21 Subgenres of Historical Fiction + Categories To Specify

Posted on Mar 14, 2024

Avatar Of Bella Rose Pope

Written by Bella Rose Pope

Home > Blog > Writing > 21 Subgenres of Historical Fiction + Categories To Specify

If you want to dive into writing a novel and work in a prolific niche, exploring the subgenres of historical fiction can get you a long way. While it might sound straightforward, there’s a lot more to historical writing than just the fact that it takes place in the past.

Knowing the subgenres of historical fiction, along with some categories, can give you insight into writing a novel for a specific audience, as well as fulfilling an interest of yours in researching and writing in a historical setting.

But because there’s more to the subgenres of historical fiction than most people realize, we’ll be going over what makes it historical, the subgenres to keep an eye on, and a list of many.

Here’s what you’ll learn about the subgenres of historical fiction:

  1. Elements of historical fiction
  2. Categories VS Subgenres
  3. 20 Subgenres + categories of historical fiction

What elements make a book historical fiction?

Historical fiction typically blends factual events, people, or settings from the past with fictional elements such as characters, dialogue, and plot. These novels are set in a specific historical period, often featuring real historical figures or events as key components of the narrative.

Authors of historical fiction have the goal to bring readers to another time and place, offering insights into historical events, societal norms, and cultural practices of the era. They want to make a person feel as if they’ve stepped into another time.

Obviously, to make this accurate and realistic, it requires meticulous research to accurately depict the historical context while still allowing for creative storytelling.

Categories VS Subgenres of Historical Fiction

Most people think categories and subgenres of historical fiction are the same. They’re not, though they are related in many ways. Knowing how to write with both in mind is important if you’re self-publishing on Amazon and actually want to do well.

Categories in historical fiction refer to broad classifications based on time periods or overarching themes, such as Ancient History, Medieval, Renaissance, or World War II. These categories help readers identify the general setting and context of a novel.

You can see these categories when you narrow your search on Amazon, in the left sidebar. You’ll see details like this:

Examples Of Subgenres Of Historical Fiction Categories

Subgenres, on the other hand, are more specific classifications that delve into particular aspects of genres in general, like a bridge between historical fiction and other genres, like Historical Romance, Historical Mystery, or Alternate History.

Sometimes, a category can actually be one of the subgenres of historical fiction, provided it has grown enough in popularity. That’s why you’ll see some subgenres listed under “categories”.

New Call-To-Action

20 Subgenres of Historical Fiction & How to Differentiate

Subgenres of historical fiction are always growing. The more books get published in certain categories, the more likely it is that an entire subgenre will come out of it. So long as there is a large demand, the publishing industry will respond with a subgenre.

For now, these are the existing subgenres of historical fiction.

1. Historical Romance

Historical romance is one of the subgenres of romance fiction that’s the most popular and typically features romantic relationships between characters against the backdrop of historical events, settings, and cultures. These novels often evoke a sense of nostalgia for a bygone era and explore the societal norms, customs, and challenges of the time. A really popular romance trope for this subgenre has to do with arranged marriages, which we don’t often see in developed nations nowadays.

A few categories in this subgenre are:

  • Regency
  • Medieval
  • Victorian

Here are some examples of popular historical romance novels:

  1. The Viscount Who Loved Me by Julia Quinn: This is the second book in the Bridgerton series, set in Regency-era England, and follows the love story between Anthony Bridgerton and Kate Sheffield.
  2. The Duke and I by Julia Quinn: The first book in the Bridgerton series, this novel tells the story of Daphne Bridgerton and Simon Basset, the Duke of Hastings, as they navigate the intricacies of London’s high society.
  3. A Rogue by Any Other Name by Sarah MacLean: Set in the early 19th century, this novel follows the story of a disgraced lord, Michael Lawler, who seeks redemption and love with the help of the bold and beautiful Penelope Marbury.
  4. The Winter Sea by Susanna Kearsley: This novel combines historical and contemporary elements, as it follows an author, Carrie McClelland, who becomes inspired by the story of a Jacobite invasion while researching her novel set in 18th-century Scotland.
  5. The Bride by Julie Garwood: Set in medieval Scotland, this novel follows the story of Jamie, the laird of the MacKenna clan, who marries the Englishwoman, Alec, in an arranged marriage that blossoms into true love.

2. Historical Mystery

Historical mystery is as it sounds, mystery novels set in the past. These often feature a detective or amateur sleuth solving crimes or mysteries against the backdrop of a historical period. These novels typically incorporate authentic historical details and settings, providing readers with a glimpse into a different era while engaging them in a compelling mystery plot.

Historical mysteries can range from cozy mysteries set in quaint historical villages to gritty detective stories set in bustling cities, but they all share a common thread of combining elements of history, intrigue, and suspense to create an immersive and engaging reading experience.

This is one of the subgenres of historical fiction that may also feature real events or mysteries. Some authors decide to solve unsolved mysteries fictitiously in their novels.

These are some categories in this subgenre:

  • Cozy mysteries
  • Hardboiled historical mystery
  • Historical police procedurals

Here are some examples of historical mystery novels:

  1. An Instance of the Fingerpost by Iain Pears: Set in 17th-century England, this novel follows four narrators as they investigate a murder with political implications, blending historical facts with fictional elements.
  2. The Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco: Set in a 14th-century Italian monastery, this novel follows Franciscan friar William of Baskerville as he investigates a series of murders, drawing parallels to Sherlock Holmes’ deductive reasoning.
  3. The Alienist by Caleb Carr: Set in 1896 New York City, this novel follows Dr. Laszlo Kreizler, a psychologist (or “alienist” as they were known then), as he teams up with a newspaper illustrator and a police secretary to investigate a series of gruesome murders.
  4. Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie: This classic novel features detective Hercule Poirot as he investigates a murder aboard the luxurious Orient Express train, set in the 1930s.
  5. Silent in the Grave by Deanna Raybourn: Set in Victorian England, this novel follows Lady Julia Grey as she investigates the mysterious death of her husband, uncovering dark family secrets and navigating the complexities of high society.

3. Historical Fantasy

This is one of the more interesting subgenres of historical fiction. It blends fantastical elements with historical settings, events, and characters. These novels often reimagine history by introducing magical or supernatural elements into real-world historical contexts. But don’t get it confused with science fiction or science fantasy. Time traveling to history isn’t the same, unless the mode of time travel is magical.

Historical fantasy can range from stories set in ancient civilizations to more recent historical periods, and often explores how magic or mythical creatures might have influenced or interacted with historical events. By blending history and fantasy, these novels offer readers a unique and imaginative way to explore and understand the past, while also providing a sense of wonder and escapism.

These are categories within this subgenre:

  • Mythological retellings
  • Alchemy and magic
  • Historical urban fantasy

These are examples of historical fantasy:

  1. Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell by Susanna Clarke: Set in 19th-century England during the Napoleonic Wars, this novel follows the resurgence of practical magic in England and the two magicians who bring it back, Jonathan Strange and Gilbert Norrell.
  2. The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden: Set in medieval Russia, this novel follows a young girl named Vasya who can see and communicate with mythical creatures, and must use her abilities to protect her family and village from dark forces.
  3. The Golem and the Jinni by Helene Wecker: Set in turn-of-the-century New York City, this novel follows the unlikely friendship between a golem, created from clay to be a wife, and a jinni, released from a flask after centuries of imprisonment.
  4. A Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller: Set in ancient Greece, this novel retells the story of Achilles and the Trojan War from the perspective of Patroclus, his companion and lover, blending historical events with elements of Greek mythology.
  5. The Once and Future King by T.H. White: A retelling of the legend of King Arthur, this novel blends elements of fantasy with the historical setting of medieval Britain, exploring themes of chivalry, power, and the human condition.

4. Alternate History

Alternate history is one of the subgenres of historical fiction that teeters on science fiction, and even paranormal. They’re stories that explore what might have happened if historical events had unfolded differently is alternate history, and is one of the growing subgenres of historical fiction.

These stories often diverge from real history at a specific point, known as the “point of divergence,” and then imagine the consequences of that change. Alternate history novels can range from small, personal changes to large, world-altering events, and can explore a wide variety of themes, including politics, culture, technology, and warfare. By imagining alternative timelines, alternate history offers readers a thought-provoking way to consider the impact of historical events and the role of contingency in shaping the course of history.

Take Man in the High Castle, for example. This tells the tale of if Germany won World War II, but mixes some paranormal in as well.

Here are a few categories that fall under this subgenre:

  • Military
  • Political
  • Science Fiction

Here are more examples of alternate history:

  1. 11/22/63 by Stephen King: This novel follows a high school teacher who discovers a way to travel back in time and attempts to prevent the assassination of John F. Kennedy, leading to unforeseen consequences.
  2. The Yiddish Policemen’s Union by Michael Chabon: Set in an alternate timeline where Israel was not established and Jewish refugees settled in Alaska, this novel follows a detective investigating a murder in the Jewish settlement of Sitka.
  3. The Plot Against America by Philip Roth: Set in an America where aviator Charles Lindbergh becomes president and leads the country toward fascism and antisemitism, this novel explores the impact of political extremism on one Jewish family in Newark.
  4. Fatherland by Robert Harris: Set in a world where Nazi Germany won World War II, this novel follows a German detective investigating a murder that leads him to uncover a conspiracy that could change the course of history.
  5. The Guns of the South by Harry Turtledove: This novel explores an alternate timeline where the Confederate States of America win the American Civil War with the help of time-traveling white supremacists from the future, leading to a vastly different post-war America.

5. Biographical Fiction

Biographical fiction, also known as biographical novels or fictionalized biographies, is a genre that blends elements of fiction with the real-life events and experiences of historical figures. These novels are based on the lives of real people, but the author takes creative liberties with the narrative, dialogue, and characterization to fill in the gaps in the historical record or to imagine the inner thoughts and emotions of the characters.

This is one of the subgenres of historical fiction that often provides a more intimate and nuanced portrait of historical figures, allowing readers to gain a deeper understanding of their lives, motivations, and impact on the world. These novels can range from faithful retellings of historical events to more speculative interpretations, but they all seek to illuminate the human experience behind the facts and dates of history.

These are a few categories you’ll see:

  • Literary
  • Royal
  • Political

Here are some examples of these subgenres of historical fiction:

  1. The Other Boleyn Girl by Philippa Gregory: This novel tells the story of Mary Boleyn, the sister of Anne Boleyn, and her relationship with King Henry VIII of England.
  2. The Paris Wife by Paula McLain: This novel is a fictionalized account of the marriage between Ernest Hemingway and his first wife, Hadley Richardson, set in 1920s Paris.
  3. The Aviator’s Wife by Melanie Benjamin: This novel tells the story of Anne Morrow Lindbergh, the wife of aviator Charles Lindbergh, and her experiences as a pioneering aviator and writer.
  4. Loving Frank by Nancy Horan: This novel is a fictionalized account of the affair between architect Frank Lloyd Wright and Mamah Borthwick Cheney, which scandalized early 20th-century America.
  5. The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd: This novel is inspired by the life of Sarah Grimké, an abolitionist and women’s rights activist in the 19th century, and her relationship with her slave, Handful.

6. Historical Thriller

Historical thriller is a subgenre of thriller fiction set in the past, often featuring a fast-paced plot with elements of suspense, danger, and intrigue against a historical backdrop. These novels typically blend historical events, settings, and characters with fictional elements to create a gripping and immersive story. Historical thrillers can range from espionage and political thrillers to adventure and mystery novels, but they all share a focus on high-stakes action and suspense set in a historical context.

These are a few categories you’ll find in historical thrillers:

  • Espionage
  • Conspiracy
  • Adventure

Here are 5 examples of these subgenres of historical fiction:

  1. The Alienist by Caleb Carr: Set in 1896 New York City, this novel follows Dr. Laszlo Kreizler, a psychologist (or “alienist” as they were known then), as he teams up with a newspaper illustrator and a police secretary to investigate a series of gruesome murders.
  2. The Day of the Jackal by Frederick Forsyth: Set in the early 1960s, this novel follows a professional assassin known only as “The Jackal” as he is hired to kill French President Charles de Gaulle. The novel is a gripping portrayal of the cat-and-mouse game between the assassin and the authorities.
  3. The Spy Who Came in from the Cold by John le Carré: Set during the Cold War, this novel follows British agent Alec Leamas as he undertakes a dangerous mission in East Germany. The novel is a classic of the espionage genre, known for its gritty realism and moral ambiguity.
  4. The Dante Club by Matthew Pearl: Set in 1865 Boston, this novel follows a group of literary figures, including Henry Wadsworth Longfellow and Oliver Wendell Holmes, as they investigate a series of murders inspired by Dante’s “Inferno.” The novel combines historical fact with fiction to create a gripping thriller.
  5. The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova: Set in the present day and the 15th century, this novel follows a young woman as she investigates the truth behind the legend of Dracula. The novel is a blend of historical fiction, mystery, and supernatural thriller, with a richly detailed historical backdrop.

7. Historical Adventure

You’ll find this one often paired with other subgenres of historical fiction. It’s set in the past, often featuring characters embarking on daring journeys, quests, or missions in historical settings. These novels typically incorporate elements of exploration, discovery, and danger, as characters navigate unfamiliar landscapes and encounter various challenges and adversaries. Historical adventure novels often draw inspiration from real historical events, settings, and figures, blending fact with fiction to create a thrilling and immersive reading experience. These stories can take place in a wide range of historical periods and locations, offering readers a glimpse into different cultures, societies, and time periods through the lens of adventure and excitement.

Here are additional categories in this subgenre:

  • Exploration and discovery
  • Pirate
  • Quest and Journeys

These are a few examples of books you’ll find in this subgenre:

  1. The Three Musketeers by Alexandre Dumas – Set in 17th-century France, this novel follows the adventures of the young d’Artagnan as he joins the King’s Musketeers and becomes embroiled in court intrigue, duels, and swashbuckling adventures.
  2. Ivanhoe by Sir Walter Scott – Set in 12th-century England, this novel follows the adventures of the Saxon knight Ivanhoe as he returns from the Crusades to find his country in turmoil and becomes involved in a series of chivalrous exploits.
  3. The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas – Set in early 19th-century France and the Mediterranean, this novel follows the story of Edmond Dantès, who is wrongfully imprisoned and later escapes to seek revenge on those who betrayed him, leading to a series of adventures and twists of fate.
  4. The Swiss Family Robinson by Johann David Wyss – Set in the early 19th century, this novel follows the adventures of a Swiss family who are shipwrecked on a deserted island and must use their wits and ingenuity to survive and build a new life.
  5. King Solomon’s Mines by H. Rider Haggard – Set in 19th-century Africa, this novel follows the adventures of Allan Quatermain, a British adventurer and hunter, as he leads an expedition in search of a lost diamond mine and encounters tribal conflicts, wild animals, and ancient mysteries.

8. Historical Saga

Historical saga is one of the subgenres of historical fiction that’s hard to place. It spans multiple generations of a family or a community, typically set against the backdrop of significant historical events or periods. These novels often follow the lives and experiences of various characters over time, portraying their personal triumphs, struggles, and relationships in the context of larger historical events. Historical sagas provide a sweeping and immersive look at history, often blending elements of romance, adventure, and drama to create a rich tapestry of interconnected stories. These novels can cover a wide range of themes and time periods, offering readers a deep and engaging exploration of the human experience across generations.

Here are a few categories you’ll find here:

  • Family sagas
  • Historical epics
  • Saga of place or community

These are some examples of this subgenre:

  1. The Winds of War by Herman Wouk: This novel follows the Henry family, an American naval family, as they navigate the events leading up to World War II. The story spans the years 1939 to 1941 and explores the impact of the war on the family’s lives and relationships.
  2. The Thorn Birds by Colleen McCullough: Set in Australia, this novel tells the story of the Cleary family over several generations, focusing on their struggles and triumphs against the backdrop of the Australian outback. The novel explores themes of love, ambition, and the search for identity.
  3. Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett: Set in 12th-century England, this novel follows the construction of a cathedral in the fictional town of Kingsbridge. The story spans several decades and explores the lives of the townspeople involved in the cathedral’s construction, as well as the political and social upheavals of the time.
  4. One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel García Márquez: This novel follows the Buendía family over several generations in the fictional town of Macondo, Colombia. The story blends elements of magic realism with historical events, exploring themes of love, war, and the cyclical nature of history.
  5. Roots: The Saga of an American Family by Alex Haley: This novel traces the history of Haley’s own family, beginning with the story of Kunta Kinte, a young man captured in Africa and sold into slavery in America. The novel follows Kunta Kinte’s descendants through slavery, the Civil War, and Reconstruction, highlighting the resilience and strength of the African American community.

9. Historical War Fiction

Historical war fiction is one of the subgenres of historical fiction that focuses on wars and military conflicts, often depicting the experiences of soldiers, civilians, and other individuals affected by war. These novels can be set during any historical period in which significant wars or conflicts occurred, and they often explore the human impact of war, including themes of bravery, sacrifice, trauma, and loss. Historical war fiction may also examine the political, social, and cultural contexts of wars, providing readers with insights into the causes and consequences of armed conflicts. Through vivid storytelling and rich historical detail, these novels seek to illuminate the complexities of war and its lasting effects on individuals and societies.

These are categories found in this subgenre:

  • Combat
  • Home front
  • War and society

Examples of historical war fiction include:

  1. The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien: This novel is a collection of linked short stories that follows a platoon of American soldiers during the Vietnam War. The stories explore the physical and emotional burdens carried by the soldiers and the impact of war on their lives.
  2. The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini: Set against the backdrop of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, this novel follows the friendship between two young boys, Amir and Hassan, and explores themes of guilt, redemption, and the impact of war on personal relationships.
  3. Birdsong by Sebastian Faulks: This novel is set before and during World War I and follows the experiences of Stephen Wraysford, a young Englishman who becomes involved in a passionate affair before the war and later serves as a soldier in the trenches.
  4. Cold Mountain by Charles Frazier: Set during the American Civil War, this novel follows a Confederate soldier named Inman as he deserts the army and embarks on a perilous journey home to reunite with his beloved Ada.
  5. All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr: Set during World War II, this novel follows the lives of a blind French girl named Marie-Laure and a German soldier named Werner as their paths cross during the war. The novel explores themes of survival, morality, and the power of human connection amidst the chaos of war.

Here are 11 More Subgenres of Historical Fiction, Briefly

If you want a few more subgenres of historical fiction to expand your scope, here they are:

  1. Historical Western: Stories set in the American West during the 19th century, often featuring cowboys, outlaws, and settlers.
  2. Regency Fiction: Stories set during the British Regency era (1811-1820) or in a similar setting, often focusing on societal norms and class distinctions.
  3. Ancient Historical Fiction: Novels set in ancient civilizations such as Egypt, Greece, or Rome, often exploring myths, legends, and historical events.
  4. Historical Gothic: Historical fiction with elements of gothic literature, featuring mystery, horror, and romanticism in historical settings.
  5. Historical Crime Fiction: Crime novels set in the past, often featuring detectives or investigators solving crimes in historical contexts.
  6. Victorian Historical Fiction: Stories set during the Victorian era (1837-1901), known for its strict social conventions and rapid industrialization.
  7. Tudor Fiction: Novels set during the Tudor period in England (1485-1603), often focusing on the reigns of monarchs like Henry VIII and Elizabeth I.
  8. Nautical Historical Fiction: Stories set on the sea, often involving naval adventures, exploration, or piracy in historical settings.
  9. Pioneer Fiction: Stories set during the westward expansion of the United States, focusing on the challenges faced by pioneers and settlers.
  10. World War II Historical Fiction: Novels set during World War II, exploring the impact of the war on individuals and society.
  11. Holocaust Fiction: Stories set during the Holocaust, often focusing on the experiences of Jewish people and other victims of Nazi persecution.

Whether you want to read up on these subgenres of historical fiction or try your hand at writing one, this list is the right place to start. You can also read this article to learn more about broader book genres.

If you’re ready to write your own, make sure to take advantage of this free class teaching you the mechanics of a quality novel!

New Call-To-Action

Disclosure: Some of the links above may contain affiliate partnerships, meaning, at no additional cost to you, Self-Publishing School may earn a commission if you click through to make a purchase.

Get your free audiobook and ebook copy of:

Published: The proven path from blank page to 10,000 copies sold 

Liked this post? Share it with friends!

Interested in working with us?

Book a free strategy call with our expert team!