I was thinking about it and I’m pretty sure the genre that I read the most is historical fiction. Because of this, I have many recommendations for anyone interested in the genre. I’ve pulled together a list of a whopping 31 novels for you to check out if you’re interested in this genre, but it is by no means extensive because there are so many others out there that are amazing.
Because I tried to focus on books that I have read, most of these are either set in America or Europe as that’s where my interest has primarily been over the years. But please comment below with historical fiction novels set in other areas of the world that I should read so I can expand my literary palette!
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All information about these books comes from Amazon.
Everything I Never Told You – (1960s & 70s America) I just finished this and it took my breath away. “A profoundly moving story of family secrets and longing, Everything I Never Told You is both a gripping page turner and a sensitive family portrait, uncovering the ways in which mothers and daughters, fathers and sons, and husbands and wives struggle all their lives to understand one another.”
Three Sisters, Three Queens – (16th century England & Scotland) This book gave me such a book hangover! It’s about two of King Henry VIII’s sisters and his first wife. “When Katherine of Aragon is brought to the Tudor court as a young bride, the oldest princess, Margaret, takes her measure. With one look, each knows the other for a rival, an ally, a pawn, destined—with Margaret’s younger sister Mary—to a unique sisterhood. The three sisters will become the queens of England, Scotland, and France.”
Life After Life – (Early 20th century England) It crosses genres, as the main character dies over and over again. “On a cold and snowy night in 1910, Ursula Todd is born, the third child of a wealthy English banker and his wife. She dies before she can draw her first breath. On that same cold and snowy night, Ursula Todd is born, lets out a lusty wail, and embarks upon a life that will be, to say the least, unusual. For as she grows, she also dies, repeatedly, in any number of ways. Ursula’s world is in turmoil, facing the unspeakable evil of the two greatest wars in history. What power and force can one woman exert over the fate of civilization — if only she has the chance?”
Becoming Marie Antoinette – (18th century Austria and France) This is the first in a trilogy about the life of Marie Antoinette. “Before she can journey from sunlit picnics with her sisters in Vienna to the glitter, glamour, and gossip of Versailles, Antonia must change everything about herself in order to be accepted as dauphine of France and the wife of the awkward teenage boy who will one day be Louis XVI. Yet nothing can prepare her for the ingenuity and influence it will take to become queen.”
The Stone Diaries – (20th century Canada and America) I don’t think I’ve ever read a book like this. “One of the most successful and acclaimed novels of our time, this fictionalized autobiography of Daisy Goodwill Flett is a subtle but affecting portrait of an everywoman reflecting on an unconventional life. What transforms this seemingly ordinary tale is the richness of Daisy’s vividly described inner life–from her earliest memories of her adoptive mother to her awareness of impending death.”Historical fiction novels that will change your view of the world. Click To Tweet
Atonement – (1930s and 40s England and France) This is one that hit me deeply because of the writing. It is definitely better than the movie (but still has the same sad ending). “On a hot summer day in 1935, thirteen-year-old Briony Tallis witnesses a moment’s flirtation between her older sister, Cecilia, and Robbie Turner, the son of a servant and Cecilia’s childhood friend. But Briony’ s incomplete grasp of adult motives–together with her precocious literary gifts–brings about a crime that will change all their lives. As it follows that crime’s repercussions through the chaos and carnage of World War II and into the close of the twentieth century, Atonement engages the reader on every conceivable level, with an ease and authority that mark it as a genuine masterpiece.”
Outlander – (1940s and 1740s Scotland) We all know that I love this book and the series, right? It crosses genres, but the most present is definitely historical fiction. “Scottish Highlands, 1945. Claire Randall, a former British combat nurse, is just back from the war and reunited with her husband on a second honeymoon when she walks through a standing stone in one of the ancient circles that dot the British Isles. Suddenly she is a Sassenach—an “outlander”—in a Scotland torn by war and raiding clans in the year of Our Lord . . . 1743.”
The Sympathizer – (Late 20th century Vietnam and America) This book won the Pulizter Prize and I knew why within the first fifty pages. “The narrator, a communist double agent, is a “man of two minds,” a half-French, half-Vietnamese army captain who arranges to come to America after the Fall of Saigon, and while building a new life with other Vietnamese refugees in Los Angeles is secretly reporting back to his communist superiors in Vietnam.”
Number the Stars – (1940s Denmark) This book hit me when I first read it, and I think it’s a good read for anyone of all ages. “Through the eyes of ten-year-old Annemarie, we watch as the Danish Resistance smuggles almost the entire Jewish population of Denmark, nearly seven thousand people, across the sea to Sweden. The heroism of an entire nation reminds us that there was pride and human decency in the world even during a time of terror and war.”
A Place Beyond Courage – (12th century England) I love this book! “The early twelfth century is a time for ambitious men to prosper. John FitzGilbert is a man of honor and loyalty, sworn to royal service. When the old king dies, his successor rewards the handsome and ambitious John with castles and lands. But King Stephen has a tenuous hold on both his reign and his barons, and when jealous rivals at court seek to destroy John, he backs a woman’s claim to the crown, sacrifices his marriage, and eventually is forced to make a gamble that is perhaps one step too far.”
A Triple Knot – (14th century England and Europe) I felt like this book really emphasized what young women born to high families went through in the middle ages. “Joan, haunted by nightmares of her father’s execution at the hands of her treacherous royal kin, fears the king’s selection and is not resigned to her fate. She secretly pledges herself to one of the king’s own knights, one who has become a trusted friend and protector. Now she must defend her vow as the king—furious at Joan’s defiance—prepares to marry her off to another man.”
Pillars of the Earth – (12th century England) An absolutely amazing book about life in England in the early middle ages. “This historical epic—a twelfth-century tale of the building of a mighty Gothic cathedral—stunned readers and critics alike with its ambitious scope and gripping humanity”
World Without End – (14th century England) This is the sequel to Pillars of the Earth that is even better than the first one, but it takes place 200 years later and you do not need to read Pillars first. “This time the men and women of an extraordinary cast of characters find themselves at a crossroad of new ideas— about medicine, commerce, architecture, and justice. In a world where proponents of the old ways fiercely battle those with progressive minds, the intrigue and tension quickly reach a boiling point against the devastating backdrop of the greatest natural disaster ever to strike the human race—the Black Death.”Over 30 historical fiction novels that you should check out. Click To Tweet
A Column of Fire – (16th century England) This is the most recent in the Kingsbridge series (sequel to the above 2 novels) and, like World Without End, you do not need to read the previous ones to follow. “In 1558, the ancient stones of Kingsbridge Cathedral look down on a city torn apart by religious conflict. As power in England shifts precariously between Catholics and Protestants, royalty and commoners clash, testing friendship, loyalty, and love.”
The White Queen – (15th century England) Out of all the Plantagenet and Tudor novels, this is one of my favorites. “Elizabeth Woodville is a woman of extraordinary beauty and ambition. Her mother is Jacquetta, also known as the mystical lady of the rivers, and she is even more determined to bring power and wealth to the family line. While riding in the woods one day, Elizabeth captures the attentions of the newly crowned King Edward IV and, despite her common upbringing, marries him in secret.”
A Great and Terrible Beauty – (19th century England) This is another genre-bending book that is part historical fiction and part fantasy. “It’s 1895, and after the suicide of her mother, 16-year-old Gemma Doyle is shipped off from the life she knows in India to Spence, a proper boarding school in England. Lonely, guilt-ridden, and prone to visions of the future that have an uncomfortable habit of coming true, Gemma’s reception there is a chilly one. To make things worse, she’s been followed by a mysterious young Indian man, a man sent to watch her. But why? What is her destiny? And what will her entanglement with Spence’s most powerful girls—and their foray into the spiritual world—lead to?”
When Christ and His Saints Slept – (12th century England) This novel follows the first civil war in England that happens when the king dies leaving only a daughter as a legitimate heir. “As church bells tolled for the death of England’s King Henry I, his barons faced the unwelcome prospect of being ruled by a woman: Henry’s beautiful daughter Maude, Countess of Anjou. But before Maude could claim her throne, her cousin Stephen seized it. In their long and bitter struggle, all of England bled and burned.”
The Sunne in Splendour – (15th century England) This novel looks to contrast history’s view of Richard III that comes from Shakespeare, who wasn’t exactly going to write a good view of the king that was overthrown by his queen’s grandfather. “Born into the treacherous courts of fifteenth-century England, in the midst of what history has called The War of the Roses, Richard was raised in the shadow of his charismatic brother, King Edward IV. Loyal to his friends and passionately in love with the one woman who was denied him, Richard emerges as a gifted man far more sinned against than sinning.”
Here Be Dragons – (13th century England and Wales) This book follows the beginning of the end of Wales’s independence from England. I adore it. “Thirteenth-century Wales is a divided country, ever at the mercy of England’s ruthless, power-hungry King John. Llewelyn, Prince of North Wales, secures an uneasy truce by marrying the English king’s beloved illegitimate daughter, Joanna, who slowly grows to love her charismatic and courageous husband. But as John’s attentions turn again and again to subduing Wales—and Llewelyn—Joanna must decide where her love and loyalties truly lie.”
Victoria Victorious – (19th century England) “Derided as a mere “girl queen” at her coronation, by the end of her sixty-four-year reign, Victoria embodied the glory of the British Empire. In this novel, written as a “memoir” by Victoria herself, she emerges as truthful, sentimental, and essentially human—both a lovable woman and a great queen.”
The English Patient – (1940s Italy) What I remember most from this book is just how sad it is, but how it is also good, so proceed at your own caution. “The nurse Hana, exhausted by death, obsessively tends to her last surviving patient. Caravaggio, the thief, tries to reimagine who he is, now that his hands are hopelessly maimed. The Indian sapper Kip searches for hidden bombs in a landscape where nothing is safe but himself. And at the center of his labyrinth lies the English patient, nameless and hideously burned, a man who is both a riddle and a provocation to his companions—and whose memories of suffering, rescue, and betrayal illuminate this book like flashes of heat lightning.”
Little Fires Everywhere – (1990s America) Okay, so I haven’t read this one, but everything I’ve heard is good. “When old family friends of the Richardsons attempt to adopt a Chinese-American baby, a custody battle erupts that dramatically divides the town–and puts Mia and Elena on opposing sides. Suspicious of Mia and her motives, Elena is determined to uncover the secrets in Mia’s past. But her obsession will come at unexpected and devastating costs.”
All Quiet on the Western Front – (1910s Europe) “Paul Baumer enlisted with his classmates in the German army of World War I. Youthful, enthusiastic, they become soldiers. But despite what they have learned, they break into pieces under the first bombardment in the trenches. And as horrible war plods on year after year, Paul holds fast to a single vow: to fight against the principles of hate that meaninglessly pits young men of the same generation but different uniforms against each other–if only he can come out of the war alive.”32 Historical Fiction Novels To Take You Back in Time Click To Tweet
11/22/63 – (Mid-20th century America) This is another genre-bending book as it features time travel back to prevent the Kennedy assassination. “Jake’s friend Al, owner of the local diner, enlists Jake to take over the mission that has become his obsession—to prevent the Kennedy assassination. How? By stepping through a portal in the diner’s storeroom, and into the era of Ike and Elvis, of big American cars, sock hops, and cigarette smoke… Finding himself in warmhearted Jodie, Texas, Jake begins a new life. But all turns in the road lead to a troubled loner named Lee Harvey Oswald. The course of history is about to be rewritten…and become heart-stoppingly suspenseful.”
A Tree Grows in Brooklyn – (Early 20th century America) When I read this in the 8th grade, I adored it. “From the moment she entered the world, Francie needed to be made of stern stuff, for the often harsh life of Williamsburg demanded fortitude, precocity, and strength of spirit. Often scorned by neighbors for her family’s erratic and eccentric behavior-such as her father Johnny’s taste for alcohol and Aunt Sissy’s habit of marrying serially without the formality of divorce-no one, least of all Francie, could say that the Nolans’ life lacked drama.”
The Help – (Mid-20th century America) As you probably guessed, this is the book that the movie is based on. “Aibileen is a black maid in 1962 Jackson, Mississippi, who’s always taken orders quietly, but lately she’s unable to hold her bitterness back. Her friend Minny has never held her tongue but now must somehow keep secrets about her employer that leave her speechless. White socialite Skeeter just graduated college. She’s full of ambition, but without a husband, she’s considered a failure. Together, these seemingly different women join together to write a tell-all book about work as a black maid in the South, that could forever alter their destinies and the life of a small town…”
The Man in the High Castle – (Mid-20th century alternate America) Another genre-bender! What if the Allies didn’t win WWII? “It’s America in 1962. Slavery is legal once again. The few Jews who still survive hide under assumed names. In San Francisco, the I Ching is as common as the Yellow Pages. All because some twenty years earlier the United States lost a war—and is now occupied by Nazi Germany and Japan.”
The Red Tent – (Biblical Middle East) This is another that I read years ago and barely remember but remember loving. “Her name is Dinah. In the Bible, her life is only hinted at in a brief and violent detour within the more familiar chapters of the Book of Genesis that tell of her father, Jacob, and his twelve sons. Told in Dinah’s voice, Anita Diamant imagines the traditions and turmoils of ancient womanhood–the world of the red tent. It begins with the story of the mothers–Leah, Rachel, Zilpah, and Bilhah–the four wives of Jacob. They love Dinah and give her gifts that sustain her through childhood, a calling to midwifery, and a new home in a foreign land. Dinah’s story reaches out from a remarkable period of early history and creates an intimate connection with the past.”
The Lovely Bones – (1970s and 80s America) Despite its sad basis, I love this book and hope to reread it this year or in 2019. “When we first meet 14-year-old Susie Salmon, she is already in heaven. This was before milk carton photos and public service announcements, she tells us; back in 1973, when Susie mysteriously disappeared, people still believed these things didn’t happen. In the sweet, untroubled voice of a precocious teenage girl, Susie relates the awful events of her death and her own adjustment to the strange new place she finds herself. It looks a lot like her school playground, with the good kind of swing sets. With love, longing, and a growing understanding, Susie watches her family as they cope with their grief, her father embarks on a search for the killer, her sister undertakes a feat of amazing daring, her little brother builds a fort in her honor and begin the difficult process of healing”.
Cold Mountain – (Mid-19th century America) I read this for school in high school, and it provided a really interesting view of America in the Civil War times. “Sorely wounded and fatally disillusioned in the fighting at Petersburg, a Confederate soldier named Inman decides to walk back to his home in the Blue Ridge mountains to Ada, the woman he loves. His trek across the disintegrating South brings him into intimate and sometimes lethal converse with slaves and marauders, bounty hunters and witches, both helpful and malign. At the same time, the intrepid Ada is trying to revive her father’s derelict farm and learning to survive in a world where the old certainties have been swept away.”
Girl with a Pearl Earring – (17th century Europe) The premise for this book has always amazed me. How come there aren’t more like it? “History and fiction merge seamlessly in this luminous novel about artistic vision and sensual awakening. Girl with a Pearl Earring tells the story of sixteen-year-old Griet, whose life is transformed by her brief encounter with genius . . . even as she herself is immortalized in canvas and oil.”
What historical fiction novels do you think everyone should read?
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