Wednesday, March 27, 2013

The Magic of Medieval Fiction

As anyone who follows this blog knows, I am especially fond of fiction set in the Middle Ages. My own novel, Enoch’s Device, is set at the end of the Tenth Century, and most of the books I read and review have some connection to the medieval world. These include not only historical fiction, but also works of fantasy such as George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire and the fiction of Guy Gavriel Kay, all of which are set in fictional worlds that greatly resemble the real medieval world.

I've always loved this picture!
This week, I am beginning a multi-part series on Medieval Fiction that will walk through each century of the Middle Ages and highlight novels set in that era. But first, let’s set some boundaries. Many historians have the Middle Ages beginning with the Fifth Century and ending with the Fifteenth Century, but exactly when in those centuries the Middle Ages began and ended is a topic of some debate. The starting point, by most accounts, is the fall of the Roman Empire, which ushered in the Early Middle Ages – the era sometimes called the Dark Ages.

The Roman Empire actually started falling apart long before the Fifth Century. In 286, the emperor Diocletian split the empire into eastern and western halves. Then in 330, following a civil war, the emperor Constantine unofficially transferred the capital of his empire to Byzantium in the east, which was renamed Constantinople. The empire remained divided throughout the Fourth Century, but by then, the Huns, Ostrogoths and Visigoths were becoming a major problem for Rome. The Visigoths invaded the western empire in the year 400, and in 410, led by King Alaric I, famously sacked Rome.

A rude awakening for the Romans!
From there it was all downhill for the Romans. The “barbarians” wreaked havoc on the old Roman provinces with the Vandals spreading through Gaul into Spain, the Franks and Burgundians claiming northern Gaul, and the Angles and Saxons moving into once Roman Britain. By the mid-Fifth Century, Attila and his Huns were on the move, storming through the Balkans and Gaul, and ultimately into Italy. Author William Napier wrote a trilogy on the notorious Hun, beginning with his 2010 novel Attila. Michael Curtis Ford also wrote a series on this time period, including his 2007 novel titled The Fall of Rome. I haven’t read either of these series yet, but they get good reviews on Amazon and Goodreads.

An International Bestseller - who doesn't love a Hun?
In 476, the last Roman emperor of the west, Romulus Augustus, was deposed and the Roman empire would fade into history. The Byzantine empire would replace the once glorious Roman empire, and would endure through medieval history until it was conquered by the Turks in 1453. But in the Fifth Century, mighty Rome fell and thus began the Middle Ages.
Bad times for Romulus Augustus!
My next installment will focus on fiction set in the late Fifth Century, including novels about one of the Fifth Century’s most legendary figures: Arthur of Britain. Until then, let me know if you’ve read some great fiction set around the fall of Rome – I am always looking for some more good reads!

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