We love historical fiction. Historical novels offer such fascinating insights to times past, whether they’re based on actual events, historical figures or simply set in times gone by way. They can be a compelling way to learn about history, and make people who lived long ago seem much more real to us. Here are twelve of our favourite novels that will transport you back in time.
It’s hard to put together a list such as this without including the wonderful Philippa Gregory. She combines meticulous research with superb storytelling skills, and her focus is mainly on the Tudor period. To learn more about Henry VIII and one of the key women in his life, you can’t go past The Other Boleyn Girl.
Also on the reign of Henry VIII, Wolf Hall is a Booker prize winning work of art. The story of Cromwell and his agenda, and a king who fluctuates between romantic passions and murderous rages, this is a fascinating insight into the politics of Tudor times. This book is called a masterpiece for a reason.
If you’re more interested in medieval times, Pillars of the Earth may be for you. A story of ambition and power set in twelfth-century England, this is the tale of a monk and architect building the greatest Gothic cathedral the world has ever known.
Clan of the Cave Bear is the first book in a publishing phenomenon series, ready by millions worldwide. This is the story of Ayla, a Cro-Magnon child in Ice Age Europe, who loses her parents in an earthquake and is adopted by a tribe of Neanderthals, the Clan.
Now a successful TV series, Outlander is the first novel in the series. This is the story of Claire Randall, who is leading a double life – with a husband in 1945, and a lover in 1743 in the Scottish highlands. An intriguing tale of Jacobite Scotland, this is a deserved favourite read.
The Thorn Birds is an Australian classic, a sweeping saga of three generations of the Cleary family. Detailing the joy, the sadness and the magnificent triumphs in the cruel Australian outback, and the power of forbidden love and passion…
To delve back into Civil War and the American South, it’s hard to go past Gone With the Wind. This Pulitzer prize winning novel tells the story of Scarlett and Rhett, two of the most famous literary lovers. An insight into how the South fought the war and the aftermath.
The Long Song is an absolute gem of a novel, beautifully written and heartbreaking. Told by July, a slave girl on a sugar plantation in Jamaica in the 1800s, from being a slave to the turbulent years of freedom that followed. This book is absolutely recommended.
Blood and Beauty is a fictional account of Pope Alexander VI, and his illegitimate children. Set in Italy at the end of the fifteenth century, this is a fascinating account of times – do you know with marriages between the highly born it was customary to have witnesses in the bedroom on the wedding night to prove the marriage had been consummated?
Another Booker prize winner, The Luminaries is set in 1866 in the New Zealand goldfields. This book not only evokes the world of shipping and banking and goldrush boom and bust, but it’s also a mystery, a ghost story and a psychological thriller.
Memoirs of a Geisha is a modern classic. This is the extraordinary story of a young servant girl who is sold as a servant, and then apprenticed to a renowned geisha house. Told from 1929 to the post war years of Japan, this novel opens a window into a half-hidden world of eroticism and enchantment, exploitation and degradation.
Sophisticated and sexy, The Scandal of the Season is inspired by events that gave rise to the era’s most famous poem, The Rape of the Lock. The story plays out against the backdrop of 18th-century London: masked balls, operas, eating houses, clandestine courtships and political intrigue. Interesting fact: the reason book covers often feature a woman in a dress cut off at the neck is so readers can imagine themselves as the pictured character!