Historical fiction invites us to experience the exotic and the unknown while confirming our common humanity. I do not believe that human nature has changed much over the centuries, and it is possible to identify with the emotions, passions, and fears of men and women long dead.
But the past is also uncharted territory; it is like visiting a country where we do not speak the language. What did these people believe? What superstitions did they share? What demons did they see lurking in the dark? We want to be transported back to that foreign country, and we want the historical novelist to act as our translator.
This is what good historical fiction does, what these five novels do. The authors allow us to empathize with their characters, to care deeply about their fates. But we never forget for a moment that they are not our neighbors, not ourselves, for their expectations and ethics and boundaries are not ours. Their lives are firmly rooted in alien soil.
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