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The Next Big Thing in Historical Fiction

YALSA’s upcoming YA Literature Symposium will explore the future of young adult literature. The symposium begins on November 2nd, but we wanted to get a head start here at The Hub, so we’re devoting October to 31 Days of the Next Big Thing. Each day of the month, we’ll bring you forecasts about where YA literature is headed and thoughts on how you can spot trends and predict the future yourself.

In writing this post, I’m also making an online confession. I used to think that I hated historical fiction. Why? I’m not really sure. I just know that I used to talk myself out of picking up historical fiction titles unless they were basically forced upon me. However, in the last year I have read so many absolutely stellar historical fiction books that I finally rewired my brain, and I have to admit that I kind of love historical fiction! In doing so, I began to keep an eye on what might be coming down the pike.

By scouring the interwebs, I’ve been able to pick out what I think are a few of the trends in upcoming historical fiction releases. So, as we look to the past, what can we see more of in the future?

First up, there seems to be an emerging group of historical retellings. Not just fictionalized retellings of famous historical events, but more re-envisionings of famous tales in new and intriguing historical settings. This trend has already begun with books like The Masque of the Red Death by Bethany Griffin, which came out in April. This dark and atmospheric retelling of Edgar Allen Poe’s The Masque of the Red Death creates a steampunk version of a plague-ridden land where only the wealthy can afford the stylish masks that prevent infection. The sequel, The Dance of the Red Death, will be coming out in April 2013. Also coming out in January is The Madman’s Daughter by Megan Sheperd. Set in London in 1894, Sheperd retells H.G. Wells’s The Island of Dr. Moreau from the perspective of the Doctor’s teenage daughter. Going back even further into the canon of wild tales, Jane Nickerson’s novel, Strands of Bronze and Gold, coming out in March 2013, is a rewrite of the legend of Bluebeard that’s set in the depths of the American South.

A second trend that seems to be taking root and growing in historical fiction is the female-driven political revolution. Currently published novels like Shannon Hale’s Princess Academy: Palace of Stone, Sarah J. Maas’s Throne of Glass, and Robin LaFevers’ Grave Mercy feature strong female leads — a few are even assassins — that help to bring their kingdoms towards political revolution. In the next few months, there are several other titles coming out with strong heroines facing political unrest and intrigue. Alex Lidell’s The Cadet of Tildor will be out this January and features a girl who attends an all-male training academy in an era of political unrest under an inexperienced ruler. In May 2013, Jennifer McGowan takes readers into the seedy underbelly of Queen Elizabeth’s court in Maid of Secrets. Street thief Meg becomes embroiled in assassination attempts, royal intrigue, and espionage as she struggles not to fall in love with the wrong courtier. A young Victoria, meanwhile, spearheads major changes in England’s political history directly from the throne in Carolyn Meyer’s Victoria Rebels, which comes out in January.

Lastly, as Carla Land mentioned in “Wait — What IS This Book, Anyway? Genre Blending in YA Lit,” I believe that we truly are seeing the most amazing blending of genres in the future of young adult literature. In the historical fiction arena, we’re now seeing sub-genre blends that incorporate steampunk, paranormal, or supernatural elements. For example, coming out in February is Gail Carriger’s Etiquette and Espionage, the first book in her Finishing School series, a young adult prequel to her adult Parasol Protectorate series, which is steampunk and paranormal. This newest novel features a young heroine attending a finishing school that teaches not only how to pour tea like a proper lady, but perhaps even the proper way to discreetly poison it before serving. In the supernatural vein, Laura L. Sullivan’s Delusion will come out in January. Twin illusionists find themselves teaming up with actual magicians to help England win the second world war. Similarly, Andrea Cremer’s prequels to the Nightshade trilogy, Rift (already published) and Rise (out in January), tackle dark magic, but in a world where paranormal beasts also ravage the countryside. Only the Knights of Conatus, a group derived from the Templars, are trained to fight these abnormal creatures and keep the world safe for humans.

So how do these trends relate to one another? In the same way that YA readers are finding an echo of today’s societal uncertainty in dystopian fiction, I think that readers are looking to have pieces of history build into a world that can be manipulated by strong characters, even as things are falling apart around them. Whether it be facing political unrest and struggling to cause change, or telling a famous tale from a new perspective to create a fresh ending, or battling all the things that could bump in the night, readers are seeking strength from the past to lead into an ambivalent future. That, I think, is the next big thing in historical fiction.

What do you think? Any other trends I might have missed?

— Jessica Miller, currently reading The Drowned Cities by Paolo Bacigalupi

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Jessica Miller


  1. I blogged about this on Turbo Monkey Tales not too long ago, The Story in History. Very exciting stuff ahead for those of us that love to read and write historical fiction! Thank you for this post!17

  2. I love history and historical fiction so I’m very excited to see this trend! Thanks for this post!

  3. Becky Becky

    historical fiction is my favorite genre so I get excited any time I learn of a new one that has come out- there just are not enough in my opinion. I can’t wait to check these out. Oh, FYI, there is another great historical fiction out by J. Arthur Moore titled, “Up From Corinth: Book 2 of Journey Into Darkness.” The book is a heart warming story about a boy who takes a journey in search of his father- his search lands him in the middle of the civil war- it is fun to see the events that take place along his journey. Great book. I strongly recommend it to all.

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