Seattle Picks: Historical Fiction
Annotation:Jeffrey Archer’s Clifton chronicles follow the meteoric rise of Harry Clifton, from the Bristol docks to a private school education in New York, and culminating in monetary success in early 20th-century America. Start with "Only Time Will Tell." Also try: Elizabeth Gilbert ("The Signature of All Things"), Philipp Meyer ("The Son"), Robert Morgan (Gap Creek novels) and Amy Tan ("The Valley of Amazement").
Annotation:Jo Baker’s family sagas highlight historical events through the lives of everyday people. "Longbourn" features the below-stairs drama at the Bennet household, from Jane Austen’s "Pride and Prejudice." Also try: Murray Pura ("Ashton Park"), Frances Osborne ("Park Lane"), Natasha Solomons ("The House at Tyneford"), Fay Weldon (Love and Inheritance series) and Elizabeth Wilhide ("Ashenden").
Annotation:Chris Bohjalian’s powerful novels explore the depths of human evil and love, as is evident in "The Light in the Ruins"—the story of post-war murder and a young Florentine's love for a Nazi soldier. Also try: Jessica Brockmole ("Letters from Skye"), Rebecca Cantrell ("A Trace of Smoke"), David Gillham ("City of Women") and Kaye Starbird ("The Lion in the Lei Shop").
Annotation:Geraldine Brooks writes literary fiction with a purpose. In "People of the Book," artifacts found in a valuable Jewish prayer book tell the fascinating 600-year history of Jewish Europeans. Also try: Jane Johnson ("The Tenth Gift"), Jeanne Kalogridis ("The Inquisitor’s Wife"), Kate Mosse ("Labyrinth"), Orhan Pamuk ("My Name is Red") and Rosie Thomas ("The Kashmir Shawl").
Annotation:Tracy Chevalier spins riveting stories about people present at pivotal points in history. In "The Last Runaway," a young English immigrant faces the threat of ostracism, and even prison, for helping runaway slaves. Also try: Amy Brill ("The Movement of Stars"), Sally Gunning ("The Rebellion of Jane Clarke"), Lois Leveen ("The Secrets of Mary Bowser") and Eileen Clymer Schwab ("Promise Bridge").
Annotation:Bernard Cornwell humanizes long stretches of history with well-crafted, gritty, action-packed historical adventures set during times of war and political strife. Also try: Kimberly Cutter ("The Maid"), William Dietrich ("Hadrian’s Wall"), Conn Iggulden (Conqueror series) and Brenda Rickman Vantrease ("The Heretic’s Wife").
Annotation:Sarah Dunant’s intense, dramatic style and historical expertise transports readers to Renaissance Italy, as is evidenced in "Blood and Beauty," a moody story of the powerful Borgia family. Also try: Anne Easter Smith, C. W. Gortner ("The Confessions of Catherine de Medici"), Jeanne Kalogridis ("The Scarlet Contessa") and Sara Poole (Borgia novels).
Annotation:Ken Follett’s suspenseful and historically accurate novels, such as "The Pillars of the Earth" and the Century Trilogy, showcase the people who built lasting monuments to human ingenuity. First in the Century Trilogy is "Fall of Giants." Also try: John Jakes, James Michener, Steven Saylor ("Empire"), Jane Smiley ("The Greenlanders") and Edward Rutherfurd.
Annotation:Margaret George’s talent for biographical historical fiction brings famous women to life; from Cleopatra, Mary Magdalene and Helen of Troy to Gloriana herself—Queen Elizabeth I. Also try: Sandra Byrd ("Roses Have Thorns"), Carolly Erickson ("Rival to the Queen"), Philippa Gregory ("The Queen’s Fool"), Karen Harper ("The Queen’s Governess") and Alison Weir ("The Lady Elizabeth").
Annotation:Philippa Gregory is best known for her historical fiction about the Tudors. She also portrays other chronically dysfunctional royals of Renaissance Britain, as in her Cousins’ War series, set during the Wars of the Roses. Also try: Anne Clinard Barnhill ("At the Mercy of the Queen"), Carolly Erickson, Elizabeth Fremantle ("Queen’s Gambit") and Susan Higginbotham ("The Stolen Crown").
Annotation:Conn Iggulden writes fast-paced and absorbing biographical novels of historical military leaders. The Emperor series, beginning with "The Gates of Rome," follows the career of Julius Caesar from his rise, to his assassination at the hands of the Roman Senate. Also try: David Gibbins ("Total War: Rome: Destroy Carthage"), Robert Harris ("Imperium"), Ben Kane and Simon Scarrow.
Annotation:Australian author Thomas Keneally gives veracity to the emotional price paid by those whose lives are affected by war, as he does in "Schindler’s List" and now in "The Daughters of Mars," a story of two World War I nurses. Also try: Richard Aldington ("Death of a Hero"), Pat Barker ("Toby’s Room"), Sebastian Barry ("A Long Long Way"), William Boyd ("Waiting for Sunrise") and Elizabeth Speller ("The First of July").
Annotation:Dennis Lehane’s gritty historical thrillers, "The Given Day" and "Live by Night," give readers a front-row seat to the drama that was post–World War I America. Also try: Matt Bondurant ("The Wettest County in the World"), Loren Estleman ("The Confessions of Al Capone"), Tom Franklin ("The Tilted World") and Suzanne Rindell ("The Other Typist").
Annotation:Hilary Mantel’s "Wolf Hall" and "Bring up the Bodies" feature Henry VIII’s court and Thomas Cromwell’s rise and fall in a masterpiece of political intrigue and biographical historical fiction. Also try: C. W. Gortner ("The Tudor Secret"), C. J. Sansom ("Sovereign"), Rose Tremain ("Merivel") and Alison Weir ("The Lady in the Tower").
Annotation:Paula McLain’s insightful and moving biographical novel, "The Paris Wife," envisions Hadley as the perfect supportive wife for the dashing Ernest Hemingway during their time in Paris. Also try: Melanie Benjamin ("The Aviator’s Wife"), Rebecca Dean ("The Shadow Queen"), Therese Fowler ("Z: A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald"), Karen Mack ("Freud’s Mistress") and Erika Robuck ("Hemingway’s Girl").
Annotation:Michelle Moran’s special talent for recreating realistic historical settings and people is evident in "The Second Empress," a portrait of Napoleon’s lavish and dissolute court from the perspectives of three different women. Also try: Carolly Erickson ("The Secret Life of Josephine"), Sandra Gulland (Josephine B. trilogy) and Annemarie Selinko ("Désirée").
Annotation:Patrick O’Brian’s Aubrey and Maturin sea stories, beginning with "Master and Commander," combine the best Napoleonic war adventures and combat details with well-developed, quirky characters whose sea legs and sailors’ argot are authentic and unforgettable. Also try: C. S. Forester, Alexander Kent, S. Thomas Russell, Julian Stockwin, Richard Woodman.
Annotation:Sharon Kay Penman’s unique mix of historical accuracy, military strategy, political acumen and deeply moving personal stories create novels that appeal to a wide range of readers. “Lionheart,” about Richard I, is one of the best. Also try: Angus Donald (“King’s Man”), Cecelia Holland (“King’s Witch”) and Jonathan Phillips (“Holy Warriors”).
Annotation:Jeff Shaara’s war stories are told in a compelling voice that draws the reader into a battle both utterly physical and powerfully emotional. “A Chain of Thunder,” about the Siege of Vicksburg, begins a new series. Also try: Jennifer Chiaverini (“The Spymistress”), E. L. Doctorow (“The March”), Howard Mosher (“Walking to Gatlinburg”) and Ralph Peters (“Cain at Gettysburg” and “Hell or Richmond”).
A Shared List by Seattle Librarians
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Here are some of our favorite historical fiction writers and their books from many different time periods, along with suggestions for further reading.