Until fairly recently, I wouldn’t touch historical fiction with a bargepole. The covers looked boring and I imagined the stories inside to be boring too, not to mention rather heavy. I’ve read a lot of books set in World War II and a few set in World War I, but nothing set earlier than that.
I still love a thriller, psychological or otherwise, but there’s only so many stories about missing children or women abused by their husbands that you can read. So I’ve started mixing it up a bit. And, this year, historical fiction has become my favourite genre.
How did that happen?
It started with the Shardlake books by C J Sansom. They are detective stories, but set in the 16th century, during the reign of Henry VIII. It took me a long time to pluck up the courage to read my first Shardlake book. The cover was so boring! And so BROWN!
But when I started reading, I realised it was actually very similar to the modern day detective stories I read. But with some interesting historical detail. So not only was I reading an exciting story, I was also learning about things I didn’t know about before. And, while I appreciate that historical fiction is just that – fiction, it is always well researched with the main historical detail as accurate as it can be.
By the second and third Shardlake books, I was hooked. (Although I still haven’t read the full series.)
After I’d read a couple of Shardlakes, an old friend of mine said: ‘If you’re interested in the time of Thomas Cromwell, you should read Wolf Hall‘. Now I wasn’t interested in the time of Thomas Cromwell at all, I was just reading a detective story. But I took up the challenge anyway and read Wolf Hall. And it was brilliant! As were the second and third parts of the trilogy – Bring Up the Bodies and The Mirror & the Light.
Now, I’ll be honest, The Wolf Hall trilogy is quite heavy and might not be to everyone’s tastes, if you’re just dipping your toe into historical fiction. But it did the job for me.
After Wolf Hall, I could handle any historical fiction. Although I did have The Doll Factory for nearly a year before I took the plunge because, again, I wasn’t keen on the cover. When I read it, I realised how silly I’d been to avoid it for so long.
I haven’t yet read anything before Henry VIII’s reign, but I’ve read books from Tudor times through to Victorian times. And I’ve discovered that, even though over 300 years separate the two reigns, there were a lot of similarities between Tudor times and Victorian times, particularly in terms of poverty and people’s living conditions.
This year, I’ve enjoyed the incredible Hamnet, based on the life of Shakespeare’s only son, The Foundling, an easy and enjoyable read, and The Smallest Man, loosely based another story based on a real historical figure.
Now I’ve had a taste of historical fiction, I’ve realised there is whole world of untapped reading out there for me. Historical fiction is a vast genre, encompassing detective stories, family dramas and love stories, as well as stories based on the lives of historical figures.
If you’ve always been nervous of historical fiction too, I would definitely recommend you give it a go!