If you are a fan of historical fiction, you probably have a favorite era to read about. Like any other subject, there are great books encompassing historical fiction through all the eras. But what is historical fiction, exactly? Some people believe it means fiction that was written in the past. The more popular definition is fiction set at least fifty years earlier than the time it was written.
For instance, A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens is historical fiction by the first definition, but not the second. I myself base historical fiction on the second definition, so I have compiled a list of 16 great works of historical fiction through the eras for you to enjoy.
I'm kicking things off at the very beginning—40,000 years in the past, to be exact. It's about the last family of Neanderthals and their search to find a mate for Girl. And in the modern-day, archaeologist Rosamund Gale rushes to finish her dig before the birth of her baby.
This is Madeline Miller's retelling of the story of Circe, from The Odyssey, but from her point of view. Banished to a deserted island because she was thought to be a witch, Circe comes into her own and embraces her powers. She also crosses paths with many famous figures from Greek mythology.
This is a great novel about the Egyptian dynasty in Ancient Egypt, 51 B.C. Cleopatra and her brother, Ptolemy, take the throne after their father's death, but Ptolemy does not have Cleopatra's strong knack for leading. Their sister, Arsinoe, is caught in her sibling's power struggle, as she falls deeper into a forbidden love affair.
A miracle is at the heart of this fantastic story set in a 19th-century Irish provincial society. 11-year-old Anna O'Donnell has supposedly been living off manna from heaven and nothing else. But when English nurse Lib Wright is hired to care for Anna, she discovers not all is as it seems.
And this is a moving family drama about an Irish immigrant and secrets in New England. In 1908, pregnant 16-year-old Bridey runs away from Ireland with her love, Thom, but he doesn't survive the journey across the ocean. She gives her child up for adoption before going to work for the Hollingworth family at their enormous estate.
by Geraldine Brooks
And this is the story of a young woman in a small village outside 17th-century London, who courageously treats the sick and fights superstitions when the plague comes to her town.
In St. Petersburg in 1916, privileged young woman Marina Makarova decides to break away from her life of comfort and march for workers' rights. She also becomes involved with a radical poet and soon learns all about love and betrayal.
by Celeste Norfleet
Three coeds from New York City embark on a life-changing road trip in a Ford Fairlane convertible during the sweltering, turbulent summer of 1968, a time following the assassinations of Martin Luther King, Jr., and Bobby Kennedy, as well as race riots, political protests, and the birth of Black power.
This is a shining novel of beauty and love, set in 1930s Paris and on the battlefields of WWII. It's about Lee Miller, artist and muse of famous Surrealist Man Ray.
by Sara Collins
Fans of Alias Grace will love this 19th-century confessional, about a former slave from a Jamaican sugar plantation who is accused of murdering her English employers.
NYC 1939: After ripping off the IRA, Francis and Michael are bound for their brother Martin's home in New York City to hide out. But an assassin is hot on their trail, and bad vibes and blackmail soon follow.
by Silvia Moreno-Garcia
This Jazz Age Cinderella story is about Casiopea, a young woman who accidentally frees the Mayan god of death while cleaning her rich grandfather’s home. Now she must help him reclaim his throne.
Juliet, a radio producer at the BBC, recognizes a man on the street one day. He was her boss in 1940 when she worked as a transcriber as the government spied on citizens. Their new encounter forces her to confront her past.
by Margaret Wilkerson Sexton
This is an excellent novel about race, marginalized voices, and family. In 1924, former slave Josephine is now a farm owner, but her uneasy friendship with her new neighbor brings danger into her life.
Maggie Gleason works for legendary public relations maven Lee K. Jaffe in New York City in the 1950s. Pauline Moreau is a woman running from her past. The lives of both women will change when Maggie is assigned by Mrs. J to look after Pauline.
by Laila Lalami
This Pulitzer Prize finalist is the imagined memoirs of a real person: Mustafa al-Zamori, the first black explorer of America. The slave of a Spanish conquistador, he was one of only four people to survive an expedition to Florida.
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Liberty Hardy is a Book Riot senior contributing editor, co-host of All the Books, a Book of the Month judge, and above all else, a ravenous reader. She resides in Maine with her cats, Millay, Farrokh, and Zevon. You can see pictures of her cats and book hauls on Twitter @MissLiberty and Instagram @franzencomesalive.