Reading a good novel is a relaxing and fun activity. I would say it’s a form of escape but that isn’t how I like to think of books. For me, they are more like a quick holiday from reality. In the numerous worlds of historical fiction, you can escape into something completely new, different or maybe somewhere you know quite a bit about and are glad to revisit. For me, that would be Ancient Rome. I’ve read a lot of historical fiction based around Rome. But the great thing is that each novel you read presents a different interpretation of a place, so you are always experiencing something new. Here is a list of some of the best selling historical novels which I think deserve to be in the top 10.
10. The Great Gatsby
As I’ve reviewed The Great Gatsby before, follow this link to have a more detailed look at the novel. The Great Gatsby really is that great because it combines a highly engaging plot with a commentary on its historical setting. Life and luxury in early 20th Century America are criticised throughout the novel. This combination of a critical analysis of the historical context and an exciting storyline are what historical fiction is (or at least should be) all about. Here’s a video from the recent Great Gatsby film trailer.
9. The Alexander Trilogy
Valerio Massimo Manfreidi’s trilogy about the life of Alexander the Great is a good read for people young and old. I first read the Alexander books as a young teenager, and found them thoroughly enjoyable. Manfreidi writes the narrative to Alexander’s life from start to finish from a very human perspective. Myth, history and a well-spun story are all combined in this three part historical fiction novel.
Pompeii is a great book for readers with an interest in archaeology, Roman history or the fiction genre as a whole. This work of historical fiction focuses on the time before and during the eruption of Vesuvius which buried the town of Pompeii for hundreds of years. The plot is based around the mystery of a failed aqueduct, drawing the reader in before the dramatic ending. The below picture is the true location of one of the most dramatic events in the book, you can’t get closer to history than Pompeii.
7. The D’Artagnan Romances
7.1 The Man in the Iron Mask
This is one of those historical fiction books which has all of the right ingredients. It is also my favourite story from the D’Artagnan Romances. Historical setting, romance, engrossing plot, well-developed characters and the mystery of the historical event upon which the novel is based all make this a true classic of the historical fiction genre.
7.2 The Three Musketeers
Second out of the D’Artagnan Romances only due to the brilliance of the above, The Three Musketeers is a great historical fiction book. 17th Century France is brought to life in D’Artagnan’s writing, once you start reading it you won’t be able to put it down. Below, some funny scenes and quotes from the 1993 film.
Young love, loss, betrayal and war are all merged into a single plot in Atonement. Happily, they mix well in this novel which is a very recent addition to the historical fiction classics. The book takes you from one perspective, time and location to another, never being what you think it is and refusing to end how you want it to. But the author is right on this occasion, the story becomes far more poignant in not giving the reader a conventional romantic ending. The final scene of the film here. And below, you can see moving pictures of Keira Knightley!
5. The Other Boleyn Girl
If you came here looking for women in bodices and men in tights, I’m sorry to have disappointed you so far, but this is the post for you. Another of those historical fiction books in which Henry VIII gropes innumerable female courtiers, this novel has characters you will love and others you will hate. The Other Boleyn Girl has become extremely popular and deserves a place at no. 5.
4. The Pillars of the Earth
Life in Medieval England was pretty hard, and The Pillars of the Earth reflects this harsh reality. Politics, romance and religion fuel the action-packed plot. Read this and you will become engrossed in the lives of each character as they attempt to carve out a place for themselves in feudal society. Another extremely successful book in the historical fiction genre, a great TV series has also been based on the novel.
3. The Aubrey/Maturin Novels or Master and Commander Series
The Napoleonic Wars are a constant source of inspiration for historical fiction writers, as you will see further down the list. The plot of this series of novels flows along to the thunder of cannons and crashing waves of the ocean. It encompasses a near-perfect balance of character development and naval action. Nautical terms are used frequently, but do not worry too much about it because you find yourself picking them up surprisingly quickly. A trailer from the Master and Commander film below.
2. I, Claudius
In the introduction I talked about Ancient Rome. I, Claudius is certainly the best book of the Roman historical fiction genre, and no.2 out of all historical fiction novels. The life of Emperor Claudius is related from his perspective, including all of the nasty behaviour of his predecessors. A book which pulls no punches and leaves no gaps unfilled, this is a true literary classic.
1. War and Peace
I’ve written a blog review of War and Peace before, which can be found here, so I will try to keep this short. In this book Tolstoy takes us to 19th Century Russia during the Napoleonic Wars. Great battles are fought, romances are kindled and lives are cut short. This is the best work of historical fiction that I have read thus far. Watch this clip from the film to get an idea of the book’s epic scale and harsh realism.
What is your favourite historical fiction book or author? Let us know by leaving a comment 🙂