Over the last few weeks I've tried and given up on a couple of historical novels. I've read good ones and I know what I like in my historical fiction, which is a riveting story and some insight into the way lives were lived back then. By insight, I mean not just the physical aspects of their lives such as what their houses were made of or what food they ate, but also how they thought about things like privacy. It's nice to be reminded every now and then that there are other ways to think aobut things than the ones we're familiar with.
The problem with one of the books was the lack of antagonist. Given that the protagonist was no nice girl, in fact she was using incest and murder to get what she wanted, that sounds a bit odd. The problem was that there was no one who was onto her, no one in her path, and what made it worse was that descriptions of her thought processes tried to imply that she was kind of innocent of what she planned. The author was not whole hearted with her story.
A story about a treacherous woman in times women had no rights or power should have been interesting. That's why I picked up the book in the first place. However, it got tedious. It didn't have that spark that Scarlett O'Hara has in "Gone With The Wind". Scarlett's contempt for namby pamby society gives her an opporunity to commment on her times and situation and sets her up in opposition to it. She does it in a delightful way that keeps the pages turning. Set in contrast to her is Melanie, who seems namby pamby but lacks the hypocrisy of many around her, and is different to most people in ways that Scarlett can't understand.
The problem with the book I gave up on was a lack of proper an antagonist, or if there was one it wasn't introduced early enough. Now that I've read Kristen Lamb's post "Introducing the opposition" I see that it's not enough to have an antagonist, but it has to be introduced early enough that the reader can see and become interested in the conflict.
There are books which have such wonderful prose that you keep reading anyway, but in her post Kristen Lamb repeats that before you break the rules you first have to know them. It's an interesting post, and you can check it out here.
Enjoy your writing, and good luck especially to those doing Nanowrimo this month.