Reading Historical Fiction

With Vetrans Day coming up next week in the U.S. and Remembrance day in Canada, it got me thinking again about Historical Fiction, and I have come to the conclusion that Historical Fiction gets a bad rap.

Countless times in my years selling books to both the public and to schools, it’s usually the historical fiction title that faces mass rejection. No matter how exciting the story might be, there is a perception that history, and therefore historical fiction is boring.

After serving on a jury for a historical fiction prize for two years and reading about 30 some odd historical novels in a short time frame, I did notice the similarities between many of them, and often joked that they were like fill-in-the-blank manuscripts. Insert small town of choice here. Insert year between 1850 and 1950 here. Insert epidemic of choice here….Information dump here, here and here… Let’s face it- every genre has its stars and its clunkers, and when you read enough of them in a concentrated time period, the similarities between them become more obvious. But while I have read my fair share of boring, didactic historical fiction, I have also read some amazing historical novels. They are well-researched, about topics that are infrequently covered (the world’s been around a long time- surely we don’t have to keep writing about the same historical period)and that have an exciting, compelling story.

OutlanderTake the Outlander books by Diana Gabaldon. They are a perfect example of historical novels that perfectly blend an exciting story with history. At an average of 900 pages+ per book, I was hooked from the moment I started reading, and couldn’t put them down. Gabaldon vividly brings to life the history of Scotland, and I remember being inspired by her books to read more about the time period.

VerityElizabeth Wein’s Code Name Verity and Rose Under Fire were also historical novels that I absolutely loved. The characters are compelling, the format of Verity is extremely unique, and readers gain a solid understanding of the historical period in which the books are set. Verity is also both a critical darling and popular, which proves that it can be done.

Do you read Historical Fiction, and if so, what are some titles that you’ve enjoyed?

6 Responses to Reading Historical Fiction

  1. Julie Nov 7 2014 at 10:42 am #

    Great post, Rachel! One of my favorite books is CHARLOTTE SOMETIMES by Penelope Farmer. Set in Britain, the scene switches between 1918 and a time about 40 years later. I highly recommend it!

  2. Abby Nov 7 2014 at 10:52 am #

    I love historical fiction, and I enjoyed all three of those titles (still working up the courage to dive into the rest of the OUTLANDER books, what with their forbidding length). Even though the late 19th-century/early 20th-century period has been done to death, it’s my favorite, so I’ll always check out a book set in those times. Jennifer Donnelly’s A NORTHERN LIGHT, about a 1906 murder as seen through the eyes of an aspiring writer, is incredible.

  3. Michelle Roberts Nov 7 2014 at 2:08 pm #

    OUTLANDER, definitely. I read this about a month ago and immediately requested the entire series for Christmas. 🙂 I’ve also enjoyed Philippa Gregory’s THE OTHER BOLEYN GIRL series, though I’ve yet to find time to delve into her other series. A good YA historical for fans of Downton Abbey is Katherine Longshore’s MANOR OF SECRETS.

  4. Carrie-Anne Nov 7 2014 at 2:41 pm #

    I never understood the complaint many people have about history and historical fiction being boring or irrelevant. History was always my favoritest subject in school, I’ve been writing historical fiction since I was about eight years old, I’ve never been interested in anything modern, and I live and breathe historical everything.

    Historical fiction writers who line my shelves include Leon Uris, Herman Wouk, James Michener (need to get more of his books), Franz Werfel, John Hersey, W.E.B. Griffin, Kathleen Winsor, Ida Vos, and Susan Fromberg Shaeffer. I love nothing better than a big juicy doorstopper I can crawl into and live in for a few weeks, and am saddened at how many historical books nowadays are so short. I far prefer the classical historical model, where a book is at least 500 pages, spans many years, and has an ensemble cast.

  5. Laura Gross Smith Nov 8 2014 at 1:06 pm #

    I have to agree, Jennifer Donnely’s book, A Northern Light was amazing. I had the pleasure of taking a historical fiction writing class with Valerie Martin, and must also recommend her books.

  6. juicer Apr 13 2015 at 6:15 am #

    Pimms is Cap Jaluca’s award winning restaurant and holds its weight in ambiance and outstanding cuisine
    amongst the finest in the Caribbean. The temple shines with infinite
    reflections from hundreds of crystallized glass pieces.
    A form of the herb licorice, called deglycyrrhizinated licorice
    (DGL), was explored for canker sores in a small study.

Leave a Reply to juicer Click here to cancel reply.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.