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Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Historical Romance or Historical Fiction

Historical Romance has always been my escape. Well, at least it has since I discovered them at the age of sixteen. It was a bit eye opening as well since I was rather naive (innocent) about many things back then. However, Historical Romances are still my escape, knowing that no matter what happens, whether I laugh or cry, or my knuckles turn white from holding the book so hard at an intense scene, I know at the end there will be a happy ending. I can sigh, put it away and just feel good. Sometimes the book stays with me and if the author has done exceptionally well, I want to continue reading the hero and heroine’s story.

Historical Fiction, on the other hand does not always leave me with the same feelings. I finished The Other Boleyn Girl by Philippa Gregory this weekend. I pretty much knew how some of this story was going to end, at least for Anne. You would have had to live under a rock all of your life not to know Queen Anne Boleyn was executed by her husband, Kind Henry VIII. But, the book wasn’t so much about her execution. It was the story told from Mary’s perspective, Anne’s older sister, of her family and their life in the court of King Henry VIII, from the time the Mary was just about 14 (already married by the way), and what happened in the years that followed. I did not know her brother, George, was executed the day before Anne.

This book has stayed with me since I finished it, but not in the way a Romance does. I find myself wondering what went on in the mind of Katherine of Aragon while her husband carried on openly with mistresses in the court, and when she failed to provide the necessary male heir. Or, what was in Anne’s mind as she walked toward the executioner’s block? Or George's for that matter. Did either one of them regret decisions they made along the way? Did they lay blame with their uncle and father who used them as pawns to further the family and earn favoritism at court? These were very real people and not fictional characters where everything that happened to them within the pages of the book was pretend.

I’ve not read much Historical Fiction but I do want to read more. I understand there are some with regard to Queen Marie Antoinette that interest me. One the other hand, I may put them off for a bit, given the ending would be somewhat similar, just for different reasons.

If I am looking for escapism and a sigh at the happy ending, I will look for a Romance. If I want to be intrigued and maybe learned something new (even though it is fiction there is fact woven in), I will pick up Historical Fiction.

Do you prefer Historical Fiction over Historical Romance? Why do you prefer one over the other? If you read Historical Fiction, what would you recommend my next read be?

Amy De Trempe
Duchess of Decency


  1. I rather liked The Courtesan. It is compelling to read about people who lived and breathed and experienced things in a much different world. I don't read them often, since I like books that make me happy, but every now an then I get the hankering for a book with a little more impact.
    Happy reading!

  2. Amy, I just finished reading Nefertiti by Michelle Moran. Although there is some romance in it, the main focus is on the relationship between Nefertiti and her half-sister. I think I enjoyed it precisely because I don't know much about ancient Egypt. I had no idea how it was going to end, and that kept me turning pages. I will probably look for her other books, Cleopatra's Daughter and The Heretic Queen.

    BTW, I only picked up the first book because it was one of Target's Book of the Month Selections. I have to say that program has the best books! They have never steered me wrong yet.

  3. It depends on what my mood is really but I much prefer the happily-ever-after of romance but I've been known to read historical fiction as well. Great post!

  4. Some days I'd rather read historical fiction, but many days I just want to lose myself in the world of historical romance. My inclination as to eras and time periods, however, tend to be vastly different between the two genres. I am absolutely fascinated by the old west when it comes to historical fiction. I've read Lonesome Dove more times than I can tell you. Yet for some reason, while I'm enamored by the Tudor era in history and some of these other time periods, I've never managed to get into historical fiction written in them. I read non-fiction about these times like I'm afraid they'll all disappear if I don't read them fast enough though. Not sure what that's all about.

  5. I, too, am a "happily ever after" kind of girl. Historical romance always wins for me.

    I have enjoyed other types of historical fiction, though, like "London" by Edward Rutherfurd or Ken Follet's "Pillars of the Earth". While still fictional, they are set amongst real places and events and showcase the way life was. "London", in particular, was fascinating for the way it followed particularly families through the ups and downs of harsh generations.

    I buy a lot of historical fiction, but much of it sits left unread on my TBR shelf because when it comes down to it, I reach for the romance.

    C'est la vie :)

  6. I'm 50:50 about it. I grew up reading historical romances. Then later I discovered historical fiction. I'm not too bothered about knowing the fate of real persons, it's what happens before they die (which they inevitably do, often in a less favourable manner) that fascinates me.
    A well researched historical novel is my escapism but mess up your history and I'll be furious. ;-)

    A great writer of historical fiction (with real and imaginary characters) is Sharon Kay Penman, or try Elizabeth Chadwick (UK, not US author). Both bring the past to life while there's still space for personal plots.

    But I agree that historical romance is great escapism, combining engaging plots with a happy ending.

    PS - I write both and it's tricky not to veer off in one direction when you intended the other...