The best historical fiction breaks free from the confines of its genre.
Unlike fans of Sci-fi, romance, mystery, horror and suspense who generally know what to expect from a book in those genres, readers aren’t drawn to historical novels simply because they’re historical. They are instead attracted to specific eras or events. People who like the Middle Ages, World War II, or Colonial America, may not be interested in a racial tragedy set in the American south in the 1940s.
That’s why it’s so rewarding when an historical novelist lures us in and keeps us reading a story that we didn’t know would interest us. They transport us to bygone places to experience and explore. They introduce us to period characters whose attitudes and expectations are shaped by a world much different than our own. They intrigue us with mystery, ply us with romance, scare us with horror and make us hold our breath with suspense. And they do this while gently folding in details that dress us in period clothing, feed us tasty dishes and fill our ears with music and sounds of the times, all without giving us a history lesson.
Some historical novels which have delightfully transported me to times and places beyond my usual interests are:
Jeff Shaara’s To The Last Man takes us beyond the legend of the Red Baron to let us fly along with the skillful Manfred von Richthofen as he becomes the most deadly and the most feared pilot of WWI. He also shares with us the hardships of the men in the trenches who carry out General Pershing’s plan for bringing the war to a quick and victorious end.
Lizzie Page’s The War Nurses brings us to the battlefront with women whose exemplary courage forever changes women’s roles in times of war. I didn’t know a story about WWI could be so fascinating.
Soraya Lane’s The Girls of Pearl Harbor. Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder existed long before we had a word for it. We know that WWII soldiers suffered what was then called shell shock, but we too often forget about the nurses who lived through the sickening horrors of trying to save broken and mutilated men.