I love an historical mystery. I especially love one that introduces me to history I don’t know in such a thoroughly engrossing way. The Glassblower’s Wife, by Joanna Campbell Slan, is a long short story rather than a full-length novel. But, it packs a wallop! It is an historic tale involving Jewish glass blowers from Italy who took their exceptional craft to France to make the mirrors for the Hall of Mirrors in Versailles. There’s murder, devotion, an excellent plot, and superb writing.
The official blurb states: “When Jewish glassmakers and their families flee the powerful Doge of Venice, the cost of their freedom is three hundred and fifty-seven mirrors–the creation of the magnificent Hall of Mirrors in Versailles. But the Doge sends assassins to pick off the artists, one by one. Can Ruth Telfin, the mute wife of the head glassmaker, save her people?”
I’m not the only reader who commented favorably. One says, “Since this is a short story, I figured it would be a good chance to get a taste of this author’s writing style. I never expected such a powerful story.”
Another said: “I must admit that this type of book isn’t really what I usually pick to read. Having read all of Campbell Slan’s other books, I decided to give it a try. This is a long short story based on historical facts back in the late 1600’s. I really learned a lot from it. She throws in a fictional character that really saves the day at the end. Kudos to Slan for her research and drive to write this book.”
And that’s my focus today—fiction that gives the reader history with a story that not only interests the reader, but opens her eyes to something that really happened, perhaps years, perhaps centuries ago. All too often history is presented as boring, irrelevant, unimportant, or, even as perpetuated untrue myth. One of the websites I researched to follow this story said: “Historians have long repeated that the formula for lead-glass was invented in 1674 by an Englishman, George Ravenscroft. Historians often make a habit of being in error. In this case the error could not be more gross. Ravenscroft was neither an artisan nor an inventor. It is true that Ravenscroft patented the process; it is false that he invented it.”
And, occasionally, textbooks perpetuate myth as well. I remember one such from my own high school years. I certainly know that fiction often plays fast and loose with historic past. No problem, as long as it is understood. Some of my favorite reads are steampunk novels, the ultimate reworked history. But I love the true meaning that often comes through in historical fiction.