Top 10 Historical Fiction Books

by Rachel
Published: Updated:

Historical fiction is one of my go-to genres since it whisks you off to a bygone era or far away place. However, my fellow historical fiction fans may also have noticed there’s currently a lot of focus on World War II. While I still devour those novels, there are plenty of other time periods worth visiting which are just as dramatic and enticing. Here’s my list of the Top 10 historical fiction books that are not related to World War II. Dare to be different and give one of these best historical fiction books a try!

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Best Historical Fiction Books

The Other Boleyn Girl by Philippa Gregory

Early 1500’s – England

Philippa introduced me to the world of historical fiction and I’ve devoured almost all of her books, but this first novel that I read is still my favorite. The story of Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn is told from a unique perspective, that of her sister, Mary Boleyn.

Amazon | | Goodreads

Nicholas and Alexandra by Robert K. Massie

Early 1900’s – Russia

Massie tackles the mysterious tale of the last Russian tsar and the fall of the Romanovs. There’s more family, medical, and political drama in this one then you’d ever imagine.

Amazon | | Goodreads

Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden

Mid 1900’s – Japan

Ok I’ll admit part of this one takes place during the years of World War II, but it’s in the background rather than the main story! At the heart of this novel is Sayuri, a young woman sold into service at a geisha boarding house. This magnificent novel tells her harrowing story as she trains to become a geisha and endures that lifestyle.

Amazon | | Goodreads

Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell

Mid 1800’s – Georgia

Mitchell’s epic tale of Scarlett O’Hara is an American classic that is full of rich imagery and memorable characters. Since the movie clocks in at 4 hours, you might as well just read the book!

Amazon | | Goodreads

Girl with a Pearl Earring by Tracy Chevalier

Mid 1600’s – Holland

The painting is real, but Chevalier weaves a tale about its inspiration in a way that makes you believe her entire story. Griet is a young serving girl living in the household of the painter, Johannes Vermeer. As a relationship develops between the two, history is made and their lives are forever changed.

Amazon | | Goodreads

Outlander by Diana Gabaldon

Mid 1700’s – Scotland

For those who like their historical fiction with a side of steamy romance. This novel jumps around in time, but the bulk of the action takes place in war torn Scotland. You’ll feel transported to this era right along with Claire…a place we’d all certainly want to visit if we could each find our own Jamie there ; )

Amazon | | Goodreads

The Princes of Ireland by Edward Rutherfurd

Spans multiple centuries in Ireland

Rutherfurd is my go-to guy for sweeping sagas. He focuses on one location and tells its entire story through the eyes of a handful of fictional families, generation by generation. The Princes of Ireland is the first in the Dublin Saga, which focuses on Ireland from the original days of celtic folklore through all major events until the early 1900’s.

Amazon | | Goodreads

The Crucible by Arthur Miller

1690’s – Salem, Massachusetts

A period in American history that seems more like fantasy than reality. Miller’s play is a fascinating depiction of the insanity and hysteria surrounding the Salem Witch Trials. Plus, it’s a quick read at only around 150 pages.

Amazon | | Goodreads

Les Miserables by Victor Hugo

Early 1800’s – France

This isn’t an easy classic to tackle, but it’s worth the effort. Hugo describes the misery and anger of the French people leading up the June Rebellion through the lives of several characters. Despite the wretched circumstances, he shows that hope and love still existed. While you’re at it, go see the musical or watch one of the movies because Schonberg’s music and lyrics are phenomenal!

Amazon | | Goodreads

The Jungle by Upton Sinclair

Early 1900’s – Chicago, IL

Prepare to be depressed. This is not exactly an uplifting feel good story. The meatpacking district in Chicago is not a pretty place and these characters do not fall into good fortune…ever. However, it’s gritty and real and worth reading to learn more about America’s less than picture perfect history.

Amazon | | Goodreads


What else would you add to this list of the best historical fiction books?

If you’re looking specifically for World War II books, head on over to Never Enough Novels to check out my Top 10 World War II Books!

For more historical fiction book recommendations, check here!

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Janna March 30, 2018 - 1:12 pm

I’ve read and love multiple books on this list! One of my favorite Philippa Gregory books is The Queen’s Fool. I think it was the first one I read and I have a bunch of them on my bookshelves.

April TBR List - Literary Quicksand April 5, 2018 - 10:01 am

[…] recently posted this in my Top 10 Historical Fiction Novels and realized it’s time for a reread. I’m heading to Ireland in June, so it’s the perfect […]

Bianca Rose April 15, 2018 - 9:44 am

This is a great list! Historical fiction is one of my go-to’s and I am always looking for something new and exciting to read. I think a book that should 100% be considered for a future top ten is “The Jinn and the Sword” by authors Robert Peacock and Sara Cook. It is an exciting read that follows Ill Lupo who has been summoned by Suleyman the Magnificent (of the Ottoman Empire) who is fearful of his life. Assassination attempts, robberies and demonic spirits all lead to a larger than life mystery that needs to be solved by master swordsman, Il Lupo and his crew. You can read more on their website: – Would love to hear what you think! Thanks again for the list

Lona Manning August 4, 2018 - 5:02 pm

My favourite historical fiction book is “Follow The River” by James Alexander Thom about the Clark family of Virginia. A big, long but engrossing book.

Lynda November 7, 2018 - 3:12 am

Have you read “Children of First Man” by Thom? I’ve read it at least twice, & will probably read it again.

Margaret January 31, 2020 - 9:29 pm

I would add “Molaki” to your list. I have read several of the books on your list. I really like reading about ancient history, both historical novels and biographies. “Molaki” is interesting in that it also tells the story of Pearl Harbor from those who were on the island. The characters are a composite of people who were the leper’s on the island. A very good book. Thanks for your list.

Rachel February 1, 2020 - 6:35 am

That does sound really interesting!

Margaret Small May 3, 2020 - 6:24 pm

While I like Gregory’s novels a lot, Hilary Mantel’s trilogy of the rise and fall of Thomas Cromwell is in my opinion, the best depiction of the splendour and horror of the Tudor court. Her writing is superb.

Hope September 15, 2020 - 8:24 pm

I love the Thorn Birds by Colleen McCullough. It is set in Australian Outback from 1915 to 1969. I read it in High School as a choice of required reading. This is the book that turned me on to reading.

Anne DiLorenzo May 24, 2021 - 11:51 am

I would add the Thorn Birds to this list, too.

Patricia Sibley January 23, 2021 - 2:27 pm

You left out the books of Dorothy Dunnett. Her books are true historical fiction. Diane Gabaldon was inspired by Dunnett. She has written 15 books–2 series–the Lymond Chronicles, 6 novels set in 16th century Scotland, France, Malta, The Levant, Russia, and England, spanning 12 years, and The House of Nicolo, 8 novels set in the 15th century about the trials and tribulations of Nicholas, a worker in the dye vats of Bruges who manages to rise above his servant station. King Hereafter is the story of MacBeth. Each novel was impeccably researched, and Dunnett’s prose is a full palette for the senses. She’s also written 7 mysteries, but that’s for a different article!

Tracy Gray February 6, 2021 - 2:37 pm

I just wanted to let you know that Nicholas and Alexandra by Robert K. Massie is NOT historical fiction. It is THE best biographical account of the last tsar of Russia and his family. It is non- fiction.

Victoria March 4, 2021 - 7:52 am

I second the recommendation of Follow The River. All of Thom’s historical fiction books are fabulous. However, my favorite is a book with an unfortunately dull sounding title: Destiny of the Republic by Candace Millard. I believe this is actually nonfiction but it reads like the most exciting fiction and is the unbelievable story of President Garfield. I knew little about him before reading this and it is a page-turner of a book. Millard’s books about Theodore Roosevelt are also good.

Thank you for this excellent post. I now have more books on my TBR pile!

Anne DiLorenzo May 24, 2021 - 11:44 am

I have read and enjoyed 7 of the 10 books on your list. Edward Rutherford and Diana Gabaldon are two of my favorite authors. My love of historical fiction began with Thomas B. Costain’s The Silver Chalice and James Michener’s Hawaii. I also highly recommend books by Elizabeth Chadwick, especially her The Greatest Knight and the series The Saxon Tales by Bernard Cornwell.


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