Thursday, February 20, 2014

The Magic of Medieval Fiction: The Seventh Century, When the World Changed

My meandering series on The Magic of Medieval Fiction moves into the Seventh Century, an era that is squarely within the Dark Ages as far as historical novels go. In fact, attempting to even identify novels set in this century proved to be a huge challenge. But maybe there’s a good reason for this.

The Merovingians were still around ... what secrets were they hiding?
By the Seventh Century we’re more than a hundred years past the fiction-rich Age of Arthur in Britain. Instead, we have the early years of the seven Saxon kingdoms that would eventually form England and play an exciting role in historical fiction, but we’ll have to wait until the Ninth Century for that.

The Merovingian dynasty still ruled what would become France, but their fictional heyday wouldn’t come until Robert Langdon started talking about them in The Da Vinci Code. The Visigoth’s ruled Spain, yet if there’s any good Visigoth-centered historical fiction that takes place after the fall of Rome, that would be news to me. And speaking of Rome, there was nothing going on to inspire any compelling historical fiction that I was able to find. In Europe, that’s about it. A big fat yawn.

Islam spread across the Arabian Peninsula

But that doesn’t mean absolutely HUGE things weren’t going on in the Seventh Century. Actually, it’s the century where the whole world changed—big time I might add—because in the year 610 a man from Mecca name Muhammad climbed a mountain and spoke to the angel Jabril, and you probably know what happened next. In short time, the Prophet Muhammad united all of Arabia under Islam. By 632, the year that Muhammad died, the “Muslim Conquests” began and by the end of the Seventh Century, the followers of Muhammad would conquer Syria, Armenia, Cyprus, North Africa, Egypt, and Persia.

And Amir Hamza was an Arabian hero!

There may be a ton of historical fiction centered on the Prophet Muhammad and the Muslim Conquests, but if so I couldn’t find it. What I did discover is a Persian epic called The Adventures of Amir Hamza. Hamza was the paternal uncle of Muhammad, and his story is a magical tale of bravery and adventure that sets the literary stage for the Eight Century’s classic Persian text Tales from the Arabian Nights. Here’s the description of the story from a translation available on Amazon:
[A] panoramic tale of magic and passion, a classic hero’s odyssey that has captivated much of the world. It is the spellbinding story of Amir Hamza, the adventurer who in the service of the Persian emperor defeats many enemies, loves many women, and converts hundreds of infidels to the True Faith before finding his way back to his first love. In Musharraf Ali Farooqi’s faithful rendition, this masterwork is captured with all its colorful action and fantastic elements intact. Appreciated as the seminal Islamic epic or enjoyed as a sweeping tale as rich and inventive as Homer’s epic sagas, The Adventures of Amir Hamza is a true literary treasure.
The New York Times Book Review called it “The Iliad and Odyssey of medieval Persia, a rollicking, magic-filled heroic saga . . . in an interpretation so fluent that it is a pleasure to sit down and lose oneself in it.” I bought the book on Kindle and am enjoying it a ton. I promise to post a review when I finish it. But other than this classic text, I’m at a loss to identify any other significant fiction set in this century.
I may be missing something, however. So, if you know of any good historical fiction set in the Seventh Century, please let me know. Until then, I’ll continue to enjoy The Adventures of Amir Hamza!


Amanda said...

Katy Moran's Bloodline books are set in 7th-century Britain and Byzantium. They're marketed towards a YA audience, but I thought they were excellent. To go really old-school, Rosemary Sutcliff wrote about this time period as well--The Shining Company and probably a few others that are slipping my mind right now.

Joseph Finley said...

Amanda, thanks! Those are great recommendations. With a few more comments like this, I'll have an entire Seventh Century reading list!