Historical Fiction II: A Guide to the Genre

by Sarah L. Johnson


Reviewed by Margaret Donsbach

Historical Fiction II by Sarah L. Johnson Historical Fiction II: A Guide to the Genre, a companion volume to Johnson's 2005 guidebook, Historical Fiction: A Guide to the Genre, covers historical fiction published since the 2005 guidebook was compiled, from 2005 to early 2009. In addition to book lists, Johnson includes perceptive commentary about the history of historical fiction and the nature of its many styles and subgenres and their appeal to various types of readers.

Every library which serves readers of historical fiction needs a copy of this book. Authors and aspiring authors of historical fiction (as well as their agents) who wish to understand the genre more deeply will find it useful. And if you're simply a devoted reader of historical fiction you may well want your own copy despite the price tag. Considering the heft and extensive content of this book, the cost is extremely reasonable.

The book lists (which include brief descriptions) are organized primarily by genre and subgenre. In addition to a chapter listing traditional historical novels, "the type of books that readers usually picture when they think of historical fiction," other chapters cover multi-period epics, historical romance and romantic historical novels, sagas, Western historical novels, historical mysteries, swashbucklers and other adventure novels, thrillers, Christian fiction, time-slip novels, alternate history, historical fantasy and literary historical novels. The chapters are divided into subcategories. For example, the chapter on sagas includes sections on classic sagas set in the British Isles or in the United States; sagas with a sense of regional place; romantic sagas; "Glitz Glamour, and Riches;" sagas emphasizing an ethnic or cultural heritage such as African American or Jewish; and wartime sagas.

A final chapter directs librarians and readers to additional resources: specialized bibliographies such as Cindy Mediavilla's Arthurian Fiction: An Annotated Bibliography; scholarly works such as Georg Lukacs's 1937 history of the historical novel and Diana Wallace's 2005 critical work on British women writers; and online resources such as HistoricalNovels.info and various discussion forums and blogs. Also listed are seven pages of publishers who handle historical fiction, from major houses to small presses. An appendix lists the many literary prizes awarded to exceptional historical novels during the 1990s and 2000s, from the Pulitzer Prize to several relatively new prizes specifically for historical fiction, such as the CWA Ellis Peters Historical Award for historical mysteries. Another appendix offers some thematically based reading lists.

Johnson is the book review editor for the Historical Novels Review and Reference Librarian and Associate Professor with Eastern Illinois University's Booth Library. She is an insightful and well-informed guide to this increasingly important genre.

(2009, 738 pages)


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