of a passing relation to Egypt of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. On this list, I would include:

And now, with great fanfare, let us add Kate Furnivall’s Shadows on the Nile to their esteemed company!

Basically, the book tells the story of our Fearless Heroine (Jessie) as she tries to track down her missing Egyptologist brother. Of course, this almost immediately throws her in the path of “dashing and impoverished aristocrat, Sir Montague Chamford,” who inexplicably joins her on her quest all the way to the bloody deserts outside of Luxor.

Oh, and she has a secret autistic brother who has been locked away and forgotten in some asylum by her almost impossibly cruel parents. Oh, and she’s an artist who lives with a lady saxophonist. Oh, and fascism’s on the rise. Also, there’s social unrest at home and abroad. And workers are rioting and subsequently being brutally attacked by police. And, just for some good old-fashioned character development, she has a cat. (Because, obviously, a cat = character development.) Also, she has inexplicably picked up expert-level Egyptological expertise from her brother, evidently through some kind of osmosis.

Needless to say, this book is trying to be a great many things and, I regret to say, fails on most fronts. (more…)

June 13, 2016 at 6:19 am 2 comments

‘The Luminaries’ by Eleanor Catton

This post is part of our on-going 2016 Spring Reading Spree. Kick off your own reading spree this spring by giving some love to the unread books on your shelf!


As Kate has previously noted in her post on Dumas’ The Count of Monte Cristo, it is incredibly hard to write about big, excellent books. Where do you start when you love something so lengthy and for so many reasons? What do you do when you finish an epic book and want to talk about everything and everyone in the book?

Like The Count, Eleanor Catton’s The Luminaries is a hefty tale, largely fueled by revenge and other sorts of nefariousness, that takes its time unraveling its plot and the relationships between its characters. Additionally, The Luminaries is akin to the Victorian mystery novel, but instead of having a Father Brown or a Sherlock Holmes or a Miss Marple to do the mystery-solving, the responsibility of figuring out what actually happened is divided amongst thirteen people. They all want to solve the mystery and they each have a specific piece of information that might do the trick, but they are often hampered by their own blind-spots and prejudices.

But more than the triple mystery at its heart, The Luminaries is an insightful exploration of character and New Zealand’s own history. (more…)

May 18, 2016 at 6:09 am 1 comment

‘Still Life with Murder’ by P.B. Ryan

114029Rarely have I been as captivated by a mystery as I was by P.B. Ryan’s Still Life with Murder, the first in her Nell Sweeney series. Combining a few tropes familiar to readers of historical fiction with a willful, wonderfully flawed heroine and gorgeous trappings — as well as a tightly-knit plot — this novel is one of the best mysteries I’ve read in quite some time.

The premise is simple: Nell Sweeney, a physician’s assistant, is hired as a governess-cum-nursemaid for the infant Gracie, the daughter of a chambermaid in a Boston Brahmin household. In a move that surprises and shocks Boston society, the matriarch of the family adopts the little girl as her own. The woman has lost two of her four sons to the Civil War, and tells all who will listen that she’s always wanted a daughter, so why pass up this one?

Nell, however, infers that it’s not the whole story. Raised in the Irish-Catholic Boston slums, she knows that when a chambermaid hasn’t seen her husband in a year and a half, the baby she just gave birth to definitely isn’t his. And since the baby was so readily accepted by this high-brow family, Nell knows the baby must be one of the sons’, somehow.

Turns out, she’s right — but that’s not all. The son in question, William Hewitt, was thought to have died during the War, but he is actually alive, addicted to opium and charged with murdering a man in a boarding house known for card games and prostitutes. Amazing. On behalf of her employer, Nell is sent to determine Will’s innocence and somehow keep him from being hanged. (more…)

April 19, 2016 at 12:48 am Leave a comment

‘Kushiel’s Chosen’ by Jacqueline Carey

Kushiel's_ChosenWe can all agree that I am a big fat nerd for reading Kushiel’s Chosen. This series is practically a byword for geekdom — a fantasy series that incorporates angels, alterna-medieval politics, espionage and S&M. There are pirates, courtesans, dashing warrior-priests who have sworn (and forsworn) vows of chastity, women with startling beauty and unique eyes, and plots to overthrow a kingdom’s rightful rulers.

In short, it’s pretty much as amazing as it sounds.

There’s a lot going on in Kushiel’s Chosen, but I’d just come off a spate of YA fiction, and the main theme that stuck with me was the relationship between Phedre and Joscelin. Spoiler — at the end of Kushiel’s Dart, these two crazy kids finally admit they’re in love and they bop off to Phedre’s newly-discovered country estate, where presumably they live very happily for a period of several months and, for lack of a better term, boink like bunnies.


November 24, 2015 at 12:42 am Leave a comment

‘Sacré Bleu’ by Christopher Moore

sacrebleuIn attempting to describe Christopher Moore’s novel Sacré Bleu, the best I could come up with was a string of keywords: nineteenth-century Paris; imaginative fiction; art history; fanboy; murder mystery; blue (color). Lots of blue.

In the most basic sense, Sacré Bleu is about a couple of guys ineptly investigating their good friend’s suicide in the French countryside and eventually stumbling onto a fantastical conspiracy that has spurred on creativity and invention for millennia. This plot is enriched by the fact that the suicidal friend is Vincent van Gogh and one of the guys investigating is Henri Toulouse-Lautrec who, despite his artistic talents, is perhaps not the best person for the job. Something is rotten with the color blue and our heroes are going to figure out what. (more…)

November 5, 2015 at 2:31 pm Leave a comment

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