Genre: Historical Fiction Arc I – Prehistory to Tudor (1485)

Nov 15, 2016
Massachusetts Library System – Northampton

Benchmark: Pompeii by Robert Harris.

Tip for searching Novelist for Historical Fiction: Use Time Period Subject Headings

Historical Fiction Resources:

Notes on Discussion

Readers Advisory Round Table Western Mass
November 15, 2016
Historical Fiction: Prehistory to Tudor

What if we had a Boston Book Festival, but not in Boston?

Evaluation of statewide databases in advance of budget cut–volunteers needed for committee

Definition of historical fiction: “Novel set in the past, before the author’s lifetime or experience. Has a respect for historical accuracy and detail, brings history to life in novel form.”

Historical fiction focusing on place/events and historical fiction focusing on character.

Popular nonfiction on history vs. historical fiction.

Danger of authors stuffing all their research into the narrative. On the other end of the scale, a tendency toward anachronism.

Discussion of Pompeii:

Finite period of time, foreshadowing, thriller-esque, historical detail, countdown to volcano eruption. Aqueduct details, tension of volcano looming. Well-drawn characters. Putting yourself in the place of someone who doesn’t know about volcanoes.

If you like Robert Harris, try Ruth Downie.

Use book forms to list “sticky topics” to potentially warn patrons about when booktalking.

Smith College Museum of Art exhibition (starting Feb. 3) on “Leisure and Luxury in the Age of Nero”


I, Claudius
Steven Saylor
Lindsey Davis
SPQR by Mary Beard
Disaster movies?

Alternate history:

The Man in the High Castle

Second titles:

The Red Tent by Anita Diamant (2) (Biblical)
Roman Blood by Steven Saylor (Rome)
The Summer of the Danes by Ellis Peters (Europe)
King and Goddess by Judith Tarr (Egypt)
Rashomon Gate by I.J. Parker (Japan)
My Fair Concubine by Jeannie Lin (China)
Dreaming the Eagle by Manda Scott (Boudica)
The Archer’s Tale by Bernard Cornwell (Europe)
Esther by Rebecca Kanner (Biblical)
See Delphi and Die by Lindsey Davis (Rome)
Hild by Nicola Griffith (Europe)
River God by Wilbur Smith (Egypt)

Other titles:

Clan of the Cave Bear
The Lady and the Unicorn by Tracy Chevalier

We have decided not to disqualify historical fiction that has a framing device set in the modern day/time travel.

For next time: Fill out Staff Reader Profile and bring it to the next meeting, where we will exchange forms.

Second Titles:

Name: Jan Resnick
Title: River God
Author: Wilbur Smith
Appeal Factors: Pace: Fast; Characters: Heroic; somewhat unreliable narrator; Story: Character-driven; Language: Descriptive, lush; campy; Tone: Dramatic, violent, panoramic; Frame: Middle Kingdom Egypt, 1700 B.C.E.

Summary/Thoughts: In the panorama of war between the Middle and Lower Kingdoms, accomplished slave and eunuch Taita (inventor, healer, accountant, architect, animal keeper, playwright, schemer & charioteer) is the narrator of River God and the key to Egypt’s power and success. Taita serves the Grand Vizier, a particularly cruel and scheming tyrant, but he also serves Lostris, Lord Intef’s daughter and chief pawn in the interest of Pharaoh Mamose VIII (fictional). Upon Lostris’ ascension to chief wife and mother to Pharaoh’s heir, she requests Taita as her only gift.

The two guide Egypt’s future as the land is invaded by the Hyksos, the economy is threatened by bands of thieving shrikes, and political maneuvering. Taita’s range of skills and accomplishments make him a shade campy, but the story is told with panache, drama, and scope. There are heroes, villains, battles and romance with lots of historical detail. Highly recommended.

Red Flags: violence, homosexuality (mostly offstage), butchery of animals

Readalikes: Wilbur Smith’s Egyptian series; Pauline Gedge Lords of Two Lands series; Paul Sussman’s Yusuf Khalifa police series; Raymond Khoury’s Sean Reilly thrillers; Christian Jacq the Stone of Light series; William Dietrich – Napoleon’s Pyramids; Colleen McCullough – The October Horse.