Recently, I received a question from a reader who was looking to get started reading historical fiction, and it got me thinking about what books I would recommend to anyone in a similar situation. I basically started out reading historical fiction – my first foray into adult literature was reading all of the Philippa Gregory books I could get my hands on – but not everyone had the same experience. And I can definitely see why historical fiction might be intimidating. The books are usually pretty long and dense, and they’re almost always slower reads than say a sci-fi novel.
Today, I thought I’d share a few books I’d recommend for those looking to dip their toes into historical fiction.
11/22/63 by Stephen King. This book is primarily historical fiction, but the premise is based on science fiction. It’s about a schoolteacher who goes back in time to stop the assassination of JFK. The is easily one of my favorite historical fiction novels for the amount of research that went into it – the psychology behind Lee Harvey Oswald is fascinating – but I think any sci-fi fan would appreciate those elements of the story.
The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August by Claire North. While this book definitely feels more like historical fiction, it’s heavy on the sci-fi, and I love it! It’s about a man who is reborn every time he dies, but when he finds out the world is ending, has to figure out how to stop it. It’s absolutely brilliant – I couldn’t put it down.
My Lady Jane by Cynthia Hand, Brodi Ashton, and Jodi Meadows. This is an alternate history, so it’s not totally accurate (the authors do a great job of explaining where they deviate from history), but it’s a brilliant way to immerse yourself in historical fiction while still getting that fun, contemporary feel. This is one of those longer books, but it’s an extremely quick read – I think I finished it in about two days – and it will definitely leave you wanting more.
The Diviners by Libba Bray. This book is about a group of people in New York with special abilities, and the serial-killing ghost who haunts them. Plus, it’s set in the 1920s, which is really fun! If you like books with large, diverse casts of characters and a little mystery, this is definitely for you.
The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova. This is decidedly a historical fiction novel, but it still terrified me to the point where I was too scared to walk down the hallway to go to the bathroom in the middle of the night the first time I read it (not an exaggeration). It’s brilliant and thrilling and utterly bone-chilling. It follows the legend of Vlad Dracula, but stays true to the oral history of Eastern Europe. I will forever compare every vampire book to this one, and so far, none of them have even come close.
The Light Between Oceans by M. L. Stedman. I read this book over a year ago, and I still can’t decide how I feel about the events in the story. I think it’s a brilliant novel that explores what it means to be family and the nature of love. It’s just a great book, and I think if you like family-centric stories, you might really enjoy this one.
Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng. This book is set during a relatively recent era: the 1970s. But it delves into not only family and family tragedy, but racial tensions in America during the civil rights movement. It’s one of those books that will definitely stay with me for a long time, and I think almost any reader will be able to appreciate this story.
The Color Purple by Alice Walker. This book is set in 1930s Georgia, and not only addresses what life was like for African American women (and women in general), but definitely has strong feminist themes. I adored the characters in this book, and highly recommend the audiobook, which Alice Walker reads herself.
The Secret History of the Pink Carnation by Lauren Willig. I don’t read a lot of romance novels, but when I do, I compare them to this one. This series is just so fun, and I love that the romance(s) are pretty slow-burning, but still interesting. I also love that the female characters in this series are pretty strong, especially given that they exist in regency romance.
Fallen Skies by Philippa Gregory. This book is a bit of a departure from Gregory’s usual Tudor-era novels: set in the 1920s, it follows a man injured in WWI and his young wife as they try to navigate family life and the secrets from their pasts. I read this a long time ago, but I remember really loving it, and think it was a great departure for Gregory. I can never resist books set in the 1920s.
The Last Days of Night by Graham Moore. Trust me, the battle over the light bulb is much more exciting than it sounds. Told from the perspective of Westinghouse’s lawyer (who was a legal pioneer in his own right), this novel follows the ‘Current War’, the fight to decide whether Westinghouse or Edison owned the patent to the light bulb. If you’re a fan of political TV shows – think Scandal – you’ll like this.
The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller. Yes, this book is pretty heavy on the mythology, and features one of my favorite book romances, but it is still very much political. It centers around the Trojan War, from the point of view of Achilles’s friend (and lover) Patroclus. The politics of Ancient Greece play heavily into the plot, and I actually really loved that aspect of the story and how it tied into everything else.
Those are all my recommendations for now! But, if you’re looking to get into historical fiction, or just want to read more, comment down below with some books or tropes you enjoy and I’ll try to give you a more personal recommendation. And, if you have any books to add to this list, feel free to share them.