I am excited about this topic! Because I loooooooove genre fiction. In fact, if you asked me to describe myself as a reader, I would say that I am a genre reader, whatever age group you’re talking about. Now, there have been a number of interesting discussions recently about whether literary fiction is actually a genre (unacknowledged by many of its authors or readers). While I do agree that it is (and therefore literary sneers are totally unwarranted and annoying), I’m not including it today because I want to talk about the genres I do love and read.
I definitely grew up reading historical fiction and a good book in this genre warms my heart in a way no other book does. On the other hand, bad historical fiction makes me cry and rage.
What makes it good? If I believe in the setting and the characters, not as simply modern people in period clothing (probably without the proper undergarments), but as people of their time. This doesn’t mean that authors have to write characters who hold attitudes they disagree with, but that they should acknowledge that the past is itself a foreign country. I also love it when authors don’t try to write “forsoothly” but clearly and cleanly, without any jarring modern phrases.
A few favorites in this genre:
– Rosemary Sutcliff, who wrote about all different time periods, but mostly the end of Roman Britain. Eagle of the Ninth, Mark of the Horse Lord, The Shining Company, and Bonnie Dundee–and stopping before I list them all.
– Elizabeth Wein, who you may recognize as the author of Code Name Verity (and its upcoming companion book, Rose Under Fire, which I have read and !!!). She also wrote a WONDERFUL series set in 6th century Ethiopia. I love the first book, The Winter Prince, but a lot of other people find it a bit intense. I suggest starting with Coalition of Lions.
If you asked me to name one favorite genre, this would probably be it. The combination of some historical setting or inspiration and fantasy is gold in my book. So much so, in fact, that I have a whole page for them (though it’s not necessarily complete). A lot of fantasy is set in the past, but historical fantasy has a more specific component to it–it’s based on a particular culture, time, or both.
Here are a few highlights:
– Megan Whalen Turner is the queen of historical fantasies, as far as I’m concerned. Her Queen’s Thief series is AMAZING, and if you haven’t read it already, you definitely should.
– Martha Wells is much less well known than she should be. Her Ile-Rien series is really great, but my very favorite of her books is The Wheel of the Infinite.
– Patricia Wrede and Caroline Stevermer’s wonderful Kate & Cecy series. The first book is the best, but they’re all fun. Georgette Heyer, with magic!
I’m limiting myself to adult fantasy here, since there’s a YA topic later this week. Really though, fantasy is such a huge category, with so many sub-genres. It has something for almost everyone. I tend to like mythic fantasy a lot, books based on retellings of fairytales or legends.
– Patricia McKillip writes beautiful books that feel like fairytales even when they’re not. My favroites: Ombria in Shadow, Alphabet of Thorn, Song for the Basilisk, The Changeling Sea.
– Theodora Goss is one of my favorite short story writers. Her first collection is called In the Forests of Forgetting and is excellent. If you’d like to try one of her stories, “Her Mother’s Ghosts” is available online and free through Clarkesworld.
– Daniel O’Malley‘s The Rook is a rare urban fantasy book that I adore. (I don’t have a problem with the genre, just not my cup of tea.) It takes place in London and is by turns weird, gross, hilarious, and touching. I loved it and I can’t wait for the next installment.
I’m very specific in the kinds of sci-fi I like reading: smart, character based, not too much hard science. Oh, and Ray Bradbury. In short, I can’t describe it exactly, but I know it when I see it.
– Connie Willis, especially the Oxford series. Willis manages to do zany comedy (To Say Nothing of the Dog), COMPLETE PAIN AND ANGUISH (Doomsday Book), and All the Feels at Once (Blackout/All Clear) in one series! I also enjoy Promised Land a lot.
– Lois McMaster Bujold has the wonderful Vorkosigan series. If you like any of the following characters, you really need to try her: Howl, Gen, Lord Peter Wimsey. It’s long, and there are certainly books I like better than others (A Civil Campaign is AMAZING, but you need to read the others first).
– CJ Cherryh‘s Foreigner universe books. I wouldn’t necessarily recommend these for the person first dipping their toes into sci-fi, but they’re great character drive books, with plenty of politics.
I don’t read a lot of romance, partly because I don’t like a lot of sexual content and, well, that’s kind of the point of a lot of modern romance. (Again, no judgment on those who do enjoy reading it! Just not my personal tastes.) There are a few I enjoy, though.
– Georgette Heyer is one of my favorite comfort authors. Wild plots, often hilarious characters, superb creation of a Georgian/Regency world–she has it all. Plus, they’re great from the content pov.
– Jennifer Crusie is probably my favorite contemporary romance writer. I wouldn’t recommend her books to those who want clean romances, but I really enjoy her characters a lot. She’s funny and smart, and so are the people she writes about.