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Illustration: Castle made of books (Harriet Russell)

Rich Reads: Historical Fiction Fit For A Queen

Jun 23, 2012 (Weekend Edition Saturday)

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I have always loved a great story set in the past. Give me a high-powered historical plot, and I will keep turning those pages until my eyes cross. Kings or consuls, functionaries or janissaries, it doesn't matter, only that it pounds onward to the conclusion — volcano explosion, battle or market crash. It's literary dessert, and I devour every bite.

But if I'm really going to make a meal out of a book, to be nourished and satisfied by it, I crave something more — not just the general excitement of an ancient tale, but a specific time so perfectly evoked that I breathe the straw dust and smell the rough bread baking. I want the men and women who surround me to be complex and of their time, but never to let me forget that it might be me instead.

The books that follow have it all. Consider them a banquet: There's dessert, yes, but also a full and satisfying palate created by five masters of their craft. I savored them, and hope you will too.

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