Podcasts & Books

10 Historical Fiction Novels You Should Get Your Hands On Now

By Esté Swanepoel
29th Jul 2018

10 Historical Fiction Novels You Should Get Your Hands On Now

The recent success of shows like Call the Midwife, The Crown and good ol’ Downton Abbey proves that we all love a cheeky bit of historical fiction. Nothing captures the imagination like the secret dramas of the English court or the glitz and the glamour of the 1920’s. While a TV show is all well and good, actually reading a piece of historical fiction just takes things to a whole new level, letting you completely immerse yourself in a whole new world.

Here are a few of our favourite historical fiction reads:

Memoirs Of A Geisha | Arthur Golden

Memoirs of a Geisha is precisely what the title advertises—it tells the story of a fictional geisha working in Kyoto before and after the Second World War. Like all good books should, this novel transports you into a world far from your own, where gender, class, love and sexuality are displayed in unfamiliar ways.

The Help | Kathryn Stockett

If you haven’t already read this book, chances are you’ve at least watched the movie. The Help has reached impressive heights of popularity in recent years and for good reason too. This powerful novel tells a story of racism and discrimination from our not-so distant past. Filled with humour, heartbreak and a whole lot of fried chicken, follow Skeeter and Aibileen’s journey and see Two-Slice Hilly get her just desserts.

The White Queen | Philippa Gregory

You can’t beat Philippa Gregory for a bit of historical fiction and The White Queen is one of her best. If you’re into your historical novels, you’re probably very familiar with the Tudor kings but you may not have heard of the Plantagents, those ruling just before them. Philippa Gregory dives deep into their drama, deception and disgrace and you’ll be hooked from the word go. Can’t get enough? Read The Red Queen—it’ll blow your mind.

The Storyteller | Jodi Picoult

A lonely, reclusive baker befriends an old man beloved by her community when they are in the same grief counseling group. The two build an unlikely bond and one day the man confesses his darkest secret—he had been a Nazi SS guard. Sage, the baker, is descended from a Holocaust survivor and must now grapple with the heinous acts her newfound friend committed in his past. The Storyteller asks some tough questions about good and evil, consequences and forgiveness. 

Girl With A Pearl Earring | Tracy Chevalier

The Dutch painter Johannes Vermeer is one of the most renowned artists in history with 35 canvases to his name, yet little is known about his personal life. Author Tracy Chevalier takes inspiration from his stunning images of domestic life in her book Girl With a Pearl Earring and centers the story around his household in Delft during the 1660’s. Chevalier deals with issues surrounding power, creativity and status in this beautiful tale of Vermeer and his maid, Griet.

The English Patient | Michael Ondaatje

The English Patient tells the story of four people brought together by nothing more than being in the same place, at the same time. Set during the Italian Campaign of World War 2, four completely contrasting individuals find themselves at an Italian villa—a Canadian Army nurse, a Sikh British army sapper, a Canadian thief and a badly burned Englishman. The Englishman slowly reveals his actions during the war that led to his injury and the novel is mainly concerned with these and how this affects the other characters. It’s pretty full on, but The English Patient has won plenty of awards so you know it’s worth it.

Alias Grace | Margaret Atwood

You probably know Margaret Atwood for The Handmaid’s Tale, but her work encompasses so much more than that. Her novel Alias Grace fictionalizes the real-life murders of Thomas Kinnear and his housekeeper Nancy Montgomery in Canada West. Two of his servants, one of them a Grace Marks, were accused and convicted of the crime. There’s just one problem—Grace claims to have no memory of the murders. A doctor specializing in mental illness offers to help her unlock her memories, but what will he find along the way? Described as both captivating and disturbing, this is Margaret Atwood at her best.

War And Peace | Leo Tolstoy

One of the most famous historical fiction novels of all time, Tolstoy’s War And Peace covers Napoleon’s 1812 invasion of Russia and the effect it has on five aristocratic families. There’s romance, feuds and drama galore—all the vital elements of a stellar piece of historical fiction.

The Underground Railroad | Colson Whitehead

You might think that historical fiction is just what it claims to be—historical and completely fictional—but actually, it can often remind us of problems we’re facing in our society today. Colson Whitehead’s The Underground Railroad does precisely that by recreating the horror of racism in pre-Civil War America and linking it to the unfulfilled promises of the present day.

Arrow of God | Chinua Achebe

Nigerian author Chinua Achebe is renowned for his frank take on life in pre and post-Colonial Nigeria and his novel Arrow of God provides a pretty interesting view of 1920s Colonial Nigeria. It uncovers the religious and social conflict between the native people and British settlers and centres around the character Ezeulu, a traditional Igbo chief. It is a story of oppression, defiance and belief and it’ll educate you on a period of history that we should all know more about.

Prefer real life reads? Here are 10 Autobiographies You Should Read At Least Once In Your Life

Image Credit: The Help

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