Historical Fiction isn’t a genre that I have reviewed much of on this website, but it is one of my favourites. History is a subject that has always fascinated me, and as such, historical fiction is an obvious genre for me to love!
If you haven’t read much historical fiction, or even if you have but not these books, then here are some books I would thoroughly recommend as a diving in platform! I have tried to get a wide range of historical periods in here. Just in case you have a particular area of interest…
The Book Thief by Markus Zuzak
It is 1939. In Nazi Germany, the country is holding its breath. Death has never been busier – and will become busier still.
By her brother’s graveside, nine-year-old Liesel’s life is changed forever when she picks up a single object, abandoned in the snow. It is The Gravedigger’s Handbook, and this is her first act of book thievery.
So begins Liesel’s love affair with books and words, and soon she is stealing from Nazi book-burnings, the mayor’s wife’s library… wherever there are books to be found.
But these are dangerous times, and when Liesel’s foster family hides a Jew in their basement, nothing will ever be the same again.
This book has won a bunch of awards and been turned into a film as well. It makes a great jumping in point for historical fiction. It’s not a cheery book (It’s set in Nazi Germany, after all!) but is completely enthralling and amazing. Stock up on the tissues, just a warning.
Sharpe’s Rifles by Bernard Cornwell
Lieutenant Richard Sharpe and a detachment of Riflemen are cut off from the rest of the army and surrounded. Their only hope of escape is to accept the help of the Spanish, but this assistance comes at a price: to join the assault on the holy city of Santiago de Compostela, held by a strong French force. There is little Sharpe would enjoy more.
Soldier, hero, rogue – Sharpe is the man you always want on your side. Born in poverty, he joined the army to escape jail and climbed the ranks by sheer brutal courage. He knows no other family than the regiment of the 95th Rifles whose green jacket he proudly wears.
The Sharpe books are a great way to plunge into historical fiction, especially for the Napoleonic wars era. Bernard Cornwell’s writing is wonderfully descriptive and flows naturally so that you get dragged in easily. These books are also reasonably short, at least compared to the weighty tomes that usually inhabit the shelves of the historical fiction section, which is a plus for those new to the genre as you don’t have to commit to an absolute monster of a book.
I chose Sharpe’s Rifles as the introduction point as it was my one and I went on to thoroughly enjoy the whole series, so it obviously works as a good introduction to the characters and the story. Though, in story chronology, then Sharpe’s Tiger is the start of Sharpe’s story. The only issue is, that no matter what is written, Sean Bean is who picture I my head as Sharpe!
Emperor: Gates of Rome by Con Iggulden
From the spectacle of gladiatorial combat to the intrigue of the Senate, from the foreign wars that secure the power of the empire to the betrayals that threaten to tear it apart, this is the remarkable story of the man who would become the greatest Roman of them all: Julius Caesar.
In the city of Rome, a titanic power struggle is about to shake the Republic to its core. Citizen will fight citizen in a bloody conflict – and Julius Caesar, cutting his teeth in battle, will be in the thick of the action.
Conn Iggulden clearly likes to take on a challenge; his books have covered some of the biggest and most famous figures of history and his debut series, the Emperor books, were no different. Julius Caesar is a figure we have all heard of, and so bringing him to life was always a big ask, but one which Conn Iggulden pulls off wonderfully in these books. I’d recommend starting with this one as it is the first in the series, covering his childhood and adolescents, where he learns all about surviving and prospering in the brutal and ever-shifting world of the Roman Senate.
Conn Iggulden’s writing is, as always, wonderfully descriptive. He has a talent at bringing the worlds of the past to life with his prose and this book is where that all started for him. Though, as with all his series, there are quite a few books – five in total – so if you are the kind of person who has to finish a series, then it is no light commitment. I’d say it is worth it though!
Harlequin / The Archer’s Tale by Bernard Cornwell
The year is 1342. The English, led by Edward III, are laying waste to the French countryside. The army may be led by the King, but it is the archers, the common men, who are England’s secret weapon. The French know them as Harlequins.
Thomas of Hookton is one of these archers. But he is also on a personal mission: To avenge his father’s death and retrieve a stolen relic. Thomas begins a quest that will lead him through fields smeared with the smoke of fires set by the rampaging English, until at last the two armies face each other on a hillside near the village of Crécy.
Bernard Cornwell’s second mention on this post! Lucky him. North American readers will find this book in their stores under the title, The Archer’s Tale, while the rest of us will find it as Harlequin. Don’t ask me why though!
Longer than his Sharpe novels, this book – and the subsequent two Grail Quest novels – are none-the-less fast-paced, action packed and rammed with well developed and interesting characters. They also capture the brutality of the age, and the hypocrisy of the medieval church and nobility, quite brilliantly.
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So, there you have it, my diving off books for historical fiction! Let me know if you take the plunge into any of these in the comments.
If you have any other books you would recommend to a newbie of the genre, then let me know as well.
4 thoughts on “Genre Recommendations: Historical Fiction”
I’d recommend All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doer – it’s a wonderful book set during WW2
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I’ve not read that one, will have a look!
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You won’t be sorry
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