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Historical novels (and such)

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message 1: by Rindis (last edited Aug 25, 2016 12:02PM) (new)

Rindis | 6 comments I thought I'd start a thread on historical novels, and see if I can pick up some recommendations for some new books.

You can see a general list of historical novels I've liked in an old blog post of mine:
...which I've just updated a little (so you might want to look again, Tracy). And I thought I'd pick out a couple to discus more completely here.

On that list, my favorite book would be Island of Ghosts A Novel of Roman Britain. Bradshaw does a wonderful job of presenting the Romans, Sarmartians and Britons as complex, individual peoples who work without resorting to stereotyping. The main character is a complex, conflicted man, and the primary conflict of the novel is all internal even while maintaining a well-paced plot of external action.

And on the lesser known end, Sheba - Volume One The Sands of Seth is the first of a three volume series that follows the adventures of a mummified cat who has missed the afterlife. Formerly Queen Cleopatra's cat, the chaos of the Roman takeover meant that her soul was never judged against Ma'at, and she slept away the centuries until awoken during the Muslim conquest of Egypt. The humorous story flips between the present of the 7th century and the civil war between Mark Antony and Octavian quite a bit, and has a bit of fun with the religions involved as the various deities are part of the cast of characters.

Hmm. That turned into more of a review, I think I'll copy it over into one.

message 2: by Patrick (last edited Aug 25, 2016 12:03PM) (new)

Patrick | 13 comments The Killer Angels is a Pulitzer Prize winning novel on the Civil War though is very well written. Much of the rest of that genre is crap, but this book is superb. I highly recommend it.

message 3: by JZ (last edited Aug 25, 2016 12:03PM) (new)

JZ Temple | 9 comments As I've said I read mostly non-fiction, however, there is one series of historical fiction that I am a big fan of and that's the Flashman series by George McDonald Fraser, see the Wiki page:


Wildly politically incorrect in so many ways, but rousingly good reads and good history to boot. Just don't let your less than open minded friends see you reading one!

message 4: by Patrick (last edited Aug 25, 2016 12:03PM) (new)

Patrick | 13 comments I checked out the Wikipedia link...those look pretty funny.

Very well, then...in the same vein as JZ I recommend to you the series called Casca The Eternal Mercenary...through a ludicrous plot device, the main character finds himself a participant in nearly all of the violent history-making events of the last 2000 years. I go into more detail about this book and my opinion of it on the Books I Loathed group under the thread Shameful Passions...

and the wiki entry for more info is...


I will say that the authors attempted to make thse books as historically accurate as possible, up to a point.

Wouldn't recommend reading this in front of your politically correct friends either.

message 5: by Rindis (last edited Aug 25, 2016 12:05PM) (new)

Rindis | 6 comments Depending on what you're looking for, The Shepherd Kings is probably the best of the Ancient Egypt books, though naturally the one least grounded in actual history. The Eagle's Daughter is probably her best 'straight' historical (and to echo the other active thread here, helped get me interested in the period), and Alamut her best book ever.

JZ, looked at the Flashman article. I usually don't care for anti-heroes... but it does look fun, and I'm going to have to look them up. Do you recommend starting at the beginning, or is there a later one that would be a good starting point?

I know of the Casca series (my roommate has read some of them). Not really what I look for. However, at two dozen books, someone likes them. ^_^

message 6: by JZ (last edited Aug 25, 2016 12:07PM) (new)

JZ Temple | 9 comments From Rindis:
"JZ, looked at the Flashman article. I usually don't care for anti-heroes... but it does look fun, and I'm going to have to look them up. Do you recommend starting at the beginning, or is there a later one that would be a good starting point?"

I'd recommend starting with "Flashman", the first book (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Harry_Pa... ) and then reading them in the order they were published. This isn't the chronological order for the character, but the author added more background and filler information on Flashman as the books were written so it will probably make more sense this way. The first book might be on a subject a bit obscure with non-British readers, but hang in there because "Royal Flash" is a hoot, especially if you have read "The Prisoner of Zenda" or seen the movie.

message 7: by Annie (last edited Aug 25, 2016 12:07PM) (new)

Annie | 9 comments I agree with your "'nuff said" comment re: I Claudius and Claudius the God, Rindis. I absolutely adored them and probably breezed through them entirely too quickly b/c I couldn't get enough. I also muddled through Graves's Count Belisarius, which takes patience and doesn't hold a candle to the Claudius books, but worth a read anyway.

My favorite historical novel of late, though, is An Instance of the Fingerpost by Iain Pears. It takes place in Restoration England and deals with some pretty weighty issues, e.g. religion and science and gender and filial loyalty. At its core, though, is a compelling murder mystery told from four different points of view and features a notable cast of supporting characters such as John Locke. Highly highly recommended!

message 8: by Mark (last edited Aug 25, 2016 12:11PM) (new)

Mark For a later period, I highly recommend Alan Furst's books about World War II Europe -- film noir in a book, with highly varied anti-heroes. And truly, "All Quiet on the Western Front" is a classic for a reason. Even today, it is a great read for the miseries of World War I trench warfare.

And if you want a truly good immigrants coming to America saga, try "The Emigrants" trilogy by Swedish author Vilhelm Moberg.

Oh, and for 1600s and 1700s Britain and Holland, try David Liss's books, "A Conspiracy of Paper" and "The Coffee Trader."

message 9: by [deleted user] (new)

A friend introduced me with the work of James A. Michener, and I find his book "The Source" a very vivid and intriguing way of telling the history of Israel. I recently borrowed "Poland", but till I find the time for a book this long, it stays in the shelf for a while.

message 10: by Deb (last edited Aug 25, 2016 12:29PM) (new)

Deb | 3 comments GMF's non-fiction memoir of his time in Burma during WWII, "Quartered Safe Out Here" is wonderful, too. Every WWII vet I've given it to has loved it, as did I.

message 11: by Matthew (last edited Aug 25, 2016 12:31PM) (new)

Matthew | 1 comments I really enjoyed Eric Larson's The Devil in the White City, which takes place around the time of the 1893 World's Fair in Chicago, and uses the Fair as a vehicle through which to weave together a lot of biographical, social, and cultural threads. It gives a fantastic account (I think) of the attitudes of American architects, urbanites and industrialists at the turn of the century, and of the emerging problems of urban life in an industrializing nation. Visions of the future sometimes intersect and often collide with the realities of the present, and it's all very interesting and fun. It also seemed very well researched. The book's official webpage is http://www.randomhouse.com/crown/devi....

message 12: by Nazy (last edited Aug 25, 2016 12:40PM) (new)

Nazy | 2 comments oh;well the best historical novel i've read is DESIREE and of course SINOHE which are really full of interesting information and excitements.

message 13: by Rindis (last edited Aug 25, 2016 12:40PM) (new)

Rindis | 6 comments Don't know either title, and the second one doesn't come up in a search of GoodReads. Could you say more about it?

message 14: by Tamaal (last edited Aug 25, 2016 12:54PM) (new)

Tamaal Ghosh | 2 comments Staying with Ancient Rome, though slightly earlier, Coleen McCullough's Masters of Rome seriesis , IMO, a must-read.

An alarmingly modern-day mix of savagery, senators, sex and philosophy, the path from the crumbling Republic to nascent Empire, with 'retro' glances to the birth of Rome, is a near-addictive experience - sufficiently so for readers to demand no less than six "blockbusters" from the author!

message 15: by VMom (last edited Aug 25, 2016 12:55PM) (new)

VMom (votermom) | 3 comments Rindis, maybe SINOHE refers to "The Egyptian" by Mika Waltari, which has also been published as "Sinuhe the Egyptian". It's a fantastic book.

I like the Anya Seton books I've read so far - I must look up more of them.

message 16: by Sara W (new)

Sara W (sarawesq) | 6 comments I just discovered Anya Seton as well! My husband actually bought me one of her books for Christmas because he found a ton of good reviews about it on Amazon.

I absolutely love Jean Plaidy's books. You can get a list of them all at


If you click on the series name, it will go to that series and give a description of the individual books in that series.

Her books are well researched and mostly focus on English history from William the Conqueror to Victoria, although she does have short series dealing with other european families such as Ferdinand and Isabella, the Borgia's of Italy and Catherine de'Medici. The English books tend to be broken up by each King or Queen's reign (with a few exceptions when there are multiple books like with Henry VIII), so it's easy to find a book based on a particular monarch. I own practically all of these books, and I'm currently reading them in chronological order. They are great!

message 17: by Silvana (new)

Silvana (silvaubrey) I love historical/alternate history novels, but unfortunately I've only managed to grab a few:
- Gone with the Wind (Mitchell) = civil war
- Les Miserables (Hugo) = French revolution
- Exodus (Leon Uris) = founding of Israel
- Topaz (Leon Uris) = Bay of Pig
- Temeraire series (Novik) = Napoleonic war
- War and Peace (Tolstoy) = Napoleonic war
- Ivanhoe (Scott) ?? = King Richard and things

The next in line would be All Quiet nn the Western Front and I, Claudius. Dunno when I'll finish them, but I will.

message 18: by Annie (new)

Annie | 9 comments Since you like the older novels that were historical fiction anyway, SIlvana, I would recommend A Tale of Two Cities, definitely my favorite Dickens.

Re: Devil in the White City, I agree that the two stories were pretty interesting in and of themselves, but I don't think the author did a great job connecting them. It would have made more sense to have the two separated completely.

message 19: by Jessica (new)

Jessica | 3 comments Two historical fictions I've enjoyed are A Very Long Engagement - essentially a love story but about deserters in the French army during WWI. It may have been made into a movie, the book I loved.

Song of the Exile - great book. My first introduction to "comfort women" for the Japanese army during WW2.

message 20: by Paula (new)

Paula Uruburu (puruburu) | 9 comments I may be somewhat prejudiced because his marvelous novel, Ragtime, was a tremendous inspiration for me while working on my own book, American Eve (which is non-fiction), but E.L. Doctorow has singlehandedly reinvented the historical novel for ours and subsequent generations. His last novel, The March, is about Sherman's march during the civil war and focuses on the fascinating idea of the emancipated slaves who follow the Union army in the search to form a new identity. My other favorites are Ragtime (already mentioned) and The Book of Daniel (about the Rosenbergs who were executed as Communist spies).

message 21: by Kathleen (new)

Kathleen | 1 comments Island of Ghosts: A Novel of Roman Britain is one of my favorite books. Glad to hear someone else liked it a lot as well!

Another good one about Roman Britain is William Dietrich's Hadrian's Wall. Dietrich's Scourge of God is about Attila the Hun and is also very good.

message 22: by Laura (new)

Laura thanks Kathy, I have already included them on my TBR list, these books look great.

Susanna - Censored by GoodReads (susannag) | 29 comments Dissolution, by C. J. Sansom, and its two sequels, Dark Fire and Sovereign.

message 24: by Vivek (new)

Vivek (vivek_k) | 1 comments The Ugly American, by William J. Lederer and Eugene Burdick, is excellent. It was originally written (in the 1950s) as a portrayal of what was wrong with American foreign policy during the cold war.

message 25: by Laura (new)

Laura The Light Bearer by Donna Gillespie is also great

message 26: by Thomas (new)

Thomas Cook | 2 comments I don't believed anyone mentioned Imperium by Robert Harris, which happens to be my favorite. Although it is a fictional account of Cicero's rise to power, it has solid information that doesn't contradict known fact. Harris has simply supplied the dialogue and blank spots in the historical record to make a fantastic novel.

message 27: by Peggy (new)

Peggy (peggyullmanbell) | 41 comments I don't consider my novel crap. Nor is it truly a part of th genre to which you refer. FIXIN' THINGS, a novel of Gettysburg presents an entirely new vision of the summer of 1863. Told from the POV of young women who wake up one sunny morning to find an army in their yard, FIXIN' THINGS is more about war's gore than about its glory.

Blessed Be,

Peggy Jay aka Peggy Ullman Bell

Author: FIXIN' THINGS, a novel of women @ Gettysburg ISBN:0595218415
SAPPHO SINGS, a fictionalized bio of The Poetess of Lesbos ISBN:1438214316

message 28: by Peggy (new)

Peggy (peggyullmanbell) | 41 comments Previous post was in direct response to Patrick's old one in re The Killer Angels which was also a well researched novel.

Sorry if I caused any misunderstanding.

Blessed Be,

Peggy Jay aka Peggy Ullman Bell

message 29: by Terence (new)

Terence (spocksbro) I've searched the thread and couldn't find him but I'd recommend Gore Vidal's "Creation," set during the time of the Persian Wars, and "Julian," a "biography" of Julian the Apostate.

And, considering his skills as a writer, I probably should get around to reading Vidal's American History trilogy eventually.

And, if you're in the mood for alternative/fantasy history, John Ford's "The Dragon Waiting: A Masque of History" is one of the best novels I've ever read. It's an alternate history of the Wars of the Roses where Richard wins at Bosworth against a Henry Tudor backed by the awesome sorcery of the Byzantine Empire.

message 30: by Barbara (new)

Barbara I loved Vidal's American history books--you'll definitely want to read them.
I enjoyed Creation (but thought the American ones were better), and will have to read Julian some day. Thanks for reminding me to revisit Vidal.

message 31: by Hotspur (new)

Hotspur (HotspurOT) | 5 comments Thanks for reminding me of this great read, Terence. I loved THE DRAGON WAITING-- really borderline fantasy, but so steeped in historical events it has a historical fiction flavor.

Odd thing, the only other novel by John Ford I liked was a Star Trek novelization.

message 32: by Terence (new)

Terence (spocksbro) Hotspur,

Ford wrote two ST novelizations. I forget the second one's title (and I didn't like it, anyway) but his first one, "The Final Reflection," is probably the best ST novel I've ever read (admittedly not a high bar :-)

message 33: by Silvana (new)

Silvana (silvaubrey) My personal favorite would be Exodus by Leon Uris.

message 34: by Jennie (new)

Jennie | 3 comments I had forgotten all about Exodus. I read it in 11th grade, to prove to a boy that girls can "get" Leon Uris. I got Uris, and I enjoyed the book, though 11th grade was a long long time ago.

message 35: by Donald (new)

Donald (donroc) | 15 comments New to this group.

I will list many of my favorite authors, most of them from the so called "Golden Age" of historical fiction.

Rafael Sabatini, Thomas Costain, Samuel Shellabarger, Edson Marshall, Robert Payne, Frank Yerby, Dorthy Dunnett, Delderfield, Mary Renault, Graves.

The American Winston Chruchill wrote a series about the Carvel family from Colonial times through the Civil War.

There is a huge tome about the Civil War by Ben Ames Williams.

Fred Mustard Stewart has a series about the immigrant experience.

Howard Fast wrote SPARTACUS and one about the Maccabees, MY GLORIOUS BROTHERS.

And the once popular now forgotten German author Lion Feuchtwanger wrote a triology about Josephus, THE UGLY DUCHESS, JEW SUSS, and one, the title of which I cannot recall about Raquel Enríquez, the Dove of Toledo, great-grandmother of Ferdinand.

message 36: by Peggy (new)

Peggy (peggyullmanbell) | 41 comments Partick, Please don't include FIXIN' THINGS, a novel of women at Gettysburg in your "much of the rest" until you have at least read it. Once you've read it, I welcome your review.

message 37: by Peggy (new)

Peggy (peggyullmanbell) | 41 comments A wonderful bibliography, Donald, to which I respectfully add Dr. Frank G. Slaughter

BTW my SAPPHO SINGS has been favorably compared to Mary Renault's wonderful works. You might want to give it a look see sometime.

Read on!

message 38: by Donald (new)

Donald (donroc) | 15 comments Yes, I forgot to include Dr. Slaughter. Will look for SAPPHO SINGS. The title reminds me of the writing of Pierre Louys, which includes his sapphic SONGS OF BILITIS.

message 39: by Peggy (new)

Peggy (peggyullmanbell) | 41 comments Thank you for the reference. I will look him up. Meanwhile, thank you for including Dr. Slaughter on your biblio. of great historical fiction authors. His postcard answers to my many questions were tremendous help in getting the medical stuff right in FIXIN' THINGS, my novel of women at the Battle of Gettysburg.

message 40: by Donald (new)

Donald (donroc) | 15 comments I omitted two other once popular now forgotten writers of U.S. Historical fiction, Viña Del Mar and Frank Yerby.

message 41: by Susanna - Censored by GoodReads (last edited Aug 05, 2008 11:57AM) (new)

Susanna - Censored by GoodReads (susannag) | 29 comments Oh yes, and The Killer Angels, truly is great. I think it's the best novel I've read about the Civil War.

message 42: by Peggy (new)

Peggy (peggyullmanbell) | 41 comments Interesting you should mention Frank Yerby. He was the recipient of my very first letter to a favorite author. I was 10 and I wrote to him to ask why he hadn't corrected an anachronism in whatever book of his I was reading at the time. I read them all and believe me that saucy 10 yr old stays in my mind whenever I write because I know there's another one like her out there somewhere who will be sure to let me know if I get my time details wrong.

message 43: by Benjamin (new)

Benjamin | 2 comments Killer Angels - what a fantastic book. The scene where Chamberlin has them fix bayonets and sends them down the hill sends chills down your spine. I thought the Killer Angels was much better then the Last Full Measure (which was also good) and Gods and Generals (a bit slow).

Someone mentioned Leon Uris and Exodus, another terrific book. After you read a few Uris books, though -- Mila 18 and the Haj come to mind -- they end up running together with the same story telling mechanisms. Another good historical fiction novel about this part of the world is the Source, by Michener.


Ben Orbach
author of Live from Jordan

message 44: by Peggy (new)

Peggy (peggyullmanbell) | 41 comments I fell in love with Exodus and can still see scenes from it in my head. Wonderful writing!

I guess one of the problems for me with Killer Angels was that having had the Gettysburg battlefield as my playground growing up I already knew Shaara's story by rote.

Write on!

Peggy Ullman Bell
Author Fixin' Things & Sappho Sings

message 45: by Donald (new)

Donald (donroc) | 15 comments Interesting factoid about Yerby, whom I first read and enjoyed at age 14 after I saw the film based on his FOXES OF HARROW. There were no photos of him on early book jackets until several best-sellers later. He was African-American and may still be the best-selling African-American author of all time.

message 46: by Heidi (new)

Heidi | 2 comments James A Michner is definitely my favorite historical fiction author! I first read Texas in 11th grade and fell in love with the genre. Overall Poland is my favorite, but I haven't been able to read all of his books either!

message 47: by Stephanie (new)

Stephanie (sinanna) | 2 comments One of my all time favorite authors is Marge Piercy who has written on a wide selection of eras - Gone to Soldier is WW!!; Sex Wars covers the late 19th century in American history; City of Darkness, City of Light covers the French Revolution; and more contemporary times such as the 60s and SDS in Vida - all with a feminist prespective.

message 48: by Linda (new)

Linda Proud (lindaproud) | 1 comments I've just enjoyed myself and learnt a lot reading through this thread. I recently taught a course on writing historical fiction at Oxford University's summer school and discovered it was the first of its kind. That's inspired missionary zeal to raise awareness of this neglected (often abused) literary form. It's as broad a form as the novel itself, ranging from high literature (Tolstoy) to pulp (shall be nameless). For some reason it is usually divided between 'literary' and 'romance' with no name for what lies in between. I'm very heartened to see that this group's taste is very much for what lies in between.

I'd be very grateful for help in defining this kind of novel. As a first stab I'd say that the story arises out of the author's fascination for a particular period. It will have a theme, something the author wishes to say. Such novels give reliable insight into a period based on thorough research.

There are some very good lists of historical fiction out there, but they tend to be all-inclusive and one has to somehow intuit as to whether this is my kind of book or not. But have a look at Sarah Johnson's http://readingthepast.blogspot.com and Margaret Donsbach's www.historicalnovels.info. Both are well-worth browsing.

And now for some extra names, with something of a UK bias:
Rose Tremain, Paul Waters, Patrick O'Brien, William Golding, HFM Prescott, Marguerite Yourcenar, Barry Unsworth, Bernard Cornwell, Mary Renault, Mary Stewart, Geraldine Brooks, Robert Nye, Peter Ackroyd, Irving Stone, AS Byatt, Melvyn Bragg.

Happy reading!


message 49: by Steve (new)

Steve First post. I have a few that I can add to this list:

Fifth Queen, by Ford Madox Ford. Catherine Howard & Henry VIII. (I think Ford did a lot research on this.)

Death of the Fox: A Novel of Elizabeth and Ralegh, by George Garrett. There are times when this reads with the density of a poem. Garrett immersed himself in all things Elizabethan, and it shows. Great book.

Nothing Like the Sun , by Anthony Burgess. See above. Sort of. It's a novel about Shakespeare, but as a straight up historical novel? It is literature, and you will get a real feel for the times. But if you don't like wordplay and other literary devices, you may want to steer clear.

The Scarlet City: A Novel of 16th Centry Italy, by Hella Haase. Great novel, that tells its story through the points of view of a number of historical figures. Literate. Awesome.

Aztec, by Gary Jennings. I don't how historical it is, but it's one fun read.

The Very Rich Hours of Count von Stauffenberg, by Paul West. One of best historical novels I've ever read. It tells the story of the conspiracy to kill Hitler. I can only hope that the upcoming Tom Cruise movie is using this book as its script.

August 1914, by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn. Title pretty much says it all. AS doing Tolstoy, and I think he did a good job. I read the earlier version, and I heard different things about the new edition and its additional material. You may want to check into that.

The Gates of the Alamo, by Stephen Harrigan. What a great read. Harrigan does a great job developing his own characters to toss into the historical mix. As good an American battle book as Killer Angels.

The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, by Ron Hansen. The recent movie was based upon this book. A great read.

The Greenlanders, by Jane Smiley. I've read a lot of her other stuff, and I still think this the best thing she's ever done. She absorbed the sagas, and this is the result. Incredible.

The Robert Graves Claudius books. Some of the best historical fiction ever written.

The Sunne in Splendour: A Novel of Richard III, by Sharon Kay Penman. A tall order, but Penman made me really feel for these characters, which were not historical cut-outs, but flesh and blood people. A fine read.

King Hereafter, by Dorothy Dunnett. The real Macbeth? I don't know, but Dunnett was a great writer who worked hard on the historical detail. Nearly everything by Dunnett should be of interest to an historical fiction fan.

message 50: by Michelle (new)

Michelle Nevius | 1 comments Personally, I am drawn to character-driven historical novels. For example, I love Oldest Confederate Widow Tells All, or Michener's Hawaii.

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