Monday, January 7, 2013


I love history and always have. I got that from my Dad, I suspect, or at least in part. As a kid, I read a lot of non-fiction history and many of those books belonged to my dad and many more came from our library. He was a big aficionado of the Civil War era. We had many a debate on battles and the politics of the time.

My love was the Revolutionary War era. I loved the contrast and similarities between European politics and structure and what was being created here in the 1700’s. The early battles for something different from what they left behind.

Then I discovered historical fiction (remember John Jakes?) where real history was the backdrop of the story and the fictional characters were woven into that history. It takes a true understanding of the era to weave those characters into existing history. Oh, how I loved reading those books. They were like doors into the everyday life of the time depicted. Rich on details of the politics, battles, and alliances and they weren’t short, quick reads, either. I loved that aspect.

Then I discovered romantic historicals. I was in heaven. There were plenty of battles and political machinations, danger and daring, heroes, spies, and a code of honor and all twined into the rich history of the time. They were long books—500 plus pages. They were great because they transported you to another time so well that who paid attention to the fact they weren’t a 300 page read? The authors needed that extra space to accurately create the world their characters played in. Epics and family sagas.

I think I devoured books like the Roselyn Chronicles, by Roberta Gellis (who was an historian and taught it). The Greatest Knight (and a host of others), by Elizabeth Chadwick, Skye O’Malley series, by Bertrice Small.  The Thornbirds (as well as several others), by Colleen McCollough and quite a few other authors that all wrote fabulous stories that put you in the era they were writing. They all wrote stories that were over 500 pages long. Too long? I didn’t think so and still don’t. They were bestsellers and some were runaway best sellers. Marvelous stories that were like a mini vacation in a time machine.

From there I discovered other authors, who wrote books a bit shorter—about 400 pages but still told a great story. Still rich in everyday life, politics, and beliefs of the historical period but not quite as long. Jude Deverau’s Velvet trio. Catherine Coulter with Rosehaven, and other medieval stories that were over 400 pages, Julie Garwood with Honor’s Splendor and Lyon’s Lady—just a little shy of 400 pages. And then there were Michael and Kathleen Gear’s first North Americans series, Anne McCaffrey’s first dragon books of Pern (I still go to Pern for a vacation and ditto on the other authors listed).

I don’t like many of the historical romance that has been put out recently. They seem to have a good storyline but they don’t really give a flavor of the time they’re set in. They cut out all the rich history reducing the story to actors dressed in period clothes but little else spouting romantic nonsense. The story could be in any era and the only way you can tell is by the clothes they wear and the historical names they drop. There have been some notable exceptions: Grace Burrows, Julia Quinn, and Elizabeth Loupas. All of them write rich stories steeped in the mores, customs, and politics (which is such an integral part of history), of the era they write. Great storytellers!

I think there is a great deal of difference between books that use filler and those that skillfully use historical narrative and information and weave a good story within it. Somewhere along the way authors/publishers started thinking everything must be fast paced action or lose readers. I have news for them; they lose readers, or at least this reader, by condensing everything into a homogenous romantic storyline and slapping historical on it.

I miss those wonderful stories that open a door to the past and let you spend time there.   

What are your thoughts on the past few years of short and fast?


Kat Sheridan said...

I grew up on history at the dinner table as well--like your dad, mine was a Civil War buff, and like you, I preferred the Revolution (one of the first books I loved was Johnny Tremain). I miss the giant historical romances as well. I think it finally came down to printing costs and that's why they started shortening them. Now with e-books, all that cost falls by the wayside, so I think we are primed to see the return of the "big" historicals. And I LOVE Elizabeth Loupas' work, although I'd term it more as historical fiction than romance. Whatever it is, I love it!

Anne Gallagher said...

When I first started reading historical romance, the books were huge, and I didn't mind one bit. Like you said, nowadays it's short and fast.

Although, I have to admit, I like to devour a book in one day. Reading a 400/500 book today might be a little too unrealistic. I think my Monster would want to eat at some point.

Jo said...

I am a Georgette Heyer fan from way back, being inspired by Jane Austen her books were full of historical background.

I too go back to Pern periodically. I love dragons anyway.

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

I don't read historical fiction, but I will confess to writing short and fast science fiction.

Johanna Garth said...

My answer is it depends. If it's well done then I love it, but I have read some historical fiction with pages of description that makes my eyeballs glaze over.

Ciara said...

I just started reading historical fiction. Do you know of any great highland historical novels?

Jo said...

A book/series which seems to have disappeared into obscurity is/are the Angélique novels. The first two or three were excellent but then I think they went on too long. Then for Scottish stories you have the Diana Gabaldon Outlander series which are as Scottish as you could want. Sure Sia knows lots more.

~Sia McKye~ said...

@Kat--Elizabeth's books are more historical fiction. But I love her books.

@Anne, I don't have the time to read 500 pages in a day, lol! But I do enjoy reading that much over the course several days. :-)

@Jo, I loved dragons and Pern's dragons in particular!

~Sia McKye~ said...

@Alex, there's nothing wrong with short and fast if that's what you're in the mood to read.

I finished up two good ones just this week, but I do like bigger books and being in the *world* a bit longer. :-)

@Johanna, that's where good and relative narrative comes into play. I don't believe in filler for filler sake. It has to relate to the story.

~Sia McKye~ said...

Ciara-Depends upon what era you enjoy. Regency has been so overdone but I will say, Grace Burrows writes wonderful character driven stories and give a good feel for the era without pages of superfluous crap. Julia Quinn also writes some good stories. Donna MacMeans writes some entertaining historicals, Anna Campbell writes some dark but well done historicals in various eras. Elisabeth Chadwick has some fabulous English historicals set in various eras as well. She IS English.

I've not been terribly impressed with some of the Highland historicals but there were two author's whose names escape me right now, that put out some good ones. Darn it. If I can think of the books I'll remember the authors. My brain is fried right now. I'll pass them on to you when I do.

There HAVE been several author's who write some great Scot stories but they focus on paranormal but are very well done. Donna Grant is one,Lydia Dare writes some fun ones but not Scot...

readwriteandedit said...

Sia, I've always loved history as well. I'm guessing part of that came from my dad, since he was into a lot of it. But I grew up in VA and everything we studied in school related back to something from history. We got everything on the colonies and the British, the presidents, the Civil War and so on. Every town in the state boasted of some link to the past. From there I went into the history of other countries.

Like most here, I like the historical details of a good novel, but once those details pass a tipping point, I'm bored. I read novels for the fiction; if I get some history too, that's great. But I don't want those details to take over the story. If a writer wants to present facts, he can write a non-fiction book or put facts in a blog. Novels should be colored by history, not drowned under the details.