*Note this kind of article is of course very subjective, and your favorites could be very different 🙂
Historical fiction has been a popular genre of literature for many years, offering readers the chance to explore different eras, cultures, and events through the lens of a compelling story. From classic works to modern bestsellers, historical fiction has the ability to transport readers to another time and place, while also shedding light on the past in an engaging way. In this article, we will explore some of the best historical fiction novels of all time, covering a range of eras and styles.
- War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy (1869)
War and Peace is one of the most famous historical novels of all time, telling the story of the Napoleonic Wars and the impact they had on the lives of several aristocratic families in Russia. The novel is known for its complex characters, vivid descriptions of battles, and its exploration of themes such as love, war, and destiny. At over 1,000 pages, War and Peace is a daunting read, but it remains a classic of the genre and a masterpiece of world literature.
- Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell (1936)
Set during the American Civil War, Gone with the Wind follows the story of Scarlett O’Hara, a headstrong and ambitious southern belle, as she navigates the changing landscape of her world. The novel explores themes of love, loss, and the power of will, as well as the social and political issues of the time. Gone with the Wind remains a beloved classic, and its portrayal of the American South during the Civil War era is still influential today.
- The Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett (1989)
Set in 12th-century England, The Pillars of the Earth follows the lives of several characters as they navigate the tumultuous period of the Anarchy, a civil war between King Stephen and Empress Maud. The novel is known for its intricate plot, vivid descriptions of medieval life, and its exploration of themes such as power, religion, and love. The Pillars of the Earth is a sweeping epic that has captivated readers since its publication.
- The Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco (1980)
The Name of the Rose is a historical mystery set in a 14th-century Italian monastery, where a series of murders has taken place. The novel follows the investigation of Franciscan friar William of Baskerville, who is aided by his young apprentice, Adso of Melk. The novel is known for its intricate plot, richly detailed setting, and its exploration of themes such as power, knowledge, and faith. The Name of the Rose is a unique and thought-provoking work that has stood the test of time.
- Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel (2009)
Set during the reign of King Henry VIII of England, Wolf Hall follows the rise of Thomas Cromwell, a commoner who became one of the king’s most trusted advisors. The novel is known for its intricate characterizations, vivid descriptions of Tudor England, and its exploration of themes such as power, politics, and religion. Wolf Hall won the Man Booker Prize in 2009 and has been widely praised for its historical accuracy and its ability to bring the past to life.
- The English Patient by Michael Ondaatje (1992)
Set during World War II, The English Patient tells the story of four people brought together in an Italian villa, including a badly burned and amnesiac Canadian soldier, a nurse, a thief, and an Indian sapper. The novel explores themes of love, loss, and identity, as well as the impact of war on individuals and society. The English Patient won the Booker Prize in 1992 and was adapted into a successful film in 1996.
- Outlander by Diana Gabaldon (1991)
Outlander is the first book in a series that follows the story of Claire Randall, a former World War II combat nurse who finds herself transported back in time to 18th-century Scotland. The novel explores themes of love, time travel, and the clash of cultures, as Claire navigates the dangerous world of 18th-century Scotland and falls in love with the dashing Highlander, Jamie Fraser. Outlander has become a cultural phenomenon, with a dedicated fan base and multiple adaptations for television.
- The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah (2015)
Set during World War II, The Nightingale tells the story of two sisters, Vianne and Isabelle, as they navigate the German occupation of France. The novel explores themes of courage, love, and sacrifice, as the sisters make difficult choices in order to protect their family and their country. The Nightingale has been widely praised for its emotional depth and its portrayal of the complex realities of war.
- The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne (1850)
Set in 17th-century Puritan New England, The Scarlet Letter tells the story of Hester Prynne, a woman who is forced to wear a scarlet letter “A” on her chest as punishment for committing adultery. The novel explores themes of sin, guilt, and redemption, as well as the strict moral codes of Puritan society. The Scarlet Letter is a classic of American literature and has been widely studied and adapted for stage and screen.
- Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden (1997)
Set in pre-World War II Japan, Memoirs of a Geisha tells the story of Sayuri, a young girl who is sold into slavery and trained to become a geisha. The novel explores themes of identity, tradition, and the changing social landscape of Japan during the early 20th century. Memoirs of a Geisha has been widely praised for its vivid descriptions of geisha culture and its portrayal of a world that is both exotic and familiar.
– The Red Tent by Anita Diamant (1997)
– The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafón (2001)
– The Book Thief by Markus Zusak (2005)
– A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens (1859)
– The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas (1844)
Writers Exchange Best Ancient Historical:
Amarnan Kings, Book 1: Scarab-Akhenaten by Max Overton
Set in Egypt of the 14th century B.C.E. and piecing together a mosaic of the reigns of the five Amarnan kings, threaded through by the memories of princess Beketaten-Scarab, a tapestry unfolds of the royal figures lost in the mists of antiquity.
A chance discovery in Syria reveals answers to the mystery of the ancient Egyptian sun-king, the heretic Akhenaten and his beautiful wife Nefertiti. Inscriptions in the tomb of his sister Beketaten, otherwise known as Scarab, tell a story of life and death, intrigue and warfare, in and around the golden court of the kings of the glorious 18th dynasty.
The narrative of a young girl growing up at the centre of momentous events–the abolition of the gods, foreign invasion, and the fall of a once-great family–reveals who Tutankhamen’s parents really were, what happened to Nefertiti, and other events lost to history in the great destruction that followed the fall of the Aten heresy.
In conclusion, historical fiction offers readers the chance to explore different eras, cultures, and events through the lens of a compelling story. From War and Peace to Memoirs of a Geisha, the best historical fiction novels of all time transport readers to another time and place, while also shedding light on the past in an engaging way. Whether you’re a fan of classic literature or modern bestsellers, there is something for everyone in this rich and diverse genre.
You can find all WEE’s historical books at https://www.writers-exchange.com/category/genres/historical/