Do you read historical fantasy? I need your opinion!

Great Pyramid of Giza from a 19th century stereopticon card photo.
Great Pyramid of Giza from a 19th century stereopticon card photo.

I’ve recently started researching and planning a series of three novels based on a very specific period of about 30 years in Egypt’s ancient history. I haven’t written a book like this before. While I have read quite a lot of historical fiction and I know what I like, I don’t really know what other readers of the genre like.

As an author, my foremost goal is to create stories that people love. In order to do that, I need to know what it is that makes a historical fantasy book sing.

About the book

Before we go much further, let me share a few basic points of the setting and plot of this story.

It is set in the Second Intermediary Period, a time of division in the great lands of the Nile. The Lower Nile (the delta and northern sections of the river) was under the control of a group of Canaanite rulers who imitated the Egyptian Pharaohs and blocked their trade routes. The Upper Nile (the southern section of the river) was ruled by Kush, these two groups had a strong alliance.

Stuck between the Hyksos and Kush sat the 17th Dynasty, ruled by Pharaoh Seqenenre Tao. Tao was deeply unhappy with his position, he saw the Hyksos and Kushites as inferior to him, and insults flung at him did not help.

One day he received a letter from Apopi, the Hyksos king, demanding that he “suppress” the hipopotamus pools in Thebes (the seat of the 17th Dynasty) because they made a lot of noise and kept Apopi awake at night. This was a terrible insult. The hippopotamuses were an important part of the ritual life of the Egyptians and Avaris, the Hyksos capital city, was more than 400 miles away.

Tao started a military campaign against the Hyksos, cutting off their trade with Kush and attacking their villages.

Tao and his two sons waged a multi-generational war against the Hyksos and Kush and eventually, after 30 years, Ahmose managed to drive the foreign rulers out of Egypt and heralded in the period of growth and power known as the New Kingdom. I plan to write one book covering the reign of each Pharaoh.

This is where you come in

I need some feedback.

Does this sound like an interesting book? Would you read it?

Would you prefer if I stuck closer to history, or if I used a little license to embellish the story?

Would you prefer one viewpoint character per book or multiple?

Ancient Egypt is a magical realm, would fantasy elements be out of place in a historical novel? Not dragons and fairies, mind you. I’m thinking curses that work, Gods that can effect the mortal world, that kind of thing.

Please feel free to give me your thoughts, here in the comments, or via email (angela dot meadon at gmail dot com), or any other way that you know how to contact me. All opinions will be considered, but might not be used.

Thank you for your time.


15 thoughts on “Do you read historical fantasy? I need your opinion!

  1. Yes, this sounds fantastic! I love historical fiction, and ancient Egypt is a big draw for me. Obviously–that’s the period I’m writing in myself. πŸ™‚

    I like for historical fiction to stick to the known history as closely as possible. I want to come away knowing more about the time period, not being confused trying to sort out what was real and what was fiction. That being said, you have to add a fair amount of fiction to fill in the gaps and bring your characters to life.

    Yes to the fantasy elements, though, as long as it fits with the beliefs of the ancient Egyptians.

    1. Thank you for your feedback S.D. One of my favourite aspects of historical fiction is learning about the era. Strange for someone who hated history at school…

  2. Personally, I quite like reading about this sort of early history. I actually learned about the Hyksos, and Tao’s war against them earlier this year.

    I think that it would be an excellent setting for including working magic.

  3. I think historical fiction can be fascinating if handled well. The important facets are not just the time period, and the clashes of the big characters, but the focus on developing the experience of the culture, your characters who live within those clashes and how it affects them. This is a big undertaking. You might want to mindmap the story, characters and the period then develop each in detail and look at the places where the mystical enters in line with their belief systems at the time, and how it influences their choices. Good luck and I look forward to hearing how this develops.

    1. Thank you very much for your feedback.

      By far the most important thing I will have to do is make this a story about real people that my readers can relate to. I’ve got two main characters whose stories I really want to tell.

      Luckily for me, the culture is so rich and vibrant that there is a lot of material to work with.

      I have started a wiki for all my research, I’m building it up with stories of people who lived during this time, things that were discovered in their tombs and villages. It is such an amazing era, I’m loving this research so much that I keep getting drawn deeper and deeper into it. I’m hoping that this will lead to a vivid rendering of the tale.

  4. Does it sound like an interesting book? Yes very much so. So many people only know about Egypts conflict with the Isrealites. Most have never heard of the Hyksos. I think it is a fantastic period to write about. πŸ™‚

    Absolutely and positively use your license to embellish the story. After all it will be a fictional work. You can certain stick close to history regarding the actual events that took place and how people lived, but how your characters act out their inclusion in events is solely up to your inner muse.

    POV well if you are seriously thinking about a single POV then you might consider writing the story in the First Person. Certainly Mary Stewart’s “Merlin Trilogy” and Bernard Cornwell’s “The Warlord Chronicles”; “The Grail Quest Series”; and “The Saxon Tales” are excellent examples. If you write it in third Person the I would prefer multiple POVs, judiciously applied of course. πŸ™‚

    Fantasy elements? YES! YES! YES! Gods interfering in the mortal world? YES! YES! YES! Again I will use Mary Stewarts “Merlin Trilogy” as an excellent model. Merlin had the Sight. BUT he did not control it. His God did. And Merlin usually had no clue when his God was going to give it to him. The same is true with his magic. It was very subtle, not the in your face do everything kind of magic we find in most fantasy. It was kind of task oriented and again, it was not at Merlin’s beck and call but controlled by the God. Through the Sight given to Merlin and the sporadic magic visitations, the God influenced events in the mortal world. Long story short, I think it would add a great deal to your story. πŸ™‚ There was certainly conflict among the gods e.g. the struggles of the gods Osiris, Isis, and Horus against the disruptive god Set. You could certainly have the opposing gods using their human surrogates to influence mortal events. And if those surrogates have a little magic in them…it just makes for a richer stew. πŸ˜‰

    Would I read it? Yup. πŸ™‚

    1. Thank you for your feedback πŸ™‚

      I’m probably going to go with less magic than more, but I’ll see where the story takes me.

  5. Good day

    >> Does this sound like an interesting book? Would you read it?

    Yes, I would read it. Technically, I would read any book that sounds interesting and well written, even if its not something I always agree with or have an automatic, built-in interest in. It sounds interesting to me because I have recently developed an interest in Kushite culture and think it slightly under-represented.

    >> Would you prefer if I stuck closer to history, or if I used a little license to embellish the story?

    It depends on what you want to do. If you just want to entertain, then most readers will forgive embellishments, particularly if done well and you acknowledge it. If you want to write something more literary then you should do well to stick to the facts and keep depictions of the time in line with what’s known. In terms of personal preference I don’t mind a little bit of calendar adjustments but overall I want people to stick to even obscure facts, not broadly “interpret” facts to support a plot or a message or a prejudice or lazy writing.

    >> Would you prefer one viewpoint character per book or multiple?

    Both are preferable if done well. I personally like first-person narratives, but multiple viewpoints can give a deeper scope and broader canvas to paint a story.

    >> Ancient Egypt is a magical realm, would fantasy elements be out of place in a historical novel? Not dragons and fairies, mind you. I’m thinking curses that work, Gods that can effect the mortal world, that kind of thing.

    On a strict definition of the term ‘historical novel’, the answer would be yes. Most people who like historical fiction don’t like fantasy meddling with their narratives, and it would be difficult to do right. Some people will balk at this since they like their historical fiction without these kind of elements, but if it feels like the right choice for the story then I suggest you go with it.

  6. As History major and a lover of Historical Fantasy, I believe that you’re story has a lot of merit to it. I like the time period you are describing and the ability to use the realms mysteries to enhance your story and bring Egypt to life.

    Though from first light the reason for going to war seems a little off, and maybe it just needs more detail which would be in the book itself. I though look forward to seeing this book in print and reading it.

    Oh I personally prefer just one viewpoint character per book, but that is just me. It allows me to follow the story line better but then the multiply viewpoints seems to be the going thing in today’s book world

    1. Thank you for your feedback Ernest, I appreciate your insight about the reason for war. I have summarised it greatly here and there is much more to it.

  7. Hello,

    Just wanted to stop by and drop in my .02 .

    I think it sounds very interesting. I like the idea of staying as historically accurate as you can. However, the idea of using curses and mentioning gods, which these people did believe in, would definitely not turn me off to the novel. It’s a very interesting time and place. There’s also a measure of license that would need to be taken, as there’s so much that we don’t know. Best of luck to you on you endeavor!

    1. Hi Justine,
      Thank you for your thoughts, I’m as excited as a kid in a candy store with this story, everything I read makes it more exciting.

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