There is an old adage that nothing breeds success like success. This is seen as true in publishing and in other branches of the entertainment industry. Thus if one book becomes a huge success, we are certain to see other similar books being published in the hope that they will also reap similar success. Of course this isn’t always the case but it is enough to ensure that celebrity biographies, misery memoirs and conspiracy novels have some mileage in them yet.
Leaving the first two categories aside (because I haven’t read any and have no intentions of doing so) let’s look at the last. Dan Brown has a lot to answer for, but no matter how badly written the Da Vinci Code may have been (and it was pretty awful) it had such high sales that it has ensured a steady stream of similar novels.
The ones I am going to look at here, while not necessarily historical novels, do include some historical elements.
The Rule of Four had a good premise – a mystery connected with a bizarre renaissance manuscript (that does exist). Sadly, much of the novel was taken up with boring shenanigans at Princeton and the denouement was hardly unexpected.
Equinox is a load of tosh involving Sir Isaac Newton as an alchemist and a bunch of esoteric magic nutters on the rampage. Not very taxing on the brain, and with oak-like characterisation, which is a pity, as I think there could have been a much better story there. Probably White’s biography of Newton, The Last Sorceror.
The Malice Box was rather better written, but from its structure, was clearly the novelisation of a computer game. While this is not necessarily a problem, anything that involves the hero having to pass x number of tests to save the world has a certain inevitability about it. He may not win in the end but he’s certainly going to get through all the other tests. It had an interesting, and even mildly original take on the whole esoteric magic thing, and I did enjoy it.
Crusader Gold is Gibbens’ second novel, and a follow-up to the first. Sadly we spent far too much time referring to the first (which I hadn’t read) and it got a bit irritating. The plot involved that hoary quest of treasure seekers everywhere, the lost treasure of the Temple of Jerusalem, appropriated by the Romans in the first century. The hero is an underwater archaeologist, and Gibbens himself was a naval diver so he knows his stuff. But my goodness he’s in love with the technology. It’s not enough for a helicopter to land somewhere, but we’re given the make and serial number too. I liked the idea of the plot, and it had a nice circularity about it, but in the end it became just too unlikely. All that aside, it’s a competent thriller and was mildly diverting.
All of these novels share with the DVC, a conspiracy or secret society of some sort in their plot. Also, like the DVC, the goal is to solve a puzzle and/or find a treasure (which may not be a physical thing). Whether they will be as successful or not is another matter. The Rule of Four did very well, Equinox, like the DVC, is an easy read, but probably targets a slightly different market. The other two are much longer, and do require some commitment from the reader. Eventually, of course, people will get sufficiently bored with this sort of thing for publishers to move on to something else.