Two new historical novels by Seattle-area authors
Two Seattle-area novelists publish books that combine historical research with compelling plots — Emma Campion’s “A Triple Knot” and Megan Chance’s “Inamorata.” Chance reads Tuesday, Aug. 12, at Third Place Books in Lake Forest Park.
Special to The Seattle Times
The author of “Inamorata” will appear at 7 p.m. Tuesday, Aug. 12, at Third Place Books in Lake Forest Park; free (206-366-3333 or thirdplacebooks.com).
‘A Triple Knot’
by Emma Campion
Broadway Books, 480 pp., $16
by Megan Chance
Lake Union Publishing, 425 pp., $14.95
Two Seattle-area historical novelists offer readers intriguing glimpses of earlier centuries, in books that are very different from each other — but just right for a great summer read.
Emma Campion is the pen name of the busy Candace Robb (Seattle-based author of two medieval-sleuth series, the Margaret Kerr Mysteries and the Owen Archer Mysteries). Her thorough grounding in medieval history is apparent in Campion’s richly detailed 14th-century saga of Joan, the Fair Maid of Kent — a noble Plantagenet beauty who married three successive men (and ultimately became the queen of Edward, the Black Prince), but chose to be buried next to the first husband.
This curious detail sparked Campion’s interest, leading to extensive research that is apparent in every aspect of this story. Suspenseful, romantic, but surprisingly gritty, “The Triple Knot” shows how even the most resourceful and strong-minded noblewoman could not avoid being used as a political pawn in the hands of scheming men, in an era when assassinations (including of Joan’s own father, the half-brother of King Edward II) were common and women were usually powerless.
Initially, it takes some work for the reader to keep straight the various relationships and names (there seem to be a lot of Edwards/Edmunds and Margarets), but it doesn’t take long to be drawn into this enthralling story of turmoil and conflict in the early stages of the Hundred Years’ War. We follow Joan to the Low Countries, as the English try to win alliances there in the early stages of the war against France, and back over the Channel again as she survives a shipboard attack. She exchanges legally binding vows of marriage with the English knight, Thomas, but the couple are torn apart by politics and war.
This is not prettified history; the landscapes and dwellings are ravaged by battles, and the people by wartime privations and epidemics of the Plague. But it’s Campion’s depictions of the people — complex, tricky, faithless and loyal — that leap right off these pages and stick in your memory.
Olympic Peninsula author Megan Chance’s “Inamorata,” set in 19th-century Venice, couldn’t be farther removed from the muddy Washington State oyster beds of her last novel (“Bone River”). Chance’s Venice is glittering, mysterious, sophisticated — full of artists and musicians and dangerous amoral undercurrents. Most dangerous of all is the beautiful and seductive Odilé León, a muse who attracts young men the way a magnet attracts iron filings, and inspires them to create great paintings, literary works and music. But Odilé also inspires them toward despair and even suicide, as her ex-lover Nicholas Dane has discovered.
When the American twin siblings Joseph (a gifted painter) and Sophie Hannigan arrive in Venice, eager to find a wealthy patron and take a place in artistic circles, Dane watches in dismay as they are drawn into Odilé’s orbit. The Hannigans have dark secrets of their own: as young orphans they were abused by a creepy governess, and their mutual bond is perhaps a little too close.
Little by little, we discover the underside of this glittering Venetian milieu, as Dane is drawn to Sophie and Joseph to the dangerous Odilé. The ending, with its descent into the supernatural, is particularly unsettling. Will Joseph make a Faustian bargain with Odilé; will Nicholas succeed in destroying her instead? Fans of vampire fiction will especially enjoy the dramatic denouement.
Melinda Bargreen is the former classical music critic for The Seattle Times. She’s a freelance contributor to the Times and reviews concerts for 98.1 Classical KING FM (www.king.org).