Historical fiction is a tricky genre to conquer: a genre that requires a writer to intertwine fact with imagination. A writer has the freedom to write the actions of the characters that are not mentioned in history, but a writer must also make sure to stay accurate to historical facts. Blossoming writer Danny Saunders has attempted to write two historical fiction novels, his most recent being Sissi: The Last Empress. Though Saunders has grasped sharing the historical facts with his readers, he has yet to grasp the art of writing with his imagination.
Elisabeth of Wittelsbach, mainly known as “Sissi,” became Empress of Austria at a very young age. Once a rebellious child and content with her home life, she was thrust into a leading role filled with responsibility and a mother-in-law who hated her… Follow Sissi’s life from childhood to adulthood and endure the struggles this young Empress and Queen had to face in her lifetime.
Sissi: The Last Empress is supposed to be a historical fiction novel. Sometimes, it did seem like a fiction, but other times, it reads like a history book. There will be dialog between characters, then a break will appear in the text followed by a couple of paragraphs about the character. This takes away from the story immensely. Sure, readers would like to know about the characters, but introduce the facts about each character through fiction writing. A good way to write this is to explain the characters’ lives through flashbacks/ memories or have one character talk about another character through his or her thoughts. If readers wanted to know about the characters on a fact level, then they would have picked up a biography of the Empress. Saunders had all of the facts he needed for his story and he did his research, but he needed to decide whether he was writing a novel or a reference book.
Saunders is still a fairly new writer and, to readers, it seems he is still trying to find his unique writing style. For his second book, he managed to put an entire life of one person in less than 300 pages. Granted this is not an impossible feat, but a writer needs to be careful with how he or she executes the character’s life. Saunders’ story seemed rushed. While he did separate her life through important years and events, he should have had more chapters than he did to talk about Sissi’s life. Another technique Saunders should practice is the tense he is writing in. Most of the story was written in past tense, but then there were a few moments where it was written in present tense. This is an easy trap for writers to fall into. No matter how tiring it gets and no matter how boring it may seem, writers need to remember to go back and reread what they have written. Editing is a big part of completing a written work (which Sissi: The Last Empress seemed to be lacking).
Rather than a novel for adults, Saunders’ book would probably fair better with the young adult readers. It is a quick read and a decent introduction into the historical fiction genre. Not to mention the young romance between Sissi and Franz Josef is something a younger audience would enjoy reading. It is incredibly cheesy and a bit too lovey-dovey for a more mature audience. Another aspect younger readers would not mind would be the overabundance of exclamation marks Saunders puts into his characters’ dialog. For about 85% of the dialog throughout the story, readers will most assuredly find one of these marks at the end of the characters’ sentences. Readers cannot tell whether the characters are happy, sad, angry, etc. They just talk very loudly and/ or excitedly all the time!
For a blossoming writer, Saunders is off to a decent start with his writing career. Unfortunately, it seems he fell into the same trap of not being able to intertwine fact and fiction in his first novel The Captive Queen: A Novel of Mary Stuart as he did with Sissi: The Last Empress. Saunders seems to be a history buff of the Europe of ages past and it shows in his detailed research; however, if he wishes to continue writing historical fiction novels, he needs to first practice writing fiction and then practice writing history and fiction together. Unless he attempts to further develop his writing style, Saunders will continue to be trapped in his genre-confused rut.