Subgenres under the broad, varied genre of historical fiction can be difficult to define. The most important appeal element in historical fiction is its frame and setting, the way the novel captures the overall feel of the time period as well as specific historical events.
Historical fiction that appeals to teens often blurs the lines between other genres. Scot Smith explains it better than I ever could.
There are two ways to think about subgenres in historical fiction: by the geographical and historical setting, and by the ways historical fiction may blend and share appeal with other genres. Saricks observes that adult historical fiction readers will tend to focus extensively and sometimes exclusively on one, or a handful of historical periods.
Breaking it down by historical period and region: Both Rosemary Honnold’s Teen Readers’ Advisor and Historical Fiction for Teens: A Genre Guide, by Melissa Rabey are worth a closer look because they do an excellent job of breaking historical fiction down according to specific time periods. The complete breakdown of time periods covered in Honnold’s book is here.
Rabey’s look at the divisions and subgenres in historical fiction takes a look at world regions, and crossover appeal to other genres as well as dividing by time period.
A Sampling of Subgenres:
Medieval and Renaissance: Castles and court intrigues
Victorian England: Gaslights and fog make a good place to have a mystery
Regency England and The Gilded Age in New York: An ocean apart, what do they have in common? Ballgowns and a great setting for romance.
World War II: Adventure, mystery, blackout curtains, and air raids.
Recent History: How recently can historical novels take place, and still “count?”
Time Travel: A modern/contemporary character goes back in time and gets firsthand experience of history.
Interestingly, most of the above genres also have strong potential for crossover appeal, or sharing characteristics with other genres. Scot Smith explains how, beautifully, with examples of titles.