Indie Roundup: Stand-Out Independently-Published Novels of 2013
by Helen Hollick
Reviewing indie novels for the HNS is not always an easy task. In some cases the reviewer is the first to read the book outside of the author’s family and friends, and unlike mainstream books, the author is in charge of the presentation as well as the written content. Unfortunately, the result is, sometimes, a bit of a disaster. Formatting and text issues equal instant rejection for a submission. Too many typos or too much dialogue, not enough narrative (or vice versa), endless pages of description, poor plot or characterisation, head-hopping, tell not show… if members of my fabulous UK review team are struggling by page 50, I advise them to give up. The HNR Indie Review for independently published historical fiction gives some constructive criticism to improve a not-bad book, but what is the point of printing a review of a work that is, let’s be frank, not well-written?
So why do we review? Self-published books are often regarded as the poor relations in the literary world, aren’t they? Short answer: no.
Quite a few are darn good reads, and some are absolute gems! It is exhilarating to discover the diamonds that have been hidden in the shadows – which is why we have our Editors’ Choice selections. Books such as those by David Blixt (Fortune’s Fool), Anna Belfrage (The Prodigal Son), Christine Middleton (The Witch and Her Soul) and Gordon Anthony (World’s End) are all superb reads equal to any mainstream novel.
Blixt’s book, set in 14th-century Italy and the third in his Star Cross’d series, is an adventure story focusing on young Cesco, illegitimate son of Verona’s ruler, as he struggles with his education under a harsh master. Meanwhile, Pietro Alaghieri (son of Dante) importunes the Avignon pope to lift Alaghieri’s excommunication and declare Cesco legitimate, not realizing that enemies in Verona are readying to strike. Full of intrigue, adventure, and romance, Fortune’s Fool is a sort of prequel to Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet and, as I said in my review, “one of the most exciting, and satisfying, reads I have immersed myself in for a long time.”
The Prodigal Son is also third in a series, and a time-slip story: Alex Lind is thrown back to 17th-century Scotland where she has become the wife of Matthew Graham. When Charles II demands conformity to Anglican doctrine, Graham’s Presbyteriansm endangers himself and his family. Reviewer Rachel Malone noted that Belfrage “has an incredible way with words that brings her characters to life,” and that she absolutely “lapped up” this “brilliantly enjoyable read.”
Also set in the 17th century with religious persecution as a theme is The Witch and Her Soul. Through a fictional journal of the real Jane Southworth, the reader views events leading to the Lancashire Witch Trial of 1612. Reviewer Towse Harrison points out that this “wonderful novel by a debut author” gives “an understanding of how strange it would be to us to live in that world.”
World’s End is, according to reviewer Sue Ellison, a “fast-paced, exciting, and well-written” military adventure focusing on Calgacus, a young warrior during the Roman occupation of Britain in the 1st century. Ellison liked that the story was told from the Briton, rather than Roman, point of view, and feels there is “real potential for a popular historical series” featuring Calgacus.
For my counterpart US review colleagues, the selected gems for 2013 were: by Virginia Cox, The House on Tenafly Road by Adrienne Morris and Bow Tie: The First Manuscript of the Richards’ Trust by W.J. Cherf.
The HNR Indie review of The Subtlest Soul states that this Renaissance novel about the “social and political rivalries that boil underneath the surface of Machiavelli’s The Prince” is “densely-researched,” yet still “delightfully readable.”
The House on Tenafly Road is a tale of haunted Civil War veteran John Weldon. He finds a new start and a blossoming romance in a small New Jersey village, but the lingering effects of war create obstacles. Reviewer Steve Donoghue said that Weldon’s “slow and halting search for personal redemption makes for mesmerizing reading.”
Bow Tie centres on a team of modern-day scientists who find that genetic research leads them back in time to the pharaohs of ancient Egypt. Reviewer John Manhold said that the book’s “presentation is so well-handled that even the author’s fictional inventions sound plausible,” and that it is a work “definitely not to be missed.”
Indie writers are fully responsible for the complete process from opening line to final printed version. As the selections above attest, all this hard work can result in stand-out novels. I wonder if it would be possible to have an HNS award for the most outstanding indie novel of the year? I think indie writers would appreciate this sort of innovative support. I know I would!
About the contributor: Helen Hollick is UK Indie Review Editor. She blogs at www.helenhollick.net and is also active on Twitter @HelenHollick.
Published in Historical Novels Review | Issue 67, February 2014