I enjoyed His Dark Materials too, though perhaps not as much as I expected to.
I have been really getting into what I call twisted history books lately, fantasy about what might have been - there are some brilliant authors about, particularly Mary Gentle ("Ash" and "Ilario" are stand-alone epics), Sara Douglas (all of hers), Sophia MacDougall (Romanitas, waiting for the last book in the trilogy) and David Wingrove's Chung Kuo series.
I could go on about favourite historical, sci-fi and fantasy authors (guess the fantasy ones are pretty much well known around here!) but I'm supposed to be booking our family holiday, so I won't!
I can't comment on Patrick O'Brian since I haven't had a chance to check him out yet (although this isn't the only place where I've seen enthusiastic recommendations!), but the best historical fiction I've read so far is Dorothy Dunnett's two series. What Jules said about O'Brian is exactly what I'd say about Dunnett:
I've never read historical fiction with such a capacity to bring a bygone age, and bygone people, to life.
I'm going to try His Dark Materials - I've got a nice cheap set on order. I'd seen it around for yonks but never took the plunge with it - but after seeing the movie I was inspired to check it out - and I'm not alone in that I bet. ;)
Speaking of "twisted history" I just finished rereading a lovely book by Vonda McIntyre, called The Moon and the Sun - set in the court of King Louis XIV, taking as its departure point the intriguing idea that at least some of the fantastical sea creatures documented during that time may have existed and may have possessed intelligence - and what happens when the two worlds collide, so to speak. I highly recommend it.
Anna - I hope Dunnett's books don't allow for too much character-building misery - are they depressing??
You might try Katherine Kurtz's Two Crowns for America which is alternate reality history of the American Revolution that includes working magic. You might also try her Llamas Night about the role the various witch's covens in England played in the Battle of Britain.
Jules, I wouldn't say that Dunnett's series are depressing in the same way I wouldn't say that WoLaS is depressing. Her characters endure trials of varying degrees that I think define them to a greater extent than their triumphs.
I had The Game of Kings for nearly a year before it got to the top of my TBR pile, and I could have kicked myself for waiting so long to read it!
Just as a side note, if you like Guy Gavriel Kay's writing style you'll most likely also like Dunnett; he has said that she was a particular favorite of his, and her stylistic influence in his writing is pretty clear.
Here's my two penn'orth, since someone mentioned Dorothy Dunnett's 'Lymond Chronicles'. Since reading and re-reading these books, I have yet to meet a more charismatic character than Francis Lymond, or get a better sense of 'being there'. Crumbs, I hope that makes sense. Time for a nice cup of tea, I think.
Someone awhile earlier mentioned Carol Berg, I just bought "Flesh and Spirit" because I liked the cover (BTW buying according to the cover art is how I met Janny )
anyway those of you who know her books can you tell me if this is a beginning, middle, or end of a series or stand alone, or what? I can't seem to find anything about her or her books on the internet.
thanks for any help
Flesh and Spirit is the first book of a pair. The second is Breath and Bone, which came out in January.
And you can find Carol at www.carolberg.com.
Awesome thank you!!
Trys: Orson Scott Card wrote a series about an alternative early American history- with magic etc. The first book is Seventh Son. The series on the whole was pretty well written. I will have to check out Katherine Kurtz's book- didn't she write the Deryni series?