What is Historical Fiction?
Historical fiction novels are stories that take place in the past. They use authentic period detail and may feature fictionalized accounts of real historical figures. Subgenres include fictional biographies, historical mysteries, historical romance, family sagas, nautical fiction, alternate history, and more!
Historical Fiction: Currently Popular
by Amor Towles
In June of 1954, 18-year-old Emmett Watson, released after serving 15 months for involuntary manslaughter, discovers that two friends from the work farm have hidden themselves in the trunk of the warden’s car and have hatched a different plan for Emmett’s future.
by Chris Bohjalian
In 1964, Hollywood royalty Katie Barstow and her new husband, along with her glittering entourage, arrive for their luxury African safari, but are instead taken hostage by Russian mercenaries, in this blistering story of fame, race, love death set in a world on the cusp of great change.
by Bonnie Garmus
In the early 1960s, chemist and single mother Elizabeth Zott, the reluctant star of America’s most beloved cooking show due to her revolutionary skills in the kitchen, uses this opportunity to dare women to change the status quo.
by Kate Quinn
Known as Lady Death – a lethal hunter of Nazis, Mila Pavlichenko, sent to America on a goodwill tour, forms an unexpected friendship with First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt and a connection with a silent fellow sniper, offering her a chance at happiness until her past returns with a vengeance.
Historical Fiction: Highlighted Categories
Massachusetts Historical Fiction
The Boston Girl by Anita Diamant (2014)
Recounting the story of her life to her granddaughter, octogenarian Addie describes how she was raised in early-twentieth-century America by Jewish immigrant parents in a teeming multicultural neighborhood.
The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne (1850)
In early colonial Massachusetts, a young woman endures the consequences of her sin of adultery and spends the rest of her life in atonement.
Summer of ’69 by Elin Hilderbrand (2019)
As a man flies to the moon and Ted Kennedy sinks a car in Chappaquiddick, four siblings experience the drama, intrigue and upheaval along with the rest of the country during the summer of 1969.
Hour of the Witch by Chris Bohjalian (2021)
A resourceful Puritan woman in 1662 Boston plots to escape a violent marriage only to find herself targeted by her disapproving and superstitious neighbors for failing to save a child’s life.
The Given Day by Dennis Lehane (2008)
An epic tale set at the end of World War I follows the experiences of a family whose lives mirror the political unrest of an America caught between its well-patterned past and an unpredictable future.
The Beantown Girls by Jane Healey (2019)
After her fiance goes missing during the war, Fiona decides to volunteer overseas as a Red Cross Clubmobile girl and brings along her friends Dottie and Viviana, an adventure that has them encounter new friendships, new loves, and new danger.
The Crucible by Arthur Miller
A dramatic re-telling of the Salem Witch Hysteria of 1692.
World War II Era
The Nightingale by Kristen Hannah (2015)
A woman is forced to house a Nazi in WWII France, while her sister becomes a Resistance fighter.
When the Emperor Was Divine by Julie Otsuka (2002)
A Japanese-American family is forced into an internment camp during WWII while their father is taken into captivity.
All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr
A blind French girl on the run from the German occupation and a German orphan-turned-Resistance tracker struggle with their respective beliefs after meeting on the Brittany coast.
The Last Green Valley by Mark Sullivan
In late March 1944, as Stalin’s forces push into Ukraine, young Emil and Adeline Martel must make a terrible decision: Do they wait for the Soviet bear’s intrusion and risk being sent to Siberia? Or do they reluctantly follow the wolves – murderous Nazi officers who have pledged to protect “pure-blood” Germans?
The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah (2015)
Reunited when the elder’s husband is sent to fight in World War II, French sisters Vianne and Isabelle find their bond as well as their respective beliefs tested by a world that changes in horrific ways.
A Sunlit Weapon by Jacqueline Winspear
Masie Dobbs, a psychologist and investigator in 1942 London, investigates the death of a female ferry pilot and two kidnapped American servicemen.
The Good Left Undone by Adriana Trigiani
This richly woven tapestry of three generations of women faced with impossible choices follows Matelda, the family’s matriarch, as she, facing the end of her life, must decide what is worth fighting for and when to let go.
African American Historical Fiction
Take My Hand by Dolen Perkins-Valdez (2022)
In 1973 Montgomery, Alabama, Civil Townsend, a young Black nurse working for the Montgomery Family Planning Clinic, grapples with her role when she takes two young girls into her heart and the unthinkable happens, and nothing will ever be the same for any of them.
Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi (2016)
Half-sisters grow up in 1700s Ghana, one married off to an Englishman, the other sold into the slave trade.
Harlem Shuffle by Colson Whitehead
A furniture salesman in 1960s Harlem becomes a fence for shady cops, local gangsters and low-life pornographers after his cousin involves him in a failed heist.
The Personal Librarian by Marie Benedict and Victoria Christopher Murray
Hired by J. P. Morgan to curate a collection of rare manuscripts, books and artwork for his newly built Pierpont Morgan Library, Belle de Costa Greene becomes one of the most powerful women in New York despite the dangerous secret she keeps.
An Extraordinary Union by Alyssa Cole
Set during the American Civil War, this compelling story of forbidden love and espionage boasts authentic characters and well-researched historical detail.
The Love Songs of W.E.B. Du Bois by Honorée Fanonne Jeffers
To come to terms with who she is and what she wants, Ailey, the daughter of an accomplished doctor and a strict schoolteacher, embarks on a journey through her family’s past, helping her embrace her full heritage, which is the story of the Black experience in itself.
Kindred by Octavia Butler
Dana, a Black woman, finds herself repeatedly transported to the antebellum South, where she must make sure that Rufus, the plantation owner’s son, survives to father Dana’s ancestor.
20th Century Historical Fiction
The House of the Spirits by Isabel Allende (1982)
An ambitious patriarch, his wife, and their defiant daughter live through three generations of politics in 1900s Chile
Told from the perspective of one woman bent on disentangling fact from fiction, this unrivaled novel about money, power, intimacy and perception is centered around the mystery of how the Rask family acquired their immense fortune in 1920s-1930’s New York City.
Great Circle by Maggie Shipstead
After being rescued as infants from a sinking ocean liner in 1914, Marian and Jamie Graves are raised by their dissolute uncle in Missoula, Montana. There – after encountering a pair of barnstorming pilots passing through town in beat up biplanes – Marian commences her lifelong love affair with flight.
The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro
Stevens, an aging butler dedicated to the dignity of his profession, takes to the road to convince Ms. Bent — a now-married former housekeeper — to resume her duties at Darlington Hall.
The Night Watchman by Louise Erdrich
A historical novel based on the life of the author’s grandfather traces the experiences of a Chippewa Council night watchman in mid-19th-century rural North Dakota who fights Congress to enforce Native American treaty rights.
Siren Queen by Nghi Vo
A new novel offers an exploration of an outsider achieving stardom on her own terms, in a fantastical Hollywood where the monsters are real and the magic of the silver screen illuminates every page.
We Measure the Earth with Our Bodies by Tsering Yangzom Lama
A novel tells the compelling and profound story of a Tibetan family’s journey through exile.