Why Historical Fiction Scares Me These Days (Confession)

Way back in the day, when I was still a little Annemieke, I would read a lot of historical children books. A lot of those touched on the second world war like Winter in Wartime by Jan Terlouw. Back then it was a very common topic and genre for my age, and a topic that was focused on a lot in history in primary and high school.

As I got older however I completely turned away from historical fiction. I lost interest in reading for a while. That was one reason. I also discovered fantasy. I found that genre that I could completely dive into. But is that the reason why I have pushed historical fiction away and why it has become a genre out of my comfort zone?

No, I don’t think so.


I Question My Intelligence

Now this might seem like a weird header to you all but I do sometimes question my own intelligence when I read. It is one of the reasons why Sci-fi can be a hard read, and specifically hard sci-fi. The technical bits can be harder to grasp for me as science was not my subject in high school. And that was an understatement.

History however was one of my subjects (along with English, surprise). I used to be pretty good at history, understanding why people did things back in those days. That was my strength more than remembering dates. But as I read historical fiction now, and especially when it comes to those written by American authors, I realize how much of certain periods I’ve already forgotten about or that I might not have learned enough about. Even when it sometimes comes down to the history of my own country, I find it hard to remember things.

And then I feel stupid.

There I said it. Historical fiction often makes me feel stupid.

Which is stupid because by reading historical fiction I can actually learn things. I cannot know all the history. I did not continue on after high school with anything history related so it only makes sense that I would not keep on remembering things. Our brains do tend to need repetition to retain things.


Not Books to Hide From the Real World

Another reason why I am less inclined to pick up historical fiction is how confronting it can be. I always learned that we can learn from our own history and mistakes. I always believed that as I was younger. And yet here we are. We don’t seem to have learned that much at all. Sure we are more technological advanced. But when it comes to prejudice, racism, aggression, ethics and so on. Yeah not that much. We have a long way to go but  we seem to have forgotten about our history. Where we already have made these mistakes.

Added on to that is that historical fiction often are emotional reads. They punch you in the feels. Every bloody time. And I know that fantasy can do the same. But historical fiction, that is so much closer to home.

And so those kind of books cannot make me hide from the real world now that I have lost my idealism that we have not often learned from our mistakes in the past as a society. And I need to hide from the real world. Books are my portal into another world.

Historical (Fantasy) Fiction I Have Enjoyed

Having said that, there have been books that I have enjoyed (3 stars and up) that are historical fiction to a point. Some are set a decade ago, others have elements of fantasy.

Winter in Wartime / The Book Thief / The Museum of Extraordinary Things / The Night Circus / The Golem and the Djinni / The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue / Pride and Prejudice / Perfume: the Story of a Murderer / The Blazing Star / Stalking Jack the Ripper / The Girl from Everywhere duology / The Infernal Devices / The Ring of Solomon / Sherlock Holmes

25 thoughts on “Why Historical Fiction Scares Me These Days (Confession)

  1. I agree with you that it seems people are repeating mistakes of the past. I also read to escape. But I don’t read historical fiction thinking about these mistakes. I focus on the story and the feelings (I love being overwhelmed). By the way I also loved The Golem and the Djinni and TID.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I think people have different ways of escaping and different genres that work for them. Where historical fiction can be your escape it can’t quite be mine. The writing was so stellar in The Golem and the Djinni.


  2. The Book Thief was a fantastic read for me; the characters in it are so lovable.

    Sci-fi has a very ‘take it or leave it’ quality depending on the book. I’m a mathematician and I still don’t really have many favourite books in the sci-fi genre, broadly speaking. For me ‘good sci-fi’ isn’t really about how accurate the science is, my criteria for ‘good sci-fi’ is the author’s ability to look at some key technological and scientific advances and their implications – beneficial and horrific – for us as a species, our planet, and keep scaling up. Some contemporary examples of this: communication across vast distances, growing organs from stem cells, vast amounts of energy via nuclear fusion, astonishing agricultural developments (and people still starving in the world), etc..

    I’d encourage people to, if not read, at least skim some ‘good’ sci-fi works. Don’t worry if you don’t fully understand the science, the implications are usually what the authors are more concerned about.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It was.

      And true sci-fi is something you do have to try. I have some sci-fi on my tbr shelves and have been poking my way through some older works. I quite enjoyed I, Robot by Isaac Asimov.


  3. I love historical fiction, though I am not that keen on War stories. I have read a few, but they always leave me feeling off. I have read great non-fiction on the subject though, which does not do the same thing to me. I love reading about other times. I love learning about various periods in history and experiencing them to someone’s eyes. I just try and avoid war-based fiction.

    Not knowing something should never make you question your intelligence – Just see it as an opportunity to learn something new!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Wars are such a different kind of life I guess that it is hard to get into them as a point of view?

      I think it might be because I used to be so good in history and then let it slide. But you are right, it should not withhold me from picking up more historical fantasy at the least.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Wauw, dat is eigenlijk wel herkenbaar. Net als jij heb ik als kind heel veel historische (vooral oorlogs)verhalen gelezen. Nadien heb ik ook nog een tijdje boeken als Parfum en Het Nachtcircus gelezen maar vervolgens viel het stil. de laatste jaren lees ik nog maar zelden dit soort boeken. Ik vind het daarentegen heerlijk om te ontsnappen in een onbekende magische wereld of terug te keren naar een favoriete fantasiewereld 😉

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Great post! I do think that certain genres will appeal more at certain points in our lives. I need variety in my reading but do enjoy historical fiction now probably more than I would have in the past.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. I really like historical fiction in certain decades, and I want to read more of it. However, I totally get your points. I’m often learning a lot of things in historical fiction that I feel like I should already know – and they are definitely usually downers (especially when you think about how today is the same in a lot of ways.) Sometimes it’s good to just mix these books with others so you aren’t reading them all back to back. 🙂


    Liked by 1 person

    1. Mixing them up is a good thing. They also tend to be a lot slower reads for me compared to other books so another good reason to mix them up. 🙂


  7. I have never read a lot Historical Fiction. Most of it has been cloaked as classics turned historical by the passing of time. I think my aversion for most HF comes from it usually being about World War years; which I have an aversion to. I need to try some with a fantasy edge. I want to read The Book Thief, and The Night Circus, and I have The Golem and the Djinni on my Kindle. Great post! 🙌

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I got so much of the second world war that I find it hard to pick up books about that too but The Book Thief was a great pic. You are either going to totally love or totally hate The Night Circus, haha.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. I can definitely relate to this! I really enjoyed history in school, but I’ve also forgotten everything. And yeah, historical fiction isn’t quite the escape that other genres can be. (That’s the main reason why I usually avoid adult contemporary fiction.) Some of the historical fiction novels I’ve enjoyed in the past are The Distant Hours and The Secret Keeper.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Historical fiction has never been a genre I tend to read, and I think it’s because of what you said about it not being as much of an escapism as other genres (probably why contemporary isn’t really my favourite, either!). Also, they tend to be so drawn out and I hate getting bored in books, eep.

    Historical fantasy fiction is my jam, though! If you haven’t read The Diviners, I cannot recommend it to you enough. It’s a paranormal YA series set in the 1920s and it is EVERYTHING. So, so good. I love it more than any other series, and I cannot really see that changing any time soon.

    I also like historical mystery/thrillers, like Stalking Jack the Ripper! If you liked that one I suggest These Shallow Graves. It got me out of my only reading slump way back when. I twas that good!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes historical fiction does tend to be somewhat on the slow side.
      I have had my eye on The Diviners for a while but never managed to buy it. Some day!
      Oh I did enjoy that for the most part. I’ll have to look up These Shallow Graves. 🙂


  10. I go through phases with historical fiction, for pretty much the reasons you sometimes find it hard going. That being said, there are definitely times I relish the way it makes me think and the questions it raises. But I tend to stick to subjects I either know nothing about… or a lot. Because otherwise I definitely find these type of books too much!

    Liked by 1 person

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