20 Historical Fiction Books Worth Reading


If you can’t decide whether to read historical fiction books or nonfiction, we’ve got you covered. Historical fiction, which is set in the past and makes the historical setting a key component of the story plot, scratches an itch that few other genres can.

You get to follow personalities and go inside their heads while simultaneously traveling back in time. The best works of historical fiction can help you comprehend an era better than merely reading a nonfiction work about it because the fictitious figure you’re following in real-time connects you to the past.

There are numerous excellent instances of historical fiction, enough to form subgenres within the genre. There are many different types of historical fiction literature, including romance, horror, and adventure.

To help you get started, we’ve compiled a list of 20 excellent historical fiction books from various genres, ages, and locations. Continue reading to learn about the next novels you should read (or listen to).

1. The Abominable by Dan Simmons

20 Historical Fiction Books Worth Reading
Image Credit: Back Bay Books

Dan Simmons is best known for The Terror, a work of historical fiction that dives into the supernatural when a monster attacks the hapless men of Franklin’s failed voyage to discover the Northwest Passage. The Abominable, whose title refers to the yetis said to haunt the Himalayas, appears to be too supernatural to be included on this list, but it’s primarily a very grounded story about mountaineering, full of adventure, colorful characters, and extensive research into the history of mountain climbing.

2. All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr

20 Historical Fiction Books Worth Reading
Image Credit: Scribner

All the Light We Cannot See, which was recently made into a Netflix miniseries, centers on Marie-Laure LeBlanc, a blind French girl living in Saint-Malo after the Nazis capture Paris, and Werner Pfennig, a German military school student. This Pulitzer Prize-winning novel delves into topics of war and human nature, and author Anthony Doerr is praised for his sensory writing style.

3. Master and Commander by Patrick O’Brian

20 Historical Fiction Books Worth Reading
Image Credit: W. W. Norton & Company

Patrick O’Brian’s series of naval history novels, which began with 1969’s Master and Commander, are incredibly dad-core, yet their popularity is global. Set during the Napoleonic Wars, the series follows Captain Jack Aubrey of the Royal Navy and his ship’s surgeon, Stephen Maturin, an odd couple who embark on numerous adventures at sea while serving king and country. Russell Crowe and Paul Bettany played the couple in Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World, a cinematic adaptation based on three of the books.
The picture received critical acclaim but did not achieve the success required to launch a cinematic series. Fortunately, the Aubrey/Maturin series has 21 books for enthusiasts of the era and O’Brian’s nautical wit

4. The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood

20 Historical Fiction Books Worth Reading
Image Credit: Anchor

Margaret Atwood, author of The Handmaid’s Tale, authored this 2000 novel about two sisters whose lives in an Ontario port town span over a century of Canadian history. The titular Blind Assassin, a pulpy sci-fi novel written by one of the sisters, is intertwined with their real-life relationships.

5. I, Claudius by Robert Graves

Image Credit: Vintage International

Robert Graves’ 1934 novel is written as if it were the autobiography of Roman Emperor Claudius, providing a first-person (albeit dramatized) chronicle of Roman history from Julius Caesar’s assassination to the execution of Claudius’ predecessor, Caligula. The novel and its sequel, Claudius the God, were huge successes. Claudius was rated one of Time’s top 100 “All-TIME Novels,” and the BBC produced a tremendously popular miniseries based on it in the 1970s.


6. Les Misérables by Victor Hugo

Image Credit: Signet Classics

Despite being somewhat overshadowed by the beloved stage musical, Victor Hugo’s 1862 novel remains one of the most celebrated novels ever published. The book follows Jean Valjean, a former prisoner, and Javert, a police investigator who pursues him through two decades of French history, ending in the 1832 June Rebellion. What else can be said about Les Misérables?

7. City of Thieves by David Benioff

Image Credit: Penguin Books

David Benioff, widely known as one half of the creative pair behind Game of Thrones, wrote an acclaimed historical fiction novel in 2008 before transitioning to television. City of Thieves, set during World War II’s siege of Leningrad, follows two youths charged with obtaining a dozen eggs for a member of the Russian secret police, which is easier said than done in the beleaguered city. City of Thieves has been regarded as an inspiration for the computer game The Last of Us, which was later turned into a blockbuster HBO drama.

8. Atonement by Ian McEwan

20 Historical Fiction Books Worth Reading
Image Credit: Anchor Books

Ian McEwan’s famous 2001 novel concerns Briony Tallis, a well-off English teenager in the 1930s who, through a misunderstanding that is not totally innocent, has her older sister Cecilia’s lover Robbie imprisoned by naming him as the perpetrator of an assault he did not commit. The aftermath from this charge continues throughout World War II and beyond, with Briony eventually realizing that she damaged Cecilia and Robbie’s life and wishing to atone—if that’s even possible. The book was turned into an Academy Award-winning film starring James McAvoy, Keira Knightley, and Saoirse Ronan.

9. Eaters of the Dead by Michael Crichton

Image Credit: Vintage

Please do not confuse Eaters of the Dead with its cinematic version, The 13th Warrior, which was one of the worst box office failures in history. Michael Crichton, the author of Jurassic Park and The Andromeda Strain, has written a horror-themed adventure novel. It follows a 10th-century Muslim Arab as he journeys to the north and meets Vikings, documenting his interactions with them. What is their quest? Doing battle with a monstrous tribe is Crichton’s effort to turn the Beowulf story into semi-believable historical fiction.

10. The Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco.

Image Credit: HarperVia

Since its publication in 1980, Italian author Umberto Eco’s work has sold over 50 million copies around the world. The Name of the Rose is a murder mystery about a Franciscan friar who arrives in an Italian monastery in 1327 and discovers mysterious, terrible murders that he must solve. It combines historical whodunit with high-minded medieval studies and biblical analysis, resulting in a fascinating and illuminating read.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *