The best historical fiction books all have one thing in common; allowing us to travel in time without even leaving the sofa. Whether the book takes you back fifty years or five hundred years, all of the best historical fiction books will broaden your mind and have you seeing the world through a brand new lens.
We’ve created a list of some of our favorites, which includes stories for people of all ages.
1. Outlander by Diana Gabaldon
A young married woman called Claire visits the Scottish Highlands with her husband but soon finds herself transported back into 1743. There, trouble befalls her in the form of Scottish outlaws, angry predecessors of her husband, and a man who manages to turn her head hundreds of years before she even meets her husband…
2. The Boy in the Striped Pajamas by John Boyne
Eight-year-old Bruno starts his life anew when his father receives a promotion in 1942. He suddenly lives in a strange place where there are more mysteries than answers concealed by the wire fence by his house.
His exploration leads him to a young boy, who is somehow different from him in his striped pajamas and with his buzzed hair, but Bruno doesn’t realize how different they are until it’s too late for them both.
3. All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr
Two young lives collide in the middle of the Second World War. Marie-Laure has escaped Paris with her father, and Werner is a young German boy from a mining town.
Both are searching for light in the darkness, looking for an escape from war that seems like it might never end. But their curiosity with broken radios and priceless diamonds might just change their lives forever.
4. The Book Thief by Markus Zusak
Death itself is captured by the story of a young German girl who seems to dance around death more than most. Liesel Meminger lives in the outskirts of Munich, navigating life during wartime by causing all kinds of trouble.
This book-thieving, Jew befriending girl lives her life on the very edge, especially when she’s meant to be following the rules. Death watches her thrive among all the death that the war has brought upon the lives of ordinary German people, shedding new light on what it would be like to be German in wartime.
5. The Tattooist of Auschwitz by Heather Morris
Based on the real-life recollections of Lale Sokolov, this book gives an insight into life inside a concentration camp. Lale is a well-spoken, wealthy man when he enters Auschwitz.
Now, it is his job to brand his peers with identification numbers, stripping them of their true identity. But in the midst of the horror, Lale finds ways to stay a good person, helping out his fellow prisoners, conquering death and even falling in love.
6. Small Island by Andrea Levy
Hortense and her husband Gilbert leave their home in Jamaica and head to England for a better life following the war. They expect to be welcomed — especially since Gilbert is now a war hero – but they find that British people aren’t quite as pleased to see them as they had hoped.
7. Fallen Grace by Mary Hooper
Grace is as unlucky as they come. Her life in Victorian England has become desperate, living on the streets and trying desperately to stay alive.
She even has a stillborn baby to mourn, but when she stumbles across those of higher status who are willing to reel her in, she knows she’ll take any chance she can to keep her and her sister alive.
8. The Doll Factory by Elizabeth Macneal
Iris is desperate to become a painter. Silas only cares about Iris. Their lives collide at the opening of an art exhibition in the 1850s, but little does Iris know that their chance meeting will drive Silas to madness, obsession, and evil.
9. The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller
This is one of the best historical fiction books because it perfectly marries Greek myth and modern literature. Patroclus and Achilles are unlikely friends who form a bond so deep that they’d follow each other anywhere. When Achilles is sent to liberate Helen of Sparta, Patroclus follows in his friend’s footsteps, not knowing what turmoil will lie ahead for them both.
10. I, Coriander by Sally Gardner
This children’s novel marries historical fiction with magic, telling the tale of young Coriander and the powers she inherits from her dead mother. In a fairytale-like story, Coriander deals with a wicked stepmother and brings a little magic to a tale of the seventeenth century.
11. Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel
It’s the 1520s and Henry VIII still rules. Desperate to get out of another failing marriage, he turns to the church for support but is refused. Enter Thomas Cromwell.
With his charming persona and his meddling hand, he delves into the life of Henry VIII. But Henry is violent and unpredictable, and it seems no one knows what he will do next.
12. Alias Grace by Margaret Atwood
It is 1843. Accused of a crime she can’t remember, Grace is facing life in prison. The crime? Murder. Did she do it? There’s one man who thinks he can find out. Pushing through Grace’s hazy memories, he believes he can find out what happened on the day she has forgotten…
13. The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue by Mackenzie Lee
A young lord named Monty is traveling in Europe, trying to ignore his growing feelings for his best friend, Percy, and his impending destiny of taking over his father’s estate.
The trip is supposed to be a final fit of fun before he settles down for life, but inevitably, things don’t quite go to plan when reckless acts cause nervewracking consequences…
14. The Color Purple by Alice Walker
A woman downtrodden by life turns to God, writing letters detailing her sorrowful life, but also the help and support she receives along the way from a group of close-knit women.
15. The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton
A young man in New Zealand is trying to find his fortune in the goldfields in 1866, but instead, he stumbles upon mystery and secrets kept by a group of men who have discovered a series of unsolved crimes.
16. Hetty Feather by Jacqueline Wilson
This story for young readers begins in 1876 and follows a troubled young orphan girl. Hetty is being cared for at the Foundling Hospital, but when she sneaks off to see the circus, she becomes more determined than ever to find her real mother and to live a life that isn’t quite so black and white.
17. Kindred by Octavia E. Butler
A young black woman goes back in time, discovering how different life for slaves is to her comfortable life in 1976. She is desperate to make a young white man, Rufus, understand that his lifestyle of keeping black women as slaves is wrong, but as she flits between the past and the present, her task becomes harder than she could ever have imagined.
18. Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens
In 1969, a heinous crime is blamed on Kya Clark, a young woman who has made a strange life for herself in the marshes despite her ill fortunes. She is seen to be wild and untamed, but when two young men discover that she is quite the opposite, they fight to make her understood.
19. Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys
In this novel, a new light is shed on the Second World War as young Lina is deported to Siberia from Lithuania. There, she is forced into a labor camp and tries desperately to keep her spirits up, documenting her harrowing life through her art and hoping for a light at the end of the tunnel.
20. The Help by Kathryn Stockett
A young white writer, Skeeter, befriends a group of black women who serve as ‘the help’ in 1962 Jackson. She decides in a daring move to tell the stories of the women whose voices have been long suppressed by society, even though the risk for the women might be greater than Skeeter anticipated…
21. The Lottie Project by Jacqueline Wilson
Another classic for kids by Jacqueline Wilson. Charlotte — known to her friends as Charlie — is stuck doing a project on the Victorian era and is determined to kick up a fuss about it. But she finds that history doesn’t have to be so boring when she begins to write the diary of a nursery maid, Lottie, inspired by the turmoil of her own life…
Historical fiction is often overlooked as a genre, but we think there’s something for everyone in this list of best historical fiction books! The stories here venture from the distant past to more recent days, but each story has the power to transport you to places that seem unfamiliar to our modern minds. Short of reading a history book, these novels give us the best insight into another time, but with all the fun of fiction incorporated!