Rewriting History (historical fiction)

I didn’t think I would like this genre too much, but I do.  I used to be a “snob” about it, a purist if you will, thinking that “if it didn’t really happen to these exact people, its not worth my time”.  But I have found out that I can enjoy a good story set in a historically significant time period.

My first historical fiction novel I read was “The Killer Angels” by Michael Shaara.  Then immediately absorbed “Gods and Generals” and then “The Last Full Measure” ( both by Jeff Shaara).  Then I started in on Jeff Shaara’s WWII books, “The Rising Tide“, and one of his Revolutionary War books, “Rise to Rebellion“.  Reading the historical fiction made me want to read more about the actual engagements and people featured within the books.  I didn’t even know “Ultra” existed until I read about it in Shaara’s books about WWII.  The historical fiction helped to weave a personal story through the dry dates and facts of the history.  From Shaara’s books, I started to seek out the actual history of WWII, a time period I was never really interested in.  I started devouring my dad’s library of Stephen Ambrose.  And my WWII post is for another day.

Since the Shaara experience, I no longer rule out historical fiction.  “1776” by David McCullough was awesome.  It is not my preferred time period in history, but “1776” it was extremely well researched and well written and I feel it should be required reading for all high school students.  It revived some of the patriotic spirit within me. I read  “Texas: A novel” by James Michener before I moved back to the area.  It had me completely captivated by my birthplace and extremely proud to be a Texan (like Texans need any more reasons to proclaim pride for their state).

I most recently have had a brush with the genre of “historical fiction romance”.  Apparently these are extremely popular.  The two I read took place in Victorian England, as many of them are.  I guess they are appealing because of the clothing (corsets, stockings, dresses), the entire idea of what is socially acceptable during that time and the taboo of crossing those lines.  Honestly, I was thinking of the lack of hygiene and STDs that no one knew about.  I guess that’s  just me, the curse of being a nurse.

One recent historical fiction book I really liked was “War Brides” by Helen Bryan.  It is the story of five women living in England during WWII and their relationships to each other.  Extremely engrossing with wonderful characters.  Gives another perspective of the war through the eyes of civilians.  I just finished “Nobel Cause: A Novel of Love and War” by Jessica James.  The U.S. Civil War is the background and it features a young woman who is a courier for the Union (dressed as a boy) and her actions behind enemy lines. Truly emotional and literally had me in tears.

Alternate history.  I only have two books in this category, and they both are about the U.S. Civil War.  As a disclaimer, before attempting these type of books, the reader should know a fair amount of knowledge about the actual engagements that the authors are re-imagining before attempting to read it.  I first attempted “Dixie Victorious” edited by Peter Tsouras.  That didn’t go so well as there were engagements, mainly in the western theater, that I was not as familiar with as I should have been.  After I read a few more books and gained that knowledge, I could go back and read the alternate history book and appreciate it.  The book consists of several essays looking at different engagements and the “what ifs” of a crucial event or battle.

The other one that I have read is “Grant Comes East” by Newt Gingrich, William Forstchen and Albert Hanser.  Regardless of politics, ol’ Newt can write history books.  Alternate history, at least.  I find this particular niche of historical fiction completely fascinating, kind of like going down the rabbit hole as there are endless possibilities when just one event or outcome of a battle is changed.  I plan on reading more.

I love history.  I love learning about history.  But you can only absorb so much facts and figures.  There are few writers that can make it truly interesting.  I love this genre because it introduces history but as the background of the main story.  With characters that actually existed, or with fabricated characters based on actual historical characters, either way, I find historical fiction a way to feed my need for history but also feeding the need for entertainment.

If you have made it this far in another “nerdy” post, any recommendations on other historical fiction I should check out??

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