Name Up to Three Historical Novels You Like a Lot


Well-Known Member
Aug 21, 2010
Requested here are historical novels written as such; the author understood himself or herself to be writing a novel set in an identifiable past time and a known place. To qualify as "historical," the novel should be set at least 100 years ago from our own time (not necessarily the author's time, provided the qualification just stated is kept in mind. (Please do not suggest science fiction and fantasy novels (time travel), such as by Connie Willis, etc.)

Thus, when Tolstoy wrote War and Peace -- one of my choices -- he knew himself to be writing a story set in Europe and Russia's past, though for him that was not so very long ago. He was born in 1828, and his novel begins in 1805, ending several years later. This period is long before 1921. On the other hand, most of Dickens's novels appear to be imagined as occurring either in the author's present day or a generation or so earlier. I don't think Dickens thought of Great Expectations as being a historical novel, even though, for us, its time presumably belongs to the early to mid-Victorian period.

My other choices are Rose Macaulay's They Were Defeated and Sir Walter Scott's The Bride of Lammermoor.

You can get a sense of all of these novels from Wikipedia.

I have not read it, but Mark Halperin's A Soldier of the Great War has been recommended to me -- has anyone here read it?

I'm midway through Patrick O'Brian's Aubrey and Maturin series.
August 1914 -Solzhenitsyn just squeaks in at 107. Excellent portayal of the start of WW1 from the Russian experience (they lost a full army in the first weeks)
Wacousta John Richadson Published 1832 setting 1810ish during the Tecumseh uprising.
The Good Earth by Pearl S Buck is set in early 20th century China showing the coming of technology and changing government style. (wrote in the 1930s)
James Michener wrote tons of historic fiction, each taking a different geographic location. While entertaining, take the history with a grain of salt though.
I tend to like the trashier end:
Mist Over Pendle by Robert Neill
The Firemaster's Mistress by Christie Dickason

Less trashy:
His Bloody Project by Graeme MacRae Burnett
I can't choose so I'll name 5:
Les Miserables by Victor Hugo
Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel
The Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett
The Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco
Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurtry
Conveniently enough, while I'm sure there are at least some more, all I can recall having read are a couple of Mary Renault books on Theseus in an omnibus and Eleanor of Aquitane (I think) by Daphne du Maurier (I think). I didn't love them or anything (I prefer straight history and science fiction), but it seems they were okay.

-- Okay, I got curious and I can find no such book as the last, but it was on Eleanor of Aquitane and was by somebody I'd heard of in some other context and was an older book (maybe 1st half of 20th century). The Renaults were The King Must Die and Bull from the Sea.
Last edited:
Masters of Rome series by Colleen McCullough - a superb telling of the last century of Republican Rome, from the rise of Marius to the death of Julius Caesar:

1 The First Man in Rome
2 The Grass Crown
3 Fortune's Favorites
4 Caesar's Women
5 Caesar
6 The October Horse
There are several series I like (Hornblower, Aubrey-Maurtin, Sharpe) but I'll just give single novels.

The Pillars of the Earth - Ken Follett
Shogun - James Clavell
The Three Musketeers - Alexandre Dumas
I like the Flashman novels of George MacDonald Fraser. Also Derek Robinson’s Goshawk Squadron is a fun account of WW1.
I, Claudius is a brilliant pair of books (and the tv series is excellent too).

I would like to say Cadfael, but I could never get into the books as I could with the Derek Jacobi tv series. Instead another historical murder mystery set in a monastery with Dissolution. The Shardlake novels are great Tudor mystery stories, and whilst the main character's habit of adopting a 20th century attitude towards the 16th century way of life can feel unrealistic at times, the storylines and descriptions of Tudor England more than make up for it. The first in the series of stories Dissolution is still my favourite.

Thirdly I would say Cornwell's Sharpe novels which very much feel like Hornblower on land. They do tend to have more action and adventure in them than Forester's stories, and the Peninsular war is a interesting period in which to set them. He's also great at creating villains like Hawkeswill and Simmerson.
Continuing to appreciate these entries of stories set a hundred years or more from 2021 and written by their authors as historical novels.

I have a hunch that people who used to read a lot of sf and fantasy -- nad likely enough still do -- frequently branch out into historical fiction. As one example -- the highly-regarded old fanzine Niekas (whose editor Ed Meskys died a few weeks ago in his 80s) published material by and about PKD and Tolkien, but also about Georgette Heyer, whom I haven't read but who apparently remains very popular... possibly deserving of a space of her own here at Chrons.
I'm not all that drawn to most historical novels. Among the scant few I've read, I rather like True Grit by Charles Portis. More recently I enjoyed Valerie Martin's The Ghost of the Mary Celeste (not really a ghost story, but it does examine the role of spiritualism in the 19th century) because I had admired her earlier novel, Mary Reilly. Blood Meridian by Cormac McCarthy is powerful, maybe profound, but certainly grueling.

Absalom, Absalom is sort of a historical novel, right? All the main action takes place around the time of the Civil War.

Okay. Maybe stretching a bit.
I, Claudius

There was a series of books about the American revolution published in the 80s I think but I cannot remember the name.

What do you mean I can't use Eric Flint's 1632 series? LOL
Randy, if I’d thought of it, I could’ve set myself to list four rather than three historical novels I like a lot and included True Grit.
I'll second George MacDonald Fraser's Flashman novels and Ken Follet's Pillars of the Earth series, and I'll add Bernard Cornwell's Warlord Chronicles trilogy about the 'real' King Arthur.

Apologies that there are actually 19 novels in my three recommendations.
I enjoyed Shogun a lot. Also Stephen Lawhead‘s Pendragon cycle - Arthurian but very much of the time. Walter Macken’s books set around .connemara are also very good