Books

Got History? A Guide to the Best Historical Fiction in Several Genres, Eras, and Styles

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Love historical fiction? Whatever your favorite flavor, there is something for everyone in this guide to the best historical fiction.

Historical fiction, defined at its most basic level, is fiction set in the past. There is some kind of real basis for the story. The basis could be a period of time, such as antiquity or a more specific timeframe, such as the Jazz Age in America. Historical fiction can traverse styles and form, including verse novels or comics, and of course, historical fiction can be based on a single event, such as the launch of the Challenger or based on the life of an individual like Cleopatra. The only real limit to historical fiction is the definition of what is — and what is not — historical.

Are the 1990s historical? Are the 2000s historical? These are up for debate and make for especially fascinating rumination when it comes to reading books set in those eras. A convincing argument could be made either way, and even though historical fiction is not fact, it absolutely leads to knowledge and insight about what history is and who gets their stories told.

Find below wide-ranging guide to the best historical fiction you can read right now. This guide includes both adult and young adult titles, as indicted in each category. Categories below are arranged as follows: historical fiction about different eras, historical fiction about people, historical fiction from around the globe, historical fiction by sub-genre, YA historical fiction, and the historical fiction grab bag (i.e., anything that doesn’t fit neatly in the other categories, including historical audiobooks). These are broad categories, used simply to organize, and they’re not meant to be definitive or representative of historical fiction as a whole. All of the lists are arranged alphabetically, rather than by time, and some lists also include nonfiction.

And if historical fiction is your jam, make sure you are getting our weekly Past Tense newsletter, dedicated to all things historical fiction.

The Ultimate Guide to the Best Historical Fiction

Jump to:

Historical Fiction about Different Eras || Historical Fiction About People || Historical Fiction from Around the Globe || Sub-genres of Historical Fiction || YA Historical Fiction || Historical Grab Bag

Historical Fiction about Different Eras

Whether you love Medieval history, the Tudor era, or the Roaring ’20s, there’s a wealth of great historical fiction to scratch those itches.

The American Civil War

THE GOOD LORD BIRD BY JAMES MCBRIDE

“A young slave in Kansas named Henry is accidentally mistaken for a girl, and continues the ruse as he joins abolitionist John Brown, after Brown has a confrontation with Henry’s master. Henry is witness to history as he follows Brown around for years, all the way to the legendary events at Harper’s Ferry. This is a charming but also moving novel. It won the National Book Award in 2013.”

the known world

THE KNOWN WORLD BY EDWARD P. JONES

“Set in Virginia, it’s about a former enslaved man who became a farmer and slave owner, and what happens to his estate when he dies. This is a fascinating, powerful novel about the horrors of slavery, and the various people and aspects of the world that thrived and functioned because of it. This novel won the Pulitzer for fiction, as well as a bunch of other prizes”

my name is mary sutter

MY NAME IS MARY SUTTER BY ROBIN OLIVEIRA

“A wonderful historical epic about a young midwife named — yep, you guessed it — Mary Sutter, who has big dreams of becoming a surgeon. She goes to D.C. to tend to the Civil War wounded, where she resists love and familial obligations in order to fulfill her dreams. Rich in detail, it’s a marvelous debut, and the follow-up is also great.”

>>Find 8 Excellent Civil War novels here<<

Medieval Historical Fiction

the needle in the blood book cover

The Needle in the Blood by Sarah Bower

“January 1067. Charismatic bishop Odo of Bayeux commissions a wall hanging, on a scale never seen before, to celebrate the conquest of Britain by his brother, William, Duke of Normandy. What he cannot anticipate is how utterly this will change his life — even more than the invasion itself. His life becomes entangled with the women who embroider his hanging, especially Gytha — handmaiden to the fallen Saxon queen and his sworn enemy.”

the shadows of the pomegranate tree book cover

Shadows of the Pomegranate Tree by Tariq Ali

“Beginning with the bonfire of over one hundred thousand books taken from all of the Muslim libraries in Cordoba, a seat of great learning in Moorish Spain, the story focuses on one family who have lived in a small village near Cordoba for hundreds of years. As rumors begin to circulate of humiliations, banishments of Muslims by the conquering Christians, and even forced conversions to Christianity, the villagers can only wait in anguish for the approaching disaster.”

the pale rose of england book cover

Pale Rose of England by Sandra Worth

“It is 1497. The news of the survival of Richard Plantagenet, Duke of York, has set royal houses ablaze with intrigue and rocked the fledgling Tudor dynasty. With the support of Scotland’s King James IV, Richard has come to reclaim his rightful crown from Henry Tudor. Lady Catherine Gordon has no doubt that her husband will succeed in his quest. But rather than assuming the throne, Catherine would soon be prisoner of King Henry VII, and her beloved husband would be stamped as an imposter.”

>> Find 100 of the best Medieval historical fiction books here<<

The Roaring ’20s

josephine baker's last dance book cover

JOSEPHINE BAKER’S LAST DANCE BY SHERRY JONES

“Based on the life of legendary performer, activist, and spy, Josephine Baker’s Last Dance brings her incredible story to life. The novel begins with her early years impoverished in America and follows her rise to fame as a showgirl, showcasing her enduring spirit and passion for equality.”

cover of Dead Dead Girls by Nekesa Afia: a Black woman with her hair styled in a finger wave wearing a blue gown with a fur collar and white gloves. She is holding a cigarette in one hand and reclining in a chair, background contains a chandelier and large fern

DEAD DEAD GIRLS BY NEKESA AFIA

“Murders are happening left and right in 1920s Harlem, and young Black girls like Louise Lloyd are ending up dead. She’s doing her best to stay alive, though, spending her days working at a café and her nights at Manhattan’s hottest speakeasy. But then a body is found at the café and Louise is arrested with an ultimatum: help the police solve the murders or be made an example of by the judge. Now Louise is stuck between the law and a murderous mastermind in a deadly game of cat and mouse.”

>>Find more Historical Fiction of the 1920s here<<

Tudor Fiction

king at the edge of the world book cover

THE KING AT THE EDGE OF THE WORLD BY ARTHUR PHILLIPS

“As Queen Elizabeth is dying, the question of King James VI of Scotland’s religious loyalties looms in the air. The Queen’s spymasters must devise a test for James before he takes the throne. They enlist Mahmoud Ezzedine, a Muslim physician, as an undercover agent. Eager to return home, Ezzedine transforms himself to find the answers the spymasters seek.”

the king's witch by tracy borman

THE KING’S WITCH BY TRACY BORTMAN

“Frances, a young healer, was one of Queen Elizabeth’s aides. As King James takes the throne, Frances’s loyalties and skills are under suspicion. Frances becomes a target for her uncle’s ambitions as he schemes to advance his own standing with the king.”

a tip for the hangman book cover

A TIP FOR THE HANGMAN BY ALLISON EPSTEIN

“This multi-layered espionage thriller explores the could-have-been life of Elizabethan playwright Christopher Marlowe. As a bright university student, Marlowe is recruited by the Queen’s spymaster to act as an undercover agent in the household of Mary, Queen of Scots, on the lookout for a Catholic plot for the English throne. As the secrets grow, so does Marlowe’s success as a playwright, before his real, untimely death.” 

>>Find more Tudor fiction here<<

US Historical Fiction

Cover of Beloved by Toni Morrison

BELOVED BY TONI MORRISON

“This spellbinding book transforms history into a story as powerful as Exodus and as intimate as a lullaby. Sethe was born enslaved and escaped to Ohio, but 18 years later she is still not free. She has too many memories of Sweet Home, the beautiful farm where so many hideous things happened. Her new home is haunted by the ghost of her baby, who died nameless and whose tombstone is engraved with a single word: Beloved.”

diamond head book cover

DIAMOND HEAD BY CECILY WONG

“At the turn of the 19th century, Frank Leong, a fabulously wealthy shipping industrialist, moves his family from China to the island of Oahu. But something ancient follows the Leongs to Hawaii, haunting them. Told through the eyes of the Leong’s secret-keeping daughters and wives, this stunning debut spans from The Boxer Rebellion to Pearl Harbor to 1960s Hawaii.”

a reliable wife book cover

A RELIABLE WIFE BY ROBERT GOOLRICK

“Rural Wisconsin, 1909. In the bitter cold, Ralph Truitt, a successful businessman, stands alone on a train platform waiting for the woman who answered his newspaper advertisement for ‘a reliable wife.’ But when Catherine Land steps off the train from Chicago, she’s not the ‘simple, honest woman’ that Ralph is expecting. She is both complex and devious, haunted by a terrible past and motivated by greed.”

>>Find 100 Must-Read Books of US History here<<

For more historical fiction about different eras, check out:

Historical Fiction About People

Artists of All Sorts

the girl with the pearl earring book coveer

GIRL WITH A PEARL EARRING BY TRACY CHEVALIER

While the book was made into a movie with Scarlett Johansson and Colin Firth, it’s a compelling look at 17th century Holland. Told from the point of view of Griet, a young servant in the household of the famous artist, Johannes Vermeer. It provides a delightful imagining behind the famous painting that the book gets its name from. But it also explores the perils of being a young servant woman at the time.

Isadora Book Cover

ISADORA BY AMELIA GRAY

This book tells the story of the famous dancer, Isadora Duncan, after she tragically loses her children in a drowning accident. It presents a vivid portrait of the dancer in Europe after WWII. It was designated a NPR Great Read in 2017.

The_secret_book_of_frida_kahlo

THE SECRET BOOK OF FRIDA KAHLO BY F. G. HAGHENBECK

“No list of artists would be complete without Frida Kahlo. While a lot has been written about the proliferation of her image, this work was inspired by the discovery of her letters. The story tells the tale of this formidable artist as she dealt with lifelong health repercussions from a bus accident, and of her tumultuous affair with Diego Rivera.”

>>Find most Historical Books About Artists here<<

Famous Authors

the paris wife paula mclain

THE PARIS WIFE BY PAULA MCLAIN

“McLain fictionalizes Hadley Richardson, Ernest Hemingway’s first wife. Introverted and eight years his senior, Hadley initially seems to be an unlikely match for the adventurous Hemingway. Even after their divorce, though, Hemingway described her as the love of his life. The novel features other 1920s literary figures, like Ezra Pound and F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald, as fascinating supporting characters.”

vanessa and her sister

VANESSA AND HER SISTER BY PRIYA PARMAR

“This novel imagines the diary entries of Vanessa Bell, Virginia Woolf’s older sister. Along with writers like E.M. Forster, Vanessa and Virginia establish the famous Bloomsbury Group. This is a fascinating look into close but complicated relationships and rivalries between creative siblings.”

>>Find More Authors as Characters in Historical Fiction here<<

Lesbians and Bisexuals in History

the best bad things book cover

THE BEST BAD THINGS BY KATRINA CARRASCO

“This sexy historical crime/thriller novel is set in the Pacific Northwest in 1887. Alma Rosales is a woman who wears many masks. As a spy, she can be dressed in drag one day as ‘Jack Camp,’ scrappy dock worker and the next playing the part of a demure naïve Scottish governess. Any way she can get the information. Her so-called bad behavior — including fudging her gender to get the job done — has got her in trouble with her former employer, the Pinkerton Detective Agency. Her current employer is Delphine Beaumond, a seductive genius and boss of a West Coast smuggling ring — and Alma’s former lover. Recovering stolen opium seems at first like a straightforward job for ‘Jack Camp.’ But soon all of Alma’s double crossing gets a bit complicated. Is she able to keep track of all her cover stories? How can she work her way back into Delphine’s bed? And most importantly: who can she really trust?”

tipping the velvet book cover

TIPPING THE VELVET BY SARAH WATERS

“No list of queer women’s historical fiction would be complete without at least one book by Sarah Waters. Tipping the Velvet is her first novel, and my personal favorite (although Fingersmith is a close second). Set in late 19th century London, the book follows the trials and tribulations of Nan King. She starts out a simple oyster girl and then moves onto starring in a double drag musical hall act with her first crush. When the drag act goes south, Nan tries her hand at sex work, and then finally settles into working class life and activism. What I love about this book is it feels very much like a novel written in the Victorian period: melodrama, bananas plot twists, and unrealistic coincidences. But it has explicitly lesbian characters and smoking hot sex scenes!”

Cover of Under The Udala Trees

UNDER THE UDALA TREES BY CHINELO OKPARANTA

“Set in Nigeria and inspired by its folktales and by its civil war, Under the Udala Trees follows the journey of Ijeoma as she comes of age along with her country. As she struggles with identity and selfhood, so does the nation. When the war breaks out in 1967, Ijeoma is an 11-year-old girl. Sent away from home for her own safety, Ijeoma meets another displaced girl from a different ethnic group. They fall in love. But their secret isn’t safe, and Ijeoma learns at a young age that her lesbian sexuality is something she has to hide. And hide it she does, for decades of her life to come. She even hides it through marriage to a man and through childbirth and child rearing. When the burden of hiding this part of herself becomes too heavy to bear, Ijeoma makes some risky attempts to find queer community. There, as the novel winds down, is a sliver of light at the end of the tunnel.”

>>Find more Historical Fiction About Lesbians and Bisexuals here<<

Sisi, Empress of Austria

cover of The Fortune Hunter by Daisy Goodwin

THE FORTUNE HUNTER BY DAISY GOODWIN

“You may know Daisy Goodwin from the TV series Victoria, but she is also the author of the bestselling novel The American HeiressThe Fortune Hunter is another bestseller under her wing. In this novel, the year is 1875 and Sisi, Empress of Austria, is a strong, independent woman who feels unhappy and trapped in the Hapsburg Court and is looking for some excitement. This excitement comes in the form of Captain Bay Middleton, the only man in Europe who can outride her on a horse and who is ten years younger. The recipe is in for romance.”

cover of In a Gilded Cage by Susan Appleyard

IN A GILDED CAGE BY SUSAN APPLEYARD

“In In a Gilded Cage, Susan Appleyard tells the story of Elisabeth of Austria’s difficult life, but focuses on the historic part of Hungary. Sisi felt close to this country and she was a known advocate for its independence within the Austrian Empire. In this mission to give Hungary some kind of independence, Sisi was rumored to have a lover, Count Andrassy. Despite being impossible to confirm such information, many authors explore this potential relationship, and Appleyard does so in her novel.”

>>Find more books about Sisi, Empress of Austria, here<<

For more historical fiction about people, check out:

Historical Fiction from Around the Globe

In Translation

balzac nd the little chinese seamstress book cover

BALZAC AND THE LITTLE CHINESE SEAMSTRESS BY DAI SIJIE, TRANSLATED BY INA RILKE

“Set during the Chinese Cultural Revolution of the late 1960s–mid 1970s, Dai Sijie’s novel is about two young boys who are exiled to a remote Chinese mountain village to be reeducated. Here, the boys meet a young seamstress and discover a hidden treasure: a secret stash of forbidden Western classics translated in Chinese. This is a novel about the transformative powers of literature.”

the house of the spirits book cover

THE HOUSE OF THE SPIRITS BY ISABEL ALLENDE

The House of the Spirits is Isabel Allende’s debut novel, in part based on the author’s own familial history. Allende’s novel details the history of the Trueba family through four generations. Though the country and historical figures in the novel are never explicitly named, the novel examines real events in Chile, intertwining a personal family history with the political history of the country, and also more than little bit of magic.”

the same night awaits us all book cover

THE SAME NIGHT AWAITS US ALL BY HRISTO KARASTOYANOV, TRANSLATED BY IZIDORA ANGEL

“This novel is set in Bulgaria during the 1920s and follows two historical figures: the poet Geo Milev and Georgi Sheytanov, a notorious anarchist on the run. The two men start a politically charged literary magazine together in response to a a military coup that established Aleksandar Tsankov as the new leader of Bulgaria. Alternating between this historical period and contemporary Bulgaria, Karastoyanov examines this tale of resistance and the lasting effects it had on the country and the world.”

>>Find more Historical Fiction in Translation here<<

Korean Historical Fiction

cover of Beasts of a Little Land by Juhea Kim

BEASTS OF A LITTLE LAND BY JUHEA KIM

Beasts of a Little Land is an epic saga set during the Korean independence movement. Which means there’s definitely love, war, redemption, and the idea that beasts can take many shapes. The story follows first a local hunter who saves a Japanese officer from a tiger. Years later, we follow Jade, a woman sold to Miss Silver’s courtesan school. There, she befriends a boy named JungHo. But fate drives them apart when they come of age as JungHo joins the fight for independence and Jade becomes a famous performer. Apart from them, there are more characters in the story — and their lives are all linked by the thread of fate.”

HUMAN ACTS BY HAN KANG

“Let’s travel to an even more modern setting with Human Acts — a beautiful, heartbreaking, and brutally honest book inspired by a real-life event: the 1980s Gwangju Uprising and its subsequent massacre. The story follows a group of people who struggle with the aftermath of the murder of a young boy named Dong-ho. Through a series of interconnected chapters, we get to see people like Dong-ho’s family and his best friend as they grieve and suffer from the boy’s death. But we also see other people who struggle with the massacre as a whole — such as an editor who is being censored. It all comes together to tell an extremely difficult story about looking for your own voice after enduring so much trauma.”

Cover of Pachinko by Min Jin Lee

PACHINKO BY MIN JIN LEE

“This is undoubtedly the most popular book on this list and I couldn’t not mention it! Especially since it’s an upcoming TV show by Apple — so in a way, it’s already a historical K-drama as well. Pachinko is a sweeping family saga set in the early 1900s. It all begins with Sunja, the daughter of a fisherman, who falls for a wealthy stranger. One day, she discovers that she’s pregnant and that her lover is married, so she refuses to be bought. Instead, she marries a gentle minister and the two of them move to Japan. Sunja’s choices have consequences though, ones that will echo for generations.”

>>Find more Korean Historical Fiction here<<

South Asia

cuckold book cover

CUCKOLD BY KIRAN NAGARKAR

“Set in Mewar of the 16th century, this book depicts the life and marriage Bhojraj had with Mirabai. Mewar was under constant threat from outside forces. Bhojraj’s ascension to the throne wasn’t guaranteed either as domestic tensions were brewing in his court. The novel makes its readers empathize with both Mira and Bhoj as their story unfolds bit by bit. A fascinating read about the socio-political landscape of Bhojraj’s India, this book surpasses all expectations.”

Cover of Ice Candy Man by Bapsi Sidhwa

ICE CANDY MAN BY BAPSI SIDHWA

“This novel tells a heartbreaking story about the Partition of India and how women’s bodies became collateral damage while marking new territories. Little Lenny was very attached to her nanny, but one innocent mistake would alter their lives forever. Her nanny got abducted and became the victim of extreme violence. It’s an evocative tale of lives falling apart because of political causes that specifically thrive on inciting communal violence. The sexual awakening of children is a major theme in this book, and the fleshed-out characters lend to its charm.”

>>Find more South Asia Historical Fiction here<<

For more global historical fiction, check out:

Sub-genres of Historical Fiction

Historical Fantasy

cover of The Conductors ; illustration of a young Black woman in old-fashioned dress holding a lantern

THE CONDUCTORS BY NICOLE GLOVER

The Conductors is an exciting read that follows Hetty Rhodes and her husband. She used to be a conductor on the Underground Railroad — using her magic to help dozens of people cross north. But that was some time ago, and now that the Civil War is over she and Benjy live in Philadelphia. Now, they solve mysteries that the authorities refuse to take. Things take a turn when they find a friend of theirs dead in an alley. Of course they decide to investigate, but they don’t know the danger that lies ahead. For this case will put them face-to-face with the darkest corners of the city’s elites — as well as their own.

book cover for gods of jade and shadow

GODS OF JADE AND SHADOW BY SILVIA MORENO-GARCIA

“This is such a unique book — both because of its setting and because it feels like you’re reading a myth or a fairytale. Gods of Jade and Shadow is set in 1920s Mexico, and it follows a young woman named Casiopea Tun. She’s almost like a maid in her grandfather’s home, where she’s treated rather poorly by her own family members. She dreams of a different life, and her wish is answered in the form of a Mayan god of death named Hun-Kamé. Casiopea is the one who accidentally sets him free and because of it, they’re tied together. So now, she must help him on his quest to recover his throne from his treacherous brother. Unless she wants to die.”

She Who Became the Sun by Shelley Parker-Chan book cover

SHE WHO BECAME THE SUN BY SHELLEY PARKER-CHAN

She Who Became the Sun reimagines the rise of the Ming Dynasty in China. So you can expect plenty of action-packed fight scenes, political intrigue, and a cast of morally grey characters too. It follows a girl who was destined for nothingness, while her brother was destined for greatness. So when he, Zhu Chongba, dies, the girl takes his name. With a burning desire for greatness, Zhu learns she is capable of anything: to not only take her brother’s fate, but make it her own. Which is how she finds herself in a monastery — and later on, in a rebellion.”

>>Find more Historical Fantasy here<<

Historical Horror

Cover of The Ballad Of Black Tom

THE BALLAD OF BLACK TOM BY VICTOR LAVALLE

“Tommy Tester is a hustler just trying to make ends meet in New York City, but when he unknowingly delivers an occult book to a reclusive old woman in Queens, he suddenly finds himself in a hell of a lot more trouble than he originally anticipated. Fans of Lovecraftian horror, this one’s for you.”

Book Cover for The Hunger, by Alma Katsu

THE HUNGER BY ALMA KATSU

“Most of us are familiar with the story of the ill-fated Donner Party, who took their covered wagons west but got caught in a mountain snow storm and had to resort to cannibalism to stay alive. Now imagine the story of the Donner Party, but with a diseased and hungry monster stalking the caravan as they make their way towards the mountains.”

see what i have done book cover

SEE WHAT I HAVE DONE BY SARAH SCHMIDT

“On August 4, 1892, Andrew and Abby Borden were found brutally murdered in their home by their daughter Lizzie. But for the police, there are more questions than answers, especially since Lizzie’s memories don’t always match up with the reality of the scene in front of them. The horror of this story comes from the brutal imagery, told through fragmented and suspicious memories, and the evocative language that leaves the reader supremely unsettled. You haven’t heard the story of Lizzie Borden told quite like this.”

>>Find more Historical Horror here<<

International Historical Mysteries

The Confessions of Frannie Langton cover

THE CONFESSIONS OF FRANNIE LANGTON BY SARA COLLINS 

“Frannie Langton is on trial for the murder of her boss and his wife, and in the hopes of saving herself she must tell the story of what actually happened. So she starts to tell her story, switching between her life in Jamaica as a slave and her time in London as a servant, but will that be enough for her to remember what happened or to save her — a black woman accused of murdering two white people in London in 1826?”

the impossible girl book cover

THE IMPOSSIBLE GIRL BY LYDIA KANG

“Cora Lee has a secret that can get her killed: she was born with two hearts. There’s a fascination with physical anomalies and displaying bodies, so Lee’s secret can never get out. Especially now that she suspects people with anomalies are being murdered for their bodies. How does she come to know this? Lee just happens to spend her nights pretending to be her twin brother and robbing graves to sell bodies with anomalies — I know! So that’s two huge secrets she’s keeping. She better figure out quick who is murdering people before anyone figures out either of her secrets and comes for her!”

>>Find more International Historical Mysteries here<<

Queer Historical Fiction

Cover of Last Night at the Telegraph Club by Malinda Lo

LAST NIGHT AT THE TELEGRAPH CLUB BY MALINDA LO

“Lo is an important voice in queer YA fiction, delivering poignant tales and relatable characters, and her newest novel about a Chinese American girl living in San Francisco during the 1950s is no exception. Lily Hu has always felt like an outsider. In Chinatown, that feeling only increases as the wave of McCarthyism and anti-Chinese sentiment threatens her family. In the Telegraph Bar, she finds a different kind of family, one that doesn’t question her burgeoning crush on another girl. But she can’t help but notice there’s no one else that looks like her, either. It’s dangerous to be different in 1950s America, but what other choice is there? At least there’s Kath. Maybe for now that’s enough.”

the mercies book cover

THE MERCIES BY KIRAN MILLWOOD HARGRAVE

“A real-life witch hunt comes to haunt an Arctic village 1600s Norway, leaving the lives of the women living there changed forever. After most of the men were lost to sea during a terrible storm, Maren and the other women must go against societal norms to survive. But when a man arrives from Scotland with the goal of rooting out supposed witchcraft, the strides made by the women suddenly become suspect. Maren’s only comfort is the man’s beautiful young wife, Ursa, who has been ripped away from the life she knew for a husband she never wanted. Inexplicably drawn together, Maren and Ursa brave the dangers brought to Vardø together, praying they survive.”

cover image of The Sweetness of Water by Nathan Harris

THE SWEETNESS OF WATER BY NATHAN HARRIS

“An unlikely alliance between two freedmen and a farmer couple in Georgia grieving the loss of their only son runs parallel to the story of two Confederate soldiers embroiled in a forbidden romance. Amidst an already tenuous peace, when their tryst is discovered, the resulting chaos and violence rock the community to its core. Harris weaves a tale of the violence of the Reconstruction era while emphasizing the bonds we can build, finding love and humanity even in the most harrowing of circumstances.”

>>Find more Queer Historical Fiction here<<

Steamy Historical Romance

cover of Butterfly Swords by Jeannie Lin

BUTTERFLY SWORDS BY JEANNIE LIN

“The first in Lin’s Tang Dynasty series, this story follows a Princess who flees her wedding and the warrior who wants to protect her. Princess Ai Li runs before her wedding, having only her butterfly swords to protect herself. She enlists the help of Ryam. Ryam is honorable yet stubborn, and he can’t help but fall for the woman he’s sworn to protect. I love a good bodyguard-type story, and when Ai Li and Ryam come together after such longing, it is glorious.”

Book cover of An Extraordinary Union by Alyssa Cole, photo of a young Black woman in a white dress opening a door

AN EXTRAORDINARY UNION BY ALYSSA COLE

“Spies in the Civil War! Elle Burns, who was previously enslaved, returns to the South to spy for the Union Army. There, she meets Malcolm McCall, a detective for the Pinkerton Secret Service. The two join forces (in more ways than one) to help turn the tide of the war. Fiery, forbidden love!”

>>Find more Steamy Historical Romance here<<

For more sub-genres of historical fiction, check out:

YA Historical Fiction

Compelling Historical Fiction for Teens

THE DOWNSTAIRS GIRL BY STACEY LEE

“Jo Kuan is a lady’s maid to the cruel daughter of one of the richest men in Atlanta. But she also harbors a secret identity — the author of a newspaper advice column, “Dear Miss Sweetie.” She begins to use her anonymous popularity to give power to her different ideas surrounding race and gender, but backlash soon follows. Some begin investigating the true identity of Miss Sweetie, and Jo sets off on her own search for her family and her past.”

cover of The Lovely War

LOVELY WAR BY JULIE BERRY

“World War I is raging in 1917, but Hazel and James are at a party, and soon they catch each other’s eyes. Hazel is a pianist; James is a soldier. They fall in love quickly and deeply, but soon James is shipped off to the front lines. Aubrey is also a musician and a soldier, part of an all–African American regiment being sent to Europe to help end the war. There he meets Colette, a Belgian singer, and the two connect more than they ever thought possible. Through the years, across divides, these four lovers find they will go to great lengths to fight for what they believe in — love.”

We Walked the Sky book cover

WE WALKED THE SKY BY LISA FIEDLER

It’s 1965, and 17-year-old Victoria has just escaped her unstable home and run away to the circus in the hopes of creating a better life for herself. Fifty years later, Callie, Victoria’s teenage granddaughter, is a gifted tightrope walker and dreams of becoming a legend like her grandmother. But when her mother accepts a new job after Victoria’s death, Callie is pulled away from everything she knows, and her whole life changes.

In their days on the road to their new home, Callie becomes immersed in a box of her grandmother’s memorabilia, finding notes Victoria had written to herself, and soon, Callie is using her grandmother’s advice to navigate an entirely new setting — public high school.

>>Find more Compelling Historical Fiction for Teens here<<

GIRLS OF COLOR IN YA HISTORICAL FICTION

BURN BABY BURN BY MEG MEDINA

“It’s the historical summer of 1977 when New York City is burning and a serial killer named Son of Sam is on the loose. Nora, our narrator, is Latina, and her best friend is a white girl. Both of them are deeply invested in feminism, but what Medina does is offer a look at the ways feminism isn’t necessarily inclusive, either in the late ’70s or now. The setting is compelling, and the challenges that Nora experiences with her family are realistic and heartening — and she, as a budding feminist, comes to understand better where her experiences are in her world, as well as how far she can push herself.”

displacement book cover

DISPLACEMENT BY KIKU HUGHES

“Hughes’s graphic novel explores the painful history of Japanese internment camps and follows Kiku — a representation but not literal rendering of the author — who finds herself sucked back into time. She’s now in 1940s World War II, and she is alongside her grandmother Ernestina, who was forcibly put in an internment camp. This book explores the injustices experienced by Japanese Americans, about the horrors of these American internment camps, and about the intergenerational traumas that can be passed along.”

SAVING SAVANNAH BY TONYA BOLDEN

“Bolden, who is a long-time writer for young people, brings readers to 1919 Washington, D.C. in this story about an upper-class Black girl who wants nothing more than to make something interesting of her life. Savannah knows she’s privileged in her wealth. But she’s worried she’ll never do something important or powerful in her life. Her brother has moved to New York City and has a photography shop, and she’s bored by her long-time friend and neighbor, Yolande. When the housekeeper’s daughter steps in to clean the Riddle’s home, Savannah forms a quick bond with her, and it’s through her that she finds her way to a school on the other side of town that helps less-privileged girls gain a solid education. Here she volunteers, but more, it’s here she meets someone who introduces her to the concepts of radicalism, socialism, and anarchy. At this pivotal time in history, Savannah finds herself with a few close calls to trouble, but when it gets too close, she and her mother connect over a history her mother never had shared with Savannah before. A great read about a Black girl who is privileged — far too rare in YA and rarer still in YA historical fiction.”

>>Find more Girls of Color in History here<<

YA Historical Fiction About War

code name verity book cover

CODE NAME VERITY BY ELIZABETH WEIN 

“‘Verity’ and her best friend crash their plane in Nazi-occupied France. Verity is arrested, and as a secret agent, her captors give her a difficult choice. Either she reveals her secrets, or she can die a gruesome death. As she speaks her confession, Verity uncovers her past with her best friend, Maddie, and how they came to be in Paris. But it may not be enough for her to survive the prison she finds herself in. Code Name Verity is a gripping story about friendship, full of tragedy but also full of hope, that will keep you immersed in the story until the very end.”

this light between us book cover

THIS LIGHT BETWEEN US: A NOVEL OF WORLD WAR II BY ANDREW FUKUDA 

“Beginning in 1935, Fukuda’s novel follows Alex Maki – from Washington – and Charlie Lévy – from Paris – as they become pen pals before World War II breaks out. Charlie’s Jewish, so she’s forced to go to Auschwitz. Alex is Japanese American which means he also ends up in a concentration camp at Manzanar. Through the horrors of war, the only thing they can hold onto is the memories of their letters and the light they share between them. The Light Between Us is a heartbreaking story that showcases the horrors of war in two different countries.”

>>Find more Historical Fiction About War here<<

Find more YA historical fiction here:

Historical Grab Bag

The Best Historical Fiction Series

cover of Forbidden by Beverly Jenkins

BEVERLY JENKINS’S OLD WEST SERIES

“Beverly Jenkins feature Black characters in prominent roles. Her Old West series highlights strong women in steamy situations. They are certainly making their presence known.

Books in Series: ForbiddenBreathlessTempest

cover image of The Widows of Malabar Hill by Sujata Massey

SUJATA MASSEY’S PURVEEN MISTRY SERIES

“Sujata Massey writes about India in the 1920s. During this period, women observe purdah (very limited contact with men), and educated females are unheard of. Enter Purveen Mistry, the only female lawyer in Bombay. She comes to the aid of her female compatriots, while living uphill battles of her own.

Books in Series: The Widows of Malabar HillThe Satapur MoonstoneThe Bombay Prince

The Poppy War cover

R.F. KUANG’S THE POPPY WAR TRILOGY

“This historical fiction series revolves around early 20th century China. R.F. Kuang holds nothing back while writing about Rin, a war orphan with the gift of shamanism. Kuang highlights a strong woman facing unspeakable violence.

Books in Series: The Poppy WarThe Dragon RepublicThe Burning GodThe Drowning Faith (digital novella)”

>>Find more of the Best Historical Fiction Series here<<

Historical Fiction Audiobooks

the animals at lockwood manor book cover

THE ANIMALS AT LOCKWOOD MANOR BY JANE HEALEY

“Backdrop: World War II

In order to protect a natural history museum collection during the war, Hetty is sent to Lockwood Manor to oversee the contents as they wait it out. Hetty isn’t prepared for the hostile Major Lockwood, who is not thrilled with her presence, and she is equally unprepared for his daughter and her enthralling presence. But when parts of the collection start to go missing, Hetty must start confronting the Lockwoods.”

Cover of Homegoing

HOMEGOING BY YAA GYASI

“Time Period: 18th century Ghana

Homegoing tells the story of two half-sisters, Effia and Esi, and how their lives take on completely different paths. Effia marries a wealthy Englishman and is whisked off to Cape Coast Castle to live in comfort. Effia is unaware of the fact that Esi is imprisoned in her castle’s dungeon and is eventually sold into the slave trade and sent to America, where her future family will be raised in slavery.”

cover of The Mountains Sing

THE MOUNTAINS SING BY NGUYỄN PHAN QUẾ MAI

“Time Period: Vietnam War

Nguyễn Phan Quế Mai is a celebrated Vietnamese poet, and this book is her first in English. This story spans generations of the Tran family, starting with Tran Dieu Lan who was forced to flee her family farm with her six children as the Communist government gained control and ending with her granddaughter, Hương, who is coming to age as her family sets off along the Ho Chí Minh Trail.”

>>Find more Compelling Historical Fiction Audiobooks here<<

Historical Manga

The Heroic Legend of Arslan volume 1 cover by Yoshiki Tanaka & Hiromu Arakawa

THE HEROIC LEGEND OF ARSLAN BY YOSHIKI TANAKA AND HIROMU ARAKAWA

“Manga loves blending historical settings with fantasy. Look at the current surging popularity of Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba, which follows demon hunters in early 20th century Japan. Originally a series of novels, The Heroic Legend of Arslan is loosely based upon the Persian tale of Amir Arsalan. The story follows a young crown prince on his quest to liberate his country after his father is betrayed. And while magic does exist in this world, it doesn’t play as obvious a role as in other historical fantasy manga.”

A Bride's Story by Karu Mori cover

A BRIDE’S STORY BY KAORU MORI

“Kaoru Mori loves her historical fiction, as evidenced by her previous series, EmmaA Bride’s Story takes us from Emma’s Britain setting to late 19th century Central Asia. The manga begins with Amir, who travels from a faraway village to meet her new, much younger husband. But while their developing relationship forms the spine of the series, A Bride’s Story introduces us to a multitude of other “brides” and the men they eventually marry. The true star of the manga, however, is the cultural detail. Mori lovingly captures falconry, woodcarving, embroidery, and bread baking in stunning, intricate detail. If you need a soothing series, this is the historical manga for you.”

>>Find more Historical Manga here<<

Find more historical fiction guides here:

50 of the Best Historical Fiction Books

The Best Historical Fiction Authors Writing Today

Epic Historical Fiction

Feminist Historical Fiction

Historical Fiction About Books

Historical Fiction to Read (If You Don’t Like Historical Fiction)

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