Historical Fiction, A Way Back Book Obsession


Despite writing and keeping this blog primarily for myself, as a way to keep writing casually and to share the things I’m brimming with excitement about… I can’t help but feel guilty when I ignore certain topics for what I feel is too long.

That’s why I didn’t post for two days- I’m distinctly aware that I owe books a day in the spotlight, but reading hasn’t been particularly satisfying for me recently. I only recently pulled out of the refraction period caused by Willa Cather’s The Song of the Lark. I read that over the fourth of July. Over a month ago.
The book that got me out is the one that I’m still very much in the middle of- Balzac’s Cousin Bette.

Because of this I feel like saying anything on the subject of what I’m reading right now is both premature and a bit too tenuous. I don’t want to do anything that might cause me to lose the reading momentum for another month. Especially because I need to know what happens to Cousin Bette and Steinbock and Hortense and Adeline.

So instead of talking about what i’m reading right now, I’d like to share one of my favorite middle school and high school genres: historical fiction.

I think I started being a bit obsessed with Mary, Queen of Scots sometime in elementary (I dressed up as her for Halloween once, severed head not included) and when we traveled to Scotland as a family when I was seven I was completely blissed out.

I can’t remember if that was before or after I read my first historical fiction item- Mary, Queen of Scots: Queen Without a Country- from The Royal Diaries Series. I can see it having happened either way.
But what followed was a deep dive into regal history that lasted a few years. And I took my historical fiction pretty seriously- I liked things that were more factually based, but included character development so that I could feel the human side of what was going on.

Here are some of the books that defined this era for me. Did you read any of them?

  • The aforementioned Royal Diaries series: I read Elizabeth I (I was a big Tudor fan), Cleopatra VII, Marie Antoinette, Anastasia, Kaiulani, Lady of Ch’iao Kuo, Victoria, Mary Queen of Scots, Jahanara, and Eleanor. (Highlighted my favorites). I remember dragging my friends into princess games. My favorite part was making ridiculously complicated family trees prior to playing. Some things never change. I remember the Mary Queen of Scots book had her with some bird of prey on the cover. I still want a pet hawk (or osprey, I would settle for and osprey or falcon 😛 ). I also love the completely flowery subtitles (ex: Eleanor: Crown Jewel of Aquitaine).
  • Carolyn Meyer’s Young Royals series: Incidentally, through research for this post I discovered that Carolyn Meyer also wrote three of the books for the Royal Diaries series: Anastasia, Isabel, and Kristina. (I remember trying to read Isabel (of Castile) and finding it too religious. By that time I was I think getting a little too old for the Royal Diaries). The young Royals series was one I discovered in Middle School, when one of my classrooms had a copy of Mary, Bloody Mary. The others included Doomed Queen Anne (Boleyn); Beware, Princess Elizabeth; Patience, Princess Catherine (or Aragon); and Duchessina (Catherine de Medici). I read all of them.
  • Nine Days a Queen: the Short Life and Reign of Lady Jane Grey, Anne Rinaldi: Jane Grey had it fucking rough.
  • The stepping stone to nonfiction: Alison Weir’s books: Of course, I didn’t actually use this as a stepping stone. I read these and then got completely sidetracked by reading all the classic novels I could (and I’m still kind of stuck on that project). But Alison Weir’s books were excellent. They were very similar to Carolyn Meyer’s Young Royals series, but more serious, more politically involved, and longer. Alison Weir also writes a lot of actual nonfiction history books, and I continue to regret that I haven’t read any of them yet. Her fictional books that I have read: Innocent Traitor (also about Lady Jane Grey), The Lady Elizabeth (I still remember how this book begins)
  • I definitely read a salacious book about Catherine Howard at some point, but i can’t find it.
  • Georgiana: Duchess of Devonshire by Amanda Foreman: I read this a little while after seeing the movie based on it (Duchess, with Keira Knightley, which I am still much more fond of than it deserves).  This is actually less historical fiction and more straight biography, but if you think biography is boring it’s definitely not that. In fact, I think the phrase ‘stranger than fiction’ applies here.  There’s a weird menage a trois, her eye swells up a whole lot at some point, and she is involved in politics- which causes everyone to accuse her of exchanging sexual favors for political support!
  • Marie Antoinette by Antonia Frasier: Truthfully i don’t remember this one very much.

Even if I fell out of love with books about long-dead royalty, I do owe them a lot. Hours upon hours of entertainment and a functional knowledge of England’s tortuous line of succession in the 1500s. Not to mention Henry VIII’s many wives.

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