11 Fantastic Historical Novels to Read Now

Posted on March 20, 2024

by Amy H

Sweeping sagas and fascinating details make these historical fiction titles some of the most compelling reads around.

Book Jacket: Essex Dogs

essex dogs by Dan Jones

First in a projected trilogy on the Hundred Years War. July 1346: the Essex Dogs, a platoon of archers and men-at-arms led by a battle-scarred captain whose best days are behind him, land on the shores of Normandy. Being on the vanguard of the 15,000-strong invasion force, the Dogs are first into the cities being sacked on the way to conquer Paris. Rooted in historical accuracy, laced with black humor, and told through an unforgettable cast, Essex Dogs delivers the stark reality of medieval war on the ground – and shines a light on the fighters and ordinary people caught in the storm.

Book Jacket: Sea of Poppies

sea of poppies by Amitav Ghosh

Preparing to fight China's nineteenth-century Opium Wars, a motley assortment of sailors and passengers aboard the vast ship Ibis, including a bankrupt rajah, a widowed tribeswoman, and a free-spirited French orphan, come to experience family-like ties that eventually span continents, races, and generations.

Book Jacket: Hold Fast

hold fast by Blue Balliett

A desperate sea battle; a fortune risked on the turn of a card; a duel at dawn with the loser...Patrick O'Brian meets James Bond. In 1803, the British Secret Service is contending with a belligerent France under Napoleon. The service loses their prime agent, Thomas Grey, who--despondent at his wife's untimely death--resigns from British Intelligence and departs England for Boston. His plan to start a new life is thrown abruptly off course when a French intelligence network attempts to recruit him as an informer, and, in the process, exposes a grave new threat to Britain that Grey can't ignore.

Book Jacket: The Burning Chambers

the burning chambers by Kate Mosse

Circe France, 1562: Nineteen-year-old Minou Joubert receives an anonymous letter at her father's bookshop. Sealed with a distinctive family crest, it contains just five words: SHE KNOWS THAT YOU LIVE. But before Minou can decipher the mysterious message, a chance encounter with a young Huguenot convert, Piet Reydon, changes her destiny forever. For Piet has a dangerous mission of his own, and he will need Minou's help if he is to stay alive.

Book Jacket: Kintu

kintu by Jennifer Nansubuga Makumbi

A lively reimagining of the history of Uganda through the cursed bloodline of the Kintu clan. In 1750, Kintu Kidda sets out for the capital to pledge allegiance to the new leader of the Buganda Kingdom. Along the way, he unleashes a curse that will plague his family for generations. Makumbi weaves together the stories of Kintu's descendants as they seek to break from the burden of their shared past and move into the modern world that is their future.

Book Jacket: The Butcher's Daughter

the butcher's daughter by Victoria Glendinning

Agnes Peppin is forced to leave her home in disgrace and live a cloistered life in Shaftesbury Abbey, but when King Henry VIII closes all religious houses, Agnes finds herself adrift in an unfamiliar world where she must use her wits to survive.

Book Jacket: Wolf on A String

wolf on a string by Benjamin Black

Discovering the body of a young woman after arriving in 1599 Prague, an ambitious young scholar and alchemist becomes entangled in the machinations of several ruthless courtiers before attracting the attention of an emperor who will do anything to retain the power of the throne.

Book Jacket: The Half-drowned King

the half-drowned king by Linnea Hartsuyker

Tells the compelling story of the political intrigues, battles, and struggles for power that led to the rise of King Harald the Fair-Haired, first king of Norway, seen through the eyes of the young man who became his most trusted warrior and advisor. Conjuring a bloodthirsty, superstitious, and thrilling ancient world in the 9th century, this is perfect for fans of Vikings and Game of Thrones.

Book Jacket: Afterlives

afterlives by Abdulrazak Gurnah

Winner of the 2021 Nobel Prize in Literature. When he was just a boy, Ilyas was stolen from his parents on the coast of east Africa by German colonial troops. After years away, fighting against his own people, he returns home to find his parents gone and his sister, Afiya, abandoned into de facto slavery. Hamza, too, returns home from the war, scarred in body and soul and with nothing but the clothes on his back--until he meets the beautiful, undaunted Afiya. As these young people live and work and fall in love, their fates knotted ever more tightly together, the shadow of a new war on another continent falls over them, threatening once again to carry them away.

Book Jacket: The Widow Queen

the widow queen by Elżbieta Cherezińska

This story of a Polish queen, set in AD 1000. To her father, the great duke of Poland, Swietoslawa and her two sisters represent three chances for an alliance. Three marriages on which to build his empire. But Swietoslawa refuses to be simply a pawn in her father's schemes; she seeks a throne of her own, with no husband by her side. The gods may grant her wish, but crowns sit heavy, and power is a sword that cuts both ways.

Book Jacket: China

china by Edward Rutherfurd

From the dawn of the First Opium War in 1839 through Mao's Cultural Revolution and up to the present day, Rutherfurd chronicles the fortunes of Chinese, British, and American families, as they negotiate the tides of history. From Shanghai to Nanking to the Great Wall, follow the turbulent rise and fall of empires as the colonial West meets the opulent and complex East in a dramatic struggle between cultures and people.

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