5 Must Haves in Historical Fiction

Margaret George's masterpiece Today’s post is going to be very personal because of the nature of readers’ tastes, not just in historical fiction but in fiction in general; in fact, taste is a major component in non-fiction, as well, but that’s another subject.

These five ‘must haves’ then are purely my opinion. Your list might be much different from mine or it might even be a lot different. The important element in all this is to please ourselves as readers and hope that if we like our own historicals, others might like them, too.

My 5 Must Haves in Historical Fiction

  1. An interesting period in history. This was easy for me to find for my historical series as the American Revolutionary War gave birth to two great countries and while we now have the longest undefended border in the world between Canada and the United States, in the period I’m illuminating, tension was the norm. Even after 1783.
  2. Fictional characters who are believable, realistic, and imperfect. One of my favorite series is Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander books partly because of the irrepressible Claire but also because of the imperfect but wonderful Jamie. He, especially, has become an icon in the reading world. If I can’t think of Gabaldon’s name, I’ll say, “You know, the books about Scotland and Jamie Fraser.” Immediately people know the books I mean.
  3. Enough history that I learn things I didn’t know about the time period. I loved learning the historical facts about Henry VIII’s reign in all the books I’ve read on the subject. My favorite, which I will never forget, is Henry VIII, With Notes by His Fool, Will Somers by Margaret George. Of course we all have a fair idea of just who Henry was but this book showed me much more detail both in the real facts that I learned and in the fictional conversations between Henry and Somers.tbon
  4. An excellent polished writing style. Nothing quite delights me more when reading a fine book than to become aware of the consummate skill with words that the writer exemplifies. A few years ago our son gave my husband and me a wonderful dinner in Toronto which was a fundraiser for Pierre Berton’s childhood home which had become a writer’s retreat spot in the Yukon. Seated at every table were at least two Canadian authors with whom we could converse for the whole evening. One of ours was Lawrence Hill who told me he was working on a new book called The Book of Negroes. Because of the use of a word so denigrated in our society I was intrigued. When I bought and read the book a couple of years later, I was entranced. In the first few pages Hill’s use of language absolutely floored me. It was stunning. Add to that the actual existence of such a book in the slave trading times which are the subject matter and you have an unforgettable work. (Published as Someone Knows My Name in the U.S.)
  5. A satisfying and believable ending. Diamond Ruby, by Joseph Wallace was recommended to me and, even though it is a little out of my usual norm of kings and queens and such, I am glad I read it. Wallace writes of the early 1900’s, detailing how Ruby’s life ends as she knows it and taking the reader along on her excruciating journey against the backdrop of organized crime, gangsters, Babe Ruth,and Jack Dempsey. I can’t say more without spoiling the ending but this is a fabulous book.

Consider leaving a comment with your must-haves in historical fiction. Or any good book. You might even name your all-time favorite if you can. I can’t. I love so many.

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Coming Soon!

The Loyalist’s Wife by Elaine Cougler


13 thoughts on “5 Must Haves in Historical Fiction

    • Just shows how the main thing is write a great novel, doesn’t it? For me historical fiction has an extra level of interest because I learn so much, both in reading HF and in writing (researching) it. Thanks for commenting, Sherry!


  1. Your must haves are soo true! I loved the book you mention on Henry VIII too. We have very similar tastes in historical fiction I see! Oooh it makes me want to go and find a good historical novel now. Infact I think I will!


    • So what HF novel did you pick out? Since joining the Historical Novel Society I am inundated with titles to read, so much so that it’s a little intimidating. I find since I starting writing my own historicals, I have less time for reading others’. Also, at certain points I don’t want to read other books for fear they will seep into my own. It’s an interesting conundrum.


      • I see your point Elaine. If you remember a lot of detail and ‘see’ theh books then I guess it’s hard to not let them seep into your work. But I do recommend The Agincourt Bride by Joanne Hickson. Catherine de Valois who married Henry V was a relative unknown until this book and I really enjoyed reading it! Which is your favourite historical person can I ask?

        Hi literary! My favorite used to be stuff about Henry VIII but then Elizabeth I edged him out, followed by McCullough’s Caesar novels. Now I have broadened my scope so much, I’m not sure I have a favorite era. Certainly researching and writing about Loyalists in the American Revolutionary War has been a labour of love. I loved learning more about Joseph Brant and Colonel John Butler, to name two. Which is your favorite historical person or era?


  2. I enjoy the historical fiction writings of David Liss…I am reading The Whiskey Rebels now which is his entree into American history (during the Whiskey Rebellion)…The Coffee Trader and A Conspiracy of Paper are Europe-oriented during the late 1500s…I signed up for the Pike’s Peak Writers conference in C-Springs later this month simply to take his afternoon class on writing historical fiction…another favorite is Arturo Perez-Reverte who writes about the 1600s from a Spanish perspective…his Captain Alatriste series is wonderful…The Fencing Master is marvelous as well…


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