Where does a reader go after Edith Pargeter's Heaven Tree Trilogy?
August 17, 2014 12:32 PM   Subscribe

I'm looking to buy a book/books as a gift for my grandmother, who was recently in an accident and faces a long recovery. She is a voracious reader, but has specific tastes. Last Christmas I sent her Edith Pargeter's Heaven Tree Trilogy; she's told me multiple times since, in no uncertain terms, that these books were among the best she'd ever read and that she immediately re-read the trilogy upon finishing it. The trouble is, the rest of Pargeter's corpus - including her pseudonymous works, as far as I can tell - don't fit my grandmother's preferences nearly as well as the Heaven Tree books, so I am not sure what to send her.

Though I love historical fiction, this area is pretty far from my personal wheelhouse, so I'm hoping MeFites can help me determine what book or books may spark her interest in the same way. Grandma's preferences are, as near as I can tell, thus: she loves details about the non-ruling classes (low/middle etc - no real interest in royalty or elites) in 12th-13th century England. I would presume this can extend to Scotland/Ireland/Wales etc, and potentially to the 11th and 14th centuries. She is quite learned about the period, as she loves reading non-fiction and taking online courses on things relating to this topic. She's also whip-smart and we are a very literary family, so the quality of the writing is key. Please know romance for romance's sake is way off the table - romance in the context of a good story is obviously fine, but she's really not the type to pick up a bodice-ripper; she is, however, a big fan of mysteries - she says she loves trying to crack the case before the end (with this in mind, I am going to send her an Ellis Peters novel, but she may have already picked these up on her own since she knows EP=EP, so I'm not sure if I'd be sending her something she's read - but if anyone has recommendations for any *specific* Ellis Peters' novels, that would be appreciated!). Finally, my guess is that she'd prefer stories that center on the ruling classes from 12th-13th c. England versus, say, a story about lower classes from 14th c. Sweden or 18th century Scotland (that is, it would be best to stay in her favorite time and place rather than stretch to a different culture or vastly different time) than not, but I can't say this for sure.

Is there anything that fits these general parameters that you'd recommend? Knowing her, her mind is sharp as a sharpened tack and she's mad as hell about being bedridden, so I would dearly love to send her a book, and I wager a really great book would help her recovery greatly; her body has aged but she's very cerebral, and books are, in both of our views, a fantastic panacea. I'd appreciate any and all help, MeFi!
posted by AthenaPolias to Media & Arts (21 answers total) 16 users marked this as a favorite
This may be a little too far afield, but Connie Willis' Doomsday Book is set primarily in 14th century England, but with parts in future 21st century England (it's a time travel thing). I recommend it because the minutia of daily life in 14th century England is the primary focus of the book. It's also exceptionally well-written and quite long.
posted by hydropsyche at 12:47 PM on August 17, 2014 [4 favorites]

Best answer: Has she read Pillars of the Earth and World Without End? It's her period, tons and tons of historical detail, and a wide array of characters from all social classes.
posted by Erasmouse at 12:59 PM on August 17, 2014 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Well, this seems obvious, and given your description of your grandmother, I'd be surprised if she hasn't already read Daughter of Time. Coverage of Richard III butts right up against the end of your time period. The fictional parallels between your grandmother and protagonist Alan Grant seem very close. Also, voted best mystery novel of all time in 1990 by the Crime Writers Association. Here is a description from Amazon:

Inspector Alan Grant of Scotland Yard, recuperating from a broken leg, becomes fascinated with a contemporary portrait of Richard III that bears no resemblance to the Wicked Uncle of history. Could such a sensitive, noble face actually belong to one of the world’s most heinous villains—a venomous hunchback who may have killed his brother’s children to make his crown secure? Or could Richard have been the victim, turned into a monster by the usurpers of England’s throne? Grant determines to find out once and for all, with the help of the British Museum and an American scholar, what kind of man Richard Plantagenet really was and who killed the Little Princes in the Tower.
posted by seasparrow at 1:12 PM on August 17, 2014 [2 favorites]

Best answer: The Name of the Rose is set in Italy but the main character is English and there's a lot of detail on daily life, contrasting the two in particular. It's 12th century ish.

The Instance of the Fingerpost is set too late, I think it's 15th or 16th century but its a great book. Beautifully written and a real page turner. Lots of detail of lower and midddle class life.
posted by fshgrl at 1:14 PM on August 17, 2014 [1 favorite]

While I was looking up Iain Pears, Amazon suggested a book called Down the Common by Ann Baer that sounds perfect. I've never read it but it's a novel set around a farm wife.
posted by fshgrl at 1:23 PM on August 17, 2014

I would send her the first Brother Cadfael mystery.
posted by gudrun at 1:34 PM on August 17, 2014

Best answer: She might enjoy Kristin Lavransdatter even though it is set in 14th c. Norway.
posted by belladonna at 2:08 PM on August 17, 2014 [3 favorites]

She might like the Mistress of the Art of Death series... Historic England, mystery, strong female lead, contextual and minimal romance. My very picky English-teacher grandfather loved them. After To Kill A Mockingbird, it was his favourite.

Do note that the first book explores a series of murdered children and gets pretty dark... My grandmother couldn't handle it (she couldn't handle Harry Potter though either) so there's a bit of YMMV. If she's sensitive to the topic, she may want to pass or skip to the second book.

I also love the Mary Russell books by Laurie King, also set in England but during the interwar period (19teens and '20's). If nothing else, there's a fair few of them and they are very well researched and written!
posted by jrobin276 at 2:16 PM on August 17, 2014 [1 favorite]

A bit later than 12-13C, but what about Wolf Hall and its sequel Bring Up the Bodies? Though centered on the royal court, they're socially pretty panoramic, and incredibly well written.
posted by hoist with his own pet aardvark at 2:44 PM on August 17, 2014 [2 favorites]

Seconding Ellis Peters' Brother Cadfael series. Big bonus, there are like 20 of them.
posted by BoscosMom at 3:00 PM on August 17, 2014 [2 favorites]

She might also like (as well as the other fine suggestions above) Suzanna Gregory's Matthew Bartholomew stories and, Lindsey Davis's Roman mysteries.
posted by thylacinthine at 4:39 PM on August 17, 2014 [1 favorite]

Seconding Kristin Lavransdatter (wrong nation, but fascinating novels).

Sylvia Townsend Warner's The Corner That Held Them, a faux medieval chronicle about the goings-on at a convent.

Hella S. Haasse's In a Dark Wood Wandering (14th-15th centuries).
posted by thomas j wise at 4:57 PM on August 17, 2014

Oh, and I'm not a huge fan of Peter Tremayne, but his Sister Fidelma mysteries (set in 7th c. Ireland) might also work.
posted by thomas j wise at 4:59 PM on August 17, 2014 [1 favorite]

She might enjoy the works of Pamela Belle, which are set around the English Civil War.
posted by bq at 5:04 PM on August 17, 2014

Just seconding Ken Follett's historical stuff. I've only read World Without End so far, but it sounds precisely right--compelling plot including mystery, historical detail woven throughout, very well-written, and epically long, to boot.

Doomsday Book is a blast (if you like plague stories, which I'm guessing your grandmother must).

Possibly some of Phillipa Gregory's books would work. Most of her work is about royalty (The Other Boleyn Sister, for instance), but Earthly Joys is the story of a gardener who works for various nobility. It's set in 17th-century England but has many of the other requirements--much of the focus is on the discrepancy between the lives of nobles and commoners, and how the commoners think about that.
posted by hippugeek at 6:17 PM on August 17, 2014

Best answer: Edith Pargeter is Ellis Peters: we can assume that the OP's grandmother has read them, or has ruled them out.

Looks like she wants highly literary and well-researched historical fiction, although the Heaven Tree trilogy is also heartbreaking in a way that many historical novels aren't.

Dorothy Dunnett's King Hereafter, which is a retelling of the story of MacBeth. It's 10th-C Scotland, rather than 12th, but it's brilliant. (I would recommend Dunnett anyway: she is brilliant, and she will break your heart, but most of her work is 15th/16th Century rather than earlier.)

Nicola Griffith's Hild, the story of St. Hilda of Whitby. SO GOOD. But 8th Century. But so good. And while Hild is in the king's household, there's a lot of focus on daily life among the common people, and the importance of women's work in keeping the economy going. Really, I can't recommend it highly enough.

I've heard really good things about Margerite Youcenar, although I couldn't recommend any one novel in particular.
posted by suelac at 7:03 PM on August 17, 2014 [1 favorite]

This morning someone recommend Norah Lofts to me, and this book looks like it fits all your criteria: The Town House.
posted by bq at 1:07 PM on August 18, 2014

Response by poster: Thanks so very much, everyone! These are wonderful suggestions, and I've assembled a great list. I just sent off a package with Pillars of the Earth, Name of the Rose, and two of Ellis Peters' Brother Cadfael mysteries (I just hope she hasn't read them). I'll send her your other suggestions, if she can use that for library borrowing or Amazon ordering, and if not I'll try to keep her supplied as she recuperates. I'm very grateful for all of the help, and I'm sure she would be as well!
posted by AthenaPolias at 1:36 PM on August 18, 2014

A late chiming in, here.

A Vision of Light and In Pursuit of the Green Lion, both by Judith Merkle Riley. The author is a particular favorite of mine, and manages to create heroines that are very sympathetic to 20th-century me without them being 20th century Strong Women Characters plopped down in a historical past. The books have a wonderful voice, the setting is exactly what you're asking for, and I particularly love how spiritual stuff is handled - there's mysticism, religion, alchemy, and Margaret is very much a pragmatic woman but also one who talks to God regularly in a very delightful way.

There is a third book, but I haven't read it yet. For a while it was very hard to find but I think it may be more available now.
posted by PussKillian at 2:46 PM on August 18, 2014

If she likes mystery novels, crimethrutime.com will let you explore mysteries written in whatever era you prefer.
posted by mearls at 8:06 PM on August 18, 2014

Vivid and action filled history from the 19th and early 20th century, would provide a glimpse of archaic ways of thinking and behaving. Most of these are centered around men and warfare.

Maurice Druon's Les Rois maudits series ... inspiration for GRRM's Game of Thrones
Stanley John Weyman
H. Bedford-Jones
Rafael Sabatini
Robert E. Howard Lord of Samarcand
Harold Lamb "Swords From the..."
A.E.W. Mason The Four Feathers
Talbot Mundy
Baroness Emma Orczy
Eiji Yoshikawa
Mika Waltari-- Mikael Karvajalka
Leo Perutz The Marquis of Bolibar
Mór Jókai
George Shipway The Paladin

Writers of the 20th and 21st centuries-- including women writers

George MacDonald Fraser: The Flashman Series
Gary Jennings
Wilbur Smith
Dorothy Dunnett-- Francis of Lymond Series and then Nicolas series
Rosemary Hawley Jarman We Speak No Treason; The King's Grey Mare
Anya Seton Katherine
Norah Lofts Bless This House, Pargeters
Rumer Godden China Court
M M Kaye Shadow of the Moon, Far Pavilions
Sharon Kay Penman
Patricia Veryan

Amanda Foreman, Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire
Stella Tillyard, Aristocrats: Caroline, Emily, Louisa, and Sarah Lennox, 1740-1832
Nancy Mitford Madame de Pompadour
Laure Permon Junot At the Court of Napoleon: Memoirs of the Duchesse d'Abrantes

Over 5000 Historical Novels Listed by Time and Place

posted by ohshenandoah at 10:47 PM on August 20, 2014

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