Author, historian and chair of the award’s judges Alistair Moffat said that writers like Robert Harris on ancient Rome or Hilary Mantel on 1520s England were “far better at conveying what life was like than some university history lecturers”.
“They are giving history back its stories,” he said. “The best way to understand the past is often to read a novelist rather than an historian. We need to know where we came from, what kind of people our ancestors were … What people in the past believed – such as the absolute certainty about heaven and hell in the Middle Ages – is every bit as important in telling us what they were like as what they left behind in the historical record.”[Booker rivals clash again on Walter Scott prize shortlist | Books | guardian.co.uk]
Among the recent historical fiction I read, The Bellini Card did not impress as much as as The Snake Stone or The Janissary Tree. The Martyr was well written and was a good introduction to Elizabethan England. After reading 50 pages of The Sheen on the Silk, realized that this book is not for me.
Update: One book I can recommend is Gore Vidal’s Creation. The main character travels to India and meets Mahavira and Buddha and goes to China and learns from Confucius. Fascinating read.