I don't like to call anyone my mentor (for some reason I equate that word with Svengali) but when it comes to European history, Jean Plaidy comes close. She is possibly the author I've read the most of, although I haven't quite finished every novel she wrote.
Though I've always been a Ravenous Reader, I didn't really get into historical novels until 2000, when I picked up The Captive of Kensington Palace, a Jean Plaidy book about the pre-queen life of Victoria. It's probably not her best work, but it was enough to fire up my curiosity about English history, so I took out another Plaidy book, The Revolt of the Eaglets. This one covered the early Plantagenet period and introduced me to Eleanor of Acquitaine. I was officially hooked.
After that it was one Plaidy after another. She wrote about every king and queen of England from the Norman conquest to Queen Victoria. Not only that, but she did it from the point of view of every important character of the time, so you can see history from different angles. Of course, some of it must have been conjecture on the part of the writer, because one cannot possibly know what everyone was thinking at the time. Still, it was amazing to sympathize with people that one would previously have considered to be pure evil. I think the only person I couldn't feel bad for no matter what was Henry VIII. He's just not likable, I'm sorry.
In over six years, I've completed 39 of her novels - and there are many more to go. They are not difficult reading, but at the same time it's not simplified. I am amazed to see the amount of historical knowledge Jean Plaidy (her pseudonym) had and was able to organize into stories. I mean, I've heard of experts of the Regency period or the Tudor era, but hundreds of years is a lot to be an expert on. Though I don't think I'll ever come that close (and perhaps I don't want to,) I must say as a result of reading these books, I wanted to know more. This led to me reading more about history than I ever thought possible - this coming from the girl who failed her American History Regents exam. Plus I was curious enough to read historical novels from other writers over the years.
Though Jean Plaidy (whose real name was Eleanor Hibbert) died in 1993, I can't say she left me wanting more. She wrote more books than any other writer I've ever been into. Even if I did end up reading all her books - and I probably won't since under the name Victoria Holt she wrote stuff I just can't get into - I'm glad I picked up Plaidy. It's been quite a ride.