Historical Fiction

Castle garden and pond

Historical fiction is an engaging introduction to times past. The genre lights a little fire, igniting the reader’s curiosity and encouraging further independent research.

Listed below are some remarkable historical titles and / or authors of historical fiction that does not otherwise fall into another genre such as mystery, etc.

Sigrid Undset is the author of the outstanding Kristin Lavransdotter trilogy: The Wreath (also known as the Bridal Wreath), The Wife (also known as The Mistress of Husaby,)  and The Cross.  This trilogy, written from 1920 to 1922, is a gem, and since an ordinary woman (not a queen, not a saint) is the protagonist, most of the ‘historical’ aspect of the trilogy addresses daily life and common customs of 14-century Norway.  Just read it; you won’t be disappointed. I’d place all three of these books in my top ten favorites of all time.

Edward Rutherford is the author of several historical sagas.  My favorite is Sarum, which is the story of the city of Salisbury, the author’s British hometown.  The author’s debut novel, Sarum is an ambitious novel that starts in prehistoric times and follows several families from their origins to 1985.  It’s a fascinating read. Rutherford’s other books are similar. Visit his website for more information.  One could set a life goal of reading all of Rutherford’s books, which is a worthy and educational goal – but it will take years to do so.

Mary Renault wrote novels of Ancient Greece as well as a biography of Alexander the Great.  I haven’t read her work, although I remember a very good friend reading her with great enjoyment in the early 1980s.  Read more about Renault on the Mary Renault Society’s web page.  Per the front page of this site, Renault’s work addressed the topic of homosexuality sympathetically during a period when it was not generally accepted to do so.  Mary faced repressive attitudes toward homosexuality in her own life as well, and she and her  partner Julie Mullard eventually left Britain for South Africa.  Of note is her Alexander trilogy, which includes Fire from Heaven, the Persian Boy, and Funeral Games. 

Ken Follet writes thrillers and historical fiction. (His thriller Eye of the Needle is outstanding, by the way.)  Visit his web site, ken-follett.com, for a list of his books. Perhaps his most well-known series is the medieval Knightsbridge series which includes The Pillars of the Earth. 

Bernard Cornwell writes historical fiction about King Arthur, and is one of the few authors who does not treat this ancient king, cloaked in myth, as a magical figure.  I listened to the audio version of The Winter King – it was an engaging listen.  Visit Mr. Cornwell on his website, bernardcornwell.net. 

Tudor England, with its pageantry and political machinations, has proved a fertile producer of historical fiction.  Popular authors are Phillipa Gregory, Allison Weir (love the look of her website!), Jean Plaidy (one of the many pseudonyms of Eleanor Hibbert, whom you might also know as Philippa Carr or Victoria Holt, among others) , and Margaret George, who has also written about Helen of Troy (a wonderful book) and Cleopatra.

A lot of current historical fiction appears to be set during World War II.  Some titles include All the Light We Cannot See,  Lilac Girlsand The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society.  All three are interesting reads, to varying degrees.

For a list of additional must-read historical fiction titles, visit this post on Reedsy Discovery. (While I am a reviewer for Reedsy, I don’t write blog posts for them and did not compile this list.)