Favourite Historical Fiction

Downith, a blogging friend and fellow Canadian, tagged me to write a post on The Alternative Booker Award sharing my five personal favourite books and asking five more bloggers to share theirs.

The notion of ‘favourite’ is difficult for me and I am prone to forget past novels as more recent reads push them aside like a surging crowd. And then, of course, there’s the tricky aspect of genre. A favourite non-fiction is difficult to compare with a favourite historical or mystery – I read them for different reasons and they prompt different pleasures. Stop dithering, Mary, and get on with your list.

Not surprisingly, my list concentrates on historical works.

The English Patient by Michael Ondaatje still lingers in my memory and I often dip into it for inspiration as I struggle to create a scene. Who can forget the author’s lyrical writing and the anguish of lost love amidst the certainty of death?

Here be Dragons by Sharon Kay Penman transported me into the medieval times of the 13th Century, telling the story of King John, Llewelyn the Great of Wales and Joanna, “daughter to one, wife to the other”. It is no wonder that Penman was listed the number one favourite historical fiction author in my 2012 survey of readers.

Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel was an exhilarating read. To me, Mantel probed the depths of Thomas Cromwell’s mind in a way that was compellingly insightful. She deserves all the accolades received for this work.

In the Garden of Beasts by Erik Larson is historical non-fiction at its best. Truth is preserved but the telling is like a marvellous story that facilitates both enjoyment – if such a word can be applied to a time when Hitler’s grip tightens into a stranglehold – and learning.

Birdsong by Sebastian Faulks is a celebrated story of WWI. My copy is heavily underlined not only with historical facts but also with examples of Faulks’ wonderful writing style. This novel is often cited as an important work for its descriptions of the Battle of the Somme and life in the trenches.

Selecting five books seems an impossible task in the realm of historical fiction and non-fiction, but I believe these will still be remembered years and years from now.

Tagging others for their picks – as a proud breaker of rules, I’ve decided not to restrict myself to five 🙂

Jenny Quinlan of Historical Editorial

Evangeline Holland of Edwardian Promenade

Sophie Schiller author of Transfer Day who writes a blog under her name

Dianna Rostad who posts on Facebook and tweets and pins

Theresa Hupp who blogs at Story & History

Judith Schara who actively comments on my blog and writes historical fiction

Jack Durish who blogs under his own name

Kirstie Olley who blogs at Storybook Perfect

Debbie Robson who blogs under her own name

Char Simser who used to blog at A Librarian’s Life and now tweets and is very active on Facebook

Anyone who wishes to participate and does not maintain their own blog, is welcome to guest post on mine.

28 thoughts on “Favourite Historical Fiction”

  1. The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller. A brave and fresh retelling about two boys who just happen to be Greek mythical heroes.

    Hemingway’s Girl by Erika Robuck. Drawn to him like a flower to sun, Hemingway’s girl is lured into the private world of a man who singes anyone who gets too close.

    Snow Flower and the Secret Fan by Lisa See. My favorite book, ever. An enchanting historical read about two young girls who form a lifelong bond, which despite their best efforts, cannot be broken.

    The Red Scarf by Kate Furnivall. A novel set in Russia about a desperate young woman who risks her life to escape a Bolshevik prison camp only to find her country frozen in the paranoia of communism.

    Helen of Troy by Margaret George. An epic tale in the point of view of Helen; a woman who couldn’t help being tragically beautiful or falling in love with a man she could never truly possess.

    1. Many thanks, Dianna. You are one speedy gal! I have Helen of Troy on my TBR pile and loved Snow Flower and the Secret Fan. Your other suggestions look very interesting, having read The Paris Wife as well as A Moveable Feast, the notion of Hemingway singeing anyone who got too close is clear.

      1. Thanks for including me. I enjoyed this. After I whittled it down to five, it occurred to me that the common factor for all my favorites was atmosphere and the ability to pull me into another world. Isn’t that what your data says about why people read historical fiction?

    1. Downith, you have such a busy schedule, so Wolf Hall might be best savoured when you have more time! It takes a little getting into. I have yet to find time to read the next one!!

  2. I’m sure there is a lot of grinding of teeth about this – the proverbial chosing your favorite child. Mary – I’ll respond on your site (thank you!) as my blog is in the final stages of development (you might think doing an author’s profile is easy, but it’s easier for me to write a 1,000 page novel.) Choosing five favorites is so very personal.
    First are the loves – the ones that imprinted themselves on my psyche:
    Outlander by Diana Gabaldon – call me a romantic but I loved the characters and the increasingly complex story.
    Checkmate by Dorothy Dunnett – I love the long story and Lady Dorothy held me from the first book in the six book series where we meet Francis Crawford.to the end. Historically correct to the last French sonnet quote,
    The Soul Thief by Cecilia Holland – Began another six book series that showed me how you can write about history and magic in the same breath.
    Under Heaven by Guy Gavriel Kay – A historical accurate, poetic fantasy about a fictional China and how, again, you can write story, history, and fantasy in a compelling way.
    I’m stopping, Mary, as I feel I’ve squeezed in or alluded to at least eighteen books!
    But here’s onelast favorite – Blackout by Connie Willis. Time travel and great historical fiction!

  3. In the Garden of Beasts is an absolutely AMAZING book. I thoroughly enjoyed it.

    I don’t even know where to begin on my favorite historical fiction books…but my favorite book of all time is TREE OF GOLD by Rosalind Laker, set in France during the Napoleonic times.

  4. In a couple of days, I’ll get a post up on my blog, charlenenewcomb.com – that’s my fiction blog; the other one you mention was work-related. Thanks for tagging me, Mary. 🙂

  5. Hello Mary,
    My blog/website is still under construction so I will post my 5 with you.
    I cannot put them in any order so they are equal!

    Star of the Sea. Joseph O’Connor
    Regeneration trilogy. Pat Barker
    Wolf Hall. Hilary Mantel
    Mary Queen of Scotland and the Isles. Margaret George
    The English Patient. Michael Ondaatje

    So many more I would love to list. New Zealand and Australian authors in particular.

      1. it does not surprise me that we have some in common. I am not sure if you would have access to some of the NZ and Aussie books. But I will make a list for you and send it to you. Hope you are well.

  6. […] Favourite Historical Fiction … I listed a few of my favourites and invited others to add theirs. The result is an excellent list of favourite historical fiction. In 2015, I invited over 2000 participants to list their favourite historical fiction and published that list as well, in case you’re searching for something to read! […]

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