History is the foundation for everything. We grow up learning about history, and the unfolding stories allow us to imagine what it must have been like to live at that time. Historical fiction, which places characters in historical settings, is a genre whose popularity has soared recently. We have gathered a list of the 25 best historical fiction novels of all time in this post. Sheer enjoyment is what you get the moment you start reading historical fiction books.
There are lots of things that happen in real life that need not be explained but merely imagined. When you go for historical fiction, you get a chance to see fictionalized versions of past events. Historical fiction books have always been in demand ever since they were published. It is really hard to define historical fiction. Some experts think that a historical novel isn’t historical fiction unless it is set in the past. Other people think a book set in the past but narrated in the present day is still historical fiction. But, what we can assure you is that it makes for great literature. So, without further ado, let’s round up to the Top 25 Historical Fiction of all time.
1. A Thousand Ships by Natalie Haynes
A Thousand Ships is the leading contemporary historical fiction book written by British author Natalie Haynes. The book was published in 2012 and represented Natalie’s debut as an author. In 2013, the novel won her the Desmond Elliott Prize. This prize is handed out to the book, which has the best chance of becoming the next Hunger Games, Harry Potter or Game of Thrones. A Thousand Ships is a historical novel set in ancient Athens and Egypt. It mostly takes place in 410 BC, although parts are set during Marathon and the Persian wars. The story follows Alcibiades–the brilliant but eternally self-destructive son of an Athenian nobleman as he begins a perilous journey from the great city that birthed democracy to that empire’s most formidable enemy: Sparta.
2. The Emperor’s Babe by Bernadine Evaristo
The Emperor’s Babe is a book written by Bernadine Evaristo. The author intended to create a story that not only entertains but teaches the reader about important human rights issues in the countries of Africa. The main protagonist is Evangeline, a beauty queen who has been crowned the emperor of the Ubangi empire (an imaginary African country). She also becomes wealthy and powerful following the death of her father. However, she loses both her title and wealth following her father’s death due to an error of judgment on her part concerning the selection of his successor. In addition, she also loses her self-respect when she learns that all along, she was just a figurehead for her father to show her dignity.
3. The Land Beyond the Sea by Sharon Penman
Sharon Penman is a well-known author of medieval historical fiction and non-fiction, and her novel, The Land Beyond the Sea, is based on the real story of a female merchant named Matilda. Matilda was one of the most successful traders of the 11th century. Having been born in 1046, she lived for four more decades. Her trading empire covered three countries: Germany, Italy, and France. After reading about her life, we can see that she led an interesting life by any measure. She witnessed many triumphs as well as great defeats during her time. In this book, Sharon Penman tells us what happened to her after she left France and came back to a not-too-happy English home where she seemed to be wanted by nobody.
4. The Evening and the Morning by Ken Follett
In Ken Follett’s historical novel, The Evening and The Morning, the twelfth century is brought to life with all the power and sweep of a Hollywood epic. There are two unforgettable characters in the story as Follett does in the Starbuck family: William, the warrior, and his son, Jack, already renowned for his piety and gentleness. Follett again demonstrates why he is both a beloved bestselling writer and critic’s darling in the novel. Ken Follett is an author who delighted the masses with his Pillars of the Earth. He’s also a screenwriter and has achieved great success at it too. You can see his ambition in his work. And with The Evening and the Morning, he brilliantly takes on the Tudor Dynasty with passion and finesse. The book traces the story of Anne Boleyn, her rise to fame, and her ultimate plight.
5. The Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett
The Pillars of the Earth is Ken Follett’s masterpiece. It is one of the bestseller historical fiction. Ken Follet began his writing career with The Pillars of the Earth in 1989. This novel is set in the late twelfth century and is primarily historical fiction. The story takes place during a civil war fought between King Stephen and Empress Maud. The true historical figures are depicted in this novel, along with fictional characters who affect the overall outcome of events. It’s the turn of the twelfth century, and a period of building and enlightenment is dawning. Kings are little more than rubber stamps for the great men who serve them, whether Archbishop Thomas Becket of England or Phillip Augustus, king of France. Across the Narrow Sea, it is a land of warriors and prophets, a place where men like Baron William Hamleigh can make their fortunes.
6. The Sin Eater by Megan Campisi
The Sin Eater is a beautiful book by Megan Campisi, who had the honor of editing. The Sin Eater is about Willa, whose mother had just passed away, and she returns to her hometown of Strong with her father to stay with her grandmother. Lochlan Mcleod has never known the comfort of love, friendship, or family. He’s lived his entire life hiding who and what he is from those around him until one fateful night unleashes all of his most feared demons. People deserve to feel understood and supported through their struggles. The Sin Eater will provide a place where people can feel seen, heard, and understood mental health struggles.
7. City of Vengeance by D. V. Bishop
City of Vengeance is a tale of sacrifice and dark intrigue. It’s a story that won’t allow you to let go even after the last page is turned. Right from the first chapter, D. V. Bishop draws you in with his elaborate narrative and detailed description of scenery. The characters are so intricate and unique. They feel like old friends that you’re happy to spend time with again after a long hiatus. Unlike most fiction books we read on Amazon, this book does not have a censored form of writing which is a big plus in our book. It has all the elements you would expect in epic fantasy literature and many more because different cultures and mythologies inspired it.
8. The War of the Poor by Eric Vuillard
Eric Vuillard’s The War of the Poor takes a look at the history of state-funded programs for poor children designed to alleviate the hardships of disadvantaged youth. The book is an intimate and detailed account of the lives that were affected by these programs. He also touches on the political factors contributing to the hardships while criticizing America’s laissez-faire government approach to poverty and social welfare. The novel’s protagonist was a photographer/artist/war reporter during the 1940s in Europe and Africa. He traveled with the American army as they were moving into North Africa and places like France, Ethiopia, etc.
9. Tombland by C. J. Sansom
A manor called “Tombland” is the setting for C.J. Sansom’s latest novel, a sequel to his work titled “Dominion.” This bestseller historical fiction follows a similar theme of conspiracy during World War II. Still, the novel’s protagonist is much younger than the lawyer protagonist of Sansom’s series “The Shardlake Novels.” It is one of the historical fiction books series of mystery and thriller set in Tudor London. The topics discussed in Tombland are very interesting, like poverty, crime, disease, personal/ family life, and the plague. These topics have been discussed in a very interesting format, making reading this book more enjoyable than other books on similar topics; For example, Hilary Mantel’s books ‘Wolf Hall’ and ‘Bring Up the Bodies.’
10. The Burning Chambers by Kate Mosse
The Burning Chambers is one of the best historical fiction books about the history of the Cathars, a radical medieval sect based in the Languedoc region of France. It begins with a sketch of their beliefs (including reincarnation and their belief that Jesus and the Holy Spirit were female — hence the name Cathar, which is derived from “catharos,” the Greek word for “pure”), before describing how Pope Innocent III brutally suppressed them. In 1243, Hugo de Lacy was forced to flee his ancestral home in England with his family for fear of persecution by a brutal and cruel man called Geoffrey de Mandeville. The de Lacy’s join other refugees from the north and set sail for Provence: a land steeped in the history of the Cathars.
11. The City of Tears by Kate Mosse
The City of tears is a book written by Kate Mosse. It is the second book in the Languedoc Trilogy that includes Labyrinth and Sepulchre. To know more about The city of tears, you might go through the complete book. It is the third book in the Languedoc trilogy by English author Kate Mosse. If you’re looking for an exhilarating and gripping read, your search has come to a close. The City of Tears by Kate Mosse will leave you wanting more! It’s all about the social dynamics between the two women, set against the backdrop of war, lack of freedom, and human tragedy; make this book a must-read for anyone who wants to read something that is both historically accurate and thrilling.
12. The Mercies by Kiran Millwood Hargrave
The Mercies is a book that should be on every self-published children’s writer’s radar. Chicken House released it. The Mercies is set in a village where all the adults have died of a strange plague, leaving the children to look after themselves. The children are orphaned by the plague rather than their parents dying from it and are known as Orphans. The Mercy is back, and they’re not just hunting down ghosts in their haunting past. This time Kiran Millwood Hargrave goes a step further into London’s supernatural underworld to help poor Jack and his sister Ella.
13. Daughters of Night by Laura Shepherd-Robinson
The Daughters of Night is a novel by the best-selling writer Laura Shepherd-Robinson. It is a work of fiction and was released in February 2020. It is about two women caught up amidst a crime syndicate plot that revolves around an illicit flesh trade. The story takes off with the chase for Goldie – the woman who took over control when her boyfriend fell out of favor with the Brazilian brigands. The story begins when news about an ancient princess who has been the keeper of many secrets, including one that can destroy a part of the world if not disclosed. As you flip through this novel, the evil begins to reveal itself to Isabella and her group. This tale will keep you on the edge of your seat, wondering who will live and who will die.
14. Ross Poldark by Winston Graham
Ross Poldark is a book series written by Winston Graham. The first of the series was written in 1945 and published in 1945. The final book was published two years later. A television adaptation of the story began airing on PBS in the United States in 2015. Soon after, it became available on Amazon Video, becoming one of the most popular series aired on PBS. The story is uprooted when Ross’ father dies and leaves him with nothing but a mistreated estate that he must rebuild. However, he finds himself faced with numerous challenges stemming from both within his immediate vicinity and beyond.
15. Circus of Wonders by Elizabeth Macneal
Circus of Wonders by Elizabeth Macneal is a one-of-a-kind novel. It’s the first book in the twelve-part series known as “Circus of Wonders.” This best historical fiction book of WW2 is based on many true events that happened at the circus during World War II. It was written for all ages, and let me tell you, once you get started, you won’t be capable of putting this book down. It was a nightmarish mix of the fantastic and the frightening, the wonderful and the weird. The book tells the story of the famous circus and the people who were involved. These are the best historical fiction books based on true stories. It makes it a perfect blend of adventure, excitement, and history. The author uses detailed facts to bring the stories to life and create a magical world all kids enjoy.
16. The Piano Tuner by Daniel Mason
The Piano Tuner by Daniel Mason is a book about human relationships. It is about the deep roots stretching back in time that require us to be who we are. It was published in 2002 and won the Whitbread Book of the Year Award. The novel tells the story of a piano tuner who makes an annual pilgrimage to a French cathedral to play the same piano that inspired Maurice Ravel’s Mother Goose Suite, which is now a national treasure. This is a fascinating book about the transformative power of music and piano specifically. It’s about our relationship with the piano and how we can use this to make changes in our life along with some historical events. This theme of using music as a catalyst for change is present in this book and in life itself.
17. The Doll Factory by Elizabeth Macneal
The Doll Factory by Elizabeth Macneal is the story of Agnes, who comes to work in a London doll factory in the year 1900. With the introduction of the clockwork Victorian dolls, it is apparent that something strangely sinister is going on at the factory. These dolls are strong, intelligent, and fully capable of interacting with humans. The workers especially have become fond of these new dolls as they can always help with their workload, so much so that Agnes’ parents do not approve of her bringing her doll Matilda to work with her. Agnes soon begins to realize just how evil these dolls can truly be. This book is very suspenseful and a perfect read for anyone over the age of 12.
18. Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe
Things Fall Apart is a best-seller by Chinua Achebe that discusses the social and political issues in Nigeria during colonization. Achebe’s first fictional work, Things Fall Apart, follows a man named Okonkwo during his time in the Igbo village in Nigeria. It is one of the stories of internal conflict. He tries to keep his village safe from the threats of European colonialism while also beginning to accept the truth that he is no longer part of his village community. The themes of this book that are discussed include dualism, individualism, and anti-colonialism.
19. Beloved by Toni Morrison
Toni Morrison’s “Beloved” is a masterfully woven story about people. This historical novel is filled with literary devices that are used to their full potential by the author. It was first published in 1987 and told the story from a third-person perspective. There is no name mentioned for the novel’s protagonist. Still, she is identified as a former slave who escaped from slavery and settled in Ohio as a free woman together with her two daughters, Margaret and Nettie. It subtly depicts how to face evil and overcome it. The author uses detailed facts to bring the stories to life and create a magical world so that all adults can enjoy.
20. The Water Dancer by Ta-Nehisi Coates
Ta-Nehisi Coates’s novel, The Water Dancer, is one of the best historical fiction. There was just something about it. It wasn’t perfect; there were special issues with its presentation and plot structure. And yet, somehow, it didn’t matter at all. It was just a story about two men — each halfway broken in their way — bonding over a body of water in rural Maryland. And together, they wound up teaching each other how to navigate life again after both of them almost drowned without even realizing it. The book also introduces a sad but captivating character named Rook and draws the reader in with his life in the American South. It’s a story that shows how, even for those who have their feet firmly on the ground, sometimes you can’t swim against the current.
21. Yours Cheerfully by AJ Pearce
Yours Cheerfully is one of our favorite historical novels written by AJ Pearce, which is an inspiring coming of age story about Anna. This teenage girl decides to leave her privileged setup and the luxury home in recent England to travel abroad and work as a companion for Chinese orphans. Going from having everything Anna had, she left behind her fiancé, medical school, and a nice apartment to help less fortunate children. This was when Anna decided to follow her heart instead of her nose; packing up her overused BMW Mini, she drove into Europe where she met new people and discovered who she was under the layers of plastic surgery, makeup, and designer labels. What you would like about this book were all the sweet romance and her historical lessons.
22. The Secrets of the Lake by Liz Trenow
The Secrets of the Lake by Liz Trenow is a historical fiction book set in medieval Italy. This book was well-written and kept you interested the whole time. Liz’s Secrets of the Lake is about the past and the secrets it keeps and the future that sometimes hides in plain sight. Set in London, it tells of a young girl who lives with her dad on an old barge and discovers something about her mother she never knew was missing. That momentous discovery sends her on a journey that will change her life. It is a captivating psychological thriller and was a great read. And is an extraordinary debut novel rich with descriptive imagery that draws you into a beautifully imagined world?
23. Pippo and Clara by Diana Rosie
Pippo and Clara is an entertaining and historical book for kids written by Diana Rosie. It features a little boy, his sister Clara and their pet dog Pippo. The book makes learning fun for kids, but it’s also meant to raise their awareness of the animal kingdom and endangered species. It is a magical story of adventure, intrigue, and imagination. It will give you laughs, goosebumps, delight, and more if you are in the right mood. You don’t have to know the history of Florence to love this book, but if you do, it will be even more compelling. So, moreover, it is one of the best historical fiction books for kids.
24. The Four Winds by Kristin Hannah
The Four Winds by Kristin Hannah did not begin as a story about love. It began as an idea for a desperate, wounded, broken girl. It began in anger and pain, as most stories do, and they all have happy endings. Hannah’s captivating writing is so good that this book was so masterfully done that you kept forgetting it was a ‘novel.’ The story seemed completely plausible, and you would feel the characters. The novel is told by four different people at four different stages in their lives, though they are all connected into one family tree. This gave the reader a scope on how life can truly be affected by two small decisions which sometimes we don’t even realize we are making!
25. The Pull of the Stars by Emma Donoghue
The stunning new novel from 2020 Man Booker Prize finalist Emma Donoghue, The Pull of the Stars, is at once a love story and a haunting evocation of the personal resonance found in the myths and myths of ancient Greece. It is the best historical fiction book of 2021 that has 436 pages in length. This particular book is part of the genre of science fiction and history. This genre takes place in the United Kingdom. The setting takes place at a prison located in Dublin, Ireland, during the year 1835. This prison is commonly known as the Quaker’s Island Prison since it is run under Quaker regulations. Talking about science, scientific things and at the same time interesting to read, then The Pull of the Stars is the right choice for you.
Historical fiction is a relatively new genre that takes real, historical events and adds fictional characters or stories to make it more entertaining. It combines fact with a fictional story to create historically accurate settings for the readers. Not every novel about history is a historical novel. Historical fiction, unlike mainstream fiction, uses the past as its setting. Unlike straight history books, historical fiction novels use literature to give voice to those who lived in the past and bring those people to life. So, we wish that if you’re a history Bookworm, then you must opt for these 25 best historical fiction books of All Time.