Monday, October 03, 2005

Historical romance

There's a reason I don't write historical romance - as a historian, I know how much hard research is needed to get it right. I don't often read them, either, because it's rare to find one without the sort of errors that make my teeth grate.

I read one this afternoon. And, not only was it an historical romance, it was set in colonial Australia - and written by an American. It's to her credit that I finished it (I wouldn't have bothered if elements of the story hadn't been good), but the ground-down state of my teeth is testament to the fact that it is very difficult to write an historical romance, and particularly risky setting it in a place you don't know really well - because there are always annoying readers who do know the place and history. In this case, my knowledge of the time and place wasn't due to formal studies or research, but rather to family history, because my g-g-g-grandfather was a convict in the mid-19th century.

The book was set in 1858, and the hero had recently been transported as a convict to Australia - except transportation to New South Wales actually finished in 1853. The author kept referring to the 'New South Wales prison' and the warden's progressive attitude in assigning convicts to work with local farmers - obviously unaware that the vast majority of convicts in my country's history had been assigned, rather than kept in irons. There was also the constant threat of sending the hero to Norfolk Island, but Norfolk Island had been abandoned as a penal colony in 1855.

The author tried; she really did, and at a guess I'd say she'd spent some time here, but maybe she tried to put too much in, and the inconsistencies tripped her up. Like talking on one page about how bad the drought was, and only a short time later describing kangaroos in waist-high grass. She also went on about the heroine's problems of being constantly surrounded by prisoners - murderers, rapists, thieves - and the lack of any polite society for her to mix with. Hhhmmm... by 1858, only a small proportion of the population were convicts, and there definitely was polite society, even though it might not have quite reached the dizzy heights of London. The heroine lived near Parramatta, a major centre, and there were plenty of gentile women in that area by then. Heck, there was very polite society in my town by then - 400 miles into the bush from Parramatta!

I *did* finish the book, because despite a zillion very distracting errors, the relationship between the hero and the heroine was nicely drawn. I won't rush to read it again, though - my teeth can only take so much!

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