Historical Fiction Books To Read

Roisin Spragg

Historical fiction! One of my favourite genres. When people ask me what historical novel they should read I find myself pondering for a good while after. Well, what type? What era? Which setting? There are just so many good historical books out there, how can I tell you just one. It’s not such a simple question so here are eight varied historical novels I recommend for different age groups. I definitely enjoyed them.

 

‘Roses in a Forbidden Garden’ by Elise Garibaldi 

This true story of a Jewish girl and the boy she loved in Nazi Germany from 1938 to 1947 and the terrible problems they faced. This story is that of Garibaldi’s own grandmother and the very real atrocities committed against Inge and millions of others will shake you to the core. Though there was always a light turned on for Inge who managed to fall in love while at a camp. The photos of the family add to the atmosphere and the prose is wonderful to read. It is a history lesson that I recommend to teens and older and it will stick with you for years to come.

 

 

‘A Gathering Light’ by Jennifer Donnelly

A beautiful book about an event that changed the course of one girl’s life forever. Set in 1906 with the backdrop of the terrible murder of Grace Brown by Chester Gillette, an event that weaves the novel together, Mattie Gokey must find her way through adolescence and discover who she wants to be. Mattie herself is an interesting character who grows throughout the novel and her counterparts are just as entertaining to read about. Weaver in particular is an intriguing character. He faces deep racism from many of the white families and must cope with the adverse effect of these actions. Mattie starts a romance up with an ‘eligible’ boy, and that’s all women were ever meant to want, to be married to a good name. Mattie has other ideas about her how she wants her life to go and thus becomes a type of feminist to the readers. At it’s core, it is a feminist novel providing commentary on social status, race, and sex at the beginning of the 20th century. The prose is enjoyable and the descriptions are well written. I always recommend it.

 

 

‘Godwine Kingmaker’ by Mercedes Rochelle 

A historically accurate novel on Godwine, father to the last Anglo-Saxon king of England Harold, who gained immense power for his family and proclaimed the Kingmaker. This historical figure led a very captivating life and Rochelle details it in this book. Godwine was father-in-law to Edward the Confessor, father of King Harold, raised by Canute the Great, all these people impacted his life and he impacted theirs. He was a commoner who rose to the status of earl, what a feat. If you want a novel full of information about the period and Godwine while also reading like a novel then this is the one for you. Some describe this as ‘fact-ion’, not quite non fiction and not quite fiction. A prior knowledge of the period is not needed either, which is great for people who haven’t even heard of Godwine! This book and the rest of the trilogy are well worth the time it takes to read them.

 

 

‘Heat and Dust’ by Ruth Prawer Jhabvala

This powerful novel takes place in the 1920s and the 1970s in India, both before and after the rule of the British Raj. The lives of two women, Olivia and her step-granddaughter, play out. Though they live in India 50 years apart they have similarities in how their lives play out, how India changes them. Having the two eras shown in the book lets us see the social changes that occurred from the ’20’s to the ’70’s. Olivia was not expected to engage with India, not the culture and not the people, while in 70’s, the narrator can live freely and immerse herself in the culture. The parallels between the two women are fun to watch play out and the ending is good in the sense it divides people greatly, it’s a fun book for discussions and there are many opposing views. This novel is quite useful to write about in English Literature or other such school subjects so I definitely recommend to young adults and late teens.

 

 

 

‘The Lie Tree’ by Frances Hardinge

Another feminist book on our list! This Victorian era novel brought something to the table I had not seen before. The characters and the plot twists had me on the edge of my seat and the climax was fulfilling. Faith had spunk and she feels like a girl who isn’t like other girls, though it turns out other girls aren’t like other girls either. The prose is beautifully written and the tale flows seamlessly. As well as having many historical elements we get a murder mystery halfway through the novel, which should entice more than just a history fan. The role of the sexes during this period was one of imbalance and Hardinge shows us that and shows us how the woman fought back, though they fought back in a silent way.

 

Hooks & Eyes’ by VL McBeath

This extraordinary tale of a young widow Mary Jackson in mid 19th century England and the choices she must make to protect her two children, herself, and everything she’s worked for. The power dynamics and the role of a woman in society, like ‘The Lie Tree’, during the Victorian period is a central part to the story. The affections from Mary’s boss leave her in a situation that reels you in. McBeath portrays the real gritty lives of Victorian women, the hardships and limitations. The characters are well structured and the atmosphere feels real. It is also ‘fact-ion’ as it is based on the real lives of McBeath’s ancestors. McBeath is working on the rest of the series which will all be based of her ancestors so if you enjoy this book you have more to look forward to.

‘The Amazing Story of Adolphus Tips’ by Michael Morpurgo 

This is a historic tale for younger readers and a favourite of mine. The amazing story of a cat who survived everything and shaped the lives of the people around him, specifically twelve year old Lily. The story is told through letters that an old Lily gave to her grandson from 1943 to D-Day. The town she grew up in had not been affected by World War II until the D-Day landing tests began and 3000 people were moved from their home in Slapton. This novel is a good way to introduce the themes of war and it’s impacts to children. The characters are incredibly realistic and well structured and compel you to keep reading. Even though this book is recommended to ages 8 to 13 I say adults and teens should read as well, it’s a quick read.

 

 

 ‘Bog Child’ by Siobhan Dowd 

Set in 1981 in Northern Ireland this novel tells the story of a boy becoming a man. Fergus has a lot on his plate; his brother is in jail and on a hunger strike, he has uncovered an Iron Age body of what they assume to be a child execution, he is falling in love with the archaeologist’s daughter, and he needs to do well in his exams so he can become a doctor and leave Northern Ireland and the Troubles. There is a heavy politics aspect to the book which may be difficult for some readers and it’s quite helpful to have a prior knowledge of the Troubles as much is said in subtext and between the lines. Fergus as a character can capture my attention and keep it, his struggles and problems are very real; I can especially relate to the school related issues. The Irish history within the novel is useful to anyone studying the subject and provides a person’s experience rather than solely facts. The information about Celtic peoples in the Iron Age is also useful and rather interesting. This is Dowd’s most known piece and my favourite of hers. There are many mature themes so I recommend this for young adults and older.



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