I recently came across this quote from well-known editor Harold Underdown: “There isn’t enough HF [historical fiction] published that’s set outside the US.” My first instinct was to agree wholeheartedly with him, but then I decided to try a little experiment. I looked at all of the titles I’ve collected to review for Wonders and Marvels over the past year, as well as some soon-to-be released books that I’ve requested for this season, and noted their settings.
Around 60% of the books I analyzed were set in the United States. Although that percentage is probably higher than some of us (myself included) would like it to be, I don’t find it completely outrageous. But then, out of curiosity, I decided to examine which non-US settings were the most popular. And even though I was expecting the results I got, they still shocked me a little.
The only non-Western settings in the books I looked at were Russia and North Africa – and depending on how you look at it, you could probably argue that even those areas are on the periphery of Western civilization. Other than that, western Europe – particularly England – predominated. Of course I was aware of this fact before I performed this experiment, but actually tallying up the books made it much more graphic. This is where I have to disagree, at least to an extent, with Mr. Underdown. It’s not the abundance of historical fiction set in the United States specifically that’s a problem – it’s the amount of historical fiction set in the West in general.
Do you agree with Mr. Underdown’s assessment that too much historical fiction is set in the United States? What about too much historical fiction set in western Europe?
Melissa Luttman is Associate Editor for Young Adult History/Historical Fiction at Wonders & Marvels.