Welcome to my weekly segment, Waiting on Wednesday, where I look at upcoming books that I am planning to order and review in the next few months and which I think I will really enjoy. I run this segment in conjunction with the Can’t-Wait Wednesday meme that is currently running at Wishful Endings. Stay tuned to see reviews of these books when I get a copy of them. For my latest Waiting on Wednesday article, I have a look at some epic upcoming historical fiction novels that I think could be amongst some of the best releases of 2021.
I have long been a lover of the fun, intriguing and often action-packed genre that is historical fiction, especially as I cut my reviewing teeth primarily on historical fiction novels for several years. Even now that I review a wider range of novels, this still remains one of my favourite and preferred genres, and I always have an amazing time getting through a compelling historical read. Last year proved to be an exceptional year for historical fiction, including The Evening and the Morning by Ken Follett, The Emperor’s Exile by Simon Scarrow and Execution by S. J. Parris, and several historical fiction novels were easily amongst the best books I read in 2020. Now that we are into 2021, I thought I would take this opportunity to look at three historical fiction releases from some of the leading voices in the genre that are coming out soon. All three of these upcoming novels have an immense amount of potential and will probably be some of my favourite books of 2021.
The first of these books is A Comedy of Terrors, the latest entry in the incredible Flavia Alba series by one of my all-time favourite authors, Lindsey Davis. Davis is an impressive and exceptional author who has been writing historical murder mysteries for years, first with her long-running Marcus Didius Falco series and then with the sequel Flavia Albia series. Set in ancient Rome, the Flavia Albia books follows the titular protagonist as she investigates several grisly murders which are often tied to a unique element of the city or Roman history. I have had an amazing time reading all the Flavia Albia novels over the last several years and I deeply enjoy the cool mix of fantastic mysteries, intriguing historical detail, and some outrageous humour. All the previous entries in this series (including The Third Nero, Pandora’s Boy, A Capitol Death and The Grove of the Caesars) have been exceptional reads, and every new Flavia Albia novel is an amazing treat in my reading calendar.
Luckily for me, a brand-new Lindsey Davis Flavia Albia is just around the corner with the ninth entry in the series, A Comedy of Terrors, currently set for release on 1 April 2021. A Comedy of Terrors looks set to be another entertaining historical crime novel with a series of crimes taking place during a rowdy Roman festival. There is a great synopsis out for this book already, as well as two fantastic looking covers.
Saturnalia, the Romans’ mid-December feast, nominally to celebrate the sun’s rebirth but invariably a drunken riot. Flavia Albia needs a case to investigate, but all work is paused.
The Aventine is full of fracturing families. Wives plot to leave their husbands, husbands plot to spend more time with their mistresses. Masters must endure slaves taking obscene liberties, while aggressive slaves are learning to ape dangerous masters. But no one wants to hire an investigator during the holiday.
Albia is lumped with her own domestic stress: overexcited children and bilious guests, too many practical jokes, and her magistrate husband Tiberius preoccupied with local strife. He fears a Nut War. Nuts are both the snack and missile of choice of tipsy celebrants, so there is a fortune to be made. This year a hustling gang from the past is horning in on the action.
As the deadly menace strikes even close to home, and with law and order paused for partying, Albia and Tiberius must go it alone. The Emperor has promised the people a spectacular entertainment – but Domitian himself is a target for the old criminals’ new schemes. Can the Undying Sun survive the winter solstice, or will criminal darkness descend upon Rome?
This sounds like it has all the ingredients for an incredible Flavia Albia novel, and I am extremely keen to check it out. The whole concept of the protagonist attempting to solve crimes during a lawless and chaotic festival with no official law enforcement backup sounds really fun, and having a gang trying to corner the market on festival nuts should be very entertaining. I am particularly hoping that the author includes another large-scale comical scene, such as has appeared in several of her prior novels, and the whole festival seems like an ideal set up for such an event. A Comedy of Terrors may also have some intriguing connections to Flavia’s past as the criminal organisation mentioned above possibly relates to an antagonist who kidnapped Flavia as a child (during the Falco book, The Jupiter Myth) and who was hinted to have returned in Pandora’s Boy. All of this should lead to an entertaining and intense novel for the protagonist, and I look forward to seeing what sort of impressive mystery Davis comes up with this time.
The next cool upcoming historical fiction novel that I want to highlight in this article is Crusader by Ben Kane. Kane is another well-established historical fiction author who is probably best known for his impressive Roman historical fiction books, such as The Forgotten Legion trilogy, the Hannibal series, and The Eagles of Rome series. Last year, Kane turned his attention to a different period of history with his captivating and exceptional novel, Lionheart, which showcased Richard the Lionheart’s rise from rebellious prince to King of England as seen through the eyes of his loyal squire, Rufus.
Crusader will be the second entry in the Lionheart series, and it will follow the newly crowned King as he begins his iconic crusade to the Holy Lands to face off against Saladin. This second novel, which is currently set for release on 27 April 2021, will have a wide and impressive focus on vast swathes of Richard’s unique history and I look forward to seeing how it all comes together.
1189. The long-awaited goal of Richard Plantagenet, the Lionheart, comes true as he is crowned King of England. Before he can set off on crusade and retake Jerusalem from the Saracens, he must set his own kingdom in order, and deal with his half-brother Geoffrey and younger brother John, both of whom pose threats to the throne.
These matters settled, Richard’s incredible journey to Outremer, the Holy Land, begins. With him at every step is Ferdia, also known as Rufus, his loyal Irish follower. From southern France to Italy they travel, and on to the kingdom of Sicily, ruled by the scheming Tancred. Delayed on the island for military and political reasons, Richard must deal not only with its ruler but also King Philippe of France, his erstwhile ally on the crusade and long-time bitter rival. There is occasion for some levity, however; in Sicily, the king marries Berengaria, daughter of a Spanish king.
Voyage continuing, he comes into conflict with the ruler of Cyprus, the self-styled emperor Isaac. Richard’s tactical brilliance sees the island fall to the crusaders in a whirlwind campaign. At last he is poised to sail to the Holy Land. There a bitter two-year-long siege awaits his army, at Acre. Waiting for him too, is Saladin, the iconic Saracen leader responsible for the loss of Jerusalem.
Triumphant at Acre, Richard must again play politician before the crusade can continue. Philippe of France seeks to thwart him at every turn. No one can agree who should fill the empty throne of the Kingdom of Jerusalem. When at last the king is able to lead his army south, Saladin’s huge army shadows its every move. In the height of summer, the conditions are brutal, the temperatures boiling. On the dusty field of Arsuf, the Lionheart and his soldiers will face the ultimate test. Battle is inevitable, but victory is not.
This next Lionheart novel sounds pretty damn awesome and it looks like Kane is planning to explore a huge amount of Richard’s life during this book. Based on what was featured in Lionheart, Crusader will contain all the politics, battles, family drama and betrayals that were in the background of these exciting events, and I am really looking forward to seeing the author’s fascinating take on what happened during this period. From some pre-released chapters of Crusader, it looks like Kane will also continue the compelling story of Richard’s fictional companion Rufus, who serves as the series’ main point-of-view character. Rufus was an outstanding protagonist to follow in Lionheart, and it will be interesting to see how his tale continues in Crusader, especially as he is engaged in a deadly rivalry with fellow knight Robert FitzAldelm. This rivalry was an exciting addition to Lionheart’s plot, and I look forward to seeing it get ramped up in Crusader, especially now that FitzAldelm knows that Rufus murdered his brother. So far this has been one of the most impressive series to focus on Richard the Lionheart that I have read, and I cannot wait to see where Kane’s outstanding new series goes next.
The final book to be featured is Protector by Conn Iggulden. Without a doubt, Iggulden is one of the best authors of historical fiction in the world today, having written some spectacular novels across a range of different historical periods. This includes his epic Emperor series, which explored the life and death of Caesar, his Conqueror series, which followed the creation of Genghis Khan’s empire, his War of the Roses series which catalogued all the insanity that occurred during the titular English civil war and the outstanding standalone novel, The Falcon of Sparta. All of his previous novels have been truly exceptional reads that showcase the author’s mastery of all things historical.
His latest body of work is the Athenian series, which charts some of the most significant moments in the history of ancient Athens. This series started last year with the sensational The Gates of Athens, which focused on the war against the Persians, with this novel examining the origins and outcomes of the battle of Marathon and Thermopylae. The Gate of Athens was an incredible read that I deeply enjoyed, and I have been eagerly waiting to see how Iggulden would continue the cool story he set up in this first novel. The second Athenian novel, Protector, will be released on 18 May 2021, and while the official cover is not out yet, the synopsis makes it clear that this upcoming book will feature some fascinating battles and conflicts.
TWO LEGENDARY BATTLES.
ONE FEARLESS WARRIOR . . .
THE BATTLE OF SALAMIS
Persian King Xerxes stands over the smoking ruins of Athens, an army of slaves at his back. Come to destroy, once and for all, everything that the city stands for, he stares pitilessly at the hopelessly outnumbered Greeks.
Veteran soldier Themistocles cannot push the Persians back by force on land, and so he so does so by stealth, at sea. Over three long days, the greatest naval battle of the ancient world will unfold, a bloody war between the democracy of Athens and the tyranny of Persia.
THE BATTLE OF PLATAEA
Less than a year later, the Persian return to reconquer the Greeks. Tens of thousands of soldiers on both sides ready themselves for war. For the Spartans, Plataea is chance to avenge their defeat at Thermopylae. For the people of Athens, threatened on all sides, nothing less than the survival of democracy is at stake. And once again Themistocles, the hero of Salamis, will risk everything – his honour, his friendships, even his life – to protect his country.
Protector looks set to be an exciting and captivating read that will continue to explore some of the most fascinating periods of Greek history. It looks like each of the novels in the Athenian series will focus on two battles, in this case the battles of Salamis and Plataea, and Protector will no doubt contain Iggulden’s trademark deep dive into the intriguing history behind both epic conflicts. The previous entry in the series, The Gates of Athens, contained an impressive examination of the politics, key events and preparation each side did before the battle, as well as the impacts the battles had on both nations, and I think we can expect the same for Protector. I am deeply excited to find out more about each of these battles and I cannot wait to see the background battles for supremacy that occurred between some of the leading men of Athens. This novel has so much potential to be incredible, and I know that I am going to get through this novel extremely quickly.
As you can see above, 2021 is looking extremely awesome on the historical fiction front. All three of novels featured in this article are going to be absolutely incredible and, based on my prior experiences with each of these amazing authors, they all have the potential to easily receive a five-star rating from me. It is already certain that I am going to love all three of these cool books and I am extremely keen to read them as soon as possible.