So, what is saga? Do you know? Saga readers know this, for sure. They read these books in their millions and they are always eager for the next instalment. Maybe you think you know what saga novels are, or at least what they look like. There’s always a young woman on the cover, maybe two. They are pretty and dressed in an historical outfit of some sort, maybe a shawl or a war uniform. They have a look in their eyes too, which is distinctly saga. It suggests they will go through adversity, but they will meet these obstacles head on and they will survive and win through in the end. You’ll often find saga novels in row upon row in supermarkets, newsagents, railway stations and hospital shops. You might not have heard of the authors – they are quite often not household names – but a quick search on Amazon for chart positions and reviews will reveal that some of the most successful saga authors are selling books by the lorry load, sometimes on e-book, with literally hundreds of reviews of each book on Amazon and Goodreads. Where you won’t see saga novels is in any of the newspaper reviews, or hardly ever. Saga novels don’t tend to get any space in newsprint. They don’t win literary prizes; in fact, some competitions specifically refuse to include saga novels in their entry criteria. You might see them reviewed in women’s magazines, but hardly anywhere else. One could say that saga novels are the best kept secret in fiction: they sell in their millions but much of the mainstream media doesn’t seem to acknowledge that these novels exist.
So, what is saga? Now we know where it is and where it isn’t to be found, let’s delve into the conventions of the genre a bit more. The first and foremost rule of saga is that it is always historical. Saga novels are always set in the past, but usually a select slice of the past. The most recent period I’ve seen in saga novels is the 1950s and very little beyond that. Many do not go before the end of the eighteenth century. I haven’t seen any saga novels before the Poldark era and certainly nothing medieval. I’ve also never seen a 1970s saga novel either, though they may exist. How are they different from historical fiction, then? That’s a good question and something which saga novelists often find themselves having to explain; the simple answer is, they are no different from any other historical novels, since they are indeed fully historical novels themselves. The writers of these books must research in incredible depth and detail into their period. The readers of these novels often read many books set in the same period and they know their stuff. They’re aware of the different types of servants or carriages or WAAF uniforms or how ice was bought or kitchen ranges cleaned or whatever. Saga novelists are under the exact same strict adherence to historical accuracy as any other historical novelist.
So, what marks out saga as separate from other historical novels? There are certainly certain tropes found in saga stories that crop up across the genre. These include and are not restricted to the following:
- brave and resourceful heroines, almost always working class or similar
- our heroines are always pitched against a series of ever-increasing obstacles to test their character and overcome
- an industrial backdrop or some kind of area of work that involves low pay and difficult conditions
- the importance of female friendship and family
- sometimes a war situation they must face, usually either WW1 or WW2
- romantic relationships are common, but not usually the prime focus of the story
- plot events such as unwanted pregnancies, physical assault and abuse, the haves taking advantage of the have-nots, prison scenes, a woman taking on a role that is traditionally male and winning at it etc.
There are many other saga tropes, as saga is a broad church. Some heroines are on the home front, keeping everything together, while others might be working in an armaments factory or becoming a suffragette or a stage actress, or they might be a spy in occupied France or a strawberry picker or a maidservant in a country house or a pit bank girl. Whatever their situation, they all have one thing in common: saga heroines are inspirational. They are strong women, incredibly strong in some cases, to overcome the terrible situations into which we saga authors cruelly choose to place them. Yes, they will go through hell. But the best thing about saga is that readers will follow these courageous women through all their trials, cheering for them till the end, fielding tragedy as well as joy as they go. Saga novels are about love and friendship, work and pleasure, war and peace; the truth is that the stuff of saga novels is life and death itself.
So, what is saga? Why not go and read one and find out for yourself? I promise you, if you’re looking for pure drama and heartache, high quality historical accuracy and to learn something you never knew about the past…you won’t be disappointed.
(c) Mollie Walton
The Secrets of Ironbridge by Mollie Walton. Published by Zaffre, 30th April 2020 Paperback Original and Ebook £7.99
About The Secrets of Ironbridge:
A dramatic and heartwarming Victorian saga, perfect for fans of Maggie Hope and Anne Bennett.
Returning to her mother’s birthplace at the age of eighteen, Beatrice Ashford encounters a complex family she barely knows. Her great-grandmother Queenie adores her, but the privileged social position of Beatrice’s family as masters of the local brickworks begins to make her uncomfortable.
And then she meets Owen Malone: handsome, different, refreshing – and from a class beneath her own. They fall for each other fast, but an old family feud and growing industrial unrest threatens to drive them apart.
Can they overcome their different backgrounds? And can Beatrice make amends for her family’s past?
Order your copy online here.