A Good Summer Read, by Milica of Varna

"Everywhere I have sought rest and not found it, except sitting in a corner by myself with a little book."

Thomas a Kempis (1380-1471) German monk, mystic

For many, summer is the time to catch up on all the reading they have been unable to fit into their busy schedules the rest of the year. In the SCA, it is often a time to do research on a favorite country, craft or time period. Boring? Not necessarily. Doing historical research can be a very pleasant task indeed when disguised as a "beach read." Many writers of historical fiction do extensive research of their own before they write their books and include a real taste of a time period in their writing. Documentation? Probably not, but it is certainly an enjoyable way to get a feel for history.

Library and bookstore shelves are full of books whose subject matter falls within the SCA's period of study and recreation. There are detective stories, retelling of ancient tales and legends, and in-depth studies of historical figures, all of which teach history through the eyes of fictional characters. For instance, English writer Mary Stewart's famous Merlin series, The Crystal Cave, The Hollow Hills, The Last Enchantment, and The Wicked Day gives new life to the Arthurian legend, as does Stephen R. Lawhead's Pendragon saga. Fun reading for a hot summer day, and for many, a palatable first taste of the power of legend. Below is a brief listing of books for the Scadian reader.

MEDIEVAL DETECTIVES:

Umberto Eco.

In The Name of the Rose, the Franciscan monk, Brother William of Baskerville uses his scholarly knowledge to solve a murder

Elizabeth Eyre. Set in Renaissance Italy, this set of books, including Bravo for the Bride, Poison for the Prince and Axe for the Abbot, features Sigismundo.

Margaret Frazer. Medieval England is again the setting for this mystery series in which a nun, Sister Frevisse, solves crimes. The Novice's Tale, The Outlaw's Tale, The Servant's Tale and The Bishop's Tale.

Sharan Newman. A young nun and student in Abelard's 12th century France is the heroine of these books. The Devil's Door, Death Comes as Epiphany and The Wandering Arm.

Ellis Peters. Probably the most famous of the Medieval detectives is Brother Cadfael, a 12th century Welsh monk and former soldier in such books as The Rose Rent, The Monk's Hood, The Leper of St. Giles, The Hermit of Eyton Forest and The Holy Thief.

VIKINGS:

Frans Gunnar Bengtsson.

Long Ships is an authentic look at Viking life.

Michael Crichton. Eaters of the Dead is a slightly off-center retelling of the Beowulf saga.

Harry Harrison. This series of books follows a Viking hero. Includes The Hammer and the Cross, One King's Way and King and Emperor.

SCOTLAND:

Jane Parker.

Scottish Chiefs uses as its main character William Wallace of 14th century Scotland.

Hunter Steele. Chasing the Gilded Shadow is set in 15th century Scotland.

Randall Wallace. Braveheart is taken from the movie of the same name and is again the story of William Wallace.

ITALY:

Genevieve Davis.

15th century Italy is the setting for Passion in the Blood.

R. M. Lamming. Notebook of Gismundo Cavaletti is a story of Renaissance Italy.

Judith Lennox. The Italian Garden blends Renaissance Italy with herbalism.

Alexandra Ripley. Time Returns is a tale of the de Medicis in 15th century Italy from the author of Scarlett.

JAPAN:

Nobuko Albery.

House of Kanze is set in medieval Japan.

Lensey Namioka. Valley of the Broken Cherry Trees is a story of 16th century Japan and the Samurai.

Laura Rowland. Shinju is again set in medieval Japan.

BYZANTIUM:

Michael P. Arnold.

Against the Fall of Night is a story of the 12th century Byzantine Empire.

Gillian Bradshaw. Bearkeeper's Daughter and Imperial Purple are classic tales of Byzantium.

Michael Ennis. Byzantium tells the story of the Varangian Guard.

GERMANY:

Barbara Lachman.

Journal of Hildegard of Bingen is a fictional account of the 12th century spiritual leader and nun.

Charles Ludwig. Queen of the Reformation tells the story of Martin Luther and 15th century Germany through the eyes of his family.

Chelsea Quinn Yarbro. Better in the Dark takes the ancient vampire, Saint-Germaine to 10th century Germany.

IRELAND:

Morgan Llywelyn.

This author has written numerous books on Irish legend and historical figures including Last Prince of Ireland, Strongbow, Lion of Ireland and Finn Mac Cool.

OTHER AUTHORS:

Cecilia Holland. This author has written on just about every SCA time period from 8th century Byzantium (Belt of Gold) to 16th century Holland (The Sea Beggars) to the Knights Templar and the 12th century crusades in Jerusalem.

Jean Plaidy. Most readers are familiar with this prolific author's works. She has written series of books on England's queens, the de Medicis of Renaissance Italy and Eleanor of Aquitaine.

This list only touches the tip of the iceberg when it comes to historical fiction. It there is a time when something interesting happened, an author has written a novel about it. A quick check with a local librarian or bookstore can offer dozens of ideas for a good summer read. See you in the shade at Pennsic!