The Top Historical Fiction Novels
While there are many definitions of historical fiction, most experts agree that it is generally a novel that is set 5 decades or more in the past, where the author is writing from research, instead of personal experience. Scottish writer Sir Walter Scott and his American follower James Fenimore Cooper were able to captivate audiences in the early 1800s with stories of their nations’ pasts. Since then, historical fiction has become very popular. In fact, interests in skepticism about traditional accounts of history, multiculturalism and the book-club fever these days have even heightened such genre’s appeal. Whether you are new or connoisseur to it here’s the top historical fiction novels that you should read:
- “The Girl from Krakow: A Novel”, Kindle Edition, by Alex Rosenberg
This book tells the story of Rita Feuerstahl who comes to the University in Krakow in 1935 with the intent to enjoy her freedom. However, she instead experienced other things that life has in store for her, such as marriage, love affair and a child. When the war arrives, Rita is armed with a great secret that could cost everything for the Allies, even as it gives her the will to live. Now, she must find a way to keep such information to herself, while surviving amid the chaos the war is bringing. Living by her wits among the German troops, as their conquest is turning to defeat, she looks for a way to prevent Nazism’s inevitable doom from making her one of its last victims. In an epic saga that spans from Paris in the 1930s to Moscow, Warsaw and the center of Nazi Germany, this novel basically follows one woman’s battle for survival as entire nations are tearing one another, never to be the same again.
While this book is engaging enough, you might find yourself looking for any kind of redemption, which is certainly present but just a bit, which would ring as hollow as its characters. Compared to other historical and WWII novels, you might find this book having a less-deep character development, engaging storylines and a bit of beauty.
- “The Nightingale”, Kindle Edition, by Kristin Hannah
A popular thriller writer with legions of fans around the world, Kristin Hannah has written a novel that is soaring new heights—“The Nightingale”—which can earn her even more ecstatic readers. Both a thinker and weeper, this novel tells the story of two French sisters—one living in Paris and another in the countryside—during World War II. Crippled by their beloved mother’s death and their cavalier father’s abandonment, each plays a part in the French underground, finding a way to love and forgive. This novel is a melodrama that integrates historical accuracy, as one of these girls is inspired by a real life story of a woman who led down Allied soldiers on foot over the Pyrenees. Another thing that can keep you turning its pages is its central conceit work—the book is supposed to be narrated by one of the sisters in the present, though you will not know which is which until the very end. The book is fast-paced, detailed and full of romance, as well as considered by readers to be destined to become a best seller.
But if you are French and are majoring in contemporary history, you might not like the major issue of multiple anachronisms, which seem to completely undermine the whole book for the sake of a good laugh.
- “All the Light We Cannot See: A Novel”, Kindle Edition, by Anthony Doerr
- Anthony Doerr
- Kindle Edition
- Edition no. Reprint (05/06/2014)
The world will always need another new WWII novel, as long as it is as beautiful and inventive as this one by Doerr. However, this book is not all about the war, while mostly set in France and Germany with fighting, fear, disappearance and death, but it focuses on the interior lives of its two characters—Marie Laure and Werner—whose paths do not cross until the very late part of the story. Marie is a 14-year-old blind French girl who flees to the countryside after the disappearance of her father under Nazi’s occupancy of Paris, while Werner is a German who is obsessed with gadgets, which admits him to a brutal branch of Hitler Youth. The novel is not one that you would read for plot, but for the beauty of Doerr’s writing and the way he understands and cherishes childhood’s magical obsessions. For the characters, they serve as powerful examples of how average people try to decide between morality and survival every day of their lives.
- “A Breach of Promise: A William Monk Novel”, Kindle Edition, by Anne Perry
In this latest William Monk story, Perry offers her strongest indictment of Victorian England and a society where reputation and beauty are the bases of worth. The tale sees barrister Sir Oliver Rathbone defending the talented young architect Killian Melville in a breach of promise suit brought by Melville’s benefactor, Barton Lambert, in support of Lambert’s daughter Zillah. Melville insists that Mrs. Lambert, who is desperate of her daughter’s marriage, misconstrued his friendship with the young woman, while Hester Latterly is hired to nurse Gabriel Athol, who was tragically injured in India. Hester then befriends the maid of Perdita (Athol’s wife) named Martha, who is desperate in finding her two deaf, disfigured nieces who disappeared years ago. This is where Monk comes in, hired by Rathbone to investigate Melville and the Lamberts, while Hester is imploring Monk to help Martha. The first case tragically ends before the revelation of the startling truth behind Melville’s refusal to marry, while the second project ends on a happier note. This novel shows how the author draws her stories together with an exceptional connection whose dissonance can spoil an otherwise great fiction.
- “The Taming of the Queen”, Kindle Edition, by Philippa Gregory
- Philippa Gregory
- Kindle Edition
- Edition no. Reprint (08/25/2015)
Focusing on 30-year-old widow Kateryn Parr’s perspective, this novel leaps into action from the first pages. To keep with most interpretations, Henry the VIII is portrayed as a monster, with his proposal and expectation that Kateryn, who is passionately in love with Thomas Seymour, will marry him. Torn between love and duty, Kateryn identifies herself as intelligent and shrewd. As future Queen, her personality resonates more with expectations of a modern-day woman. Knowing that drawing attention from a member of the court is a double edged sword, she would make sure not to make the wrong move to avoid brutal and capricious consequences from Henry.
This plot should appeal to readers of romance fiction, but some people might consider it a bodice ripper, where Kateryn too sexualized for the 16th century, commiserating with her lover before accepting her fate as Henry’s 6th wife. Also, you might find it repetitive, with very little actually happening.
So which of these historical fiction novels would you get next? We’d say, read them all to satiate your hunger! Happy reading, then.