I don’t know if it is because I would much rather get lost in a world that is not our own or if I’ve not found the right story but non-fiction has never interested me. Now, change that genre description to historical fiction and you’ve found yourself a fan. The history of historical fiction stretches back centuries and the most famous example is that of the epic poem The Iliad which tells of the Trojan War. Perhaps you’ve heard of it…One aspect of the genre that I find to be really interesting is the scope of reality that exists within these stories.
On one hand, you have fantastical tales like Abraham Lincoln Vampire Hunter written by Seth Grahame-Smith in which our beloved president undertakes the role of savior of the human race. This novel incorporates real figures from history while putting a bit of a spin on the past. Or, maybe it is a true account and we were none the wiser for over a hundred years. Either way, Grahame-Smith told a tale that wound together the biography of Lincoln (his youth and his accomplishments in politics) and the fictional shadow world of vampires (creatures that have fascinated and terrified us for countless years). The book itself is quite silly and very fun and the reader gets the sense that it is not to be taken too seriously. It is a story that is very obviously not true but the fact that it is set in a land that we are so familiar with is part of what draws us in. These are people with whom we are familiar and the great thing about the tale is that it is sprinkled with just enough “what if” to truly capture the imagination.
On the other hand, you have scary and morbid tales like Devil in the White City by Erik Larson which is the chilling tale of America’s first documented serial killer. The events transpired over the course of the years leading up to and even during the World’s Fair in Chicago, IL in the late 1890’s. What makes this tale so eerie is the maniacal man at the heart of the story, Dr. H.H. Holmes. However, this is not the sole thread of the book’s plot. We also follow the crafting of the Fair from its inception to its grand opening through the eyes of the lead architect Mr. Daniel H. Burnham. This novel is interesting because it combines actual correspondence found through letters and telegrams with bits of exaggerated reality making it almost impossible to tell what is fact and what was Larson’s design. While these two men are as different as night and day, they are both real figures in recent history. Both live on in infamy for very different reasons, even more so now that they have been committed to the page.
The amount of text dedicated to historical fiction could fill your whole library. Where in history do you want to go? Victorian England? Ancient Egypt? Chances are, there’s a story waiting for you. What are some of your favorite pieces from the historical fiction genre? Leave your titles in the comments section below!
(Post script: a series that I highly recommend is the All Souls trilogy by Deborah Harkness. The first one doesn’t have tooo much history in it but the second one is chalk full of it! Harkness herself is an historian and to view history, and this story, through her eyes was really interesting…despite the fact that I have several issues with the confidence and independence displayed by the heroine. Oh, and this one has vampires too.)