Sunday, September 29, 2019

Accuracy in Fiction - Where to Draw the Line

One of the most fun things about having a book release these days is the #bookstagram world. So many book lovers make gorgeous collages with my book cover - like this one from Reading Between the Wines Book Club - and then tag me on Instagram. With THE ORCHID THRONE, I'm getting all kinds of beautiful orchids and it rocks so hard!

The hubs and I have been watching Reign on Netflix - from the beginning as we'd never seen it - and we're a few episodes into Season One. I realize I'm late to the game on this, as the show ran from 2013 to 2017. But I've seen so many people - like my editor Jennie Conway at St Martins - who just LOVE this show, that I wanted to check it out. 

And I get the appeal. 

This is the story of Mary, Queen of Scots, starting with her arrival as a fifteen year old to the French Court, where she's to marry Prince Francis. The history is familiar to most of us, kind of like watching an extended show about the Titanic - we know where this is going. And, of course, they take liberties with the narrative. Mary has her four ladies-in-waiting, making for a group of lovely, randy, and ambitious young women in the French Court. But where in history the four young women were all also named "Mary," modern viewers are spared the headache and they all have different names. They all have various love affairs, too, including with the French King Henry. 

It's basically a soap opera, a teen love and angst fest only historical. Which means gorgeous clothes! And swords! And cool political machinations. (I love Queen Catherine of Medici.)

There are also a LOT of historical inaccuracies, as one must expect. Characters have been created out of whole cloth. (Amusingly enough, some commenters list them as "goofs," and I want to ask them if they know that the show is fiction.) For the most part, I'm fine with the fictionalizing.

The ones that get under my particular skin are the ways Mary's ladies in waiting are snarky to her. The dynamic is solidly high school and the hubs and I are forever pausing and saying "No way she'd say that to her queen." But it lends to the dynamic and the drama, which makes it fun to watch.

The thing is, in telling historical and historical-feeling fantasy, we have to make choices. We want to create an accurate-feeling world, but also be true to the demands of Story. In my Twelve Kingdoms and Uncharted Realms books, I deliberately blur the lines with my High Queen Ursula. With her sisters, then her lover, and then a few friends, she begins to unbend. But she's always and ultimately High Queen - and that affects everything in her life.  

In THE ORCHID THRONE, I went to great effort to separate Queen Euthalia from even her closest ladies. That's part of who she is. She's been raised to be a queen and that weight of responsibility - and the formality her position brings - never leaves her. Though part of her character arc is peeling away her mask and exposing the vulnerable person beneath. 

In writing about the lives of rulers - whether created characters or fictionalizing historical ones - we want to create credible pressures, while still satisfying that story itch. Grace Draven and I were chatting about this and she mentioned something interesting. She said, "I did have some readers who thought Ildiko was being unnecessarily cruel to Brishen [in EIDOLON] by suggesting he put her aside in favor of a Kai consort. I was like 'Folks, that's how this kind of thing works. Look into history. It happened. Harold and Edith Swan Neck are a great example of a monarch having to set aside a beloved consort in favor of a political marriage to save a kingdom.'" 

I encountered this, too, with THE MARK OF THE TALA, where some readers felt my heroine Andi was forced into having sex with her new husband, where I felt she made the choice consciously. Yes, she wed her enemy, but she did it with the full intention of being his wife, because that was part of her responsibility as a princess and then a queen. (Besides, she was totally into him ;-) ) 

In the end, I think we all make choices to balance story drama with enough real-life truth to make the characters feel true. 


  1. Yay for gorgeous ORCHID THRONE pics!!! ;)

    I have yet to watch Reign. *hides face* I think I'll love it, I'm a sucker for historical retellings, but I do find myself getting stuck on blatant inaccuracies if they're straight-up historical compared to when a book/movie/show is a mash of historical and fantasy, then I go into it expecting the creator to have taken some liberties and I barely notice.

    1. Well, maybe? We bailed on it because of the teen angst, but that could be us. And yeah - I'll accept a whole new bastard prince character before I can suspend disbelief on established manners. Funny what reads realistic to our story minds!

    2. I'll put a pin in Reign for when I'm vibing for some Mean Girls. ;)

  2. Okay. Now wait a minute. No one gets down on Andi's story for any reason. Not while I'm around. That gal made a CHOICE. And then enjoyed it.

    1. Heh - it makes me so happy to hear that! That's exactly how I saw it :-)