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Apr 8, 2013

A Question for Readers: Sub-genres of Historical Novels


There was a post recently regarding genres, sub-genres and their apparent lack of merits at the Historical Novel Society website. I can see, as an author, how frustrating it must feel to get their book published and yet have it not be pushed as a genre they intended. Such as the last title I've reviewed for HNS, The End of The Point.. which as a reader and not as a bookseller/publisher I would certainly classify as literary fiction (after having read it). I am not a literary novel type of person and if I thought it was MORE literary as opposed to HISTORICAL I would have passed. But when I see a book offered as epic saga family type novel set against the backdrop of the second World War, off the bat I am thinking 'historical' and lots of juicy passion in the writing kind of thing where I fall in love with characters (involved with the war effort, even) and I want to see a real story arc (beginning, middle, end) that is laced with historical details.

As a reader, that's what I need in order to be entertained. The literary novels I've read have just flat lined for me, such as Paul Auster's Sunset Park. I wanted to be cool and trendy and love the characters, but it was just depressing. I fear Jonathan Franzen might evoke the same thing for me. Obviously, readers have their own tastes and preferences and that's what makes blogging about books fun. Oprah has her picks, and I have mine. And then you have yours.

So if a book is slotted into a sub-genre of Literary Historical, I know that this is a title I am not going to enjoy since I've tried two of these recently. Isn't that a great service, to have this sub-genre classification? Same as the sub-genre of Christian Historicals. These are quite a lot like Historical romances, aka historical fiction.. but they are always going to have some measure of Christianity/faith based values as a theme or side story or something. If you are an atheist, wouldn't you appreciate knowing beforehand that the historical romance you are about to read is actually a Christian Historical and that perhaps you are going to get a large dose of bible thumping? (No disrespect, Jesus, you know I love you).

Sub-genres are a good thing, right? Are sub-genres too confusing for you? Steampunk, New Adult..these are other genres that I've said WHAT are those, lol.. because obviously that's not where my interests lie. Historically speaking, as a reader, don't you think you would appreciate the sub-genre breakdown where applicable? But yet it seems I was outnumbered on the discussion regarding sub-genres. It seems as an author, they find sub-genres frustrating. So what about the readers? 

And this sort of goes back to an older article at the HNS, Defining the Genre and another question I have. Historically speaking, how old does a topic/setting have to be in order to be slated under the historical fiction genre? HNS general rule of thumb is fifty years, so that makes anything set before the year 1963 historical. Have you read books that slightly mar that date line, and yet are still deemed historical worthy? (Turns out, the title mentioned in the beginning of this post The End of the Point just begins with 1940 but  jumps forward in timeline and the bulk is set during the sixties).

As a reader, would you support the use of sub-genres classification? Why or why not?

As a reader have you come across any novels that have been deemed historical fiction, and perhaps they should have been better served under a different genre or sub-genre?

Or.. am I just reading too much into things, and I shouldn't be going down that sub-genre path? Inquiring minds want to know.