Are you already missing Hilary Mantel now that The Mirror & the Light is out? Try some of this other fantastic historical fiction!
For years now, our shelves have been full of World War II novels and little else in the way of historical fiction. Some of us, self included, are looking for more books in the vein of Wolf Hall, or that boom of pre-1900-set historicals when HBO and Showtime were handling the Tudors and Borgias. (Of course, then we got a glut of variable quality Tudor and Borgia novels, but we won’t dwell on that.) Many of my favorite more popcorn-y historicals are now out of print, but I do have this handy list of very much in print modern historical fiction classics.
Beautifully written and set in the 600s, a rare time period for any book setting, Hild fictionalizes the life of Hilda of Whitby. Wiki her, she was fascinating. It’s the first of a planned trilogy, so this only spans her childhood, but the other two books are well worth the wait (seven years on now).
Apostol is one of the Philippines’ most well-loved and experimental writers. Insurrecto moves back and forth between present day, and the Philippine-American War on the cusp of the 20th century. I’m not usually a fan of the past-present set-up, but here it’s largely told via two movie scripts, one by an American filmmaker and one by her critical Filipina translator. Darkly humorous and veryyyy different.
This is easily the “pulpiest” book on this list, as much an adventure novel as a historical one, but Dunnett was never one to shirk her research, so it’s extremely well done. Game is set in Europe (with Scotland as a main focus) in the 1500s and follows the rise of Francis Crawford, a young ne’er do well nobleman. My favorite Dunnett series is her House of Niccolo, set in Italy and Burgundy in the 1400s, but those didn’t recently receive new paperback editions. Wink wink.
If you’re familiar with Marlon James, then you know what to expect from this one. Complex writing, but well worth your time and energy. I always make James my vacation read because I need a solid week to just focus entirely on a single book of his. It’s as graphic as his other work, and an (earned) stark look at slavery, but also a soberingly critical look at the longtime exotification of Black women. A difficult read, and not to everyone’s taste, but very good.
When you hear the name “Sarah Waters”, you should immediately think of lesbian lady historical fiction. Think The Favourite, with its layers of queer personal drama, but typically Victorian England in setting. This was Waters’ first novel, and still my favorite of hers I think. The heroine is Nan, who leaves her small English fishing town to follow Kitty, a male impersonator and performer, to London. Hardships ensue.
Quirky, literary, and a ton of fun (also pretty dirty, woohoo). An ordinary merchant comes to possess a mermaid (it’s the 1700s and England so you know somewhat what to expect there) and finds himself hurtled into higher society. There he meets a courtesan and the two embark on a slowburn romance. Is the mermaid helping or hindering them….?
You can purchase any or all of these books by clicking on their titles above or by calling the store (we’re in 10am to 2pm every day during our temporary closure!)