The Best Historical Fiction Books That You Need To Read Featured Image

Top 40 Best Historical Fiction Books You Need To Read

You and I love historical fiction. Well, today is a good day because you are going to have access to a treasure trove of the best historical fiction books you need to read! I mean it! I went into Goodreads and Reddit forums to ask historical fiction lovers the following question:

“What is the best historical fiction novel that you have read? If you had to pick one, what would you choose?”

And boy, did I get a response. What’s even better is that many people ended up saying the same books. So, you know this Top 40 list only contains the best of the best. Alright, time to find you your next read.

Table Of Contents

1. The Given Day

The Given Day Book Cover

The Given Day tells the story of two families—one black, one white—swept up in a maelstrom of revolutionaries and anarchists, immigrants and ward bosses, Brahmins and ordinary citizens, all engaged in a battle for survival and power.

Beat cop Danny Coughlin, the son of one of the city’s most beloved and powerful police captains, joins a burgeoning union movement and the hunt for violent radicals.

Luther Laurence, on the run after a deadly confrontation with a crime boss in Tulsa, works for the Coughlin family and tries desperately to find his way home to his pregnant wife.

Here, too, are some of the most influential figures of the era—Babe Ruth; Eugene O’Neill; leftist activist Jack Reed; NAACP founder W. E. B. DuBois; Mitchell Palmer, Woodrow Wilson’s ruthless Red-chasing attorney general; cunning Massachusetts governor Calvin Coolidge; and an ambitious young Department of Justice lawyer named John Hoover.

Coursing through some of the pivotal events of the time—including the Spanish Influenza pandemic—and culminating in the Boston Police Strike of 1919, The Given Day explores the crippling violence and irrepressible exuberance of a country at war with, and in the thrall of, itself. As Danny, Luther, and those around them struggle to define themselves in increasingly turbulent times, they gradually find family in one another and, together, ride a rising storm of hardship, deprivation, and hope that will change all their lives.


Tell me you are not obsessed with this book already. The cover is incredible and gives a serious tone to what I can only imagine is a gripping story. I only hope the author does the real life people’s justice within the story. Although, I have no doubt since he is a bestselling author.

I am most interested to see Dennis Lehane’s depictions of Babe Ruth (I like baseball) and Calvin Coolidge. There is so much going on in this book that it is probably one you would have to read through a couple times to catch everything.

2. Aztec

Aztec Book Cover

Aztec is the extraordinary story of the last and greatest native civilization of North America. Told in the words of one of the most robust and memorable characters in modern fiction, Mixtli-Dark Cloud, Aztec reveals the very depths of Aztec civilization from the peak and feather-banner splendor of the Aztec Capital of Tenochtitlan to the arrival of Hernán Cortes and his conquistadores, and their destruction of the Aztec empire. The story of Mixtli is the story of the Aztecs themselves—a compelling, epic tale of heroic dignity and a colossal civilization’s rise and fall.


This book gathered a couple of recommendations through the threads online. I will be honest and say that I am not that knowledgeable on the Aztec empire. But that is all the more reason to pick this book up and give it a read!

3. The Walking Drum

The Walking Drum Book Cover

Warrior, lover, and scholar, Kerbouchard is a daring seeker of knowledge and fortune bound on a journey of enormous challenge, danger, and revenge. Across Europe, over the Russian steppes, and through the Byzantine wonders of Constantinople, Kerbouchard is thrust into the treacheries, passions, violence, and dazzling wonders of a magnificent time.

From castle to slave galley, from sword-racked battlefields to a princess’s secret chamber, and ultimately, to the impregnable fortress of the Valley of Assassins, The Walking Drum is a powerful adventure in an ancient world that you will find every bit as riveting as Louis L’Amour’s stories of the American West.


I love a good adventure story. Who doesn’t? I haven’t met anyone who doesn’t. Anyway, what drew me to this book is that it has all the makings of a fantasy novel, but it’s real (somewhat).

40 historical fiction books that you need to read pin

4. Fair Blows The Wind

Fair Blows The Wind Book Cover

His father killed by the British and his home burned, young Tatton Chantry left Ireland to make his fortune and regain the land that was rightfully his. Schooled along the way in the use of arms, Chantry arrives in London a wiser and far more dangerous man. He invests in trading ventures, but on a voyage to the New World his party is attacked by Indians and he is marooned in the untamed wilderness of the Carolina coast. It is in this darkest time, when everything seems lost, that Chantry encounters a remarkable opportunity. . . . Suddenly all his dreams are within reach: extraordinary wealth, his family land, and the heart of a Peruvian beauty. But first he must survive Indians, pirates, and a rogue swordsman who has vowed to see him dead.


The beginning reminds me slightly of a t.v. show I just watched on Netflix called The Last Kingdom. The main character of that show also seeks to retake the land that is rightfully his. The summary for this book also reminds me of Treasure Planet. So, I think this book will most likely be an enjoyable read.

5. Mrs. Poe

Mrs. Poe Book Cover

A vivid and compelling novel about a woman who becomes entangled in an affair with Edgar Allan Poe—at the same time she becomes the unwilling confidante of his much-younger wife.

It is 1845, and Frances Osgood is desperately trying to make a living as a writer in New York; not an easy task for a woman—especially one with two children and a philandering portrait painter as her husband. As Frances tries to sell her work, she finds that editors are only interested in writing similar to that of the new renegade literary sensation Edgar Allan Poe, whose poem, “The Raven” has struck a public nerve.

She meets the handsome and mysterious Poe at a literary party, and the two have an immediate connection. Poe wants Frances to meet with his wife since she claims to be an admirer of her poems, and Frances is curious to see the woman whom Edgar married.

As Frances spends more and more time with the intriguing couple, her intense attraction for Edgar brings her into dangerous territory. And Mrs. Poe, who acts like an innocent child, is actually more manipulative and threatening than she appears. As Frances and Edgar’s passionate affair escalates, Frances must decide whether she can walk away before it’s too late…

Set amidst the fascinating world of New York’s literati, this smart and sexy novel offers a unique view into the life of one of history’s most unforgettable literary figures. 


Okay, so I may have thrown this book into the list of my own accord. I have reviewed this book in the past and I can say without a doubt, you will love this book. This is the first book that I have read from Lynn Cullen. It is an impressive tale that makes you look at Edgar Allan Poe in a whole new way.

RELATED: Who In The World Is Mrs. Poe? Lynn Cullen Knows

6. The Girl in the Glass Tower

The Girl In The Glass Tower Book Cover

Arbella Stuart is trapped behind the towering glass windows of Hardwick Hall. Kept cloistered from a world that is full of dangers for someone with royal blood. Half the country wish to see her on the throne and many others for her death, which would leave the way clear for her cousin James, the Scottish King

Arbella longs to be free from her cold-hearted grandmother; to love who she wants, to wear a man’s trousers and ride her beloved horse, Dorcas. But if she ever wishes to break free she must learn to navigate the treacherous game of power, or end up dead.


I am pretty sure I own this book and just haven’t gotten the chance to read it. This is another one that several readers recommended, so you and I should hurry up and jump on the wagon to see what all the fuss is about!

7. The Aubrey & Maturin Series

Book One of the Aubrey and Maturin series; Master and Commander book cover

FIRST BOOK OF THE SERIES: As the Royal Navy takes part in the wars against Napoleonic France, young Jack Aubrey receives his first command, the small, old, and slow HMS Sophie. Accompanied by his eccentric new friend, the physician and naturalist Stephen Maturin, Aubrey does battle with the naval hierarchy, with his own tendency to make social blunders, and with the challenges of forging an effective crew — before ultimately taking on enemy ships in a vivid, intricately detailed series of sea battles.


This doesn’t sound like the kind of book I would read. But never say never! I do love when books take place on ships. Perhaps it is because I have never seen the ocean, let alone explored it. I’m just curious enough to at least read the first couple of chapters.

8. Into The Wilderness Series

Into the wilderness book cover

Weaving a tapestry of fact and fiction, Sara Donati’s epic novel sweeps us into another time and place…and into the heart of a forbidden affair between an unconventional Englishwoman and an American frontiersman.

It is December of 1792. Elizabeth Middleton leaves her comfortable English estate to join her family in a remote New York mountain village. It is a place unlike any she has ever experienced. And she meets a man unlike any she has ever encountered – a white man dressed like a Native American, Nathanial Booner, known to the Mohawk people as Between-Two-Lives. Determined to provide schooling for all the children of the village, she soons finds herself locked in conflict with the local slave owners as well as her own family.
Interweaving the fate of the Mohawk Nation with the destiny of two lovers, Sara Donati’s compelling novel creates a complex, profound, passionate portrait of an emerging America.


I’m hooked. It takes place in 1792, and I love that era. I also love reading different people’s perspectives on America. And I know next to nothing about the Mohawk. These are all perfect reasons to read this book, so I can’t wait until I have the time!

9. Where The Crawdad’s Sing

where the crawdads sing book cover

For years, rumors of the “Marsh Girl” haunted Barkley Cove, a quiet fishing village. Kya Clark is barefoot and wild; unfit for polite society. So in late 1969, when the popular Chase Andrews is found dead, locals immediately suspect her.

But Kya is not what they say. A born naturalist with just one day of school, she takes life’s lessons from the land, learning the real ways of the world from the dishonest signals of fireflies. But while she has the skills to live in solitude forever, the time comes when she yearns to be touched and loved. Drawn to two young men from town, who are each intrigued by her wild beauty, Kya opens herself to a new and startling world–until the unthinkable happens.

In Where the Crawdads Sing, Owens juxtaposes an exquisite ode to the natural world against a profound coming of age story and haunting mystery. Thought-provoking, wise, and deeply moving, Owens’s debut novel reminds us that we are forever shaped by the child within us, while also subject to the beautiful and violent secrets that nature keeps.

The story asks how isolation influences the behavior of a young woman, who like all of us, has the genetic propensity to belong to a group. The clues to the mystery are brushed into the lush habitat and natural histories of its wild creatures.


There is no way that you haven’t heard about this book. I see this cover all the time! But I have been reluctant to read it because some say they love it and some say it’s just okay. This was recommended as a historical fiction novel, but I thought it was Literary Fiction. Either way, I have included it in the list because it was a recommendation by someone who read the book. So, who’s to say it couldn’t fit into the historical fiction genre? My curiosity will get the best of me, though. So, one day I know I will end up reading Where The Crawdads Sing.

10. The Alice Network

The Alice Network Book Cover

In an enthralling new historical novel from national bestselling author Kate Quinn, two women—a female spy recruited to the real-life Alice Network in France during World War I and an unconventional American socialite searching for her cousin in 1947—are brought together in a mesmerizing story of courage and redemption.

1947. In the chaotic aftermath of World War II, American college girl Charlie St. Clair is pregnant, unmarried, and on the verge of being thrown out of her very proper family. She’s also nursing a desperate hope that her beloved cousin Rose, who disappeared in Nazi-occupied France during the war, might still be alive. So when Charlie’s parents banish her to Europe to have her “little problem” taken care of, Charlie breaks free and heads to London, determined to find out what happened to the cousin she loves like a sister.

1915. A year into the Great War, Eve Gardiner burns to join the fight against the Germans and unexpectedly gets her chance when she’s recruited to work as a spy. Sent into enemy-occupied France, she’s trained by the mesmerizing Lili, code name Alice, the “queen of spies”, who manages a vast network of secret agents right under the enemy’s nose.

Thirty years later, haunted by the betrayal that ultimately tore apart the Alice Network, Eve spends her days drunk and secluded in her crumbling London house. Until a young American barges in uttering a name Eve hasn’t heard in decades, and launches them both on a mission to find the truth…no matter where it leads.


I own a copy of this book and I can’t wait to read it. I got just because of the book cover. I know, not the best reason to pick a book, but look at it! It is a beautiful cover and the summary couldn’t be more captivating! I am obsessed already and I haven’t even read it. That’s how you know it will be a brilliant book.

11. The Nightingale

The Nightingale book cover

In the quiet village of Carriveau, Vianne Mauriac says good-bye to her husband, Antoine, as he heads for the Front. She doesn’t believe that the Nazis will invade France…but invade they do, in droves of marching soldiers, in caravans of trucks and tanks, in planes that fill the skies and drop bombs upon the innocent. When a German captain requisitions Vianne’s home, she and her daughter must live with the enemy or lose everything. Without food or money or hope, as danger escalates all around them, she is forced to make one impossible choice after another to keep her family alive.

Vianne’s sister, Isabelle, is a rebellious eighteen-year-old, searching for purpose with all the reckless passion of youth. While thousands of Parisians march into the unknown terrors of war, she meets Gaëtan, a partisan who believes the French can fight the Nazis from within France, and she falls in love as only the young can…completely. But when he betrays her, Isabelle joins the Resistance and never looks back, risking her life time and again to save others.

With courage, grace and powerful insight, bestselling author Kristin Hannah captures the epic panorama of World War II and illuminates an intimate part of history seldom seen: the women’s war. The Nightingale tells the stories of two sisters, separated by years and experience, by ideals, passion and circumstance, each embarking on her own dangerous path toward survival, love, and freedom in German-occupied, war-torn France—a heartbreakingly beautiful novel that celebrates the resilience of the human spirit and the durability of women. It is a novel for everyone, a novel for a lifetime.


First, I just want to point out that this is another gorgeous cover. And…this book sounds like perfection. I will read this book. Of that I have no doubt. I will probably read it twice because it has everything I love to read about. It would even make for a perfect movie. In fact, if this was a movie, I’d watch it immediately. Just by reading the summary, I can tell that this is a book after my own heart.

12. The Island Of Sea Women

The island of sea women book cover

Set on the Korean island of Jeju, The Island of Sea Women follows Mi-ja and Young-sook, two girls from very different backgrounds, as they begin working in the sea with their village’s all-female diving collective. Over many decades—through the Japanese colonialism of the 1930s and 1940s, World War II, the Korean War, and the era of cellphones and wet suits for the women divers—Mi-ja and Young-sook develop the closest of bonds. Nevertheless, their differences are impossible to ignore: Mi-ja is the daughter of a Japanese collaborator, forever marking her, and Young-sook was born into a long line of haenyeo and will inherit her mother’s position leading the divers. After hundreds of dives and years of friendship, forces outside their control will push their relationship to the breaking point.

This beautiful, thoughtful novel illuminates a unique and unforgettable culture, one where the women are in charge, engaging in dangerous physical work, and the men take care of the children. A classic Lisa See story—one of women’s friendships and the larger forces that shape them—The Island of Sea Women introduces readers to the fierce female divers of Jeju Island and the dramatic history that shaped their lives.


This book is intriguing. I’m not sure why, but I am already interested in the character Mi-ja. I don’t know much about diving either, so it would certainly be a learning experience. The Island Of Sea Women seems to me like one of those heartwarming novels. What do you think?

13. Wolf Hall

Wolf hall book cover

England in the 1520s is a heartbeat from disaster. If the king dies without a male heir, the country could be destroyed by civil war. Henry VIII wants to annul his marriage of twenty years and marry Anne Boleyn. The pope and most of Europe opposes him. Into this impasse steps Thomas Cromwell: a wholly original man, a charmer and a bully, both idealist and opportunist, astute in reading people, and implacable in his ambition. But Henry is volatile: one day tender, one day murderous. Cromwell helps him break the opposition, but what will be the price of his triumph? 


I love this! I know a little about Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn. The story is truly something else. I’ll even let you in on a little secret, I don’t think I would have liked Anne Boleyn if I had lived in their time. I haven’t read this book yet. But, for the sake of what this story is about, I am telling you this is worth the read. You will end up doing a deep dive in learning about Henry VIII like I did the first time I encountered his story. P.S. his daughter is equally fascinating, but I doubt she will appear in this story unless it is a brief mention at the end of the book.

14. The Western Wind

The western wind book cover

15th century Oakham, in Somerset; a tiny village cut off by a big river with no bridge. When a man is swept away by the river in the early hours of Shrove Saturday, an explanation has to be found: accident, suicide or murder? The village priest, John Reve, is privy to many secrets in his role as confessor. But will he be able to unravel what happened to the victim, Thomas Newman, the wealthiest, most capable and industrious man in the village? And what will happen if he can’t?

Moving back in time towards the moment of Thomas Newman’s death, the story is related by Reve – an extraordinary creation, a patient shepherd to his wayward flock, and a man with secrets of his own to keep. Through his eyes, and his indelible voice, Harvey creates a medieval world entirely tangible in its immediacy.


Calling all Sherlock Holmes fans! This book appears to be a mix of historical fiction and mystery. I am not the biggest of mystery novel fans, but I love a good puzzle. So, perhaps I wouldn’t fall in love with the story. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t any good.

15. King Hereafter

King hereafter book cover

In King Hereafter, Dorothy Dunnett’s stage is the wild, half-pagan country of eleventh-century Scotland. Her hero is an ungainly young earl with a lowering brow and a taste for intrigue. He calls himself Thorfinn but his Christian name is Macbeth.

Dunnett depicts Macbeth’s transformation from an angry boy who refuses to accept his meager share of the Orkney Islands to a suavely accomplished warrior who seizes an empire with the help of a wife as shrewd and valiant as himself.


Well, don’t these two sound like quite the dynamic duo. I’m curious. I love reading about Scotland, so that’s one check in the box. And the eleventh-century is right in the heart of the medieval era, which never disappoints. Another check in the box.

16. Shogun

Shogun book cover

After Englishman John Blackthorne is lost at sea, he awakens in a place few Europeans know of and even fewer have seen–Nippon. Thrust into the closed society that is seventeenth-century Japan, a land where the line between life and death is razor-thin, Blackthorne must negotiate not only a foreign people, with unknown customs and language, but also his own definitions of morality, truth, and freedom. As internal political strife and a clash of cultures lead to seemingly inevitable conflict, Blackthorne’s loyalty and strength of character are tested by both passion and loss, and he is torn between two worlds that will each be forever changed.

Powerful and engrossing, capturing both the rich pageantry and stark realities of life in feudal Japan, Shōgun is a critically acclaimed powerhouse of a book. Heart-stopping, edge-of-your-seat action melds seamlessly with intricate historical detail and raw human emotion. Endlessly compelling, this sweeping saga captivated the world to become not only one of the best-selling novels of all time but also one of the highest-rated television miniseries, as well as inspiring a nationwide surge of interest in the culture of Japan. Shakespearean in both scope and depth, Shōgun is, as the New York Times put it, “…not only something you read–you live it.” Provocative, absorbing, and endlessly fascinating, there is only one: Shōgun.


Bring on the complexity! I have never heard of this book. It is a miniseries too, so I will check that out as well. Some people prefer watching a show/movie after they have read the book, but for me it makes no difference. I can love both equally. However, I won’t discount that it is extremely satisfying as a reader when the show/movie is a carbon copy of the book.

17. The Book Of Longings

the book of longings book cover

Raised in a wealthy family in Sepphoris with ties to the ruler of Galilee, Ana is rebellious and ambitious, a relentless seeker with a brilliant, curious mind and a daring spirit. She yearns for a pursuit worthy of her life, but finds no outlet for her considerable talents. Defying the expectations placed on women, she engages in furtive scholarly pursuits and writes secret narratives about neglected and silenced women. When she meets the eighteen-year-old Jesus, each is drawn to and enriched by the other’s spiritual and philosophical ideas. He becomes a floodgate for her intellect, but also the awakener of her heart.

Their marriage unfolds with love and conflict, humor and pathos in Nazareth, where Ana makes a home with Jesus, his brothers, James and Simon, and their mother, Mary. Here, Ana’s pent-up longings intensify amid the turbulent resistance to the Roman occupation of Israel, partially led by her charismatic adopted brother, Judas. She is sustained by her indomitable aunt Yaltha, who is searching for her long-lost daughter, as well as by other women, including her friend Tabitha, who is sold into slavery after she was raped, and Phasaelis, the shrewd wife of Herod Antipas. Ana’s impetuous streak occasionally invites danger. When one such foray forces her to flee Nazareth for her safety shortly before Jesus’s public ministry begins, she makes her way with Yaltha to Alexandria, where she eventually finds refuge and purpose in unexpected surroundings.


This book will not be for everyone. However, I am a Christian, so it certainly is for me. I think I would read this book because I am curious to see how the author depicts her version of Jesus.

18. All The Light We Cannot See

All the light we cannot see book cover

From the highly acclaimed, multiple award-winning Anthony Doerr, the stunningly beautiful instant New York Times bestseller about a blind French girl and a German boy whose paths collide in occupied France as both try to survive the devastation of World War II.

Marie-Laure lives in Paris near the Museum of Natural History, where her father works. When she is twelve, the Nazis occupy Paris and father and daughter flee to the walled citadel of Saint-Malo, where Marie-Laure’s reclusive great uncle lives in a tall house by the sea. With them they carry what might be the museum’s most valuable and dangerous jewel.

In a mining town in Germany, Werner Pfennig, an orphan, grows up with his younger sister, enchanted by a crude radio they find that brings them news and stories from places they have never seen or imagined. Werner becomes an expert at building and fixing these crucial new instruments and is enlisted to use his talent to track down the resistance. Deftly interweaving the lives of Marie-Laure and Werner, Doerr illuminates the ways. Against all odds, people try to be good to one another.


Are you starting to see the trend that so many people love reading about WWII? Of course I am no exception. I may have said it before, but I will read any book about war. I never want to find out, but I wonder what life would be like living through a world war.

RELATED: An In-depth Look At The Character Dialogue In A Savage Kultur

19. The Bronze Horseman

The Bronze Horseman Book Cover

During the summer of 1941 the Metanov family are living a hard life in Leningrad. As the German armies advance their future looks bleak. For Tatiana, love arrives in the guise of Alexander, who harbours a deadly and extraordinary secret. 


Honestly, the summary is interesting, but the cover is what makes me want to read the book. Yes, I do judge a book by its cover. This book also got two recommendations by people who loved loved loved this book.

20. Tully

Tully book cover

Tully Makker is a tough young woman from the wrong side of the tracks and she is not always easy to like. But if Tully gives friendship and loyalty, she gives them for good, and she forms an enduring bond with Jennifer and Julie, school friends from very different backgrounds. As they grow into the world of the seventies and eighties, the lives of the three best friends are changed forever by two young men, Robin and Jack, and a tragedy which engulfs them all. Against the odds, Tully emerges into young womanhood, marriage and a career. At last Tully Makker has life under control. And then life strikes back in the most unexpected way of all…


Another recommendation for one of Paullina Simons books. She must be a talented author then, right? The thing about historical fiction is that it is subjective. To me, the 70s and 80s was not that long ago. So I am not quite ready to call a book historical fiction if it comes from that time period. However, clearly others would disagree since they recommended this in the forums. It still sounds like a wonderful book though, so why not read it?

21. Outlander Series

outlander series book cover

The year is 1945. Claire Randall, a former 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 border clans in the year of Our Lord…1743.

Hurled back in time by forces she cannot understand, Claire is catapulted into the intrigues of lairds and spies that may threaten her life, and shatter her heart. For here James Fraser, a gallant young Scots warrior, shows her a love so absolute that Claire becomes a woman torn between fidelity and desire—and between two vastly different men in two irreconcilable lives.


Ah yes, the pinnacle of historical fiction in my eyes. I was so happy to see this pop up as a recommendation. I own the first three books of this series and have watched the show several times. I am currently reading the first book and trying desperately to convince my man to watch the show from the beginning with me. So far, no such luck.

22. Shanghai Girls Series

shanghai girls series book cover

Pearl and May are sisters, living carefree in Shanghai, the Paris of Asia. But when Japanese bombs fall on their beloved city, they set out on the journey of a lifetime, one that will take them through the Chinese countryside, in and out of the clutch of brutal soldiers, and across the Pacific to the shores of America.

In 1937, Shanghai is the Paris of Asia, a city of great wealth and glamour, the home of millionaires and beggars, gangsters and gamblers, patriots and revolutionaries, artists and warlords. Thanks to the financial security and material comforts provided by their father’s prosperous rickshaw business, twenty-one-year-old Pearl Chin and her younger sister, May, are having the time of their lives. Though both sisters wave off authority and tradition, they couldn’t be more different: Pearl is a Dragon sign, strong and stubborn, while May is a true Sheep, adorable and placid. Both are beautiful, modern, and carefree . . . until the day their father tells them that he has gambled away their wealth and that in order to repay his debts he must sell the girls as wives to suitors who have traveled from California to find Chinese brides.

As Japanese bombs fall on their beloved city, Pearl and May set out on the journey of a lifetime, one that will take them through the Chinese countryside, in and out of the clutch of brutal soldiers, and across the Pacific to the shores of America. In Los Angeles they begin a fresh chapter, trying to find love with the strangers they have married, brushing against the seduction of Hollywood, and striving to embrace American life even as they fight against discrimination, brave Communist witch hunts, and find themselves hemmed in by Chinatown’s old ways and rules.


I have never heard of Shanghai being referred to as the Paris of Asia. I like it. This book is bringing to light many topics that just aren’t talked about as much. There was a book I read awhile ago about a Japanese woman who was in the internment camps around the time of Pearl Harbor. It was such an eye-opening experience for me because I was only a teenager then and knew little about the past. This book will probably be the same for me and many other readers.

40 of the best historical fiction pin

23. Matthew Corbett Series

speaks the nightbird book cover

The Carolinas, 1699: The citizens of Fount Royal believe a witch has cursed their town with inexplicable tragedies, and they demand that beautiful widow Rachel Howarth be tried and executed for witchcraft. Presiding over the trial is traveling magistrate Issac Woodward, aided by his astute young clerk, Matthew Corbett. Believing in Rachel’s innocence, Matthew will soon confront the true evil at work in Fount Royal.

After hearing damning testimony, magistrate Woodward sentences the accused witch to death by burning. Desperate to exonerate the woman he has come to love, Matthew begins his own investigation among the townspeople. Piecing together the truth, he has no choice but to vanquish a force more malevolent than witchcraft in order to save his beloved Rachel and free Fount Royal from the menace claiming innocent lives.


I am so happy to live in modern times. Imagine being a woman in 1699. It was a whole other world that is interesting to read about, but I certainly wouldn’t want to be a part of it.

24. Boy’s Life

Boy's Life Book Cover

It’s 1964 in idyllic Zephyr, Alabama. People either work for the paper mill up the Tecumseh River, or for the local dairy. It’s a simple life, but it stirs the impressionable imagination of twelve-year-old aspiring writer Cory Mackenson. He’s certain he’s sensed spirits whispering in the churchyard. He’s heard of the weird bootleggers who lurk in the dark outside of town. He’s seen a flood leave Main Street crawling with snakes. Cory thrills to all of it as only a young boy can.

Then one morning, while accompanying his father on his milk route, he sees a car careen off the road and slowly sink into fathomless Saxon’s Lake. His father dives into the icy water to rescue the driver, and finds a beaten corpse, naked and handcuffed to the steering wheel—a copper wire tightened around the stranger’s neck. In time, the townsfolk seem to forget all about the unsolved murder. But Cory and his father can’t.

Their search for the truth is a journey into a world where innocence and evil collide. What lies before them is the stuff of fear and awe, magic and madness, fantasy and reality. As Cory wades into the deep end of Zephyr and all its mysteries, he’ll discover that while the pleasures of childish things fade away, growing up can be a strange and beautiful ride.

25. Here Be Dragons

here be dragons book cover

Thirteenth-century Wales is a divided country, ever at the mercy of England’s ruthless, power-hungry King John. Then Llewelyn, Prince of North Wales, secures an uneasy truce with England by marrying the English king’s beloved, illegitimate daughter, Joanna. Reluctant to wed her father’s bitter enemy, Joanna slowly grows to love her charismatic and courageous husband who dreams of uniting Wales. But as John’s attentions turn again and again to subduing Wales–and Llewelyn–Joanna must decide to which of these powerful men she owes her loyalty and love.

A sweeping novel of power and passion, loyalty and lives, this is the book that began the trilogy that includes FALLS THE SHADOW and THE RECKONING.

26. Judas, My Brother

Judas my brother book cover

The sinner and the savior, His name was Nathan-bar-Yehudah. He was born to wealth, power, worldliness. Yet strangely enough, his features closely resembled a youth who was his total opposite-a poverty-stricken carpenter’s son from Galilee. and though Nathan chose the path of physical adventure and sensual excess, his life was intertwined with that of the man called Jesus of Nazareth- until their moment of confrontation and truth in the shadow of the cross… Frank Yerby’s most magnificent novel- Judas, My brother “brings alive the great, sprawling, barbaric world of the first century…a rousing novel… a great story-teller”.

27. Raven Series

Raven Series Book Cover

For two years Osric has lived a simple life, apprentice to the mute old carpenter who took him in when others would have him cast out. But when Norsemen from across the sea burn his village they also destroy his new life, and Osric finds himself a prisoner of these warriors. Their chief, Sigurd the Lucky, believes the Norns have woven this strange boy’s fate together with his own, and Osric begins to sense glorious purpose among this Fellowship of warriors.

Immersed in the Norsemen’s world and driven by their lust for adventure, Osric proves a natural warrior and forges a blood bond with Sigurd, who renames him Raven. But the Norsemen’s world is a savage one, where loyalty is often repaid in blood and where a young man must become a killer to survive. When the Fellowship faces annihilation from ealdorman Ealdred of Wessex, Raven chooses a bloody and dangerous path, accepting the mission of raiding deep into hostile lands to steal a holy book from Coenwolf, King of Mercia. There he will find much more than the Holy Gospels of St Jerome. He will find Cynethryth, an English girl with a soul to match his own. And he will find betrayal at the hands of cruel men, some of whom he regarded as friends… 

28. Sharpe Series

sharpe's tiger book cover

The prequel to the series, describing Sharpe’s experiences in India. Sharpe’s Tiger describes the adventures of the raw young private soldier Richard Sharpe in India, before the Peninsular War.

Sharpe and the rest of his battalion, along with the rising star of the general staff Arthur Wellesley, are about to embark upon the siege of Seringapatam, island citadel of the Tippoo of Mysore. The British must remove this potentate from his tiger throne, but he has gone to extraordinary lengths to defend his city from attack. And always he is surrounded by tigers, both living and ornamental…any prisoner of the Tippoo can expect a savage end.

When a senior British officer is captured by the Tippoo’s forces Sharpe is offered a chance to attempt a rescue, a chance he snatched in order to escape from the tyrannical Sergeant Obadiah Hakeswill. But in fleeing Hakeswill he enters the confusing, exotic and dangerous world of the Tippoo and Sharpe will need all his wits just to stay alive, let alone save the British army from catastrophe.

With the same meticulous research and attention to detail that distinguishes the rest of the bestselling series of Sharpe novels, Bernard Cornwell has recreated the I 799 campaign against Seringapatam which made the British masters of southern India, a campaign that pitted brutalized soldiers against an ancient and splendid civilization. Set against a background of dazzling wealth, ruinous poverty, gorgeous palaces, sudden cruelty and pitiless battles, Sharpe’s Tiger is his greatest adventure yet. 

29. Grail Quest Series

Grail Quest series book cover

At dawn on Easter morning 1343, a marauding band of French raiders arrives by boat to ambush the coastal English village of Hookton. To brave young Thomas, the only survivor, the horror of the attack is epitomized in the casual savagery of a particular black-clad knight, whose flag — three yellow hawks on a blue field — presides over the bloody affair. As the killers sail away, Thomas vows to avenge the murder of his townspeople and to recapture a holy treasure that the black knight stole from the church.

To do this, Thomas of Hookton must first make his way to France; So in 1343 he joins the army of King Edward III as it is about to invade the continent — the beginning of the Hundred Years War. A preternaturally gifted bowman, Thomas quickly becomes recognized as one of England’s most deadly archers in King Edward’s march across France. Yet he never stops scanning the horizon for his true enemy’s flag.

When Thomas saves a young Frenchwoman from a bloodthirsty crowd, her father — French nobleman Sir Guillaume d’Evecque — rewards his bravery by joining him in the hunt for the mysterious dark knight and the stolen holy relic. What begins as a search for vengeance will soon prove the beginning of an even higher purpose: the quest for the Holy Grail itself.

30. Last Kingdom Series

The Last Kingdom Book Cover

This is the story of the making of England in the 9th and 10th centuries, the years in which King Alfred the Great, his son and grandson defeated the Danish Vikings who had invaded and occupied three of England’s four kingdoms.

The story is seen through the eyes of Uhtred, a dispossessed nobleman, who is captured as a child by the Danes and then raised by them so that, by the time the Northmen begin their assault on Wessex (Alfred’s kingdom and the last territory in English hands) Uhtred almost thinks of himself as a Dane. He certainly has no love for Alfred, whom he considers a pious weakling and no match for Viking savagery, yet when Alfred unexpectedly defeats the Danes and the Danes themselves turn on Uhtred, he is finally forced to choose sides. By now he is a young man, in love, trained to fight and ready to take his place in the dreaded shield wall. Above all, though, he wishes to recover his father’s land, the enchanting fort of Bebbanburg by the wild northern sea.

This thrilling adventure—based on existing records of Bernard Cornwell’s ancestors—depicts a time when law and order were ripped violently apart by a pagan assault on Christian England, an assault that came very close to destroying England.

31. Musashi

Musashi book cover

The classic samurai novel about the real exploits of the most famous swordsman. Musashi is a novel in the best tradition of Japanese story telling. It is a living story, subtle and imaginative, teeming with memorable characters, many of them historical. Interweaving themes of unrequited love, misguided revenge, filial piety and absolute dedication to the Way of the Samurai, it depicts vividly a world Westerners know only vaguely.

32. Far And Away

far and away book cover

From the Irish land wars to the Oklahoma land rush, the son of poor tenant farmers and the daughter of a wealthy landowner find a love more precious than gold. Shannon, the daughter of a wealthy landowner, falls in love with Joseph, a handsome, but poor tenant, and leaves Ireland to start a new life with him in America. A passionate story of Irish pride and American determination–of old ties and new beginnings.


Nobody told me this is a book! I feel duped. The movie is incredible and now I need to read the book too.

33. The Pillars Of The Earth

The pillars of the earth book cover

Everything readers expect from Follett is here: intrigue, fast-paced action, and passionate romance. But what makes The Pillars of the Earth extraordinary is the time the twelfth century; the place feudal England; and the subject the building of a glorious cathedral. Follett has re-created the crude, flamboyant England of the Middle Ages in every detail. The vast forests, the walled towns, the castles, and the monasteries become a familiar landscape.

Against this richly imagined and intricately interwoven backdrop, filled with the ravages of war and the rhythms of daily life, the master storyteller draws the reader irresistibly into the intertwined lives of his characters into their dreams, their labors, and their loves: Tom, the master builder; Aliena, the ravishingly beautiful noblewoman; Philip, the prior of Kingsbridge; Jack, the artist in stone; and Ellen, the woman of the forest who casts a terrifying curse. From humble stonemason to imperious monarch, each character is brought vividly to life.

The building of the cathedral, with the almost eerie artistry of the unschooled stonemasons, is the center of the drama. Around the site of the construction, Follett weaves a story of betrayal, revenge, and love, which begins with the public hanging of an innocent man and ends with the humiliation of a king.

34. Century Trilogy

century trilogy book cover

It is 1911. The Coronation Day of King George V. The Williams, a Welsh coal-mining family is linked by romance and enmity to the Fitzherberts, aristocratic coal-mine owners. Lady Maud Fitzherbert falls in love with Walter von Ulrich, a spy at the German Embassy in London. Their destiny is entangled with that of an ambitious young aide to U.S. President Woodrow Wilson and to two orphaned Russian brothers, whose plans to emigrate to America fall foul of war, conscription and revolution. In a plot of unfolding drama and intriguing complexity, “Fall Of Giants” moves seamlessly from Washington to St Petersburg, from the dirt and danger of a coal mine to the glittering chandeliers of a palace, from the corridors of power to the bedrooms of the mighty. 

35. The White Raven

The White Raven book cover

This haunting retelling of the tale of Tristan and Iseult (here called Drustan and Esseilte in accordance with Celtic legend and language) goes back to early versions, before Mallory and Wagner, to explore the nature of love, duty and loyalty. The story is told by Branwen, cousin and companion to Esseilte, daughter of the High King of Eriu (Ireland).

The two young women save the life of a badly wounded harper, later discovered to be Drustan, who had killed Esseilte’s beloved uncle and Branwen’s father, Morholt, in battle. Drustan seeks Esseilte’s hand for his uncle, Marc’h, King of Kernow (Cornwall), an alliance arranged for political reasons.

On the way to Cornwall, Esseilte tries to poison Drustan, but the potion they both drink turns out to be a love filtre prepared for Esseilte and Marc’h. Thus the tale is set in motion, with passion and hate binding the lovers together. With Branwen’s aid, they are able to deceive Marc’h on the wedding night: Branwen, close in appearance to the queen, sleeps with the king and falls in love with him. For a while Esseilte and Drustan escape detection, but eventually they are caught in circumstances that cannot be ignored, leading to the tragic denouement.

This is a complex tale, interweaving the political and religious conflicts of the sixth century, when the ancient Druid religion still had a strong hold. Paxson ( The Paradise Tree , White Mare, Red Stallion ) breathes life and wonder into one of the most romantic of the Celtic Germanic legends.

36. Rebel Daughter

rebel daughter book cover

Esther dreams of so much more than the marriage her parents have arranged to a prosperous silversmith. Always curious and eager to explore, she must accept the burden of being the dutiful daughter. Yet she is torn between her family responsibilities and her own desires; she longs for the handsome Joseph, even though he treats her like a child, and is confused by her attraction to the Roman freedman Tiberius, a man who should be her sworn enemy.

Meanwhile, the growing turmoil threatens to tear apart not only her beloved city, Jerusalem, but also her own family. As the streets turn into a bloody battleground between rebels and Romans, Esther’s journey becomes one of survival. She remains fiercely devoted to her family, and braves famine, siege, and slavery to protect those she loves.

This emotional and impassioned saga, based on real characters and meticulous research, seamlessly blends the fascinating story of the Jewish people with a timeless protagonist determined to take charge of her own life against all odds.

37. Mistress of the Ritz

mistress of the ritz book cover

Nothing bad can happen at the Ritz; inside its gilded walls every woman looks beautiful, every man appears witty. Favored guests like Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Coco Chanel, and the Duke and Duchess of Windsor walk through its famous doors to be welcomed and pampered by Blanche Auzello and her husband, Claude, the hotel’s director. The Auzellos are the mistress and master of the Ritz, allowing the glamour and glitz to take their minds off their troubled marriage, and off the secrets that they keep from their guests–and each other.

Until June 1940, when the German army sweeps into Paris, setting up headquarters at the Ritz. Suddenly, with the likes of Hermann Goring moving into suites once occupied by royalty, Blanche and Claude must navigate a terrifying new reality. One that entails even more secrets. One that may destroy the tempestuous marriage between this beautiful, reckless American and her very proper Frenchman. For the falsehoods they tell to survive, and to strike a blow against their Nazi “guests,” spin a web of deceit that ensnares everything and everyone they cherish.

But one secret is shared between Blanche and Claude alone–the secret that, in the end, threatens to imperil both of their lives, and to bring down the legendary Ritz itself.

Based on true events, Mistress of the Ritz is a taut tale of suspense wrapped up in a love story for the ages, the inspiring story of a woman and a man who discover the best in each other amid the turbulence of war.

The best historical fiction list ever pin

38. A Gentleman in Moscow

a gentleman in moscow book cover

With his breakout debut novel, Rules of Civility, Amor Towles established himself as a master of absorbing, sophisticated fiction, bringing late 1930s Manhattan to life with splendid atmosphere and a flawless command of style. Readers and critics were enchanted; as NPR commented, “Towles writes with grace and verve about the mores and manners of a society on the cusp of radical change.”

A Gentleman in Moscow immerses us in another elegantly drawn era with the story of Count Alexander Rostov. When, in 1922, he is deemed an unrepentant aristocrat by a Bolshevik tribunal, the count is sentenced to house arrest in the Metropol, a grand hotel across the street from the Kremlin. Rostov, an indomitable man of erudition and wit, has never worked a day in his life, and must now live in an attic room while some of the most tumultuous decades in Russian history are unfolding outside the hotel’s doors. Unexpectedly, his reduced circumstances provide him a doorway into a much larger world of emotional discovery.

Brimming with humour, a glittering cast of characters, and one beautifully rendered scene after another, this singular novel casts a spell as it relates the count’s endeavour to gain a deeper understanding of what it means to be a man of purpose.

39. The Egyptian

The Egyptian Book Cover

The only Finnish novel adopted into a Hollywood film

Mika Waltari’s 1945 novel The Egyptian was turned into a DeLuxe Color epic film by 20th Century Fox in 1954 and was nominated for an academy award a year later.A 1940s #1 Bestseller and a Historic Novel All-Time Favorite

A historic novel all-time favorite, after its translation in English from Swedish, The Egyptian topped the bestseller charts in 1949 and the years following. 

The protagonist of the novel is the fictional character Sinuhe, the royal physician, who tells the story in exile after Akhenaten’s fall and death. Apart from incidents in Egypt, the novel charts Sinuhe’s travels in then Egyptian-dominated Syria, in Mitanni, Babylon, Minoan Crete, Mitanni, and among the Hittites.

The main character of the novel is named after a character in an ancient Egyptian text commonly known as The Story of Sinuhe. The original story dates to a time long before that of Akhenaten: texts are known from as early as the 12th Dynasty.

Much concerned about the historical accuracy of his detailed description of ancient Egyptian life forced the author to carry out considerable research into the subject. The result has been praised not only by readers but also by Egyptologists.

Waltari had long been interested in Akhenaten and wrote a play about him which was staged in Helsinki in 1938. World War II provided the final impulse for exploring the subject in a novel which, although depicting events that took place over 3,300 years ago

40. Roman Mask

roman mask book cover

Rome AD 9
Augustus Caesar rules Imperial Rome at the height of its power, as the Roman Empire stretches across the known world. Cassius, son of one of her most powerful families, is the personification of Rome’s imperial strength: wealthy, popular, a war hero with a decorated military career – none of Rome’s fashionable parties are complete without him – except, he hides a secret.
After his nerve is broken in Germany, the thought of genuine armed combat is enough to send him into a cold sweat of fear and shame. But this doesn’t dissuade him from living off a false reputation so he can continue a life of casual affairs, wine, and parties, as he is seduced by the many vices of Rome.
However his scandalous life is soon upset by a summons from the Emperor’s wife. It ends his happy decadent life and returns him to Germany to assist the Roman legions in their greatest ever trial, and the events that will resound down in history, in the dark forests of the Teutoburg…

Let’s Talk About It!

That was quite the list, wasn’t it? Today I listed off 40 of the best historical fiction books recommended by readers on Goodreads and Reddit historical fiction forums. They did not disappoint! Now it is time for me to ask you the same question that I asked them.

If you could pick only one, what would you say is the best historical fiction book that you have read?

With love,

Alexis M.

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