I read (or, more accurately, listen to) a lot of books from a lot of different genres, but even the most cursory scans of my Goodreads profile would confirm that I’m a big fan of historical fiction. I love traversing different eras, meeting intriguing characters, and witnessing historical events through the lens of a great story!
From medieval kingdoms to wartime intrigue, the best historical fiction books are like portals to another time and place. Historical fact is almost always more interesting to me when it’s set against a backdrop of masterfully crafted fiction.
In this post, I’m highlighting the best historical fiction — with picks that span both standalone novels and book series — to put on your reading list in 2024. So grab your bookmarks (and maybe a box of tissues!) and join me for a thrilling literary adventure across the ages!
Best Historical Fiction Novels
The Four Winds by Kristin Hannah
Set against the backdrop of the Dust Bowl during the Great Depression, the story follows Elsa Martinelli, a determined woman facing the harsh realities of poverty, environmental disaster, and societal upheaval. Elsa’s struggle to raise her family in the midst of economic hardship is a powerful examination of resilience in pursuit of the American Dream.
With a masterfully crafted story and compelling characters, this novel is an emotional journey through a dark period in American history, and one that will resonate with readers long after the last page.
All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr
This mesmerizing World War II tale follows a blind French girl, Marie-Laure, and a German orphan, Werner. The author’s beautiful writing captures the emotional toll of life during wartime and immerses readers in the characters’ struggles and triumphs.
This is a story of love, survival, and the unseen threads that connect people across time and space. Keep a box of tissues handy, but the journey is certainly one worth taking.
A Gentleman In Moscow by Amor Towles
Set in the Metropol Hotel in Moscow, this story follows Count Alexander Rostov during his house arrest following the Russian Revolution. The author explores the Count’s life with grace and humor in a novel that celebrates adaptability, friendship, and finding joy wherever one can.
With its clever narrative and memorable characters, this book offers captivating journey through a bygone era, and isn’t that what good historical fiction is all about?
The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro
This Booker Prize-winning novel is a quietly heartbreaking and beautiful character study of a retiring British butler named Stevens. Rigidly formal and devoted to duty, Stevens’s looming retirement leads to a vulnerable examination of his fear of intimacy, as well as the unacknowledged feelings hidden under his dutiful exterior.
By inviting readers to vicariously experience the aftereffects of a life lived on someone else’s terms, this novel is a somber reminder to “stop and smell the roses.” This magnificently written story will take you an emotional journey you won’t soon forget.
Middlemarch by George Eliot
Set in the English countryside in the small town of Middlemarch, this substantial novel provides an unvarnished look at life among the upper and middle classes in the 1830s. Under the pen name George Eliot, Mary Ann Evans paints a nuanced picture of relationships, gender roles, social class, and other aspects of life in 19th-century England.
For me, the highlight of this book was its large and vibrant cast of characters. By the time I finally finished, I was so invested in them that I didn’t want the book to end!
The Rose Code by Kate Quinn
Inspired by real events, this novel tells the story of three women from different backgrounds who come together at Bletchley Park to help the British decode German military communications during World War II. They are some of the most fascinating and “real” female protagonists in any book I’ve read, and a testament to author Kate Quinn’s talents.
With plenty of twists that kept me captivated throughout, this book’s tense, action-packed climax had me on the edge of my seat in the best way. If you’re a fan of historical fiction, put this book on your reading list ASAP!
The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas
This lengthy novel isn’t, perhaps, for the faint of heart, but the time it takes to read is time well spent, in this reader’s opinion! The story centers around a man who was unjustly imprisoned for 14 years before escaping to plan his revenge, and is packed with fascinating historical details about post-Napoleonic France.
Best Historical Fiction Series
Outlander by Diana Gabaldon
Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander series has been a fan favorite since the first book, also called “Outlander,” was released in 1991. It follows the story of Claire Randall, a WWII combat nurse who is mysteriously transported back to 18th century Scotland. As Claire tries to adjust to her new reality, she meets Jamie Fraser, a handsome Scotsman who becomes her ally and protector.
While interesting historical nuggets abound, the highlight of this series is the depth of its characters. Jamie is a quintessential romantic hero, while Claire is a strong and capable heroine who fights for her beliefs. Gabaldon tells a compelling love story while painting vivid pictures of various historical settings.
The Plantagenet and Tudor Novels by Philippa Gregory
I initially discovered Philippa Gregory’s books many years ago, before her novels “The White Queen” and “The White Princess” were adapted as television miniseries on Starz. This is the series that got me hooked on all things Tudor in the first place!
I thought I’d read the entirety of The Plantagenet and Tudor Novels series in my first attempt, but apparently, I’d missed a few, which I’ve since read and thoroughly enjoyed. (I can’t blame myself too much for missing one or two of the books, though, as the series includes 15 of them in total.)
The Bronze Horseman by Paullina Simons
After seeing this series by Paullina Simonson on many of the lists of book recommendations I’d been perusing, I decided to give it a try. (As silly as it sounds, I wasn’t sure whether I would enjoy what I assumed was a very horse-centric story, but I soon learned that wasn’t actually the case.)
Set in the Soviet Union during World War II, the series centers on Tatiana, a young woman living with her family in Leningrad, and Alexander, a mysterious officer in the Red Army. Tatiana and Alexander’s gripping love story is so beautifully told that once I started it, I couldn’t put it down, and quickly moved onto the sequels “Tatiana and Alexander” and “The Summer Garden”.
The Last Kingdom by Bernard Cromwell
I picked up the first book in this series after watching the Netflix adaptation, wanting to learn more about my Viking ancestors. While I can’t say I enjoyed every aspect of these books — namely graphic battle scenes — I very much enjoyed the story of Uhtred of Bebbanburg.
Uhtred was loosely inspired by Uchtred the Bold, a real-life 11th century ealdorman of Northumbria. The Last Kingdom follows Uhtred from his early years in the aristocracy of 9th-century Northumbria to being captured by Danes, brought up among Vikings, and beyond. Cromwell’s lead character kept me engaged through all 13 books in the series, and I would have happily read 13 more.
Lymond Chronicles by Dorothy Dunnett
I stumbled across these books by chance while looking for a new series to dig into, and I will be forever grateful for that! Consisting of six novels set in 16th-century Europe, the series follows the life and career of Scottish nobleman Francis Crawford of Lymond.
I do admit that the author’s numerous references to the Renaissance era had me feeling a bit lost at first, but I eventually realized I didn’t need to understand every reference to follow the story. And her characters are so well written that I’m sure any reader will feel as strongly about them as I did — positively or negatively, depending on the character!
Exit Unicorns by Cindy Brandner
Fans of the Outlander series will know how hard it can be to find other books or series that scratch the same itch in terms of craft, drama, and romance, but Cindy Bradner’s Exit Unicorns series comes quite close! Set in Northern Ireland during The Troubles, this story has plenty of drama and heartrending emotion, but romance fans will find a lot to enjoy here, too.
Poldark by Winston Graham
If you’re a fan of the Prime Video series Poldark, it’s pretty safe to assume that you’ll also enjoy the book series it’s based on. (As someone who enjoyed the show so much that they immediately started the first book upon finishing, I speak from personal experience in this matter.)
Kingsbridge by Ken Follett
This compelling saga may span centuries, but it’s all centered around the fictional English town of Kingsbridge. Beginning with “The Pillars of the Earth,” the series explores the lives of its characters amidst key historical events, from plagues to political upheavals.
Follett masterfully weaves together intricate plots and rich historical details, and each installment introduces new generations of characters connected by love, betrayal, and the pursuit of power. Rife with romance and political intrigue, this series kept me engaged across the ages!
Still looking for great books to read? Be sure to check out my favorite summer reads and five of the best books I’ve read lately. No time to read? I use Audible so I can listen to books while I’m driving or cleaning — I’ve found I can get through so many good books that way!
What do you consider to be the best historical fiction book?