The shortlist for this year’s HWA Debut Crown Award in new historical fiction was announced at the AGM on 17th June 2015.
It’s an amazingly strong list, proving that there’s no shortage of great new writers choosing history as their subject. As HWA Chair, Manda Scott says, “It’s a testament to the incredible talent of these authors that we couldn’t narrow the shortlist down to merely five books.”
In a special feature on the shortlisted books, Manda tells us why these six made it to the top of the pile. We’re looking forward to seeing who takes the top spot when the winner is announced at the Harrogate History Festival in October.
So, in no particular order…
The Spring of Kasper Meier by Ben Fergusson (Abacus)
The Spring of Kasper Meier is an astonishingly vivid account of post-war Berlin: not the political or military manoeuvrings, but the sheer undiluted hell of men and women trying to survive in a city that had been reduced to rubble. The cost and horror of living in part-destroyed buildings, where food and sex are both bartered shamelessly, where cigarettes are currency, where the need for vengeance and the need to survive clash and sometimes outrun each other. This is a love story, a crime thriller and a truly great historical novel.
Wake by Anna Hope (Black Swan)
Wake takes us back to the first world war, but in a way that is entirely unique. Told from the perspective of three women in 1920, it also follow the selection, gathering and journey home of the remains of the ‘Unknown Solider’. While this strange and solemn rite takes place, the three women of the war wait, in their different ways, for redemption: the lover, the sister, the mother, all bound by the same unspoken truths, the same unravelling lie. This, too, is a mystery, and a truly outstanding tale of courage and loss, hope, love and the horror of war.
The Devil in the Marshalsea by Antonia Hodgson (Hodder)
London 1727 and Thomas Hawkins, not-quite-entirely-dissolute not-quite-a-rake, friend, gambler and all-round decent chap finds himself on the wrong end of a gamble that lands him in the Marshalsea, a quite unspeakably foul debtors’ prison – which is in more than usual uproar after the recent murder of an inmate. Tom finds himself sharing a cell with the chief suspect – or perhaps the chief scapegoat, for there are plenty of other possible murderers and as Tom begins to ask the questions nobody else has ever dared ask, his life becomes increasingly fragile. A perfect historical crime, this is also a consummate novel of betrayal, friendship and the pains of poverty. Quite brilliant.
Kingmaker: The Winter Pilgrims by Toby Clements (Century)
Kingmaker is a tour de force of mediaeval writing: a fifteenth century road trip that takes us through the exigencies of faith into astonishingly graphic surgery, powerful battles and the Shakespearean joys of cross-dressing. When a Thomas and Katherine (aka Kit) a monk and a nun escape together from their holy house, their danger is both imminent and immanent. Their journey takes them from England to France to Wales and back to England, while all around, the Wars of the Roses rage and simper, dragging ordinary folk from the struggle of mere survival into wars of dynastic succession. This is England in its making, rich, raw, passionate and powerful. Outstanding.
The Good Italian by Stephen Burke (Hodder)
Eritrea 1935: an Italian colony, ruled with a rod of rubber, last resting place of the seedy, the tame, the hiding-from-themselves. And here is Enzo, the harbour-master, whose Italian mother wants him to marry a nice Italian girl and instead, he’s here, drinking with his friend Salvatore, chief of the local police, a man who has a string of mistresses, and thinks Enzo should do the same. But Enzo is shy, and so shyly takes on Aatifa, the Eritrean woman, to be his housemaid. All is well until war comes, and the strictures of a Fascist dictator who thinks nice Italian men should not fall in love with local women. Which is sad, because by now Enzo is in way beyond any restitution, and it will take more than a world war to put him off. This is a slow-burning wonder of a book, an immersion in a time and a place not-quite entirely out of reach, with the mores of our grandparents laid bare in all their horror, and the restitutions of love giving them hope. A revelation.
The Strangler Vine by MJ Carter (Penguin)
Calcutta 1837. The East India Company rules India – or most of it; and its most notorious and celebrated son, Xavier Mountstuart, has gone missing. William Avery, a down-at-heel junior officer in the Company’s army, is sent to find him, in the unlikely company of the enigmatic and uncouth Jeremiah Blake. A more mismatched duo couldn’t be imagined, but they must bury their differences as they are caught up in a search that turns up too many unanswered questions and seems bound to end in failure. What was it that so captivated Mountstuart about the Thugs, the murderous sect of Kali-worshippers who strangle innocent travellers by the roadside? Who is Jeremiah Blake and can he be trusted? And why is the whole enterprise shrouded in such secrecy? This is a crime novel, and the start of a series: Blake and Avery are Sherlock and Holmes transported to hotter climes, with vicious villains and a glorious, deep, colourful world all about. Entrancing, engaging and entertaining all in one. Brilliant.
For press queries or more information about the HWA Debut Crown Award please contact:
Kate White – press officer