Favourite Historical Fiction

In 2015, I asked readers to list their favourite historical fiction titles for the first time. Being a little more experienced I limited participants to three choices – clearly a challenge for many. What has emerged is more than 1700 different titles – and no, I won’t be listing them all today – and some clear favourites.

Favourite titles >40 mentions

I’ve grouped them into three parts: titles with more than 40 mentions, titles with 20 to 39 mentions and titles with 10 to 19 mentions. Given variations in spelling and the ability of readers to recall exact titles, it’s been a challenge to count the entries and I’ve spent weeks checking and double-checking to be as accurate as possible. I have chosen to put the titles in order but not to show actual counts since I remain concerned about absolute accuracy. For your information, FC means the book is concerned primarily about fictional characters, while FHF refers to famous historical figures.Favourite titles 20 to 39

** Despite a comment advising participants that Jane Austen did not write historical fiction, Pride and Prejudice attracted more than ten mentions.Favourite HF from 10 to 19

Participants could not restrain themselves from mentioning series and so I have done my best to accommodate them in the final counts.

No doubt there will be questions – such as: how much influence did the series Outlander and Wolf Hall affect the result? Does the inclusion of All the Light We Cannot See reflect participants’ ability to recall titles from the past compared with new releases? And then there are questions of how the list varies with gender, nationality, and age. I hope to crank the numbers some more, however, right now I have a manuscript to edit 🙂

If you spot any inaccuracies, please let me know.

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M.K. Tod writes historical fiction and blogs about all aspects of the genre at A Writer of History. Her latest novel, TIME AND REGRET will be published by Lake Union on August 16, 2016. Mary’s other novels, LIES TOLD IN SILENCE and UNRAVELLED are available from Amazon, NookKoboGoogle Play and iTunes. She can be contacted on Facebook, Twitter and Goodreads or on her website www.mktod.com.


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33 Responses

    1. Hi Ruth … FC is fictional characters while FHF is famous historical figures. Occasionally I designated a book as Myth or a MHF for minor historical figure. I was interested in fictional versus famous because of the panel discussion I participated in at HNS Denver 🙂

  1. I’ve read most of these books, or if it is a series, at least the first book in it, if not the whole series. These writers set a high standard for the rest of us to aim for.

      1. Do you mean The Summer Queen by Elizabeth Chadwick in the 19 section Mary? PG hasn’t written a book of that title but I have. 🙂
        Thank you so much for doing this – it’s really interesting and valuable.

  2. I am saddened that there were not more books mentioned by Edward Rutherfurd. Yes, Sarum was superb but what about his books “London” or “Paris” or “New York” or “The Forest” or the two book Dublin/Ireland set?

    1. Hi Mikki – thanks for stopping by. Paris is one of my favourite Edward Rutherford novels and I had the pleasure of interviewing him in person when it released. London and New York were mentioned 3 or 4 times, but I can only find one mention each of The Forest and Princes of Ireland. He’s also mentioned as a favourite author a number of times, however, I haven’t done the work yet to publish those results.

  3. I missed the poll, but I’m glad to see Mary Renault and Dorothy Dunnett at least on the list. Do you think that some series authors did less well because votes were split among their books? For example, I love Diana Gabaldon but Outlander is not my favorite, although since it is the first of the series, I’d be tempted to use it as a surrogate for the whole series.

    1. Hi and thanks for your comment … the survey went out online via blogs, Twitter and Facebook and through an email list I’ve accumulated from prior surveys in 2012 and 2013. Overall results are on the blog at http://awriterofhistory.com/2015-reader-survey/. I’m not sure what I’m going to do with the rest of the favourite titles – perhaps I will post a long list of those with over 5 mentions. All takes time and effort of course and I’m also trying to get another manuscript completed 🙂

  4. I have read several books on the list. SK Penman and Elizabeth Chadwick are favorites. Pillars of the Earth and Colleen McCollough’s Rome/Cesar series are both masterpieces. Thanks, you created a great to-read list.

    1. Thanks, Lausanne. I was intrigued to see the titles and had little preconceived notion of which ones would emerge, other than being fairly certain Outlander would be there!

  5. I have not read Diana Gabaldon’s books (beloved by many of my friends). Do they strictly fit in as historical fiction? I know that the heroine enters the past through an ancient stone circle (which I personally find kind of weird; as an archaeologist I have a bit of a ‘thing’ about stone age megalith builders being made into magic users, Atlanteans, aliens etc etc.) Is that the only fantasy element?

    1. Hi and thanks for stopping by … an interesting point about Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander series. My personal opinion is that they are very much historical fiction and the only fantastical element is the time travel element. You might also be interested to know that Diana Gabaldon was one of the guest speakers at this year’s Historical Novel Society conference – so clearly that group considers her books historical fiction 🙂

      I know of other authors who weave a bit of fantasy into their historical fiction – perhaps a split genre?

  6. well how surprising that “The DaVinci Code” (Dan Brown) never made any of these lists

        1. Hello again, Allan. Thanks for your interest. Are you a fan of The DaVinci Code. For the survey I used the definition the Historical Novel Society uses for historical fiction. “To be deemed historical (in our sense), a novel must have been written at least fifty years after the events described, or have been written by someone who was not alive at the time of those events (who therefore approaches them only by research).” In terms of survey participation, more than 2000 people responded to the survey – most of them reached through social media. I did not contact them individually, but put the word out that the survey was open for responses and people passed the survey link along resulting in responses from all over the world. This is the third survey I’ve done and the first time I have asked participants to list their favourites historical fiction. As you can see from the titles in the list, many are written about events that occurred a very long time ago.

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