The very best historical novels not only bring a vibrant sense of place, they also encourage the reader to further research and explore. With the novels we have chosen here, you step back in time and also set off on an expedition to other countries and continents. Choose just a short sail across the waters to France, or you can travel right round to the other side of the world. From times still alive in some people's memories, through to several thousand years ago, this collection gives you access to Roman centurions, Russian counts, and American abolitionists. It allows you to fully immerse yourself in another time and place, to step foot on one of the world's tallest mountains, into a city plunged in civil war, and off a boat straight into a penal colony.
A Room Made of Leaves by Kate Grenville is glorious! A novel of such startling sincerity, clarity and eloquence it feels as though the narrator herself is stamped onto every page. This book was inspired by letters and comments on a pioneer and his wife who left England in 1788 for New South Wales in Australia. This is a unique and beautiful novel that allows you to read between the lines of history.
Editorial Expert Joanne Owen adored NICK by Michael Farris Smith, she describes it as: “a darkly absorbing, brilliantly accomplished literary undertaking provoked by the author’s complex relationship with F. Scott Fitzgerald’s masterpiece". From Paris to Frenchtown, New Orleans, this explores who Nick Carraway was before he stepped into the world of The Great Gatsby.
Kiran Millwood Hargrave has created the most beautifully written historical relationship tale with real bite in The Mercies. A work of fiction inspired by history the story begins in northern Norway on Christmas Eve in 1617 when the lives of forty fishermen were taken in a storm. The descriptions are truly breathtaking. While there are some savage shocks in store, The Mercies is still a warm, thoughtful and touching read.
Debut novel Fortune Favours the Dead by Stephen Spotswood is a fabulously entertaining absolute romp of a murder mystery set in 1940’s New York. A private detective and her assistant are hired to track down the murderer of a wealthy young widow. The first in a new series, this locked-room mystery, wonderfully diverse central characters, and a cracking storyline ensure an absolute dream of a read.
By weaving fact and fiction, Jerome Charyn creates a heart-rending yet fascinating read in Cesare: A Novel of War Torn Berlin. Using real life Chief of the Abwehr, spymaster Wilhelm Canaris meant at times I struggled to remember this was fiction as it felt all too real. There is a raw, almost brutal quality to the all-consuming storyline. This is a haunting, traumatic, yet enthralling read and encouraged me to research the history of Canaris.
There are novels here that will encourage your emotions to fly, to open your thoughts to huge world events, or allow a glimpse of the most intimate of personal stories. From beautiful to brutal, from rip-roaring to exquisitely gentle, there are some simply wonderful stories on this list that we wholeheartedly recommend.