Historical Fiction is one of my all-time favorite genres! In fact, the history aspect of literature is one of the reasons I enjoyed studying English for one of my BAs and my MA. I think books tell you a lot about what the world was like in an earlier era, even fiction, where authors are allowed to take more liberties with their reconstruction of history.
Personally, I like historical fiction novels that deal directly with major events in history or include famous names that I might know or learn more about throughout the course of reading (preferably as secondary characters rather than the lead). I also love historical fiction romances, and find it fun to watch relationships build under the constraints of different time periods.
I would love to write historical fiction someday, but in trying to do so, I gained so much respect for the authors who spent years researching, learning, and fact-checking. Unlike fiction where only the logic has to make sense, historical fiction plays in a sandbox where half the castles are made of stone. It's exciting to watch writers move masterfully through history, making it part of the story rather than an obstacle to be avoided.
In that same realm of thinking, here are some of the HF novels that line my bookshelves! Everything from the portrayal of ninth-century Danes to the Knights of the Round Table revamped, check out the list below.
Kindred by Octavia Butler
This novel is the earliest foray into Historical Fiction that I can remember reading on my own. The novel follows Dana, a young Black woman living in modern-day California (circa 2004), who is suddenly pulled out of the reality of her life and into the Antebellum South, where a young white son of a plantation owner is drowning in the river. The only one there to witness it, Dana saves young Rufus and irrevocably bonds the two of them together, literally across space and time.
Dana is brought back in time again and again, each visit longer and more arduous as she witnesses Rufus grow up and tries to save herself and make an impact on the world around her.
The Bronze Horseman by Paullina Simons
The Bronze Horseman is one of those series that I go back to again and again. It's filled with history, art, metaphor and allusion, and a sense of gravity and realism that calls to me. The three-book series follows the story of young Tatiana Metanova as she lives with her family. The Bronze Horseman is Tatiana's coming of age, from easy, naive girlhood to an adulthood of resolve, struggle, and a love for those around her that keeps her alive.
On the day of Tatiana's birthday, Hitler betrays his allies and turns his troops to Leningrad, plunging the family's lives into starvation, heartache, and sacrifice. On that very same day, Tatiana meets Alexander, a soldier in the Red Army, soon to be working on the frontlines to protect the city and the people. Despite the war that keeps him busy, Alexander goes out of his way to look after the Metanovas, and together, he and Tatiana work to keep her family alive and to keep hope that their city will still be whole when the blockage finally ends.
Outlander by Diana Gabaldon
Outlander is likely the most popular novel on this list, and for good reason. It's one of those things that I can't wrap my mind around. When I think of the preparation and the research that it took for Gabaldon to create the feat that is the Outlander series, I'm at a loss of words. Comprise of nine novels, each approximately 900 pages or more, Outlander follows Claire Randall, a World War II combat nurse who goes on honeymoon with her new (just before the war started) husband, Frank. The two travel to Inverness, Scotland, where Claire is pulled through Druid stones back into the Scottish Highlands of 1743, where the British Crown is on the brink of decimating the Highland forces.
In 1743, Claire meets Jamie, a young Scottish Highlander and outlaw who, despite being on the run from the British Army, takes it upon himself to help Clare in unimaginable ways.
The Guinevere Deception by Kiersten White
This is the only Young Adult novel on this list! This novel is a light retelling of King Arthur of Camelot, but flipped on its head and told as Guinevere's story from her own perspective. Like a lot of YA fairytale retellings, the novel is an easy, light-hearted read. The connections between characters don't delve too deep, but it's a clever fantasy reincarnation of a familiar favorite that leaves you rooting for the Guin and Arthur.
In this version of the story, Princess Guinevere has come to Camelot to marry King Arthur. However, little does anyone know, Guinevere is a changeling, an imposter, another girl whose name is lost, parading as the princess to save Arthur from the enemies he overcame to save Camelot the first time. Sent by the famous wizard Merlin - now an outlaw under King Arthur's new rule - this new Guinevere must keep her outlawed magic hidden and protect the fabled young King at all costs.
Book two releases November 10th, and I'm looking forward to continuing Guin and Arthur's story.
Where the Lost Wander by Amy Harmon
Where the Lost Wander is a novel that I stumbled upon on Kindle Unlimited, and I featured it in my Kindle Unlimited Recommendations blog back in June, but I feel it's worth a second mention here simply because it was such a welcome surprise.
This is the story of the May family as they set off across the Oregon (Overland) Trail in 1853. Unexpectedly widowed in her early twenties, Naomi May embarks with her dad, her pregnant mom, her soon-to-be-four younger brothers, and her (ex) in-laws to head West across a deadly path with two wagons carrying everything they own.
As they head out, Naomi meets John Lowry, a half-Pawnee man who helps his uncle run the trail in order to sell his cattle at halfway mark, with intentions of returning home. Being half Native American and half white, John's feels alienated from his own family and from the settlers and people surrounding him. Surprisingly, this novel is more John's story than Naomi's. Across the trail, he meets other Native Americans who challenge his identity and, like Naomi, his decision to remain on the fridges of both cultures.
The Last Kingdom by Bernard Cornwell
The Saxon Chronicles is a series of thirteen novels that take place throughout the ninth and tenth centuries. They chronicle (of course), the consolidation of England, and the fictional role that Uhtred of Bebbanburg played in uniting the Kingdom. The son of a Northumbrian Saxon Nobleman, Uhtred is captured and raised by the Danish warlord who defeated his father. Poised in the middle of a war between the Saxon and the Danes, Uhtred stands with loyalty to both and a legacy that was stolen from him when the Danes took him from his ancestral lands.
This series is compelling and rife with history. Alfred, King of England, pays homage to Alfred the Great, King of England (who really lived about a hundred years after this story begins). It's a series about loyalty and destiny, and Uhtred of Bebbanburg is the kind of character you hope for in every novel you read.
Top of my TBR for Historical Fiction:
*Synopses from Amazon*
Fall of Giants by Ken Follett
This series was actually recommended to me by one of my best friends from college, and has been at the top of my list for about four years. The only thing stopping me was that I could only find the mass-market paperback edition (yes I'm a snob and hate those tiny books), but I recently bought it on Kindle, so I will be picking it up very soon. I keep eyeing it! I just have to get through my seasonal TBR first!
What calls to me in this novel is the way that the families' lives intersect over the course of the three-book series, over the century really. In a completely random and not-at-all correct way, the hype I've created in my mind around this book reminds me of A Thousand Skies Above You by Claudia Grey where a young girl falls in love with fractions of her boyfriend's soul through multiple dimensions. Fall of Giants gives me the same overall feeling in how it jumps from place to place.
A thirteen-year-old Welsh boy enters a man’s world in the mining pits. . . . An American law student rejected in love finds a surprising new career in Woodrow Wilson’s White House. . . . A housekeeper for the aristocratic Fitzherberts takes a fateful step above her station, while Lady Maud Fitzherbert herself crosses deep into forbidden territory when she falls in love with a German spy. . . . And two orphaned Russian brothers embark on radically different paths when their plan to emigrate to America falls afoul of war, conscription, and revolution.
From the dirt and danger of a coal mine to the glittering chandeliers of a palace, from the corridors of power to the bedrooms of the mighty, Fall of Giants takes us into the inextricably entangled fates of five families—and into a century that we thought we knew, but that now will never seem the same again. . . .
Vivaldi's Virgins by Barbara Quick
I found this novel when I was looking for something along the lines of the tv show Da Vinci's Demons. While the title of this book has the same general ring to it, it's really more of a mix of Da Vinci's Demons meets George Eliot's Romola (I hope!). That description alone rehooks me back into this novel.
Taking place in eighteenth-century Venice, Vivaldi's Virgins followed fourteen year old, Anna Maria Dal Violin. Abandoned as an infant, Anna Maria dal Violin is one of the elite musicians living in the foundling home where the "Red Priest," Antonio Vivaldi, is maestro and composer. Fiercely determined to find out where she came from, Anna Maria embarks on a journey of self-discovery that carries her into a wondrous and haunting world of music and spectacle, bringing Venice to life.