Circling Back to Historical Fiction…

I’m not sure how it happened, but in the last couple of years I seem to have circled back to my fictional roots. Way back in my reading past, I was swept away by historical fiction. It probably started with watching PBS/BBC historical dramas on TV with my family. The wonderful Derek Jacobi in ‘I Claudius,’ the historical context of ‘The Forsyte Saga’ and ‘The Eight Wives of Henry the Eighth’ sent me to bookshelves.

Eventually I shook the historical fiction habit and wound up majoring in history in college. Real history—with its ambiguities and mystifying motives—all but erased my yen to read historical mysteries, romances and dramas. I read a lot of contemporary mysteries and that was also my science fiction/fantasy phase.

I’d gotten caught up in trying to parse out what really happened. The search for truth in history is often a fool’s errand. History is the narrative of victors—and they often lie. I spent a great deal of time examining the first draft of history—first person accounts and newspaper reports. Although these are called the “first draft of history” it’s a sloppy first draft. You can see why dystopian speculative fiction, wizards & witches, and outer space would be happy medicine. Eventually the malaise of history passed. And my focus became MYSTERY fiction. And that was my genre for years and years. Yes, I read literary fiction and non-fiction, too, but years went by with few trips back in time.

Then, when I was loading up my Kindle before I traveled in July of 2014, I impulsively put a few novels with historical settings in my library. One was set in Salem during the witch trials, one was in ancient Egypt and the third was ‘I Am Livia’ by Phyllis T. Smith. Livia Drusilla—the wicked grandmother in ‘I Claudius’— did it. I was swept away by the first person/self-serving story of love, conquest and ambition. I’m back to reading historical fiction.

I’ve circled back to where I was as a curious kid. What was the best historical novel I read in 2015? ‘The White Queen’ by Philippa Gregory. It’s a great book—wonderful story, vivid settings and beautiful writing. And her notes at the end of the book about the various choices she made about how to use the sketchy historical record satisfied my history student side.

There’s nothing like having my historical cake and eating it, too.

I, Claudius (BBC) TV Miniseries 1977 Shown: Derek Jacobi (as Claudius)

I, Claudius (BBC) TV Miniseries
1977 Derek Jacobi (as Claudius)


  1. I’ve been hooked on history for years. I read a quartet of books about Prince Llewelyn by Edith Pargeter that had me reeling at her sense of the times, her ability to fill historical ambiguity with likely outcomes and yet to keep to Llewelyn story as much as possible.The man’s my hero so I’m bound to like the books.
    Somewhat later I started reading and watching the Brother Cadfael books by Ellis Peters because apart from good mysteries they also gave a great and accurate picture of the times.Two authors I was swept away by. Lo and behold I find they’re one and the same person. Ellis Peters being the nom de plume.
    Hooked on History now.
    xxx Massive Hugs Candy xxx

    • Candy Korman

      I’m a huge fan of Ellis Peters!
      Those Brother Cadfael books are great and the series staring Derek Jacobi is great. I think he’s part of the theme here, interesting…

      I just read The Burnable Book in which Chaucer appears as a character. I enjoyed it. If you are into historicals & specifically historical mysteries, check it out. The detective is no Cadfael—but who is?

  2. I blush to admit that historical fiction pretty much began and ended for me with Georgette Heyer. Or should I say that /western/ historical fiction did. Having loved all things Japanese from an early age, I fell in love with Clavell’s The Shogun [both book and series] and that is the history I enjoy these days. Mostly though, it’s science fiction with a soupcon of fantasy thrown in for good measure.

    • Candy Korman

      We all choose our genres—or maybe our genres choose us?
      My mom always read mystery (suspense, romantic suspense, thrillers, spy thrillers) and my dad read classics, history & biography. But when it came to reading to the kids, they read us fantasy, science fiction, fairy tales, etc. Lots of books in the house. I think that’s key. You nibble here and there until you discover what you have a taste for and then… YOU are a READER!

    • Candy Korman

      I will check it out—if I can get passed the wax works.
      There’s one in Times Square now and I get unnerved by the displays outside. (And getting a NY’er unnerved is a feat!)