In reflecting on why I write, I have to confess that I use my books to express social criticism of the world as I see it. Indeed, I have often argued that all historical fiction says more (whether consciously or not) about the time in which it was written than the time it allegedly describes.
We can see this clearly in art and film. Here are some examples.
Compare, for example, these two depictions of Richard the Lionheart.
To the left. an contemporary 12th century manuscript illustration.
To the right a painting by Henry Justice Ford, from the end of the 19th century.
Below two Hollywood versions.
To the left, Richard and Eleanor in "The Lion in Winter" (1968) - which depicts Richard as homosexual.
To the right, Richard in Ridley Scott's "Robin Hood," (2010), where he is a bloodthirsty fool.
Likewise, although all my novels are firmly grounded in historical fact and describe historical events and characters as authentically as possible, the choice of subject and my interpretation of events and characters is a result of my experience with the modern world. Just as critics of totalitarian systems from the Soviet Union to Nazi Germany often disguised their critique as science fiction, I use my historical novels to render commentary on events, trends, attitudes and behavior I see around me.
One example of this is my treatment of the Greek Orthodox opposition to Lusignan rule on the island of Cyprus at the end of the 12th century. The opposition is entirely understandable and justified, but like so many rebellions (including the one I was witnessing while writing the book in Ethiopia), the rebel actions often hurt innocent people -- indeed the most vulnerable and least powerful of people, rending their actions far less heroic than the cause would suggest. The Last Crusader Kingdom is a commentary not only on a 12th century event but also on rebellions, insurgency, and good governance generally.
Another example is A Boy of the Agoge. While this book describes year by year the activities of Spartan youth in the Spartan upbringing, in doing so it analyzes human nature and the things that motivate and de-motivate, it looks at group dynamics, leadership and the eternal process of "growing up."
I firmly believe in my motto that we learn about ourselves as human beings by studying the past. When I write about the past I explicitly examine issues and patterns of behavior that I have seen in my own life. Sometimes those are positive experiences that restore my faith in mankind. Sometimes, however, I feel it is important to highlight negative characteristics or behaviors that, unfortunately, keep repeating themselves through the ages.
I am always delighted when my readers recognize the parallels to modern personalities and events! Don't forget it's only ten days to Christmas and books make great gifts!