Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Discussion: Are you a genre slob or stickler?

From the back cover of Kat, Incorrigible

When Ruby and I decided to organize an event for the genre historical fantasy, one of the very first questions we grappled with was, "What exactly IS historical fantasy?"

Um, shouldn't we have known this already, considering we were organizing an event around that very subject?

Yeah, well, it's harder to define than you might think! Sure, some books like Kat, Incorrigible by Stephanie Burgis or Bewitching Season by Marissa Doyle are obvious choices because they:

1) Take place in REAL historical settings,


2) Include magic

Which pretty much sums up historical fantasy right there. 

But what about when the elements of the book are a little less defined?

The magical aspects are pretty cut and dry (is it fantastical in some way? Yes? It counts!), but the historical part can get a little tricky.

Take, for example, books like The Girl of Fire and Thorns by Rae Carson or Magic Under Glass by Jaclyn Dolamore, where the setting is a made up world, but it is based heavily upon real historical customs and cultural elements. Does that count, or no?

Are you starting to see the conundrum?

The Sticker Approach

We could have gone with this approach if we wanted to be REALLY strict about our genre borders. To the Stickler, anything that doesn't have an historical setting that actually existed in history is nixed. Cultural inspiration alone isn't enough!

The Anything Goes Approach

This is the polar opposite of the Stickler. With the Anything Goes Approach, anything with a drop, smidgen, hint, or even allusion to a real historical event, time, culture, or custom qualifies. So that high fantasy with the medieval-like village? TOTALLY COUNTS!

Where We Drew the Line

For us, our goal was to celebrate a genre we love and bring all of you good books. So with that goal in mind, we decided to take a much more lax approach than a Stickler would, but a slightly more strict approach than an Anything Goes-er.

If a significant part of the world was based on real historical times or cultural elements--especially when those real-world influences played a significant part in the story, then we included it.

So Magic Under Glass and The Girl of Fire and Thorns are in, but "generic medieval village" high fantasies are mostly out.

What do you think? Where do you draw the line when it comes to genres? Are you a Stickler, and Anything Goes-er, or somewhere in the middle with me and Ruby?

We asked this very question of a number of authors and their responses are both varied and insightful. Stay tuned through this event to read their thoughts on the subject!

Check out what Ruby's up to today! Check out our Historical Fantasy Jubilee full schedule of events and giveaways!

Have you entered to win our prize pack giveaways?


  1. I like mixing history with magic. Think The Faerie Ring or Libba Bray's Gemma Doyle series. I also liked Girl of Fire and Thorns, but I think I like books that combine both real and fantasy elements best.

    It's the same reason that Harry Potter wouldn't be as interesting if he didn't have one foot in the muggle world. It makes it more relatable and even believable.

  2. I think I would have to agree with you and Ruby. I would argue that there is a lot of history can be found within culture, though only to extent that the story wouldn't be what it is without the inclusion of those historical cultural elements. Which is basically what you've said.

  3. I'm more of an Anything Goes kind of girl - and not only because I suspect you somehow got a picture of how my bed looked in winter when I was younger! - but also because some genres are just hard to define.

    For example, whenever I read the Argeneau series by Lyndsay Sands I always end up filing them under contemporary because for me they got that feel more than paranormal even though they are about vampires (and sport descriptive titles such as Single, White, Vampire).

    And something similar happens to me with historical fantasy. Like with Eillis O'Neal's False Princess, it had a definite historical feel to me, but it was a made up world, and I failed it under historical, magical even though there are no actual historical events, it' just has that feel.

    Plus, I've written stories like that, where I put a definite 'medieval' like feeling but used magic to justify modern plumbing (It's a necessity I can't live with out, even in stories!).

    Anyway, I can be very forgiving of 'genre parameters' if I'm enjoying the story, I hold that as a standard above all else.

    Sorry for the babbling!

  4. Hmm...I'd have to say that I'm more of a in the middle girl. Looking forward to this event!

  5. If the world building is done well, anything goes for me!

  6. I think I'm not as much a stickler as you, Small. In fact, you were really the first person to make me think hard about this question. For example, I'd still classify Keturah and the Lord of Death as HF, but would you? It has a pretty "generic Medieval village" setting. I just don't know!

  7. Aw, so sad that "medeval village" type settings don't count, but I'm glad The Girl of Fire and Thorns, for example, counts. I've honestly never really thought hard about this question. This is the first time I've really had to think about it. I'm probably more of an Anything Goes-er.

    - Asher (from Paranormal Indulgence)

  8. I'm such a stickler. To me, "historical fantasy" implies actual history; it's not enough to slide in some cultural elements.

    That said, I love both sides of the coin. I just wouldn't call The Girl of Fire and Thorns "historical fantasy." But that doesn't mean I wouldn't read it and love it.

  9. I'm not a stickler, more of middle of the road leaning toward anything goes. Looking forward to this event and thank you guys for hosting the fun!
    Truly Bookish

  10. I think I would say I'm in the middle. Sometimes it's difficult to decide if a book should fall in a category. But then, I wonder if it wouldn't just fit better somewhere else. Then again, sub-genres get so specific. Steampunk for instance. Generally it notes books that have steam powered things. To me though, there are a lot of books that have a Steampunk feel without the use of actual steam powered anything. To me, Historical Fantasy is the same. Sometimes, you can just feel the past in the presence of the book. :D

  11. Alison, Me too! I agree, adding magic to real history makes it feel like the magic can almost be real too. Harry Potter is a great example of a perfect mix of real and fantasy.

    Amanda, Yes, I agree! Sometimes books have fictional worlds, but their cultures are so vibrant and central to the plot, and those cultures are based on real cultures. Toads and Diamonds is an example I often think of.

    Alex, haha, yeah it looks kinda like mine did too :P I agree, some books just have a genre "feel" to them, even if they don't hit on all of the check box features. (And I want magically-created indoor plumbing too!)

    Natalie, :D

    Evie, Yes, good world building is KEY, whether it's a fictional or real world.

    Rubita, haha oh yeah, that's true :P I hm, I think I would include Keturah and Lord Death. I think maybe because the world is more firmly rooted in the historical setting and there is nothing about that story (outside of Lord Death!) that couldn't have happened in our own history. Also, I don't think the story would have had the same effect if the setting had been changed. Even the idea of Lord Death is taken from real cultural beliefs. But then the same could be said for most fairy tale retellings! Ah, it gets so tricky!

    Asher, Well, we didn't include MOST, but you'll see we have at least two books that fall into the very loose Anything Goes-er approach.

    Couch Potato Critic, I know what you mean :) I do feel "safest" talking about books with real historical settings. We have a mix of all types in the event, but most of them fall into the real history category, I think. :)

    Truly Bookish, So happy you're looking forward to it! :D

    Jen, Yes! Steampunk is another great example. Is it historical fantasy, or it's on genre? Or a sub-genre of historical fantasy? I kinda just lump it into historical fantasy, but then again I'm not a hardcore steampunk fan. I love your last statement: "Sometimes you can just feel the past in the presence of the book" YES!

  12. I'm in the middle with you and Ruby. I think the Gemma Doyle series would easily fit into this genre, but I'm not completely convinced about something like Graceling which does have a historical feel to it but not really based in history though it does have a touch of magic. I guess it depends on the construction and feel of the book.

  13. I'm a stickler! If something is medieval(ish) that is just not the same as setting something in a specific time and place (plus dragons.)
    If you think about it, almost everything is a little bit "inspired" by history or the real world somehow.

  14. Rummanah, I would definitely include the Gemma Doyle trilogy. I haven't read Graceling yet. I think it was a high fantasy? Guess I really need to read it already! :P

    Madigan, Yes, that's the problem I have. I can see the exception for some very heavily inspired books, but then where do you draw the line? If the "generic medieval village" was ok, then wouldn't practically every high fantasy book be considered historical fantasy? And I don't really think that's right.

  15. I toe the line in the middle. But I'll go high fantasy every now and then. Its fun to see everyone's take!

  16. I think i'm mostly in the "events that existed" side so that makes me a sticker. Though i was never good to recognize genres. I mean if i like it, i will juts read it:P

  17. I like where you and Ruby drew the line! A zig zaggy line down the middle is great! Then you can have your favorites even if they don't quite fit and justify them. Now, please let's get on with it!!

    Can you tell I'm a little excited about the authors???

  18. Alyssa, I LOVE high fantasy, so it was really hard to exclude some books that I love. I agree, it's fun to see all of the different opinions.

    Yiota, hehe yep, if it's good, then who cares about genres? :P

    Heather, Yes, I think we've included books from both ends and the middle so hopefully there will be something to satisfy everyone.

    Haha your wait will be over tomorrow!

  19. I wouldn't say I'm really a stickler. I like a bit of a hodge-podge haha it keeps me guessing, plus, when history combines magic, I'm SO totally sold :D

  20. Never really gave this topic much thought before. I guess I always naturally assumed that anything that has historical elements, even if they don't take place in our world, and magical elements was classified as historical fiction. I would classify Witchlanders as historical fantasy, for example. So I'm definitely "Anything Goes". But with any genre, there are always sub-genres, of course, and I think that's where the stricter vs. non-strict sub-genres of historical fantasy could come in.

  21. Hmm, if I hadn't read this post and the way you described how you categorized historical fantasy, I would have said I'm in the middle. Based on your rules though, I'd probably be a stickler then. While I loved The Girl of Fire and Thorns, in my mind I don't see it as a historical fantasy but more of a fantasy novel.

  22. I'm an "anything that tickles my fancy" sorta girl :) Great question!

  23. Melissa, haha Me too! I love history + magic.

    Aylee, That's how we tried to approach it--with sub-genres. Of a kinda "squint and we'll include it as honorary historical fantasy" for books like Witchlanders.

    A Canadian Girl, I tend to see The Girl of Fire and Thorns as more fantasy than historical fantasy, but I can also see the historical argument. I probably seem so wishy washy but I can see both sides :P We figured the more the merrier, plus we had a copy to giveaway :)

    Juju, Thanks!

  24. I would probably say I'm in the middle like you since I love when the historical setting is prominent and seems real without the fantasy overpowering. I'm looking forward to seeing the author's responses!

  25. LOL, I think I'm kind of a stickler when it comes to actually classifying books into particular genres. I think of historical fantasy as "historical + fantasy"...something that combines the two genres. So for me, in order to be considered "historical fantasy" I think it would have to actually be *set* in the past as well as have fantasy elements. If a setting is merely inspired by history, I think I'd just group it under fantasy. Alternate histories with magic, though, I would call "historical fantasy" since they at least take place somewhere physically on Earth :D

    I would, of course, likely read it either way, regardless of category!

  26. I'm a anything goes kind of person! There's so many different kinds of books it's hard to put them into different categories! Sometimes a mystery is in literary fiction or a book featuring a kid or teen protagonist could easily fit into the adult section! But I love historical fantasy. It's one of my faves :)

  27. Stephanie, The authors' responses are really interesting. They're all over, which I think is great!

    Danya, Those are the books I feel most comfortable calling historical fantasy, though I don't mind including some of the others too. What about Steampunk then? Would that be a separate genre, or part of historical fantasy?

    Julie, It is hard! I've considered using genre labels for my reviews, but I've held off because I know I'd frustrate myself trying to fit everything into neat categories.

  28. I like to think of myself as an anything goes-er. I think you could have more fun that way. :)

  29. Hmmm, good question. I think steampunk *is* evolving into its own genre, but for me it would probably depend on how fantastical vs. sci-fi the elements were. If there's magic/paranormal/supernatural stuff then I might consider it historical fantasy, but if the emphasis is on the technology I might consider it more...historical sci-fi? LOL. Perhaps I should just let it be its own category! :D

  30. Missie, I agree! The more the merrier :)

    Danya, Oooh, see I show my lack of familiarity with the genre already. I didn't even consider the difference of technological emphasis. Historical sci-fi--fun! I think I might end up going cross-eyed with all these genre distinctions and decisions :P


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