Historical fiction books take a lot of research to write as authors create very human characters and place them in a past time far beyond the world we know today. If you’ve ever wanted to know how people lived, fell in love, and overcame challenges, then pick up a great historical fiction and get lost in their world. You may recognize the theme of these stories and find their historical context enthralling. Many historical themes with a fictional story have been some of the best stories ever told and have even been made into movies. Heck, Mel Gibson made his name on several historical fiction blockbusters like “Braveheart” and “The Patriot”.
What Did These Historical Fiction Books Do To Qualify For This List
Any time you are ranking the best of something the results are usually somewhat subjective but we have did our best to come up with a list the readers of the historical fiction genre will truly like. To come up with this list we took into account:
- quantity and quality of user reviews
- sales data
- public perception
- opinions of readers of this genres
- commercial success
- and of course personal opinion
Take a look at the best Historical Fiction Books you can read right now:
• Best Historical Fiction Books
• Best Historical Fiction Movies
• Best Historical Fiction Books in Audio
Best Historical Fiction Books
Here are the best Historical Fiction books by the experts:
1)The Song of Achilles: A Novel, by Madeline Miller
- Book Summary:“Mary Renault lives again!” declares Emma Donoghue, author of Room, referring to The Song of Achilles, Madeline Miller’s thrilling, profoundly moving, and utterly unique retelling of the legend of Achilles and the Trojan War. A tale of gods, kings, immortal fame, and the human heart, The Song of Achilles is a dazzling literary feat that brilliantly reimagines Homer’s enduring masterwork, The Iliad. An action-packed adventure, an epic love story, a marvelously conceived and executed page-turner, Miller’s monumental debut novel has already earned resounding acclaim from some of contemporary fiction’s brightest lights—and fans of Mary Renault, Bernard Cornwell, Steven Pressfield, and Colleen McCullough’s Masters of Rome series will delight in this unforgettable journey back to ancient Greece in the Age of Heroes.
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2)The Gracelin O’Malley Trilogy: Gracelin O’Malley, Leaving Ireland, and ‘Til Morning Light, by Ann Moore
- Book Summary:An epic saga that sweeps you into the life of a remarkable woman,” Ann Moore’s trilogy of breathtaking historical novels covers Gracelin O’Malley’s life from the 1845 Famine and the Young Ireland movement to the mass emigration to America, culminating in the wild frontier of 1850s California (Romantic Times). Through it all, Gracelin’s indomitable spirit and Moore’s “vivid historical detail” prove most hauntingly memorable (Kirkus Reviews).Gracelin O’Malley: As the potato famine devastates Ireland, Gracelin openly defies her English husband by feeding the desperate souls who come to their door, and secretly sides with the rebels who call themselves the Young Irelanders—including her beloved brother, Sean—as they fight to free their homeland from the yoke of English rule.
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3)The Prisoner in the Castle: A Maggie Hope Mystery, by Susan Elia MacNeal
- Book Summary:World War II is raging, and former spy Maggie Hope knows too much.She knows what the British government is willing to do to keep its secrets.She knows the real location of the planned invasion of France.She knows who’s lying. She knows who the double-crossers are. She knows exactly who is sending agents to their deaths.These are the reasons Maggie is isolated on a remote Scottish island, in a prison known as Killoch Castle, out of contact with friends and family.Then one of her fellow inmates drops dead in the middle of his after-dinner drink—and he’s only the first. As victims fall one by one, Maggie will have to call upon all her wits and skills to escape—not just certain death . . . but certain murder.For what’s the most important thing Maggie Hope knows?She must survive.
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4)The Victory Garden: A Novel, by Rhys Bowen
- Book Summary:As the Great War continues to take its toll, headstrong twenty-one-year-old Emily Bryce is determined to contribute to the war effort. She is convinced by a cheeky and handsome Australian pilot that she can do more, and it is not long before she falls in love with him and accepts his proposal of marriage.When he is sent back to the front, Emily volunteers as a “land girl,” tending to the neglected grounds of a large Devonshire estate. It’s here that Emily discovers the long-forgotten journals of a medicine woman who devoted her life to her herbal garden. The journals inspire Emily, and in the wake of devastating news, they are her saving grace. Emily’s lover has not only died a hero but has left her terrified—and with child. Since no one knows that Emily was never married, she adopts the charade of a war widow.As Emily learns more about the volatile power of healing with herbs, the found journals will bring her to the brink of disaster, but may open a path to her destiny.
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5)Beneath a Scarlet Sky, by Mark Sullivan
- Book Summary:Based on the true story of a forgotten hero, the USA Today and #1 Amazon Charts bestseller Beneath a Scarlet Sky is the triumphant, epic tale of one young man’s incredible courage and resilience during one of history’s darkest hours.
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6)Once a Midwife: A Hope River Novel, by Patricia Harman
- Book Summary:The women of Hope River trust midwife Patience Hester, whose skill in delivering babies is known for miles around. But though the Great Depression is behind them, troubles are not, for Europe is at war…and it can only be a matter of time before the U.S. enters the fray.And while some are eager to join the fight, Patience’s husband, Daniel, is not. Daniel is a patriot—but he saw too much bloodshed during the First World War, and has vowed never to take up arms again.His stance leaves Patience and their four children vulnerable—to the neighbors who might judge them, and to the government, who imprison Daniel for his beliefs.Patience must support their family and fight for her husband’s release despite her own misgivings. And with need greater than ever, she must also keep her practice running during this tumultuous time…relying on generous friends, like Bitsy, who has returned to Hope River, stalwart neighbors, and her own indomitable strength to see them all through.
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7)Beyond the Shadow of the Night, by Ray Kingfisher
- Book Summary:shreds by the Second World War.The war brings cruelty to both boys. Although Asher finds love in Warsaw, the city is far from the haven his family sought; meanwhile Mykhail becomes a victim of the bitter struggle for Ukraine. But worse follows in the shape of the Treblinka death camp. There, both men must obey orders, and both find their morals compromised and their souls tortured.The inhuman horrors they witness cast long shadows. Many years later, their paths cross once more, and each man must confront the legacy of his actions. When the darkest of secrets can no longer be kept hidden, can their friendship survive the final reckoning?
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8)Winter Cottage, by Mary Ellen Taylor
- Book Summary:Still grieving the loss of her wandering, free-spirited mother, Lucy Kincaid leaves Nashville for the faded town of Cape Hudson, Virginia. She goes to see the house she’s inherited—one she never knew existed, bequeathed to her by a woman she’s never even met. At the heart of this mystery is the hope that maybe—just maybe—this “Winter Cottage” will answer the endless questions about her mother’s past…including the identity of her birth father.Rather than the quaint Virginian bungalow Lucy expected, Winter Cottage is a grand old estate of many shadows—big enough to hold a century of secrets, passions, and betrayals. It also comes with a handsome and enigmatic stranger, a man next in line to claim Lucy’s inheritance.Now, as Lucy sifts through the past, uncovering the legacy of secrets that Winter Cottage holds, she’ll come to discover as much about her family history as she does about herself. In searching, she could finally find the one thing she’s never really had: a home.
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9)Daisy Jones & The Six:A Novel, by Taylor Jenkins Reid
- Book Summary:Everyone knows DAISY JONES & THE SIX, but nobody knows the reason behind their split at the absolute height of their popularity . . . until now.Daisy is a girl coming of age in L.A. in the late sixties, sneaking into clubs on the Sunset Strip, sleeping with rock stars, and dreaming of singing at the Whisky a Go Go. The sex and drugs are thrilling, but it’s the rock ’n’ roll she loves most. By the time she’s twenty, her voice is getting noticed, and she has the kind of heedless beauty that makes people do crazy things.Also getting noticed is The Six, a band led by the brooding Billy Dunne. On the eve of their first tour, his girlfriend Camila finds out she’s pregnant, and with the pressure of impending fatherhood and fame, Billy goes a little wild on the road.Daisy and Billy cross paths when a producer realizes that the key to supercharged success is to put the two together. What happens next will become the stuff of legend.The making of that legend is chronicled in this riveting and unforgettable novel, written as an oral history of one of the biggest bands of the seventies. Taylor Jenkins Reid is a talented writer who takes her work to a new level with Daisy Jones & The Six, brilliantly capturing a place and time in an utterly distinctive voice.
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10)The Story Teller’s Secret: A Novel, by Sejal Badani
- Book Summary:Nothing prepares Jaya, a New York journalist, for the heartbreak of her third miscarriage and the slow unraveling of her marriage in its wake. Desperate to assuage her deep anguish, she decides to go to India to uncover answers to her family’s past.Intoxicated by the sights, smells, and sounds she experiences, Jaya becomes an eager student of the culture. But it is Ravi—her grandmother’s former servant and trusted confidant—who reveals the resilience, struggles, secret love, and tragic fall of Jaya’s pioneering grandmother during the British occupation. Through her courageous grandmother’s arrestingly romantic and heart-wrenching story, Jaya discovers the legacy bequeathed to her and a strength that, until now, she never knew was possible.
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Best Historical Fiction Movies
If you enjoyed the best historical fiction books, why stop there? Take a look at our list of best historical fiction movies and witness these marvelous films from the big screen.
Starring: Russell Crowe, Joaquin Phoenix, and Connie Nielsen
Directed by: Ridley Scott
When a Roman general is betrayed and his family murdered by a corrupt prince, he comes to Rome as a gladiator to seek revenge.
Gladiator is in my humble opinion, a near perfect movie. It works on so many levels – the acting is phenomenal, the story is compelling, the backdrop of the film is beautiful. It is destined to be a classic, and is a movie that can be watched and appreciated with each subseqent viewing.
Has become a classic and the music score is fantastic.
2)Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World
Starring: Russell Crowe, Paul Bettany, and Billy Boyd
Directed by: Alan B. Curtiss and Samuel Goldwyn Jr.
Movie Summary:During the Napoleonic Wars, a brash British captain pushes his ship and crew to their limits in pursuit of a formidable French war vessel around South America.
This is one of the best movies ever made. Perhaps the best period. It shows a fine epic of naval warfare that is well worth the watch.
There are few things bad to say about it. The special effects are splendid and well crafted. The plot is great and the characters are sympathetic. It is a sophisticated movie-one which will not patronize over you with a lowest common denominator appeal. On the contrary it exercises the mind as well as stirring the heart with discussions of nautical technology, sailor folklore, music both classical and folk, and even a smattering of philosophy. But it also has as much action as any movie, without the action being stupid or cartoonish.
Starring: Russell Crowe, Cate Blanchett, and William Hurt
Directed by: Ridley Scott
Movie Summary:‘Gladiator’ director Ridley Scott and star Russell Crowe reteam in this thrilling, revisionist take on the ‘Robin Hood’ legend.
This is my new favorite movie. The grown up legend of Robin Hood not the wimpy Hollywood version. It ties together actual English historical events and characters within a couple hundred years of believable artistic license. Russell Crowe, Kate Blanchett and a marvelous cast directed by Ridley Scott. Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness with every man’s home his castle! It took an outlaw, King John would not allow his power to be limited, after all John did not make himself King, God did, he was divine. History.
Starring: Charlton Heston, Jack Hawkins, and Stephen Boyd
Directed by: William Wyler
Movie Summary:A member of the Jewish nobility living in Jerusalem, Judah Ben-Hur (Charlton Heston) lives a religious life and peacefully opposes the tyrannical occupation of Judea by Rome.
The author does a masterful job of weaving Ben-Hur’s story into the story of Jesus’ life on earth. The characterizations are full and rich, the description of the settings is thorough and evocative, and the plot is well conceived, alternating between pulse-pounding action and philosophical/theological dialogue. Written as it was in the 19th century, this book uses King James English for the dialogue, which is notable, but I didn’t find it overly distracting. I was thoroughly engrossed in the story from beginning to end.
Starring: Tom Berenger, Jeff Daniels, and Martin Sheen
Directed by: Ronald F. Maxwell
Movie Summary:Filmed on location at the actual battlefield, this monumental productioncaptures on a grand scale the legendary battle of Gettysburg.
I’ll always have a special place in my heart for Gettysburg. Can’t really add to the discussion with my review except to say this film holds up even after 20+ years. There’s an authenticity to it that most Hollywood films about the period just fail at capturing, I mean, that’s what you get when thousands of real reenactors donate their time, uniforms, and “skills” as professional period soldiers to your production.
Best Historical Fiction Books in Audio
Now that you’ve seen our list of the best historical fiction books and movies, I’m sure you’ll be interested in trying out more of the best historical fiction books in audio!
1)The Nightingale, by Kristin Hannah
Book Summary:In love we find out who we want to be. In war we find out who we are.
In the quiet village of Carriveau, Vianne Mauriac says goodbye to her husband, Antoine, as he heads for the Front. She doesn’t believe that the Nazis will invade France…but invade they do, in droves of marching soldiers, in caravans of trucks and tanks, in planes that fill the skies and drop bombs upon the innocent. When a German captain requisitions Vianne’s home, she and her daughter must live with the enemy or lose everything. Without food or money or hope, as danger escalates all around them, she is forced to make one impossible choice after another to keep her family alive.
Vianne’s sister, Isabelle, is a rebellious eighteen-year-old girl, searching for purpose with all the reckless passion of youth. While thousands of Parisians march into the unknown terrors of war, she meets Gäetan, a partisan who believes the French can fight the Nazis from within France, and she falls in love as only the young can…completely. But when he betrays her, Isabelle joins the Resistance and never looks back, risking her life time and again to save others.
With courage, grace and powerful insight, bestselling author Kristin Hannah captures the epic panorama of WWII and illuminates an intimate part of history seldom seen: the women’s war. The Nightingale tells the stories of two sisters, separated by years and experience, by ideals, passion and circumstance, each embarking on her own dangerous path toward survival, love, and freedom in German-occupied, war-torn France–a heartbreakingly beautiful novel that celebrates the resilience of the human spirit and the durability of women. It is a novel for everyone, a novel for a lifetime.
2)All the Light We Cannot See: A Novel, by Anthony Doerr
Book Summary:Marie-Laure lives with her father in Paris near the Museum of Natural History, where he works as the master of its thousands of locks. When she is six, Marie-Laure goes blind and her father builds a perfect miniature of their neighborhood so she can memorize it by touch and navigate her way home. When she is 12, the Nazis occupy Paris and father and daughter flee to the walled citadel of Saint-Malo, where Marie-Laure’s reclusive great-uncle lives in a tall house by the sea. With them they carry what might be the museum’s most valuable and dangerous jewel.
In a mining town in Germany, the orphan Werner grows up with his younger sister, enchanted by a crude radio they find. Werner becomes an expert at building and fixing these crucial new instruments, a talent that wins him a place at a brutal academy for Hitler Youth, then a special assignment to track the resistance. More and more aware of the human cost of his intelligence, Werner travels through the heart of the war and, finally, into Saint-Malo, where his story and Marie-Laure’s converge.
I cannot recommend this book highly enough! It has quickly become one of my absolute favorite books…it’s truly captivating and well written. It is one of the best historical fiction books available in audio.
It has been a while since I have found a book that I wanted to read slowly so that I could soak in every detail in hopes that the last page seems to never come.
3)Outlander, by Diana Gabaldon
Book Summary:This stunning blend of historical romance and time traveling adventure has captured the hearts of millions of readers around the world and catapulted author Diana Gabaldon to the top of the New York Times best seller list. Outlander introduces an exhilarating world of heroism and breathtaking thrills as one woman is torn between past and present, passion and love.
In 1945, former combat nurse Claire Randall returns from World War II and joins her husband for a second honeymoon. Their blissful reunion is shattered when she touches a boulder in an ancient stone ruin and is instantly transported to 1743 Scotland, a place torn by war and raiding border clans. Will Claire find her way back to her own time, or is her destiny forever linked with Clan MacKenzie and the gallant James Fraser?
Written with sheer elegance. Not a sentence left unfulfilled. One of the most compelling reads I have delved into. I feel more enlightened having read this and wish others to join in my joy. While the book starts slow and has horrifying moments, I was so gripped by the astonishing details that I was not speculating why certain events were happening; I was too busy living in the fictional moment that she had created. The details are so vivid that at one point, I smelled a scent that she described, where it was not actually present. I have also taken to hearing thoughts in my head in Scottish accent. It doesna bother me much, I rather quite enjoy it. In my opinion, books shouldn’t just be great stories. They should be filled with intelligence and literary attributes. This book had very many great words, well researched plots, and outstanding characters. Verra much to love in this one lassies.
Having watched Outlander, it was easy to see why one clicking this novel was a no brainer. However, I still wondered if it was going to live up to what was already settled in my mind. To quote the good ole phrase, “The Book Was Better” is nothing but true for Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander! This book has it all! Mystery, intrigue, wit, charm and one hell of a love story that you won’t be able to put down.
4)The Pillars of the Earth, by Ken Follett
Book Summary:The Pillars of the Earth tells the story of Philip, prior of Kingsbridge, a devout and resourceful monk driven to build the greatest Gothic cathedral the world has known…of Tom, the mason who becomes his architect – a man divided in his soul…of the beautiful, elusive Lady Aliena, haunted by a secret shame…and of a struggle between good and evil that will turn church against state, and brother against brother.
A spellbinding epic tale of ambition, anarchy, and absolute power set against the sprawling medieval canvas of 12th-century England, this is Ken Follett’s historical masterpiece.
This is a good book for its own sake, but the main thing is that it’s an enjoyable way to learn about history in excellent detail through fiction.
I couldn’t put the book down. Several fictional plots are drawn amidst a well defined historical background – fictional characters sometimes meeting, or even working with well-known historical figures, thus highlighting some lesser-known characteristics of and facts about them.
5)The Help, by Kathryn Stockett
Book Summary:Three ordinary women are about to take one extraordinary step.
Twenty-two-year-old Skeeter has just returned home after graduating from Ole Miss. She may have a degree, but it is 1962, Mississippi, and her mother will not be happy till Skeeter has a ring on her finger. Skeeter would normally find solace with her beloved maid, Constantine, the woman who raised her, but Constantine has disappeared and no one will tell Skeeter where she has gone.
Aibileen is a black maid, a wise, regal woman raising her 17th white child. Something has shifted inside her after the loss of her own son, who died while his bosses looked the other way. She is devoted to the little girl she looks after, though she knows both their hearts may be broken.
Minny, Aibileen’s best friend, is short, fat, and perhaps the sassiest woman in Mississippi. She can cook like nobody’s business, but she can’t mind her tongue, so she’s lost yet another job. Minny finally finds a position working for someone too new to town to know her reputation. But her new boss has secrets of her own.
Seemingly as different from one another as can be, these women will nonetheless come together for a clandestine project that will put them all at risk. And why? Because they are suffocating within the lines that define their town and their times. And sometimes lines are made to be crossed.
In pitch-perfect voices, Kathryn Stockett creates three extraordinary women whose determination to start a movement of their own forever changes a town, and the way women – mothers, daughters, caregivers, friends – view one another.
Kathryn is a master of the story of the south. She is a master storyteller. I felt like the characters were talking to me. Description, dialogue details, all A++.
This is my favorite book. It’s funny, smart, and inspiring. Skeeter is a role model for girls and women to stand up for what they believe in and who they love and to follow their dreams no matter what. I would highly recommend this book to anyone.
What do you think about our list of best historical fiction books? If you have another genre that you prefer to read we have probably compiled a list of our favorites for that genre too. So if you are looking for something other than the best historical fiction books you can find other genres here.