Well, thank you all so much! The recommendations you posted are fantastic, and show what a wonderfully wide range of tastes and interests The Itch's lovely blog-readers have. It's been very hard to choose, not least because I've read some books and authors, and not others (but will ... soon. Have you any idea what y'all have done to my to-be-read pile?).
But the point of the exercise wasn't whether I agreed with you. As this is the Itch, and in the spirit of the Itch of Writing Bookshelp I focused on posts which got specific with why the book would be useful to writer, not just enjoyable for a reader, and so signed copies of Get Started in Writing Historical Fiction go to
Barbara H for this, which incidentally makes clear the narrative sophistication which may underlie a big-selling page-turner:
Cashelmara by Susan Howatch, a retelling of the history of Edward II transposed to 19th-century Ireland, shows what can be done with a procession of self-serving narrators, each casting a different light on themselves and each other, as they tell a complex and emotionally wrenching story.
and Ginny S for this, which explains the craft in a book I'd never heard of in a classy long sentence:
Rupert Thomson’s Secrecy, set in a decaying Florence after the Renaissance, is brought to life by his beautifully evocative prose and, fulfilling its titular expectation, is layered with the slow reveal of multiple secrets including parentage, murder, and infidelity; one secret, during a well-researched masterclass of a lost craft, is embedded in a life-like wax model made by the protagonist, Zummo, a character based on a real sculptor whose macabre wax creations can still be seen today.
with a very honourable mention to Dan Holloway for a brilliantly-built, splendidly even longer sentence, and for almost convincing me that The Book of Laughter and Forgetting could count as historical fiction:
Milan Kundera's The Book of Laughter and Forgetting deals with a period, the 1960s and 1970s, that still feels very close and was written when it was even closer, but is a remarkable instance of historical fiction because Kundera's gift is in commenting on a present that he knows is being etched as history even as he writes, and in tackling the problem of historicization even in those events he recounts in the present, letting us see not only the roots from which our perception of them has sprung but the processes of erasure and manipulation that will render those perceptions "false" in the consciousness that is so close as to barely be in the future.
Congratulations to all three, and thank you very much to everyone who entered.
I would love this list to go on growing, and become a bit of a discussion, so do feel free to add things, or comment on the recommendations. Just click through to the original post, and join in: I'll be chipping in with my thoughts in the next few days.