The 50 Best Works of Historical Fiction

Here’s your all-access pass into the ultimate historical fiction guide: revisionist history, speculative history, and good old-fashioned historical fiction can all be found here, spanning Biblical Ages through to the early new Millennium.

All the Light We Cannot See, by Anthony Doerr
A young blind girl flees Paris carrying a precious jewel while an orphan joins the Hitler Youth; when their paths collide, the course of history changes forever.

The Nightingale, by Kristin Hannah
Two sisters, Vianne and Isabelle, are bound together by love and war when Vianne’s husband is sent off to fight, and they must contend with a Nazi soldier quartering inside their home. Isabelle finds herself drawn to the soldier despite the brutality that surrounds them, and over the years that follow, must reconcile herself to the choices she made during the war. (Isabelle is based on a real woman, Andree de Jongh, who helped the Allies escape from Nazi-occupied territory.)

Outlander, by Diana Gabaldon
If you could prevent one of the greatest massacres of human history, would you? This is the question Claire asks herself when she finds herself thrown back n time from the days following World War II back to the 1700’s in Scotland, just before the days of the Jacobite Rebellion…which failed, and caused the desiccation of the Highland culture. Claire survived one war, a war she could not change…and when she falls for Jamie Fraser, she realizes she will do anything—even risk the present, and the man she left behind—to change it.

The White Queen, by Philippa Gregory
The War of the Roses takes center stage in the story of Elizabeth of York, who marries Edward of Lancaster, ending a familial battle…but starting another, as the Tudors conspire to remove her husband from the throne. A sweeping romance with well-researched, if slightly embellished, history.

The Man in the High Castle, by Phillip K. Dick
A chilling question is answered in this speculative novel about what would have happened if Hitler and the Japanese had won World War II. One girl is caught at the center of the conflict when she sees a mysterious tape that shows an alternate reality….in which they lost, and then seeks to make that version of history a reality.

Wolf Hall, by Hilary Mantel
If you love examining history from every possible angle, you will love this epic exploring the years of Henry VIII’s reign from the perspective of one of his most trusted advisors, Thomas Cromwell. That is, until he became an enemy.

The Red Queen, by Philippa Gregory
The White Queen’s enemy has her story told in this Philippa Gregory novel; Margaret Beaufort has given her life to ensuring that her son, Henry Tudor, will sit on the English throne.

The Red Tent, by Anita Diamant
A revisionist history of one of the greatest stories ever told—The Bible itself. The story of Dinah, Jacob’s abandoned daughter, is finally told in this devastating and romantic tale.

Ahab’s Wife, by Sena Jeter Naslund
She is mentioned only once in Moby Dick, but in this revisionist novel, Ahab’s Wife, Una, has an entire novel devoted to her upbringing and marriage to Ahab. From escaping a tumultuous religious upbringing, the loves of her childhood and adolescence, to her fascination with—and devastation suffered upon— the sea, Una’s adventure rivals the very captain to whom her story is titled.

The Da Vinci Code, by Dan Brown
History reinvents itself completely in this by now classic novel of adventure as Robert Langdon finds himself on a quest to solve a murder even more captivating than Mona Lisa’s smile. Utilizing art, biblical lore, and the famous men and women of history, this novel has entranced readers by unraveling a mystery that, if you look close enough, could be more truth than fiction.

The Accidental Empress, by Allison Pataki
One of my favorite historical figures takes center stage in The Accidental Empress; young Elisabeth ‘Sisi’, the Duchess of Bavaria, marries Franz Joseph, Emperor of the Hapsburg Empire…who was supposed to be her sister’s husband. Finding herself in love but vastly unprepared for the costs of ruling, Sisi must constantly weigh her loyalties to herself, her family, and the man she loves.

And I Darken, by Kiersten White
We’ve all hear the myths of Vlad the Impaler…but what if Vlad were a woman? This historical YA novel takes place during the Ottoman Empire, where Lada Dragwyla is a vicious, brutal princess living in enemy territory. Her only loyalty is to her brother, Radu, but events transpire that cause their relationship to fracture…namely, that they both love the heir to the Empire they are held captive in.

Legacy of Kings, by Eleanor Herman
Another “what if?” is answered in this YA novel by New York Times bestselling historian Eleanor Herman…what if we knew what Alexander the Great was like as a teenager…and furthermore, what if he had magical powers? (The villain…and villainess…in this series are ones to take the books!)

Traitor Angels, by Anne Blankman
Paradise Lost is a famous part of history—but what if it was almost lost completely, and its author, John Milton, executed? Anne Blankman’s latest YA novel has Milton’s daughter, Elizabeth, rewrite history as we know it by seeking to save her father from execution by following the clues hidden in his manuscripts.

Alex and Eliza, by Melissa De la Cruz
Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you have been entranced by the love story of Alexander Hamilton and Eliza Schyler (as told in the musical, of course!), so you won’t be able to turn down another opportunity to travel back in time to when these young patriots fell in love amidst the backdrop of the Revolutionary War…We think this New York Times bestselling novel will definitely keep you satisfied.

Longbourn, by Jo Baker
A retelling of fictional history takes place in Jo Baker’s novel about Pride and Prejudice from the perspective of the orphaned housemaid, Sarah. Jane Austen’s novels were known for portraying (and sometimes mocking) the societal behavior of the varying classes, but this novel takes it a step further, showing the loves and losses of the low working class in Regency England.

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Cold Mountain, by Charles Frazier
Inspired by The Odyssey, this civil war novel tells of the journey made by a wounded confederate deserter as he journeys towards home and the love of his life, only to be confronted by obstacles, other women, and tragedy on his quest.

Bring Up the Bodies, by Hilary Mantel
The ominously titled sequel to Wolf Hall shows another perspective to the fall of the infamous Anne Boleyn. Told from the perspective of the king’s most trusted advisor, Thomas Cromwell, it spans the course of The Beleaguered Queen’s trial and execution while Cromwell advocates for his own religious doctrine.

Lincoln in the Bardo, by George Saunders
If there’s one historical novel to read this summer, it’s George Saunders’ acclaimed (and 166 actor audiobook narrated!) Lincoln in the Bardo; a retelling of one of Lincoln’s less told moments in history. Inspired by the true story of Lincoln’s son’s death, this sweeping epic gives voice to one of America’s foremost figures on grief, love, and the meaning of life.

Fever 1793, by Laurie Halse Anderson
Laurie Halse Anderson’s historical novel about the 1793 fever epidemic that killed over five thousand people in PA is a peek inside one of history’s forgotten moments. Mattie cook, a 16-year-old girl living with her mother and grandfather, does her best to flee the city with the latter in tow.

Girl with a Pearl Earring, by Tracy Chevalier
If only we could know the reason behind Mona Lisa’s Smile, or what Van Gogh thought as he painted The Starry Night—in this novel, we meet the subject of the famous and mysterious painting by enigma Johannes Vermeer. Griet is sixteen years old in the 1600s when she is hired by the painter—with whom her relationship becomes intimate and complex when he takes her on as a model.

The English Patient, by Michael Ondaatje
An historical novel written about an injured man in Italy during World War II, and the impact he had on those around him. The man cannot remember who he was or how he became so badly burned. Hanna, a Canadian nurse, is caring for him, tries to get him to recall his past…and the truth about what they learn changes them forever.

Pope Joan, by Donna Woolfolk Cross
Another novel in which a hidden truth about history is revealed and explored—based on the true story of the woman who concealed herself as a man and rose so high that she became Pope. The dark ages are meticulously and dramatically brought to life, as is the hidden story of a woman who assumes her brother’s identity and ascends to the ultimate throne.

March, by Geraldine Brooks
Where was Mr. March, the father of the famous Little Women? That’s what Geraldine Brooks’ novel explores, revealing that Mr. March was on the battlefield of the civil war in 1862, but kept secrets from his family that never made into the letters he sent home to them.

The Tutor, by Andrea Chapin
An enigmatic and often explored figure, William Shakespeare gets another historical treatment, this time as the tutor of young widow abandoned by her only family when he is accused of murder. In this fictional retelling of Shakespeare’s time, only one woman learns the truth behind the words of a genius—and the cost of loving him.

The Tea Rose, by Jennifer Donnelly
It is the turn of the century in London, and Fiona Finnegan loves Joe Bristow. But in Jennifer Donnelly’s achingly beautiful historical epic, happiness is short lived, and Fiona winds up fleeing the city for her life. Ending up in the rough and tumble streets of New York City, Fiona finds her way from the bottom of the heap to the peak of the tea industry, where the past has been set to steep and soon comes back to burn her.

The Mists of Avalon, by Marion Zimmer Bradley
The myths of King Arthur’s Camelot were told and retold for centuries before this novel was written, finally giving voice to the women in the story, including ingrained, the king’s mother, Viviana, the Lady of the Lake, Guinevere, his queen, and Igraine, the villain.

11/22/63, by Stephen King
Revisionist history as only Stephen King can write it: in which a time traveler attempts to prevent the assassination of JFK.

The Marriage of Opposites, by Alice Hoffman
The mother of impressionist painter Camille Pissarro finally has her story told—after a lifetime of bending to the will of others, including a protective mother, a father who married her off to save his own skin, and a husband she does not love, the chance at a love affair awakens something in her, and will ultimately change history

Burial Rites, by Hannah Kent
Based on a true story, a young woman accused of murder in Iceland in 1829 awaits execution—but the story people have heard is not the one she knows in her heart to be true.

Caleb’s Crossing, by Geraldine Brooks
A beautiful story of friendship between to people of foreign cultures: Bethia, a young puritan in the 1600s, meets Caleb, he son of a Native American chieftain…who could go on to become Harvard’s first native graduate, but not before risking it all, including his life, for Bethia.

Alias Grace, by Margaret Atwood
The Handmaid’s Tale may be all the rage now, but there are more Margaret Atwood books to love! In Alias Grace the true story of Grace Marks, a young woman accused of murdering her employer, housekeeper, and mistress in 1843 comes to life. Except Grace claims no memory of the murders, and when a bourgeoning mental health professional claims he can help her find the truth, no one is prepared for the cost.

The March, by E.L. Doctorow
Ragtime author E.L. Doctorow tells the true story of general Sherman’s march of union soldiers during the civil war in this sweeping epic of glory and gore.

The Twelve Rooms of the Nile, by Enid Shomer
History is reimagined as Florence Nightingale, famed war nurse, and Gustavo Flaubert, renowned author, traveled down the Nile river at he same time…before either of them had become what history wrote for them. Based on the true story of their individual journeys, this novel has them meet, and wonders at the possibility of what would have come of a friendship between the two.

The Night Watch, by Sarah Waters
Sarah Waters’ historical novel about four Londoners moves backwards starting in 1947, and ending in 1941, as we see how their their raucous, tumultuous lives intersect—and then change—in the wake of a massive historical event.

Arthur and George, by Julian Barnes
Victorian era Britain comes to life as infamous writer sir Arthur Conan Doyle teams up with George, unknown country lawyer, to solve a heinous crime: that George had been imprisoned and treated cruelly by society for the color of his skin.

Prisoner of Night and Fog, by Anne Blankman
Another historical epic retold by Anne Blankman, this time by the adopted niece of Adolf Hitler in 1930’s Germany. When she learns that her father did not die, but was murdered—and that uncle “Dolf” could have been behind it, Gretchen teams up with a Jewish reporter to find the truth.

Wolf by Wolf, by Ryan Graudin
Another revisionist history novel in which the Germans and Japanese won world war Il- this time in YA form! Yael, a former death camp prisoner, is part of the resistance to defeat hurler, and to do she has one task: compete in the motorcycle race established by the axis and get an audience with Hitler’s- her one chance to kill him. But secrets and special abilities abound in this world, and nothing is what it seems.

My Lady Jane, by Brodi Ashton, Cynthia Hand, and Jodi Meadows
This historical novel written by three YA authors takes the tragic story of Lady Jane Grey, who was queen for less than a month before her execution, and gives it a comedic—and magical—twist.

Da Vinci’s Tiger, by L. M. Elliott
Ginevra de’ Benci is one of history’s forgotten figures, and yet her form has been immortalized by painter Leonardo da Vinci. Her story follows her arranged marriage, introduction to Venetian court, and her complicated relationship with the painter.

Number the Stars, by Lois Lowry
This classic children’s novel won the coveted Newbery award for telling the story of two girls of different faiths during World War I who form an unbreakable bond and risk everything to save one another from the costs of war.

The Devil’s Arithmetic, by Jane Yolen
Another classic about a girl who travels back in time to learn about what happened during the Holocaust and better appreciate her own fortune in the present.

Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell, by Susanna Clarke
An alternative version of history in which magic once existed and returns in the 19th century with Jonathan Strange and Gilbert Norrell. As the two men engage in magical practice and interfere in the Napoleonic Wars, the costs of magic rise and rise, until they become too high.

Leviathan, by Scott Westerfeld
A steampunk historical novel about the eve of World War I where the German Clankers and English Darwinists fight against each other with one major season on between them: the Leviathan whale ship. When two fighters on opposite side of the war meet and find themselves aboard the Leviathan, they change the course of the world.

Voyage, by Stephen Baxter
What if JFK survived his assassination attempt…and what if the United States traveled to mars? This novel tracks the space successes and failures of the US as a result of this changed history, from the perspective of the scientists and astronauts at the center of the space race.

The Years of Rice and Salt, by Kim Stanley Robinson
This novel is another revisionist history, imagining what would have happened if the epidemic of Black Death in the Middle Ages had not killed 3% of the English population…but 99% of it. An epic spanning centuries, this novel explores generations of people moving to Europe to repopulate it, the revised discovery of the Americas and the Native American resistance to colonization…but there’s a twist: he stories are connected by a group of people, all reincarnated over the years.

Never Let Me Go, by Kazuo Ishiguro
This famous sci-fi novel imagines what would happen if we lived in a dystopian version of the 1990’s, in which organs are harvested to keep certain classes of people alive longer. Three friends form everlasting bonds, but are subsequently severed from each other as the reality of their circumstances set in.

The Pillars of the Earth, by Ken Follett
There isn’t a dull moment in this ambitious story, which chronicles the building of a cathedral in a town in England in the 12th century (during a period known as The Anarchy).

Abundance: A Novel of Marie Antoinette, by Sena Jeter Naslund
One of history’s most infamous, polarizing, and captivating figures: Marie Antoinette certainly lived a life of abundance. But was it always a happy one? Beautifully written, the story of a girl who always had hope even when she lost everything- and caused a revolution that cost her her own life.

When Christ and His Saints Slept, by Sharon Kay Penman
The history of England’s throne is bloody and full of conquests and disputes. This envisioning of the medieval era just before the great Plantagenet scions finds Margaret, countess of Anjou and the rightful heir to the throne, suddenly without her crown as her male cousin usurps her title. The two decades that followed paved the way for even more bloodshed as they grappled for power while their country suffered.

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