Welcome to our ultimate guide to 60 of the best historical fiction books. This detailed collation of novels has something for everyone, whether you love action and adventure, mystery and intrigue, romance and passion, or a combination of them all.
We’ve divided the novels by time period, including prehistory, ancient history, the medieval period, early modern history, the late modern period, and contemporary history.
1) Clan of the Cave Bear (Earth’s Children series) by Jean M. Auel
An epic piece of prehistoric fiction, Clan of the Cave Bear is the first book in Jean M. Auel’s Earth’s Children series, which deals with life during the last glacial period of the current ice age. When Ayla, a young Cro-Magnon girl, is orphaned after an earthquake, she is taken in by a Neanderthal clan. Despite language barriers and Ayla’s strange appearance, the Clan protects her and teaches her their ways. But as she matures, the Clan leader’s son Broud begins to feel a deep hatred toward Ayla that threatens her and the life she built within the Clan.
2) Nefertiti: A Novel by Michelle Moran
Bestselling author Michelle Moran is known for writing about powerful women throughout history. Her first novel Nefertiti is a sweeping tale of love, betrayal, religious conflict, intense power struggles and political instability in ancient Egypt. After Nefertiti is married off to Egypt’s Pharaoh, her younger sister Mutnodjmet learns of a terrible plot that would destroy Nefertiti and Amunhotep’s rule. Mutnodjmet is forced to return to court and warn her sister, but this action threatens everything she holds dear. Nefertiti was inspired by Moran’s love of archaeology, and the novel is hailed for its historical accuracy and the way it brings Egypt to life in vivid detail.
3) The King Must Die by Mary Renault
Mary Renault’s historical bildungsroman tells the story of the ancient Greek hero Theseus through a series of archaeologically and anthropologically plausible events. It begins with Theseus as an adult, reflecting on the greatest moments in his life and the sacrifices he’s had to make. As a young boy, Theseus was told by his grandfather that to be a true king he must be prepared to sacrifice everything. Years later, Theseus journeys across the ancient world and embarks on a series of perilous adventures wrought with sacrifice in the hope of one day becoming a worthy king.
4) A Thousand Ships by Natalie Haynes
The retelling of ancient myths has become a popular contemporary trend, but few do it as well as classicist Natalie Haynes, who has written five books about Greek myths and ancient life. A Thousand Ships, Haynes’ latest foray into the ancient world, is a powerful retelling of the Trojan War from an all-female perspective. The story begins in the middle of the night when Troy is engulfed in flames, bringing a brutal end to the Trojans’ ten-year war with the Greeks. By retelling its terrible aftermath through the viewpoints and voices of queens, muses and noblewomen, Haynes proves that it was the women’s war just as much as the men’s.
5) The Gates of Rome (Emperor series) by Conn Iggulden
Conn Iggulden’s Emperor books are a popular historical fiction series about the life of Julius Caesar. In the first book The Gates of Rome, we are introduced to Gaius Julius Caesar and Marcus Junius Brutus as young men. Despite their different social stations, the two men form a lifelong friendship and together navigate the complex political landscape of ancient Rome. But everything changes when Rome descends into chaos after an intense power struggle. Friendships are tested, vendettas are launched, and lives are irrevocably altered. Though it’s more fiction than history, Iggulden’s Emperor series is praised for its vivid characters and unrelenting pace.
6) Under the Eagle (Eagles of the Empire series) by Simon Scarrow
Under the Eagle is the first novel in Simon Scarrow’s adventure series about the Roman army. In 42 AD Quintus Licinius Cato is sent to join the army’s Second Legion, but when he’s given a higher rank than his other comrades, he has a lot to prove to everyone, especially himself. Their battle-scarred leader Lucius Cornelius Macro guides the Legion on a perilous campaign from Germany to Britain. There Cato and Macro undertake a special mission that quickly reveals a deep-rooted conspiracy that could threaten the Emperor himself.
7) Lancelot (The Arthurian Tales series) by Giles Kristian
Lancelot, the first book in Giles Kristian’s Arthurian series, reimagines the life of one of King Arthur’s legendary knights. In this tale of epic battles, forbidden love, friendship, betrayal, power and tragedy, Lancelot is transformed from a young refugee into a fierce and celebrated warrior. Told in Lancelot’s own words, the narrative reveals new facets of the renowned knight. His story is made complete by the inclusion of complex characters from Arthurian mythology, like Merlin, Morgana, Mordred, Arthur and Gawain, in a story awash with magic, superstition and myth.
We asked Giles Kristian, author of Lancelot, for his top historical fiction book recommendation. Here’s what he had to say…
“The Winter King by Bernard Cornwell. Twenty-five years ago, Cornwell’s retelling of this island’s greatest myth struck a resonating chord inside me. I saw in vivid detail this world which he had re-created. I felt it, heard it, smelled it. And it’s fair to say these books crystallized in me what had up until then been a somewhat vague, if enduring, ambition to become a writer. Before The Winter King, I knew I wanted to write, to explore language creatively and express myself through writing. After that book, I realized that I needed to feel completely immersed in such tales of the past again. And that the best and most indulgent way to do that would be to write them myself. I’ve been trying to immerse myself neck-deep ever since.”
Find out more about Giles Kristian on his website.
8) Butterfly Swords (Tang Dynasty series) by Jeannie Lin
Set during China’s Tang Dynasty, Butterfly Swords is a compelling romance novel about love, honour and betrayal. When Princess Ai Li discovers her fiancé is planning an uprising against her father, the Emperor, after they are married she makes a daring escape. Ai Li is a trained bladesmith, but her delicate butterfly sword is not enough to protect her. As her ex-fiancé relentlessly pursues her, Ai Li enlists the protection of Ryam, a brave and handsome warrior. Driven by a strong desire to protect her, Ryam vows not to seduce the only woman he has ever wanted.
9) The Last Kingdom (Saxon Tales series) by Bernard Cornwell
In his latest series, Bernard Cornwell, the critically acclaimed virtuoso of historical fiction, takes readers on a thrilling adventure set during the Danish invasion of Britain. The Last Kingdom introduces readers to Uhtred Ragnarson, a character based on Cornwell’s ancestors. Uhtred is Saxon-born but was kidnapped at age eleven and raised by the Danes. Now reaching manhood, Uhtred has become a brave warrior and thinks of the Danes as his family. But when the Danes and the Saxons do battle, Uhtred is finally forced to choose a side, embarking on a life-changing adventure.
10) Odinn’s Child (Viking trilogy) by Tim Severin
Tim Severin’s Viking series is a captivating trilogy inspired by the world of Norse mythology. Beginning in 1001 AD, Odinn’s Child is the first novel in an epic historical adventure series about wild-spirited Thorgils. From a young age, Thorgils was taught that he must ward off the invasion of “White Christ” or the legacy of the old Norse gods could be destroyed. Using the gift of second sight he inherited from his mother, Thorgils must begin his destiny. Guided by his favourite god Odinn, Thorgils’ adventurous spirit leads him into a dangerous new world complete with bloody battles and unimaginable discoveries.
11) The Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco
Umberto Eco’s debut novel The Name of the Rose is a thrilling historical mystery set in Italy in 1327. It begins when the Benedictines of a wealthy monastery are suspected of heresy and Brother William of Baskerville is sent to investigate. The inquiry is quickly overshadowed by a series of strange and unusual murders that force William to change course. Now playing detective, William is inspired by the logic and reasoning of the ancient Greeks to collate evidence, decipher codes and translate symbols to get to the bottom of this mystery.
12) A Plague on Both Your Houses (Matthew Bartholomew series) by Susanna Gregory
Matthew Bartholomew, a physician and teacher at Cambridge, diverts his attention to the suspicious murder of the Master of Michaelhouse after university authorities decide not to investigate. When three more scholars die, Bartholomew launches a secret enquiry into the murders. He soon finds himself being dragged deeper into a deadly mystery, while the pestilent Black Death also begins to threaten the lives of everyone around him.
13) The White Queen (The Cousins’ War series) by Philippa Gregory
Philippa Gregory’s six-part series The Cousins’ War is a dramatic reimagining of the Plantagenet rivalry. When brother turned on brother, the War of the Roses raged and history was markedly changed. Gregory retells these events through the eyes of the women behind the men, who were excluded from history’s narrative. Her story begins with Elizabeth Woodville, an exceptionally beautiful and ambitious woman who secretly married the boy-king Edward IV. Gregory brings the character of the White Queen to life as she rises to the challenge and commands success in her new position.
Looking for your next unforgettable historical fiction read?
Early modern history
14) Wolf Hall (Thomas Cromwell series) by Hilary Mantel
Desperately in need of a male heir, Henry VIII intends to leave his wife of twenty years to marry Anne Boleyn. Thomas Cromwell helps the King break down the opposition and secure his marriage to Anne, and rapidly rises to power within the Tudor Court. But Henry VIII is one of history’s most powerful and volatile kings. Can Cromwell maintain his favour? Wolf Hall is the first book in Hilary Mantel’s bestselling series and was named one of the ten best historical fiction books by The Observer.
15) Dissolution (Matthew Shardlake series) by C. J. Sansom
The perfect companion to Mantel’s Cromwell series, C. J. Sansom’s novel Dissolution takes a closer look at the events in England’s monasteries after Henry VIII orders their dissolution. In the first instalment of Sansom’s Shardlake series, incidents surrounding the reformation begin to escalate and culminate in the murder of Commissioner Robin Singleton at the monastery in Scarnsea. A prominent lawyer, Matthew Shardlake, and his assistant are sent to investigate this mysterious death.
16) The Burning Chambers (The Burning Chambers series) by Kate Mosse
The Burning Chambers is the latest series from bestselling author Kate Mosse. Mosse’s latest historical venture delves into the rivalry between the Catholics and Huguenots in France in 1562. Switching between the settings of Carcassonne and Toulouse, The Burning Chambers centres around nineteen-year-old Minou Joubert. Minou receives a mysterious letter sealed with her family crest that contains five words: “She knows you are alive”. But before she can decipher the message, Minou finds herself helping a young Huguenot convert with a mission of his own. Working together brings them closer, but they soon find themselves on opposite sides and the world around them threatens to tear them apart.
17) The Lady Elizabeth (Elizabeth I series) by Alison Weir
Everyone knows the story of England’s captivating and formidable queen, Elizabeth I. But what about when she was a child? The Lady Elizabeth follows the young princess from the age of three until her ascension to the throne. It focuses on all the trials of her early life, including the abrupt death of her mother, being declared illegitimate, and her imprisonment in the Tower of London. While her scars never fully healed, her experiences led her to become one of England’s greatest monarchs.
We asked Alison Weir, author of The Lady Elizabeth, for her top historical fiction book recommendation. Here’s what she had to say…
“Katherine by Anya Seton. I first read this back in the Sixties. Four decades later it inspired me to write my biography of Katherine Swynford. It’s a haunting, tenderly drawn love story set against the rich tapestry of England in the age of chivalry, and every sentence is a joy to read. The book is written with great integrity, and I regard it as a benchmark for historical novels. Anya Seton spent four years researching it. Given the sources available to her at the time, it’s a tour de force.”
Find out more about Alison Weir on her website.
18) Hamnet by Maggie O’Farrell
In Stratford-upon-Avon we set our stage: a penniless writer falls in love with an unconventional young woman. Years later they are married with three children, but as the Black Death ravages the land, it soon becomes clear that one of their children will not survive to the week’s end. William and Agnes’s young son Hamnet dies at age eleven, and four years later his father writes a play called Hamlet. In this story of love and grief, O’Farrell breathes new life into characters long absent from history – Hamnet and Agnes.
19) Martyr (John Shakespeare series) by Rory Clements
Rory Clements’s debut novel sets an exhilarating Elizabethan spy thriller series in motion. It begins when a plot against the fierce sea warrior Sir Francis Drake is uncovered at the same time one of Queen Elizabeth’s aristocratic cousins is found murdered. John Shakespeare, the older brother of the beloved playwright, is charged with solving both cases before it’s too late. As the Spanish are poised to invade, England is rife with political unrest and the security of Elizabeth’s reign comes under threat. Shakespeare must uncover the truth at any cost.
20) The Three Musketeers by Alexandre Dumas
Alexandre Dumas’ eternally entertaining tale about three musketeers is one of the most popular historical fiction novels to date. When the young d’Artagnan sets out to join the famed musketeers, he gets a better adventure than he ever could have dreamed of. d’Artagnan teams up with musketeers Athos, Porthos and Aramis, and together these swashbuckling heroes fight for justice. After uncovering a plot that could bring down the King of France, they must save the day, and do it in the most chivalrous and entertaining fashion possible.
21) The Mercies by Kiran Millwood Hargrave
Twenty-year-old Maren Bergensdatter watched helplessly as a ferocious storm killed forty fishermen, including her father and brother. The coastal village of Vardø lost all of its men to the storm and left the women to fend for themselves. Three years later these women have embraced their independence, but their new way of life is at risk when Absolom Cornet arrives from Scotland fresh from burning women as witches in the Northern Isles. When Cornet’s wife befriends Maren, he becomes fearful of the island’s power and threatens to destroy it all.
22) The Ashes of London (Marwood and Lovett series) by Andrew Taylor
Bestselling author Andrew Taylor presents a new historical thriller series set during the Great Fire of London. The fire of 1666 caused mass devastation around London, and in the chaotic aftermath a semi-mummified body is found in the ashes of St Paul’s Cathedral. Disgraced painter and reluctant government informer Richard Marwood is tasked with hunting down the killer, but his own inner turmoil threatens to get in the way of the case. He finds himself in even more danger when he comes across a charming, persistent and vindictive woman connected to the case.
23) The Miniaturist by Jessie Burton
Fans of Emma Donoghue and Sarah Waters will devour Jessie Burton’s mysterious debut novel. Set in Amsterdam in the 1680s, The Miniaturist depicts a world driven by gold and religion. When eighteen-year-old Nella is sent to marry a rich merchant, she finds Amsterdam’s overtly lavish style cold and unwelcoming. Her husband enlists the help of a miniaturist to build a replica of his house, hoping it will help Nella feel more at home there. But as she uncovers secrets hidden in the miniature house, she discovers they also exist in the real world. Knowing their wealth and religion can’t save them from what’s coming, Nella and Johannas turn to the miniaturist for help. There’s something eerie about this man, though, and they soon wonder what the miniaturist has set in motion.
24) Outlander (Outlander series) by Diana Gabaldon
Diana Gabaldon’s time-slip historical fiction series Outlander follows Claire Randall, an English WWII nurse who accidentally travels back in time to Scotland in 1743. Claire is forced to start a new life in the past, but many things are different here – women are viewed as a man’s property, the Scottish hate the English, and Britain is wrought with political instability. Claire must hide her secret above everything, but this is made harder when she is forced to marry the young and handsome outlaw Jamie Fraser. Even as her feelings for Jamie begin to grow, Claire still yearns to return to the future where her loving husband is waiting for her.
25) Waverley by Walter Scott
Renowned as the father of historical fiction, Walter Scott wrote twenty-six historical novels during his life. His first and most popular novel Waverley is set in 1745 during the Jacobite revolution. It is the story of Edward Waverley, a young English soldier who struggles to find his place in Scotland. Edward is branded a deserter when he overstays his leave from the British army, but he’s soon rescued by Jacobite Highlanders. Struggling to reconcile his personal identity and political loyalty, Edward takes comfort in the love he finds along the way. Waverley remains a classic historical fiction book, much recommended.
26) Catherine the Great: Portrait of a Woman by Robert K. Massie
At the age of fourteen, Catherine, as the princess of a minor German state, was sent to marry Peter, heir to the Russian throne. Having overthrown Peter six months after their ascension to the throne, Catherine became a beloved monarch and is believed to be one of Russia’s great rulers despite her German nationality. Massie’s novel delves into all the details of her life as queen, including her attempts to make political and economic reforms, as well as uncovering hidden details of her love life, like a possible secret marriage. This is the bold and informative story of a great empress brought to life in exquisite detail.
27) These Old Shades (Alastair-Audley series) by Georgette Heyer
These Old Shades is a stylish Georgian romance novel with a twist. It begins when Leon accosts the reprehensible Duke of Avon in a Paris alleyway. The Duke sees a striking resemblance between Leon and his nemesis the Comte and plans to use Leon to get his revenge. But when the Duke discovers Leon is actually a beautiful young girl named Leonie, his interest in her develops. Leonie becomes enraptured by the Duke, but his desire for revenge threatens to eclipse their relationship.
28) The Warlow Experiment by Alix Nathan
Herbert Powyss dreams of making a real scientific breakthrough, something he could present to the Royal Society in London. He decides to undertake a radical experiment in the field of isolation. His subject will spend seven years living solely in three basement rooms with only books, paintings and a chamber organ for entertainment. Food is delivered three times a day, but the subject will not encounter another human being. Robert Warlow, a man desperate to provide for his wife and six children, is the only willing participant. This experiment is more than a little unusual, but its findings could change lives if he can make it through.
Looking for your next unforgettable historical fiction read?
Late modern history
29) Ross Poldark (Poldark series) by Winston Graham
Winston Graham’s epic Poldark saga is saturated with sweeping romances and intense political and social rivalries. The first novel follows Captain Ross Poldark as he returns from the American Revolutionary War and readjusts to life in Cornwall. But much has changed in his absence: his beloved is engaged to his cousin, his father has died, and his home is in a state of neglect. Trying to make peace with all that is different, Poldark sets to work rebuilding his family’s mine. His attention is soon caught by a destitute young girl named Demelza, who he hires as his maid, but their relationship quickly evolves.
30) The Confessions of Frannie Langton by Sara Collins
In her bestselling debut novel, lawyer-turned-writer Sara Collins tells the tale of Frannie Langton, a young Jamaican maid who is set to stand trial for the murder of Mr and Mrs Benham. As crowds gather at the Old Bailey to hear the persuasive testimonies against her, Frannie must tell her story for the first time. The evidence is damning, but one question burns in the back of Frannie’s mind: how could she have killed the woman she loved? One of the best historical fiction books we’ve seen in a long time.
31) Indigo by Beverly Jenkins
Hester Wyatt escaped slavery as a child, and now she belongs to one of the wealthiest black families in New Orleans. She’s also a dedicated member of the underground railroad and is intent on helping others escape slavery. This means she doesn’t hesitate to help Galen, an injured conductor with a price on his head, but his rude and arrogant demeanour soon forces Hester to question her commitment to hiding him. As he heals, Galen begins to feel a connection with Hester he can’t ignore, but the slave catchers are circling and Hester isn’t sure she can trust her heart anymore.
We asked Beverly Jenkins, author of Indigo, for her top historical fiction book recommendation. Here’s what she had to say…
“I’m recommending Gathering of Waters by award winning author Bernice McFadden. The story of three generations of women set during the early 20th century, touches upon pain and muted triumph. Narrated by the town of Money Mississippi, McFadden’s magical story is infused with the life and death of Emmit Till, the 1927 flooding of the Mississippi, and moving lyrical imagery as her characters attempt to make sense of the bittersweet times and their place in it. Gathering of Waters was a 2012 New York Times Notable Book, a finalist for the Phillis Wheately Fiction Book Award, and the Hurston/Wright Legacy Award.”
Find out more about Beverly Jenkins on her website.
32) The Long Song by Andrea Levy
Slavery is finally coming to an end in Jamaica, but the atrocity of it will forever leave scars on those forced to endure it. Levy’s narrative is a memoir written by Miss July during the final years of slavery and Jamaica’s subsequent transition to freedom. With some encouragement from her son Thomas, Miss July decided to pen the story of her life, complete with the company she kept. An account of great tragedies and ultimate triumph, The Long Song is a captivating tale of slavery, freedom, revolution and love.
33) The Beast of Beswick (Regency Rogues series) by Amalie Howard
The Beast of Beswick is Amalie Howard’s modern take on the Beauty and the Beast fairytale, complete with drama, intrigue and forbidden romance. The Duke of Beswick is a cruel and unyielding man with a bad reputation. When Lady Astrid Everleigh’s younger sister becomes the object of the Duke’s affection, Astrid will stop at nothing to protect her sister from him, even if it means becoming his bride. In this steamy regency romance, Astrid must prove she can tame this stubborn beast.
34) Now We Shall Be Entirely Free by Andrew Miller
John Lacroix is a man harrowed by his experience fighting in the war against Napoleon. After being sent back to Britain because of an injury, he is quickly called back up to fight. Instead of rejoining his regiment, he travels to the Hebrides and embarks on a surprising journey, finding unexpected friendships and even love along the way. Trying to put the horrors he witnessed behind him won’t be as easy as he hoped, however, because a vicious English corporal and a Spanish officer with secret orders are following him closely. Now We Shall Be Entirely Free is teeming with suspense as Lacroix fights an unexpected enemy in the hope of finally gaining his freedom.
35) Alias Grace by Margaret Atwood
In 1843 Grace Marks was convicted for the murders of her employer, his mistress, and his housekeeper, but she has no recollection of ever committing such crimes. Sentenced to life in prison, Grace has no hope left until a promising expert in the field of mental health and criminal reform begins treating her. He takes his time to listen to Grace and help her unlock her hidden memories, but it turns out they might not be the key to saving her after all.
36) Fingersmith by Sarah Waters
Sue Trinder is an orphan raised from infancy by Mrs Sucksby. But Mrs Sucksby’s house is an unusual place, home to orphaned babies as well as a family of transient thieves, or fingersmiths. When she’s older, the most beloved fingersmith, a con man named Gentleman, recruits Sue to help him steal the inheritance of Maud Lilly, a naive gentlewoman. Keen to prove herself, Sue poses as Maud Lilly’s new maid, but as her feelings for Maud grow Sue’s conviction falters. Unsure where Sue’s loyalty lies? This Dickensian novel is full of twists and turns and rightly earns its place as one of the best historical fiction books in recent memory.
37) The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead
The Underground Railroad is a masterful meditation on history by prize-winning author Colson Whitehead. This multi-generational novel tells the story of Cora, a young girl who escapes from her life as a slave on a plantation in Georgia. Cora’s harrowing escape is made possible by a network of underground trains and safe houses. But Ridgeway, the cruel and vindictive slave catcher who failed to catch her mother years earlier, is close on her trail. Still haunted by the one that got away, Ridgeway unmercifully hunts for Cora and will stop at nothing until she’s in his grasp.
38) An Extraordinary Union (The Loyal League series) by Alyssa Cole
An Extraordinary Union is an epic love story set during the American Civil War. Ella Burns, a former slave turned spy, returns to the indignity of slavery to infiltrate the Confederate south and pass information to the Union Army. At the same time, secret service detective Malcolm McCall is trying to infiltrate a rebel base in Virginia. When Ella and Malcolm join forces, they discover a plot that could turn the tide of the war in the Confederacy’s favour. The attraction between them is undeniable, but they each must make bold moves to secure the union and risk losing each other in the process.
39) The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton
The Luminaries is a cleverly constructed ghost story full of intrigue and interconnected mysteries. It beings in 1866 when young Walter Moody sets out to make his fortune in the New Zealand goldfields. On the stormy night of his arrival, he stumbles upon a secret meeting of twelve men discussing a series of unexplained events – a wealthy man has disappeared, a prostitute tried to kill herself, and a grand fortune was discovered in the home of a hapless drunk. Moody is soon involved in the mystery that cleverly uses the mid-nineteenth-century world of shipping and banking and the Goldrush boom and bust.
40) Beloved by Toni Morrison
Sethe was born a slave but escaped to Ohio. Eighteen years later, she still isn’t free because her memories hold her captive. As she tries to push down recollections of the torment she experienced as a girl, she cannot forget the tragic death of her baby. Unnamed when she died, her tombstone is engraved with a single word: Beloved. In 1873, Sethe meets a mysterious teenage girl called Beloved and finally realises the secrets of her past cannot stay hidden. Morrison’s novel is the story of indescribable suffering interwoven with the truth of history. Beloved is a multi-award-winning novel that has been hailed as a masterpiece of American literature.
41) Things Fall Apart (African trilogy) by Chinua Achebe
Things Fall Apart is the debut novel by Nigerian author Chinua Achebe and the first book in his African trilogy, a poignant commentary on power and colonisation. When Christian missionaries arrive in Umuofia and threaten the traditions of the Ibo clan, Okonkwo takes violent action. Okonkwo is a proud man, but too much pride is dangerous and every move he makes against the missionaries endangers himself and everyone around him.
42) The Essex Serpent by Sarah Perry
This award-winning historical fiction book was inspired by true events at the end of the nineteenth century. Newly widowed Cora Seaborne and her son Francis visit Aldwinter in Essex as a much-needed refuge from life in London. There they discover a town legend which supposes that the monster that used to roam the Aldwinter marshes has returned to reclaim them. While Cora and Francis search for the mythic Essex Serpent, everyone in the town must put their faith to the test.
43) Birdsong by Sebastian Faulks
This wartime family saga has been praised by critics for communicating the experience of veterans in literature. It follows two different characters living at different times. The first is Stephen Wraysford, a British soldier on the front lines of the First World War, and the second is his granddaughter Elizabeth Benson, living thirty years later. As she discovers more about her grandfather’s life, Elizabeth finds striking parallels between the wartime era and 1970s Britain. Birdsong can read as a standalone novel or loosely as part of a trilogy of novels by Faulks, which are linked by location and some minor characters.
44) The Pull of the Stars by Emma Donoghue
Set during the 1918 flu pandemic, The Pull of the Stars is an uplifting novel of hope and the need to find the light in the darkness. As the pandemic spirals out of control, Julia, a young nurse, is joined by Kathleen Lynn, a doctor on the run from the police, and Bridie Sweeney, a young volunteer. Over the next three days, they work together fighting to preserve life as well as bringing new life into the world. Left markedly changed from these experiences, these three women have altered each other’s lives irrevocably.
Looking for your next unforgettable historical fiction read?
45) Fall of Giants (Century trilogy) by Ken Follett
Ken Follett’s Century trilogy delves into key facets of world history by chronicling the experiences of five unrelated families as they live through the 20th century. Fall of the Giants begins in 1911 on the day of King George V’s coronation and explores the First World War, the Russian Revolution, and Women’s Suffrage. The families vary from coal miners to high-born aristocrats, but they all find their lives changing because of the world’s shifting political landscape. Follet continues his narrative in Winter of the World, which begins as World War Two is declared.
46) A Rising Man (Sam Wyndham series) by Abir Mukherjee
The first book in an exciting new crime series by Abir Mukherjee, A Rising Man is a whodunit murder mystery set in Calcutta in 1919. It begins when a British official is murdered and left in his mouth is a note threatening that Britain must quit India, or else. Scotland Yard detective Sam Wyndham has just arrived in Calcutta and is tasked with investigating the crime. His inquiry leads him deep into the underbelly of the British Raj as political descent and instability ensue.
47) Pachinko by Min Jin Lee
Pachinko is a powerful saga featuring strong women and bold decisions. It begins when teenage Sunja falls for a wealthy stranger visiting the seashore near her home in Korea. He promises Sunja the world, but when she discovers she is pregnant and that her lover is married, she rejects his offer to buy her silence and sets out to forge her own path. Instead, she accepts an offer of marriage that takes her far away to Japan, but rejecting her former lover will come at a high price.
48) The Woman in Black by Susan Hill
The Woman in Black is a haunting ghost story set on the outskirts of an English country moor along an isolated causeway that frequently cuts Eel Marsh House off from the rest of the world. Arthur Kipps, a young solicitor from London, travels north to settle the affairs of Alice Drablow, the former resident of Eel Marsh House. Shortly after his arrival, Kipps discovers the town is haunted by a dark spectre that is sure to provide this thrilling novel with suspense and drama on every page.
49) The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle by Stuart Turton
During a lavish party at Blackheath Manor, the host Evelyn Hardcastle is murdered. She will not die just once, but again each day until Aiden Bishop, one of the guests, can solve her murder. Each day he wakes up in the body of a different guest, determined to locate the killer. F. Scott Fitzgerald meets Agatha Christie in Stuart Turton’s extravagant murder mystery that has readers waiting breathlessly for Aiden to uncover the truth.
50) The Book Thief by Markus Zusak
Markus Zusak reimagines the harrowing events of the Second World War through the eyes of an unlikely narrator: Death. He recounts the story of Leisel, a brave young girl who, after accidentally finding a book next to her brother’s grave, develops a love affair with words. Soon she’s stealing books from anywhere she can, including the Mayor’s library and Nazi book burnings. Leisel hasn’t been caught yet, but when her family put their lives on the line to hide a Jewish man in their basement, she must do everything she can to protect them all.
51) Half-Blood Blues by Esi Edugyan
Half-Blood Blues is a heartbreaking story about the horror of betrayal and the burden of loyalty. After the outbreak of the Second World War, rising cabaret and jazz star Hieronymus Falk was arrested. He was only twenty years old, but he was Black and German, so history branded him a traitor. Years later Sidney’s Griffiths, the only witness to his friend Heiro’s arrest, is contacted by his old friend Chip who persuades him to travel back to Berlin. Here Chip reveals that he received a letter that tells the truth of Hiero’s fate, but is it too shocking to be true?
52) The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah
While the men were fighting at the front, the women were fighting at home. Set in France, The Nightingale is the tale of two women who fight for the survival of themselves and others during the Second World War. After her husband left to join the army, Vianne’s home in Carriveau was requisitioned by a German captain. Vianne is now forced to make life and death decisions to protect herself and her daughter from an increasingly volatile situation. Meanwhile, after being betrayed by her lover, Vianne’s younger sister joins the French resistance and risks her life to save others.
53) All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr
All the Light We Cannot See is the story of how, even in the darkest of situations, people still find ways to be good to each other. Marie-Laure, a young blind girl, flees Paris with her father, who brings along a valuable but dangerous secret. Meanwhile, German orphan Werner Pfennig and his younger sister use a redesigned radio to try to track down the resistance. Doerr weaves together the lives of these children, and despite all the surrounding violence, they help each other on their journeys.
54) The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas by John Boyne
Narrated by Bruno, a nine-year-old German boy, The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas is his account of meeting Shmuel, a Jewish boy the same age as him. Bruno visits Shmuel every day to give him food and share stories. Although he doesn’t understand why they are separated by a fence or why Shmuel wears the “striped pyjamas” each day, the two boys develop a strong bond. When Shmuel’s father suddenly disappears, Bruno risks his life to help Shmuel, proving that the only barriers in friendships are the ones constructed by society.
55) The English Patient by Michael Ondaatje
As the Second World War ends, exhausted nurse Hana remains at an Italian villa to care for her final patient. She is joined by Caravaggio, a maimed thief, and Kip, a weary sapper, and together they try to rebuild themselves after the trauma of the war. As the English patient slowly recovers, the three residents are mystified by his possible backstory. They try to piece it together by reading the notes written in a copy of The Histories by Herodotus, which also happens to be his only belonging.
56) Those Who Are Loved by Victoria Hislop
Bestselling author Victoria Hislop shines a light on Greece’s tumultuous past through one woman’s lifelong fight for justice. Fifteen-year-old Themis comes from a house with polarised views, and relationships are tested as the lines between personal and political blur even more under German oppression. The horrors of famine and the destitute state of her country lead Themis to join the Communist Army in the Greek Civil War after German occupation ends. Eventually, she is arrested and sent to an island prison for her role in the army, now haunted by some of her actions. Though she is proud of herself for fighting for her beliefs, it is not until she meets another prisoner in exile that she finally achieves liberation.
57) Lady Clementine by Marie Benedict
Bestselling author Marie Benedict re-establishes Clementine Churchill as one of the people who secretly held the most influence during the First and Second World Wars. A philanthropist and public figure in her own right, Clementine Churchill was an intelligent and capable woman who saved her husband’s life more than once. Lady Clementine is a powerful tale of ambition and love and is a deeply moving portrait of the lady behind the man.
58) The Secrets We Kept by Lara Prescott
In 1956, a celebrated Russian author writes a book that has the power to ignite rebellion in the Soviet Union. The Soviets ban it, but the book has become somewhat of a sensation around the rest of the world. Now the CIA is proposing the book be used to change the outcome of the Cold War. Typical agents will fail at this operation, so two typists, Sally and Irina, are charged with the mission of a lifetime: smuggle the book back into Russia by any means necessary.
59) Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens
Kya Clark is a sensitive and wild-spirited girl who lives peacefully in the marshland around Barkley Cove on the North Carolina coastline. She is disliked by the townspeople, but they were content to leave her alone until the body of a handsome young man is discovered in the marshland. While she becomes a suspect in the murder, Kya yearns to be loved and opens herself up to new possibilities. But the two young townsmen who take an interest in her wild-beauty are not what they seem. Where the Crawdads Sing is an exquisite tribute to the natural world and all the beautiful and violent secrets it keeps.
60) The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett
In 1952 sixteen-year-old twin sisters Desire and Stella are forced to escape from their small Black community in Louisiana after they witness a horrific lynching. A decade later, they have abandoned their shared history and are living separate lives with their children. Desiree has returned to their childhood town while Stella is living in California, where she is passing for white and married to a man who knows nothing about her past. When their daughters accidentally meet, Desiree and Stella are reunited and are finally forced to confront what drove them apart.
We hope you’ve enjoyed this list of 60 of the best historical fiction books. Happy reading!