Holland, Cecelia (Anastasia) 1943-

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HOLLAND, Cecelia (Anastasia) 1943-

(Elizabeth Eliot Carter)


Born December 31, 1943, in Henderson, NV; daughter of William Dean (an executive) and Katharine (Schenck) Holland. Education: Attended Pennsylvania State University, 1961-62; Connecticut College, B.A., 1965. Politics: Anarchist. Religion: Atheist.


Home—520 Palmer Blvd., Fortuna, CA 95540. E-mail[email protected].


Writer. Visiting professor of English at Connecticut College, 1979.


Guggenheim fellowship, 1981-82.



The Firedrake, Atheneum (New York, NY), 1966.

Rakossy, Atheneum (New York, NY), 1967.

The Kings in Winter, Atheneum (New York, NY), 1968, Forge (New York, NY), 2000.

Until the Sun Falls, Atheneum (New York, NY), 1969.

Ghost on the Steppe (for children), illustrated by Richard Cuffari, Atheneum (New York, NY), 1969.

Antichrist: A Novel of the Emperor Frederick II, Atheneum (New York, NY), 1970, published in England as The Wonder of the World, Hodder & Stoughton (London, England), 1970.

The King's Road (for children), illustrated by Richard Cuffari, Atheneum (New York, NY), 1970.

The Earl, Knopf (New York, NY), 1971, published in England as Hammer for Princes, Hodder & Stoughton (London, England), 1972.

The Death of Attila, Knopf (New York, NY), 1973.

Great Maria, Knopf (New York, NY), 1974.

Floating Worlds, Knopf (New York, NY), 1976.

(Under pseudonym Elizabeth Eliot Carter) Valley of the Kings, Dutton (New York, NY), 1977, published under name Cecelia Holland, Gollancz (London, England), 1978, Forge (New York, NY), 1997.

Two Ravens, Knopf (New York, NY), 1977.

City of God: A Novel of the Borgias, Knopf (New York, NY), 1979.

Home Ground (modern novel), Knopf (New York, NY), 1981.

The Sea Beggars, Knopf (New York, NY), 1982.

The Belt of Gold, Knopf (New York, NY), 1984.

Pillar of the Sky: A Novel, Knopf (New York, NY), 1985.

The Lords of Vaumartin, Houghton (Boston, MA), 1988.

The Bear Flag, Houghton (Boston, MA), 1990.

Pacific Street, Houghton (Boston, MA), 1992.

Jerusalem, Forge (New York, NY), 1996.

Railroad Schemes, Forge (New York, NY), 1997.

Valley of the Kings: A Novel of Tutankhamun, Forge (New York, NY), 1999.

Lily Nevada, Forge (New York, NY), 1999.

An Ordinary Woman: A Dramatized Biography of Nancy Kelsey (nonfiction), Forge (New York, NY), 1999.

The Story of Anna and the King: A Book (nonfiction), HarperPerennial (New York, NY) 1999.

Floating Worlds (science fiction), Gollancz (New York, NY), 2000.

The Kings in Winter, Forge (New York, NY), 2000.

The Angel and the Sword, Forge (New York, NY), 2000.

The Soul Thief, Forge (New York, NY), 2002.

The Witches' Kitchen, (sequel to The Soul Thief), Forge (New York, NY), 2004.


From ancient Byzantium to Stonehenge, from the Crusades to early California, Cecelia Holland's historical novels have skillfully depicted many eras, through stories that blend real events with fictional plots. "Read history books to learn the facts about a given age, but read Holland to soak up the atmosphere," wrote Marion Hanscom in Twentieth-Century Romance and Historical Writers. Holland's first novel, The Firedrake—which was set in England just prior to the Norman conquest—was published a year after the author graduated from college, and she has kept up a steady output of well-reviewed fiction ever since.

Reviewers characterized Firedrake as having "very short, plain, often abrupt language and simple sentence structure," recounted Hanscom, "but praised [it] for the sound research about England." As the years have passed, Holland's "style has not changed, and in fact her disdain for the ornate language often found in historical novels has become a hallmark of her work, which is now frequently praised for the immediacy her prose brings to her stories." Holland has also been noted for her willingness to explore many new territories rather than sticking to one familiar setting.

In her novel City of God, Holland "proves that there can be more to historical thrillers than swordplay and seduction," wrote a Time critic. City of God is set in the Rome of the Borgias, between 1500 and 1503, and is told from the point of view of Nicholas, a secretary to the Florentine ambassador to Rome. Holland "convincingly pictures Renaissance Rome, the sumptuousness of the costumes and furnishings, the squalor and menace of the streets," observed Audrey Foote in the Washington Post Book World. Furthermore, she "adroitly leads the reader through the tangle of dynastic ambitions and shifting alliances. Best of all, she creates a fascinating focal character in Nicholas."

In The Belt of Gold, Holland delves into ninth-century Byzantium and a power struggle between Empress Irene and her enemies. A Times Literary Supplement reviewer called it Holland's best at the time of publication, noting that, besides a good plot and skillful writing, "its main triumph lies in the way it manages to bring to life a civilization even more alien and incomprehensible to Westerners than to the Turks who destroyed it." Washington Post Book World contributor Valerie FitzGerald noted the "scholarship, insight and invention" in Pillar of the Sky, and further observed: "For those unwilling to acknowledge that superior technology is not synonymous with heightened intelligence, this book will prove a surprise; to those who find some comfort in believing that their remote forebears were not all that much different from themselves, it will give reassurance.… [It] is informative, entertaining and uncommonly easy to read."

Holland addresses the subject of the plague in The Lords of Vaumartin, set in fourteenth-century Brittany. The plot concerns a man and his nephew who are separated during a battle. The manner in which Holland chronicles their fates is "strong," noted Edna Stumpf in the New York Times Book Review, observing "in this death-haunted century the ideals of chivalry are being abandoned and the verities of the church are failing.… The contrast between these two men's inner lives carries a somber esthetic richness. Such rewards are always present in Ms. Holland's books.… [She] eloquently demonstrates for us the precariousness and preciousness of life."

The author jumps to early California for her next two novels. The Bear Flag illuminates the war between the Mexicans and Americans that eventually resulted in California statehood. The main character is Catherine Reilly, a proper Bostonian woman who must learn the basics of survival when she loses everything, even her husband, in an attempt to cross the Sierra Nevada. "Written in a vigorous, spirited style, Holland organises her complex material with admirable skill," wrote Observer Review critic Kathy O'Shaughnessy. A West Coast Review of Books writer commented that the book mixed "fact and fiction in such a wonderful way, neither the historian nor the romantic will be disappointed." In Pacific Street, Holland moves on to the Gold Rush years in San Francisco. The story is "thick with plot and suspense," according to the Rapport reviewer, and Sybil Steinberg noted in Publishers Weekly that "Holland's grasp of history is neatly matched by her skills as a storyteller." Reviewing the author's body of work, Hanscom summarized: "Holland is above all a storyteller who has a wonderful way of transporting herself back in time and taking us along with her."

Holland revisits the California frontier in Railroad Schemes, which is set in the mid-nineteenth century. The novel is based upon the development of the railroad system, but largely focuses on the relationships between a band of outlaws and a young girl, Lily, who is the orphaned daughter of one of their partners. Lily is a book-hungry girl who befriends King Callahan, her primary caretaker after the death of her father. In the end Callahan's past is revealed, and it has an alarming effect on Lily's life. San Francisco Chronicle contributor Alix Madrigal believed, "while the characters are complex, unpredictable and often affecting, there is a flatness to them, a missing dimension that could bring them truly to life." Although there are some flaws in some of the circumstantial set-up of the book, Madrigal observed that it is easy for the reader to be engrossed in the storyline despite the incongruence. Madrigal also commented on the admirable paternal bond Callahan develops with Lily. Holland is true to form in bringing the landscape to life. New York Times Book Review critic Paula Friedman commented, "Holland's renditions of the desolately beautiful landscapes of the region… bring sharply haunting physically to her story." Through the vivid imagery and the development of human interaction, Holland leads readers to want more of this story.

Fortunately Holland gives them more of this story line in her sequel to Railroad Schemes called Lily Nevada. "Although a sequel… this historical novel stands on its own," according to School Library Journal contributor Christine C. Menefee. The storyline is set up around Lily being a twenty-year-old aspiring actress in San Francisco. Booklist reviewer Kristin Kloberdanz remarked that "Holland presents one of her sharpest most likable heroines in her twenty-second historical novel." The novel is revisiting the focus on the railroad and the changes that ensue with its development. In addition to the historical significance of the railroad development, Holland incorporates historical figures Leland Stanford as well as other noteworthy individuals of the time, which is her trademark. A Publishers Weekly reviewer felt the sequel was "Gutsy and gritty, but touchingly vulnerable."

"Holland provides an interesting fictional account of a true story of pioneer life," wrote Booklist contributor Patty Englemann about Holland's novel An Ordinary Woman: A Dramatized Biography of Nancy Kelsey. Nancy Kelsey was the first American woman to reach California, which was previously occupied by Mexico until it was overtaken by United States in 1847. Holland not only historically covers that overtaking, but also chronicles the traverse of Ben and Nancy Kelsey from Missouri to California. "Prolific historical novelist Holland uses Nancy's own letters as well as archival material to recreate the life of a pioneer woman who was a legend in her own time," wrote a Publishers Weekly reviewer. The same reviewer felt that the narration fully engaged the reader, noting that Holland's admiration for Nancy Kelsey was quite apparent.

Although the storyline seems similar to yarns about Joan of Arc, Holland's The Angel and the Sword is based on the French folk legend of Roderick the Beardless. The back-drop to the story is ninth-century Paris, focusing on Princess Ragny, who is forced to flee her native country of Spain when her mother, the Queen, dies and her father begins an incestuous relationship to secure the throne as king. To escape his pursuit she cuts off her hair and dresses as a man. This deception eventually leads to her becoming a soldier who fights to assist King Charles the Bald in saving the city. Library Journal contributor Jean Langlais described the book as a "wonderful story of faith, love, hope, and justice." "Holland refashions the venerable French legend of Roderick the Beardless into a fantastical medieval adventure," surmised Margaret Flanagan of Booklist. Flanagan went on to say that the book is "a potent blend of action, suspense, romance, and history." A Publishers Weekly reviewer commented that it is "fluidly written and energetically paced." The reviewer continued, "Little distinguishes it from similar sagas, but Holland consistently satisfies her readers, and the book should prove a surefire, if fleeting, antidote to winter doldrums."

The Soul Thief is a tale of Viking escapades and their impact on a coastal Irish town. The story focuses on a young man named Corban, who escaped being slain by the Vikings due to his family exiling him when he refused to fight for their land. In his absence most of the family is killed, except for Corban's twin sister who is abducted. The rest of the story chronicles his pursuit to free her from enslavement, while finding love along the way. "Holland fleshes out a lively account of Eric Bloodaxe, who has been otherwise ignored as historical subject," wrote Library Journal contributor Jean Langlais. A Publishers Weekly contributor commented that "Holland delivers an artful blend of history and fantasy throughout." The reviewer continued, "The author of more than 20 novels, Holland has enough of a fan base to assure respectable sales."



Twentieth-Century Romance and Historical Writers, 3rd edition, St. James Press (Detroit, MI), 1994.


Atlantic, June, 1977; July, 1990, p. 104.

Booklist, February 15, 1992, p. 1088; January 1, 1996, p. 786; March 1, 1999, Patty Engelmann, review of An Ordinary Woman: A Dramatized Biography of Nancy Kelsey, p. 1156; November 1, 1999, Kristin Kloberdanz, review of Lily Nevada, p. 508; December 15, 2000, Margaret Flanagan, review of The Angel and the Sword, p.786.

Chicago Tribune, June 30, 1985, section 14, p. 35.

Chicago Tribune Book World, February 25, 1979.

Kirkus Reviews, November 15, 1991, pp. 1432-1433; February 1, 1999, review of An Ordinary Woman: A Dramatized Biography of Nancy Kelsey, p. 178.

Library Journal, June 15, 1990, p. 134; January, 1992, p. 174; April 1, 1993, p. 136; November 20, 1995, p. 67; January, 1996, p. 142; October 1, 1997, M. E. Chitty, review of Railroad Schemes, p. 122; November 1, 2000, Jean Langlais, review of The Angel and the Sword, p. 134; March 1, 2002, Jean Langlais, review of The Soul Thief, p. 139.

New Yorker, August 20, 1984.

New York Review of Books, September 27, 1979.

New York Times Book Review, July 8, 1984, p. 20; July 21, 1985, p. 22; December 25, 1988, p. 16; January 28, 1996, p. 20; January 11, 1998, Paula Friedman, review of Railroad Schemes, p. 14.

Observer Review, September 5, 1990.

Publishers Weekly, December 20, 1991, p. 64; November 20, 1995, review of Jerusalem, p. 67; May 19, 1997, review of Valley of the Kings: A Novel of Tutankhamun, p. 67; November 10, 1997, Susan Salter, "Cecelia Holland: A Novelist Excavating the Past," p. 51; February 8, 1999, review of An Ordinary Woman, p. 195; October 25, 1999, review of Lily Nevada, p. 52; October 23, 2000, review of The Angel and the Sword, p. 59; March 11, 2002, review of The Soul Thief, p. 51.

Rapport, Volume 17, number 1, 1992.

Roundup, December, 1999, review of Lily Nevada, p. 29.

San Francisco Chronicle, January 18, 1998, Alix Madrigal, "When the iron horse cut through California/How railroads changed the West, as seen through the eyes of a teenage girl," review of Railroad Schemes, p. 7.

School Library Journal, August, 1990, p. 174; November, 1992; April, 2000, Christine C. Menefee, review of Lily Nevada, p. 160.

Spectator, October 22, 1977.

Time, April 9, 1979.

Times Literary Supplement, August 3, 1984, p. 875; November 2, 1990, p. 1182.

Washington Post Book World, March 12, 1979; June 16, 1985, pp. 1-2; April 26, 1986, p. 12; November 6, 1988, p. 8; April 30, 1989, p. 10; March 10, 1996, p. 7.

West Coast Review of Books, Volume 15, number 4, 1990, p. 26.


Cecelia Holland Home Page,http://www.thefiredrake.com/ (May 2, 2002).*

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