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Learning History from Fiction (by Asa Maria Bradley)

Désirée Clary
by François Gérard (1810)
Like many writers, I have always been a voracious reader. Luckily, my mom is also a book addict and happily enabled her daughters addiction.

My favorite stories were about human connection. Relationships between siblings, strangers, and soul mates fascinated me equally. I don’t remember the first romance novel I read, but I do remember shocking my Swedish seventh-grade history teacher by my extensive historical knowledge of how the current ruling family of Sweden was founded. All the kids in my class knew the event took place in 1818 by a French general named Jean Baptiste Jules Bernadotte.  And that he changed his name to Charles XIV John when he was elected heir presumptive to the Swedish throne. (The royal family was dying out because of too much inbreeding. Seriously!) We learned those details from our textbook.

But I was the only student who rambled on about King Bernadotte's queen, Desideria, and the challenges she faced when she first arrived at the Swedish court. I knew she’d once been the fiancée of Napoleon Bonaparte and that her real name was Bernadine Eugénie  Désirée Clary. I knew she was heartbroken when she had to leave Paris and go live in the cold north. I knew she found her new country chilly both in terms of the climate and the court’s opinion of her.

My extensive historical research came from only one book. In my mom’s library, I’d discovered Désirée by Anne Selinko. This 1952 melodramatic historical romance chronicles Désirée’s many tragic love affairs and unjust treatment by her indifferent husband and the snobbishness of the Swedish court. Although very one-sided, completely from the perspective of the queen, I ate it up. I didn’t even mind that the book was published twenty years before I was born.

If the melodramatic early teen-aged version of myself hadn’t sympathized with the Désirée character in Anne Selinko’s book, I’d remember as much about Charles XIV John’s reign as I do the other kings’ history that we covered in class that year—nothing. Not because I don’t like history—I do—and not because I had a bad teacher—my history instructor was my favorite and very good at his job. I just didn’t connect with the dull rendition of biographical details of the characters in my history book.

That’s why I read and write romance. I love the human struggle of the characters on the page and how readers connect and relate to the people in a novel. Without that connection, there is no story for me and the book won’t hold my interest. On the flip side, when I fall in love with a character and a plot, I’m likely to ramble on about it to my teacher in history class, to strangers in the grocery store check-out line, and apparently—decades later—to distinguished readers of a blog dedicated to writing romance. :-)

Do you have a favorite historical figure that you've read a fiction-based-on-real-facts novel about?

Asa Maria Bradley grew up in Sweden surrounded by archaeology and history steeped in Norse mythology, which inspired her sexy modern-day Viking series. She now lives in the Pacific Northwest with a British husband and a rescue dog of indeterminate breed. Booklist attributed her writing with “nonstop action, satisfying romantic encounters, and intriguing world building.” Her debut book, Viking Warrior Rising, was a 2016 double RITA finalist and the follow-up, Viking Warrior Rebel, is an RT Book Reviews Reviewers’ Choice Award Nominee.
Visit her at, follow her on Twitter @AsaMariaBradley, or connect with her on