Ivan the Terrible for King of England? HISTORICAL FICTION

Daily Mail (London), September 12, 2014 | Go to article overview

Ivan the Terrible for King of England? HISTORICAL FICTION


Byline: NED DENNY

THE LAST CRUSADERS

by William Napier (Orion 19.99)

IT IS 1574 and the Grand Duke of Muscovy -- commander of a new and rising empire that stretches 'from the icy wastes of the White Sea and the Baltic ... all the way down to the desert sands of the Caspian Sea', but also a brutal, paranoid and terrifyingly capricious character -- has proposed to Queen Elizabeth of England.

The Queen sends four men to sound out this ruler, a man who styles himself Czar; better known to us as Ivan the Terrible.

Napier's account of their illstarred mission, in which they find themselves caught up in an overwhelming Tatar assault, has all the grotesque vividness of current historical fiction.

Napier is evidently a diligent researcher, the textures of 16thcentury Central Asia being superbly evoked, and the ethnic cleansings and geopolitical manoeuverings have distinct contemporary resonance.

Yet for all the swagger of this stuff, the sweaty and cinematic detail, sometimes I find myself longing for the less overt pleasures of Henry Treece's stories for young readers.

THE KING'S CURSE

by Philippa Gregory

(Simon & Schuster PS20)

AS FEMININE in its insight and fine restraint as Napier's book is testosterone-fuelled, The King's Curse revisits the early Tudor period that Gregory's previous novels have so convincingly brought to life. …

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