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Good Historical Fiction

A Passion for reading and learning about the past: Priestess of Pompeii by Sandra Hurt and a few further observations

Since I was in grade school, I’ve loved historical novels. I was initiated into the fascination by chance at the Broadway Branch Library at 42nd and College Avenue, still there now in a new and modern form some many decades later. It was an old house at the time, and I would ride my bike as a sixth-grader the mile and a half to browse the shelves. Tiring of Doctor Dolittle and Mary Poppins, I came across a section of novels in the adult section about English history by an author called Nora Lofts. The House at Old Vine romantically reconstructed life in the late Medieval period, about which I knew nothing, with a heroine seeking meaning in her amazingly Spartan life, which had few necessities let alone the simple comforts I had. Her feelings for her difficult husband, her love of her children and her hopes for their future in a time of warring aristocrats, touched me. I read every book she ever wrote, I think, in the next few years and eagerly waited for a new one.

And so I have picked up on everything Ken Follett and other lions of the genre of historical fiction have offered. And—written five historical novels myself, The Movers, Lords of the Rivers, The Dream Divided, All the Bright Sons of Morning and Charmed Circle. These are about Indiana history, which has its own bright, emotionally charged, and inspirational moments.

We at Hawthorne represent a new historical novel set in Caesar’s Pompeii—Priestess of Pompeii: The Initiate’s Journey. It’s an imagined life of a real woman who had a villa in Pompeii, one which has been named the Mystery Villa, which has been excavated.

The sequel is underway for author Sandra Hurt, who researched the book for some thirty years, visiting classical sites, the British Museum and sacred caves , consulting scholars around Europe and America.

As the author and I have spoken about writing styles appropriate in this day and age for historical novels, I am put in mind the characteristics which drew me irresistibly to Nora Lofts, recognized as a master of the craft now. Those of us who read this are not really expecting contemporary novel conventions. Though we may read these, most of us aren’t wanting to explore a different era through multiple points of view and narrators, stream of consciousness, quick jumps in time, mysterious and shadowy characters we don’t understand, passages in another language with minimal translations or gobs of intense description of minute parts of nature down to the last drop of dew.

Instead, we value direct narrative with lots of good scenic background, some explanation of the times (which is frowned on in the modern novels, being viewed as “information dumping,” ), simple but progressive and excellent delineation of characters and subtle insights into what the lessons of historical times are. This is what I found all those years ago in the series of novels by Nora Lofts and what many of us who love historical fiction still seek today in these books.

Nancy Baxter’s novels set in Indiana 1803-1900 may be obtained on Amazon. Sandy Hurt’s Priestess of Pompeii can be bought by clicking back to the website.