The Frozen Thames by Helen Humphreys is a real gem of a book, short enough to read in a day, if one were so inclined (which I usually am...inclined to read a book as quickly as possible, I mean), yet the kind of book that one can also savor slowly, which is (to my great surprise) the way I ended up reading it.
Made up of a couple dozen short stories, some of which are almost short enough to be termed flash fiction, The Frozen Thames tells of times over the past millenium when the Thames River has frozen solid. The first vignette is set around 1155 and tells of Matilda of Normandy, also known as the Empress Maud, who was holed up in an Oxford castle on the banks of the frozen Thames, under seige by her cousin, King Stephen of Blois. (The civil war between Stephen and Maud is the background for the Cadfael mysteries by Ellis Peters, as well as When Christ and His Saints Slept, the first book of the trilogy by Sharon Kay Penman.) Other stories featured Henry VIII, Elizabeth I, the first and second James, and other later English sovereigns, as well as royal servants and courtiers. There were also stories about serfs and nobles, publicans and thieves, watermen and preachers, boys and skaters and even a fearful team of oxen. It was about Londoners and how they felt and thought about the issues confronting them during any given period But mostly it was about London and its great river, the Thames.
Some of the stories were uplifting, some made me laugh, a few made me cry, while all were tiny slices of life that captured the spirit of the time period in a few short pages. Highly recommended.