13 Amazing Historical Fiction Books
On these cold, blustery, autumnal days, we at The Book Nook just love getting cosy and lost in our historical fiction collection. We’re big fans here for books set in the past. There’s just something so comforting and wholesome about getting in from the cold, putting the kettle on, and revisiting tales and characters from times long gone.
Think Shakespeare. Vlad the Impaler. Perhaps even witches. Whatever you want. As long as it’s not present day, anything goes.
The thing is with historical fiction, we know that it can seem really intimidating. It probably conjures up memories of monotonous conversations with distant relatives, or history lessons from your childhood – boring, dull, and perhaps a little bit dusty, too.
That’s why we want to share our love of historical fiction with you, because it’s far more exciting than a history lesson, we can promise you that.
With our top 13 favourite historical fiction books below, we want you to escape into Shakespeare’s drama, or delve into the world of a miniature dolls’ house. We want you to get lost amongst the pages of the Spanish Armada, or trapped in Henry VIII’s dungeon. There’s just so much variety and excitement in historical fiction, there’s definitely going to be a book here that you’ll love.
1. Hamnet by Maggie O’Farrell
If you’re a fan of Shakespeare, reading this is a must. Beautifully written by Maggie O’Farrell, this is the story behind Shakespeare’s most famous play, based on the Bard’s only son. It’s a tender and unforgettable tale.
2. Circe by Madeline Miller
A magically mythological story of rejection, femineity, and triumph. Usually told from the male perspective, we focus here in Millar’s version on the feminine, in this retelling of the Greek tale. Circe stands apart from the others in Helios. She’s shunned, isolated, forced to turn away and seek solace from somewhere else. But from where? Don’t worry, she finds it. She finds it in witchcraft. This would be a great introduction to Greek mythology.
3. The Doll Factory by Elizabeth MacNeal
Iris is an inspiring artist in 1850s London. She’s considered beautiful, and catches the eye of pre-Raphaelite artist Louis Frost, who asks her to model for him. She agrees, but on one condition: he must teach her to paint. Her world starts to come alive, bright with colour. She’s happy. That is, until a chance encounter with a mysterious man. An encounter that may mean a dark end to her career before it even begins. Fall in-love with this darkly alluring debut novel from Elizabeth MacNeal.
4. The Tattooist of Auschwitz by Heather Morris
This is a book everybody has to read. Seriously, I cannot stress that enough. It’s a tale of love during one of our world’s darkest times. A tale of hope among the horrific, of defying the devil himself. It’s based on the inspiring true story of Lale Sokolov, the prisoner given the task of tattooing his fellow inmates with what would become an infamous symbol of the Holocaust: their prisoner number. This is an amazing example of storytelling; one made more horrific by its reality.
5. Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel
Winner of the Man Booker Prize 2009, this is Hilary Mantel’s first in a trio of historical retellings of the dark, seedy under-belly of Henry VIII’s Tudor court. It’s the human-side of the story, full of intricate characters, a gripping plot, and a man that will redefine England as we know it: Oliver Cromwell. This novel sealed Hilary Mantel as one of Britain’s greatest writers. A must-read for historical fiction fans.
6. The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova
If you loved Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code, but want more history, with a bit more vampire, this is the book for you. Fact and fantasy become one in Elizabeth Kostova’s debut novel. Will you discover the truth behind Vlad the Impaler? Suspenseful and unforgettable, the perfect historical fiction book for October.
7. The Evening and the Morning by Ken Follett
Now, let’s go back in history, way back. The Evening and the Morning is a historical epic that ends where Follet’s other work, The Pillars of the Earth, begins, which was published almost 30 years ago. It’s the Dark Ages, 997 CE to be precise, and life is difficult. Death, blood and mud are all part of the every day. For three people though, a young boatbuilder, a Norman noblewoman, a monk, their lives are about to get a whole lot bloodier.
8. The Familiars by Stacey Halls
Another perfect read for the spooky season. We meet a young Fleetwood Shuttleworth in seventeenth-century Lancashire, who’s struggling to conceive. She fears this will be her last attempt to provide an heir, and she’s convinced she will die in the process. She’s lost all hope, that is, until she meets a young midwife: Alice Gray. The two women’s lives become entangled with the superstitious nature of the time, of the impending historical witch trials looming on the horizon, and you can’t help but be pulled into the complicated lives of Fleetwood and Alice. You might almost say, you’re bewitched by it.
You can read more of what we thought about The Familiars in our blogpost here, where we review the book in more detail. You can also order Stacey Hall’s newest book The Foundling, from The Book Nook here.
9. The Confessions of Frannie Langton by Sara Collins
Definitely a modern classic, if you’re a fan of Jane Eyre and Wide Sargasso Sea, this is a must -read this month. Frannie Langton is a seductress. A slave. She’s on trial for the murder of Mr and Mrs Benham. She was their maid, and all the testimonies point to her being the killer. But, what if, what if she were innocent? If only someone would listen to her story. Will you? This is a beautifully told account of 1820s Georgian London, of what happens in the dark, putrid streets, and the stories they can tell.
10. The Essex Serpent by Sarah Perry
If you’re a local, you need to read this dark, enthralling tale from the next county over. It’s about a murder, a series of mysterious deaths, a possible folklore come to life. But it’s also about love, kindness, loss. A novel that is deeply rooted in history, it’s up there with the likes of Jane Austen and Edgar Allan Poe. Cora Seaborne, recently freed from an unhappy marriage, moves to Essex with her young son. As soon as she arrives she’s thrust into the world of the locals, perplexed by rumours of the ‘Essex Serpent’. She starts to investigate, and so will you, too.
11. The Miniaturist by Jessie Burton
It’s 1686, and Nella Oortman is set to become the wife of Johannes Brandt, a merchant trader. She moves to Amsterdam, only to discover that her life will never be the same again. Her husband gifts her a replica of their own home, to be delicately furnished by a miniaturist. But, the strange thing is, the miniatures begin to mirror real-life in the most unexpected of ways. Nella is determined to uncover the dangerous secrets of her new family.
12. How We Disappeared by Jing-Jing Lee
Set between modern-day Singapore and the 1942 Japanese invasion, Jing-Jing Lee explores what forgiveness truly means. When Japanese troops ransack a small village, only three people survive, one being a young boy. In another village nearby, 17-year-old Wang Di is forced to work in a brothel. It’s only in the year 2000s is the truth about what happened discovered, where two life-changing secrets are sure to have you reading long into the night.
13. The Binding by Bridget Collins
This is a historical fantasy thriller like no other. Books aren’t what we think they are. In this Victorian, Gothic-esque world, they store away all our horrible memories, things we’d rather forget. Emmett is set to become an apprentice to a bookbinder, and he must learn how to make these formidable books. That is, until he finds a book with his own name on it. Would you open it?
What do you think of our list? Let us know over on our Facebook page, we’d love to hear your thoughts (and we could discuss historical fiction all day, every day!) If you’d like to order any of the above from The Book Nook, you can contact us via our Facebook page, or contact us here.