Book club

Historical fiction and legal pirates, my favorites

Grace Schutte

More stories from Grace Schutte

May 10, 2023

Photo by Delia Brandel

The more I read, the more my preferences evolve.  

Ten years ago, I wanted fantasy escapades, love triangles and devastating betrayal; I wanted training montages, one bed tropes and seven-book series. 

Now, I’m more of a standalone lit fic kind of gal. Don’t get me wrong, I still love a good adventure, but only if it’s accompanied by an in-depth analysis of human nature. Twelve-year-old Grace is rolling her eyes at the thought. 

But I try not to limit myself to the same old, same old. I like to dabble — try everything at least once; give it a test drive and wiggle my toes to see if there’s room.  

There’s one genre I find myself coming back to, but for some reason never deign to call my favorite. For me, it’s more like the bedrock of reading. It’s the equivalent of saying your hobby is listening to music or that you like to open windows when it’s raining outside. 

Like, of course. What else is there? 

That’s what historical fiction is like for me. 

There’s a lot to love about historical fiction, and it’s an incredibly underappreciated genre, in my opinion. 

This semester I’m taking a historical fiction workshop (ENGL 413) and in it, we read all sorts of short stories and novels. The variety of what we read is vast, ranging from contemporized retellings of ancient stories to speculative fiction

One aspect of the genre that I appreciate is the didactic nature of it.

I think that’s what scares people off sometimes, the idea that historical fiction is essentially reading a textbook. But look at the musical “Hamilton,” for example. While it is incredibly educational, it’s communicated through a medium that is entertaining and easy to understand. 

By presenting readers with characters they can empathize with, relate to or even see themselves in makes learning not only more enjoyable, but intelligible too. Similarly, it sheds new light on our world today, as that timeless quote goes. 

Another, more awe-inducing aspect of historical fiction is the realization that it’s real, or at least inspired by real events. An aspect people love about reading is the “escape” it offers, the ability to travel to another world, or whatever. 

Historical fiction offers that in a way that is different from your typical high fantasy or sci-fi novel — I think, personally, in a way that is almost more impressive and jaw-dropping. 

There’s nothing quite like flipping to the front of the book just to double-check that the author really did say “based on true events.” 

But the wonderful thing about historical fiction is that it isn’t always confined to the facts. 

For example, one of my favorite historical fiction books — which might actually be considered historical fantasy, now that I think about it — is “Passenger” by Alexandra Bracken. 

You might recognize the author’s name. She wrote a popular dystopian novel called “The Darkest Minds,” published in 2012. You best believe I ate that up back when I was in my Divergent/Hunger Games/Maze Runner era. 

But, instead of a mystery plague ravaging the nation and leaving kids with superpowers, “Passenger” is about time travel. 

It starts in the 2010s and follows Etta, a prodigious violinist. When she witnesses her grandmother get stabbed offstage and dragged through a portal at one of her recitals, the world as she knew it is turned on its side. 

Having seen too much, Etta is taken as well and finds herself on a pirate ship. In 1776. 

My feet? Kicking. My hair? Twirling. My gasp turns into a smile. 

(I don’t know what it is about pirates and naval themes, but I can’t get enough of them. I gladly accept any and all pirate-y book recommendations.)

It’s on this same pirate ship that she meets Nicholas, a “legal pirate” and relative of the mega-powerful Ironwood family whose patriarch is attempting to monopolize time travel. 

Etta and Nicholas are sent on a mission across continents and centuries in search of a lost compass, one that holds great power, many secrets and the answers to Etta’s questions. 

I read this in a day. A singular day. 

And this was years ago — like, at least seven, and I’m giggling just thinking about it. I know this isn’t your typical “historical fiction” novel, but it explores so much of history that I say it counts. 

Historical fiction has more to offer you than you think and I implore you to give it a try. 

Schutte can be reached at [email protected]