I get it. Historical fiction can be an intimidating genre to walk into. There’s a lot of dry, info-dumpy duds among the gems. This means that without some help from a connoisseur like myself, you never know what you’re getting involved in. And that’s why this Top 5 Wednesday theme speaks to me. Because who doesn’t want others to share in their favorite genre? Here I’ll be discussing five books that I feel are a great gateway into historical fiction. Either because they’re fast paced, share elements with another genre, or read like a lot of television’s period dramas. If ever there was a place to learn about this underrated genre’s offerings, it’s here! So without further ado…let’s cut to the books!
1.Wolf By Wolf by Ryan Graudin
It’s no secret that Wolf By Wolf is one of my favorite books. Ryan Graudin offers up amazing characters, a breakneck plot, and a one of a kind setting. However it also owes this success, in no small part, to the historical elements included. Though it’s a combination of alternate history and science fiction, that unique genre blending truly sets the story apart. Moreover, I never felt as though I was just reading a WWII text. I could focus on the shape shifting story line, or the action packed motorcycle racing sequences. I could ship two burgeoning romances, or get swept up in the thrilling espionage. I never needed to however, because despite being meticulously researched, the historical facets of Wolf By Wolf never become stale. It’s great stuff from beginning to end, and manages to both educate and entertain. As a matter of fact, it comes highly recommended from me as a gateway to any genre!
2.These Shallow Graves by Jennifer Donnelly
Though I wasn’t the biggest fan of These Shallow Graves, my dislike was not for the historical fiction elements. In fact, I found them exceptionally well done; perfect for newbies and veteran readers alike. And why is that? Well, Jennifer Donnelly tackles a fascinating (but rarely seen) side of turn of the century life in a way that’s educational and entertaining. Arranged marriages, bloodline plotting, and other marks of high power may seem like remnants of a very distant past, but Donnelly proves the stark reality of life a mere hundred years ago. The implications on aristocratic women were astounding, and serve as a great focal point to the external conflict. To say I was interested in this subject manner is an understatement. However even if you’re not, These Shallow Graves reads very much like shows such as Downton Abbey and Call the Midwife. It’s gripping from the first page, and offers depth with lighthearted amusement.
3.A Death Struck Year by Makiia Lucier
Makiia Lucier’s debut is stuck between demographics, tackling mature themes with a voice typical in middle grade novels. This makes it so few readers have taken the time to pick up this gem, gravitating towards titles with more apparent substance. And this, I feel, is extremely unfortunate for bookworms looking to invest in historical fiction. A Death Struck Year would be perfect for any reader interested in expanding their horizons, as it’s insightful and original while keeping things fairly “simple”. Despite focusing extensively on feminism and the influenza outbreak of 1918, the plot is never bogged down with cumbersome details. You get a one of a kind setting, sans the monotony typically associated with this genre. The plot is also aided by a very sweet romance, great friendships, and a kick butt protagonist. Lucier tells a historical story deeply rooted in modern ideals- a subtle distinction I can definitely appreciate.
4.The Berlin Boxing Club by Robert Sharenow
Historical fiction is awash with World War II accounts, so much so that every book lover (regardless of genre preferences) has read something in the setting. However I think The Berlin Boxing Club, despite being placed in the 1930’s, offers its own spin on the sub genre. Rich with details from the era (Berlin in the decade leading up to Hitler’s rise), Robert Sharenow writes a sports novel firmly imbedded in the past. Though Holocaust stories are, fortunately, very available to YA readers, I have yet to see one manage to articulate life in the years before World War II. Not just a novel about boxing (though that aspect will appeal to male and female readers alike), but a story of human resilience. Outside of being under known even in historical fiction circles, this novel would work well for any reader. Put your histophobia aside, and see what Sharenow has to say in his debut! You won’t regret it.
5.War Horse by Michael Morpurgo
Despite being extremely well known for his adult historical fiction, it’s Michael Morpugo’s middle grade offering that I would most quickly recommend. War Horse is the rare breed of this genre that, contrary to everything I’ve said prior to now, can stand on its own two feet. Morpugo need not rely on writing a flashy story, as War Horse manages to rise- without buckling under the tremendous weight of its historical detail. Why is this? Perhaps because of the excellent Spielberg adaptation, introducing it first hand to a host of new readers.Or, more likely, because Morpugo is an excellent storyteller. Small, subtle nuisances that would seem pointless in other works are raised to whole new heights here. They exacerbate the setting, and get readers intrigued by World War I. With there being so few fictionalizations of the first world war, I’m thankful that readers have this account to turn to. If you haven’t yet, get on it!
What books got you into historical fiction? Or any genre for that matter? Let me know in the comments!