Monday, November 22, 2010

More Dragons and Sphinxes in the Mix

I am a sucker for historical fiction, and not just for those set in ancient Rome, as you might think from this blog. Ok, ancient Rome comes first, but I read just about any age, and watch the occasional Hollywood blockbuster when it comes out.

My expectations when it comes to movies are relatively low: I want beautiful actors, armies, uniforms, horses, if appropriate, and I'm always grateful when they don't make the actors speak some obscure dialects (we all know ancients and aliens don't speak English. It doesn't add authenticity, it just makes it totally boring.)

With books, though, there's a different story. If a book is marketed as “serious” historical fiction, I expect it to be accurate in the tiny details, and coherent in the big picture. If a very small inaccurate detail sneaks in – let's say, Vespasian throws a dinner party and the main dish consists of peacocks, flamingos and turkeys – I'm going to rant about it for days.

Now, of course I understand what fiction is, I'm not stupid, on my good days. It makes perfect sense what Thornton Wilder did with Clodia in The Ides of March, he needed a strong female character, and, since there was none, Clodia was just as good as anybody else. What I don't understand is the type of historical fiction written by Conn Iggulden, for instance, where events are mixed up in all possible ways just to produce some flat cartoonish characters. I read one of his Emperor series a while ago, drove me nuts, I picked up another yesterday and... never thought I'd say this, but I'm not going to finish it. I'd rather read... hm... I need something nice to read after this.

What happened to all the good historical fantasy books? There was a trend a while ago, with some decent reads – most of them based on Celtic legends, but Rome was also starting to emerge as a cool place for wizards and witches – but it seems it went out of style before it took off.

Here's the deal: I want to read a nice, relaxing book, with dragons and sphinxes and legionaries in it. And a baby phoenix. Yeah, that should be cute. A baby phoenix that is kidnapped by a ruthless merchant, who wants to sell it to the game organizers in Rome. But his ship is attacked by a mob of sirens and tritons (yes, the trip has to be by ship, phoenixes only live in Egypt, duh), and the baby phoenix manages to escape from the shipwreck, but needs to find a way to return home. Oh, and we need a wizard now. I'm guessing... Publius (or Gaius) Cornelius, a mix between Tacitus and Harry Potter. There, now that's a plot line which makes the historical truth irrelevant. Why doesn't anybody write any good stuff anymore?