Ivanhoe by Walter Scott
It might seem that Ivanhoe is an ordinary adventure novel about noble knights, beautiful ladies, and cunning highway robbers. However, this novel was one of the first true historically accurate literary works. So, without taking into account the adventure factor, it is a book from which you can gain plenty of accurate knowledge about the medieval period.
Walter Scott wanted to publish this novel under the pseudonym Everly. The author had rather peculiar reasons for it: he thought that his next book should compete in popularity with Ivanhoe, he wanted to be his own rival. However, the publisher talked him out of this contrivance. The funny thing is that the foreword part of the book is signed as if it had been written by Everly.
Walter Scott took a particular interest in the history of his country, as well as in the mentality of its people. Oppression is one of the most important issues that run like a red thread through the pages of the novel. Why should power and privileges be given to some people just by birthright, while the ones that were not born of noble parents had to rot in poverty and suffer endless persecution? This happens regardless of the fact that not all the persecuted are bad people, and not every representative of nobility is an honest and high-minded person.
The author managed to draw similar, but at the same time very distinguishable, lines between the characters of Rovenna and Rebecca. Both women are the embodiment of honor and beauty, but one of them comes from the nobility, while the other is a commoner without titles or wealth.
Ivanhoe depicts the events that revolve around the battle of Hastings, which was fought on October 14, 1066, in consequence of which the Norman-French army defeated the Anglo-Saxon troops and began the conquest of England.
Ivanhoe won't leave any reader untouched. It has everything the fan of medieval culture loves: thrilling tournaments, palace intrigues, noble knights, and beautiful ladies. Walter Scott also managed to create a plenitude of charismatic characters, such as Wamba, a court jester who is a symbol of unconditional loyalty to the master, and king Richard I, who is portrayed as “The Black Knight”. Ivanhoe will spark your fascination for the Middle Ages and gratify your passion for adventure and romance.
Sir Nigel by Arthur Conan Doyle
Unlike the previous book, Sir Nigel can't be called a historically accurate novel. It is a rather idealistic, somewhat naive depiction of the medieval period, with an emphasis on emotional attachment to the characters and ease of reading. Perhaps Arthur Conan Doyle used this writing style on purpose, so that Sir Nigel would offer a contrast to his more sophisticated works, such as The Lost World, or to make it resemble medieval narratives. Once you open this book, you will find yourself in a world where knights are noble, ladies are pure and graceful, enemies bow before vicious fights, villains are malicious, and the main purpose of life is to earn an exalted reputation and honor. Nigel Loring is an aristocratic pauper who dreams of knightly glory. But gaining glory will not be an easy task: the Loring family is impoverished because of its complicated relationships with members of the Church. As we know, in medieval times, a feud with the Church had very dire consequences for those who didn't wear the cassock. And just when Sir Nigel thinks that his efforts are futile, and there is nothing left for him but to fall into despondency, he gets the chance to become the armor-bearer for King Arthur. Sir Nigel eagerly grabs the opportunity and follow the King as he leads his troops to war. Moreover, he makes a vow to perform three feats before he can return home and marry his beloved lady. Sir Nigel will remind the reader that the Middle Ages were not entirely “the dark ages”, there was a place for bravery, honor, chivalry, and true love.
The Knights of the Cross by Henryk Sienkiewicz
This historical novel is filled with intrigue, adventure, and a great many bloody battles. It is set in medieval Poland, more precisely the end of the 14th century. The whole territory of Eastern Europe is being torn by bloody rivalries between the Teutonic Order and the Poles, the Lithuanians, and other Slavic nations. The confrontation is as relentless as it is bloody and merciless: one side is protecting its freedom and independence, while the other side is conquering new lands with force and guile, while violently inculcating the Catholic faith. Henryk Sienkiewicz is one of the few masters of the written word who is able to combine historical accuracy with an amazingly engaging plot that is not lacking in romance. The main protagonist is Zbyshko, a skillful and fearless warrior with great ambitions. All he wants is to earn glory in the battle against the Teutonic knights. Well, that was is only desire until he meets the beautiful Jagielka. Zbyshko will eventually get the chance to immortalize his name at the Battle of Grunwald.
Those who have some knowledge of history probably know the outcome of the battle. For those who don't, we strongly recommend reading how Sienkiewicz depicts this epic clash of steel and fury. It is highly probable that after enjoying this book you will want to dress in armor and learn how to wield a sword, or at least visit a history museum.