The Top Ten Historical Fiction Authors. Says Who?



A little feature article appeared in yesterday's edition of the Washington Independent Review of Books entitled The Top Ten Historical Fiction Authors.  The very first thing you should understand about this list is that it is the result of a reader's poll and not, repeat NOT, the opinion of the article author, M.K. Tod.  The poll was conducted at Tod's personal website, A World of History.

The list reads as follows:

  1. Sharon Kay Penman
  2. Philippa Gregory
  3. Elizabeth Chadwick
  4. Diana Gabaldon
  5. Bernard Cornwell
  6. Ken Follett
  7. Anya Seton
  8. C.W. Gortner
  9. Alison Weir
  10. Margaret George (tie)
  11. Georgette Heyer (tie)
Sharon Kay Penman

The list turned out *ahem* interesting.  The good news is that readers quickly acknowledged legendary historical fiction writers like Sharon Kay Penman, Elizabeth Chadwick, Anya Seton, Bernard Cornwell, Georgette Heyer, and Margaret George as among the best of the best of this amazing genre.

Philippa Gregory
Others, such as Philippa Gregory, may not be my own personal favorites but I have to give credit where credit is due.  It was Gregory, after all, who turned historical fiction from a specialized genre often lumped in with fantasy and sci-fi into mainstream fiction that now, more often than not, graces the front displays in most bookstores.  She made historical fiction cool.  Whether I like her novels or not, my hat goes off to her for that feat and historical fiction authors everywhere owe her a debt of gratitude.

But there is one name conspicuously missing.  If you are a regular reader of historical fiction, I'm willing to bet you spotted it immediately.

If Philippa Gregory can be credited with bringing historical fiction into the mainstream, it is Hilary Mantel who proved that historical fiction was also capable of being prize-worthy literary fiction.  Wolf Hall and it's sequel, Bring Up the Bodies, were both (yes, you read that correctly, BOTH) recipients of the Man Booker Award.  For Mantel's work to go un-noted in Tod's poll in favor of authors like Gortner and Weir (who are both fine writers, don't misunderstand, just no where near Mantel's level!  Apples and oranges, my friends, apples and oranges....) is a downright shame and led to me reaching for blood-pressure medication.  Oh, that's right, I don't have any.

Hilary Mantel
I can only assume that our dear readers who participated in the poll haven't yet gotten their hands on Mantel's work yet.  Or perhaps they didn't understand it.  That second-person POV was pesky to understand at first.  So I'm going to give everyone who struggled with that a big ol' tip that you will positively thank me for later:

Go and get your hands on the audiobook version.  Trust me on this.  You see, the narrator gets it.  And when he gets it, YOU get it.  You will love, love, love these books.  Really.  They are amazing. Hilary Mantel will be your new favorite historical fiction author.  And then you will see what a travesty this little poll really is.

7 comments:

  1. As you mentioned, it is a reader poll so it is the opinion of those who took the time to vote. I don't agree with everyone on the list, but that's what happens when you allow people choice. We only have to look at our recent election results in Australia to see that!

    As for Mantel, I bought Wolf Hall when it first came out but have never even read the first page. One day....maybe.

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  2. I love a bookish list, no matter how ill conceived - they are never the end, just great places to start ;)

    I listened to WOLF HALL in audio, and while I think it was the better way to consume the novel and I respect Mantel's authorial talent, as a package I didn't love it like you did (my review).

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  3. I don't consider myself a fan of historical fiction but I find it interesting that I've never tried any of the authors listed. Maybe I've been reading the wrong books!

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  4. Man ... Mantel's been my favorite ever since I first read A Place of Greater Safety, which might be my favorite book of all time.

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  5. Hooray for Hilary Mantel. I can hardly wait for the 3rd book.
    I wish George MacDonald Fraser were still alive. He'd be on this list.

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  6. In the minority and may be lynched! but not a fan of Mantel here.

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  7. Definitely! Which one did you read of his?

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Fire away!