Historical fiction is one of my favourite genres to read. I use the term “historical fiction” loosely in this list of ten historical fiction recommendations; some of these novels were written in their contemporary time period, but are now historic. As I hope you can tell from this list, I don’t really have a favourite time period, and I hope this list of recommendations gives you some books to add to your TBR (to be read) list!
Katherine by Anya Seton
My grandmother gave me this book as a teenager and it is a fantastic work of medieval historical fiction. It’s the story of Katherine de Roet who married Sir Hugh Swynford and was later the mistress of John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster. It’s a most excellent romance! Writing this blog post has inspired me to re-read Katherine and also try some of Seton’s other novels.
The Essex Serpent by Sarah Perry
You can read my review here: Books I Read in 2019
Kim by Rudyard Kipling
Taken as a work representative of its time, Kipling’s writing offers a beautifully poetic glimpse into colonial India in between the Second and Third Afghan Wars. For whatever reason, I think about this book a lot, almost as if I witnessed the orphan Kim traversing the Himalayas with his Tibetan Lama companion, rather than read about it. I think I read it when I was a bit too young, so it would be nice to re-visit at some point. Obviously, if you view this work in a modern context, Kipling’s perspective is highly problematic, so treat it as a historical piece.
Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
This novel is set during the Nigerian Civil War (Biafran War) in the 1960s, and it looks at the effect of the war on the lives of several connected characters. I read this book as part of a history of Africa class and it was more helpful in trying to understand the inhumanity of conflict and refugee camps than any text book could convey.
House of Illusions by Pauline Gedge
I spent several of my teenage years devouring these novels set in Ancient Egypt. House of Illusions is the second novel in the Lady of the Reeds series. The series is about a peasant girl named Thu who is destined to join the harem of Pharaoh Ramses. This second instalment is set after Thu has fallen from favour, and has spent sixteen years in exile.
A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness
For obvious reasons, I recommend this book because it is partly set in Oxford. Having spent too many hours of my life reading in the Bodleian, I can safely say that Harkness paints a very accurate, albeit romantic, picture of doing research at Oxford. Though this book is part fantasy, its well-written historical elements earns it a spot on this ten historical fiction recommendations list. Also, in case you’re interested, Harkness is a historian whose research on early modern science is well worth reading.
The Awakening by Kate Chopin
This 19th century novel follows the protagonist, Edna, and her avant garde views on feminism. Set in New Orleans and Grand Isle, Edna struggles with her societal responsibilities of motherhood and finds herself in a tragic romance. This isn’t technically historical fiction as it was written at the turn of the 20th century, but it does offer a superb historical viewpoint on themes of feminism and motherhood.
Tipping the Velvet by Sarah Waters
This Victorian love story features Nan, an oyster girl, who falls for male impersonator and show star, Kitty. The two end up in London as a double act in the music halls while having a passionate affair. This was Waters’ debut novel and my favourite, though I also enjoyed Fingersmith and Affinity. The Night Watch is on my list of books to read.
The Reader by Bernhard Schlink
Set in post-war Germany, this three part book follows Michael Berg, a boy from West Germany, and Hanna Shmitz, a middle-aged tram conductor. The pair have a complicated romance, which was partly built upon Michael reading aloud to Hanna. Many years later during law school, Michael observes a war crimes trial and is shocked to see Hanna is one of the defendants. Hannah’s pride, or I guess shame, costs her everything, and Michael is left tormented by his emotions.
Girl with a Pearl Earring by Tracy Chevalier
This historical novel is inspired by Vermeer’s 17th Century painting and explores how Vermeer came to find his model, his maid with an eye for art. I also recently read Chevalier’s Remarkable Creatures, which you can read about here: Spring Favourites – 2020.
I hope you’ve enjoyed reading about my ten historical fiction recommendations. What are your favourite historical novels?