What Historical Novel Should I Read? and Musings on Obsolete Slang

There were three pokes before the phlebotomist could draw blood, but he/she left no bruises, which indicated a degree of professional competence.  Bemused, weary, and bandaged, I biked home and decided to escape into pop fiction.  Will I find refuge in a historical novel?

Here is the stack of books I am considering.

1 . The Hollow Hills by Mary Stewart.  I enjoyed The Crystal Cave, the first of the Merlin trilogy, and though I prefer Stewart’s charming Gothics, her writing is on a higher level here.  The trilogy is categorized as  fantasy, but they are  really historical novels about mythic characters.  As always, Stewart meticulously researches the background, and the details about political conflicts and Merlin’s  protecting Arthur are fascinating.  I hope The Hollow Hills is as good.

2.  Dorothy Dunnett’s The Game of Kings.  Everyone recommends this six-book series about a Scottish soldier. Is it time for me to read it?   (See an entertaining essay in The Guardian.)

3.  Hilary Bailey’s Cassandra, Princess of Troy.  I can’t remember who recommended this, but Bailey is an excellent writer.  Here is an excerpt from the Bloomsbury Reader description:  “Hilary Bailey re-invents the history of the Trojan Wars and tells a new story of Cassandra. Legend has it that Cassandra died at the hand of Clytemnestra, but in this novel she escapes to a farm in Thessaly, and writes her own account of the fall of Troy.”

4.  John Cowper Powys’s Porius. I read several of Powys’s novels after reading this essay by Margaret Drabble in The Guardian, but Porius, a 751-page novel set in the year 499,  may defeat me because of the tiny print.

The New Yorker said in 2007: “This immense, robustly imagined novel was whittled down by more than five hundred pages when it was first published, in 1951. Powys’s original conception is here restored, a dense, complex merging of modern psychology and ancient mythology. In Wales in the year 499, the ruling Celts learn that the Saxons and the forest people are advancing against them; Porius, the son of the Celt prince, awaits the coming battle while ruminating on the eternal conflicts between male and female, nature and humankind, pagan and Christian.”

5.  Mary Renault’s Alexander trilogy:  Fire from Heaven, The Persian Boy, and Funeral Games.  I read Fire from Heaven after the TLS published the introduction to the Folio Society edition of the trilogy.    I have two to go.  From the Goodreads book description:  “This is Mary Renault’s masterly evocation of ancient Greece and Alexander the conqueror, beautiful, beloved – and flawed. ”


My mother used the following slang expressions. Were they dialect,  I wonder? Or were they American idioms?  They are long obsolete.

crooked as a dog’s hind leg, as in “Your part is crooked as a dog’s hind leg.”  (This was said to me often.)

fussbudget – someone fussy

slow as molasses 

cute as a bug

oopsy daisy!

old as Methuselah

Darn!  (instead of damn)

too old for you (Mom said this mostly of clothes)

quick as a wink

don’t count your chickens… [before they’re hatched]

tickled pink – happy, amused, and surprised

happy as a clam 

Sleep tight!

THERE ARE MORE, BUT I CAN’T REMEMBER THEM.  That’s the trouble with disused slang.

20 thoughts on “What Historical Novel Should I Read? and Musings on Obsolete Slang”

    1. Winter does sound like a good time to curl up with them. I absolutely loved the first one so fingers-crossed I have success with the second.

      On Fri, Sep 13, 2019 at 2:17 AM Thornfield Hall: A Book Blog wrote:


  1. Read anything by Mary Renault, including the Alexander and Theseus books and especially The Last of the Wine (Plato is a character).

    I remember most of that slang. My mother said don’t count your chickens, among others. When I was in high school, good things were “neat”. Now I think the equivalent term is “cool”, but then then they were neat!

    1. I’d better get going on the rest of those Alexander books, because I see I’m going to have to read The Last of the Wine. My goodness, Plato!

      Yes, I’d forgotten about “neat.” I said that all the time.

      On Fri, Sep 13, 2019 at 6:34 AM Thornfield Hall: A Book Blog wrote:


  2. I enjoyed books by both Marys (Renault & Stewart). It’s been years since I read any by Renault.
    I recognize many of the slang phrases. My mother also used to say ‘horsefeathers!’ when she was frustrated and ticked off.

    1. The Marys have gotten all the votes in the comments. And I’m adding “Horsefeathers” to my vocabulary. I love it.

      On Fri, Sep 13, 2019 at 7:17 AM Thornfield Hall: A Book Blog wrote:


    1. I do believe you’re right about Dunnett. This has been sitting on a shelf for years.

      On Fri, Sep 13, 2019 at 11:48 AM Thornfield Hall: A Book Blog wrote:


  3. Mary Stewart is an author I must get around to especially since I love the Merlin myth- I do have Crystal Cave .

    Have you read Sharon Penman’s series? Its ages since I last read one but they are very enjoyable.

    1. I love Stewart. Now if only I could bring myself to read Malory…

      I will add Sharon Penman to the list.

      On Fri, Sep 13, 2019 at 12:59 PM Thornfield Hall: A Book Blog wrote:


    1. Well, I’m glad they’re not obsolete, since I pictured my mother and grandmother speaking a different language. I still use the word “fussbudget,” which applies to everybody at some time or other, and “crooked as dog’s hind leg” to describe haircuts I occasionally give myself.
      Thanks for the recommendations!

  4. If the Cowper Powys book defeats you, and you haven’t read “Glastonbury Romance” you could try that. Dunnett’s Lamont series is wonderful, but so is the Nicolo series. All the books you have mention are worth reading, so enjoy.

    1. Thanks. I loved “Glastonbury Romance,” but it’s worth a reread. As I recall, the print was normal-sized, too. I have heard so many great things about Dunnett. It might be time to pull one of them off the shelf.

    1. I do like the sound of “Darn!” in the age of HBO profanity. Perhaps I shall start using it again!

      On Mon, Sep 16, 2019 at 5:16 AM Thornfield Hall: A Book Blog wrote:


        1. Oh my goodness. I had forgotten “dang.” I think that may have been going too far for my mother! So funny.

          On Mon, Sep 16, 2019 at 12:20 PM Thornfield Hall: A Book Blog wrote:


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