I’ve already posted my reading recommendations for my all time favourite genre – fantasy – so I thought it was about time I covered another of my favourite genres: historical fiction!
I’ve always been something of a history nerd, so it really isn’t surprising that I love historical fiction, but I think there are so many great stories out there that you don’t even need to be overly interested in history to love historical fiction. Depending on the type of historical fiction you read they can be beautiful literary masterpieces, sweeping romances or epic tales of action and adventure. There’s something for everyone!
So without further ado, here are my historical fiction reading recommendations:
Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel
The Tudor Court is a dangerous place, with the fates of its’ courtiers riding on the whims of a changeable King, and his chief adviser, Cardinal Wolsey. Into the fray steps Thomas Cromwell, a blacksmith’s son with ambition…just how far will he go in the precarious politics of Henry VIII’s court?
There’s a reason both the first and second books in Hilary Mantel’s Thomas Cromwell series both won the Booker Prize: they’re amazing! The writing is beautiful and strange at the same time, the familiar Tudor characters are depicted in new and more nuanced ways, and the setting comes alive.
Whilst this book might not be to a lot of people’s taste (the writing style isn’t for everyone!), if you’re interested in historical fiction it’s definitely worth a read just for how different it feels. I recently read the final book in the series which was released back in March, and it remains an incredible series up until the very end!
The Other Boleyn Girl by Philippa Gregory
Mary Boleyn catches the eye of King Henry VIII as a fourteen year old girl, newly arrived at court. Unfortunately she’s just a passing fancy, whereas her sister Anne has him dazzled, and she’s ordered by her ambitious family to pass on everything she knows about pleasing the King to her. But the Boleyn family is playing a dangerous game, and Mary fears where it could lead…
Philippa Gregory is often one of the first authors people think of when they think of historical fiction, and for good reason. I can generally assume I’m going to love any book of Philippa Gregory’s that I pick up, and that started with the first one I read: The Other Boleyn Girl. This book is basically responsible for my love of historical fiction, and is still one of my favourite Philippa Gregory books to date.
The Kingmaker’s Daughter by Philippa Gregory
Richard Neville, the Earl of Warwick and infamous ‘Kingmaker’ has no sons and heirs, and so uses his two daughters to his family’s political advantage. Anne Neville is the youngest, and when her father’s plans go wrong, she finds herself widowed at fourteen, alone and afraid. To escape her terrible situation she marries her childhood friend, Richard, Duke of Gloucester, and finds herself once again thrust into the ruthless world of the Royal family.
I could make a list just of my favourite Philippa Gregory books, but in the interest of having some variety in this list, I’ve only added one more. The Kingmaker’s Daughter is another Philippa Gregory book I can remember really enjoying, and takes you even further back in history, to the Courts of Edward IV and Richard III.
The King’s Concubine by Anne O’Brien
Alice Perrers is a young orphan living in a convent when Queen Phillippa plucks her out of obscurity for a life at the court of Edward III. The love between King Edward and Philippa is infamous, so Alice is surprised to find the role she was selected for: she is delivered to the King’s bedchamber to perform the wifely duties that the ailing Philippa is no longer able to. As confidant to the Queen and mistress to the King, Alice finds herself more powerful than she ever could have dreamed…but power is dangerous.
Anne O’Brien is another author whose books are an instant read for me! I’ve enjoyed almost all of them that I’ve read, but I still have really fond memories of the first one I read: The King’s Concubine. I liked the change of the main character not being royalty or even a noble woman, and I didn’t know much about Alice Perrers, or Edward III, so I feel like I learnt a lot!
A Tapestry of Treason by Anne O’Brien
The House of York is ambitious, cunning and treacherous, and Constance of York, Lady Despenser is as bad as any of them. Finding herself at the heart of two plots against Henry IV, she seeks to replace him on the throne with the usurped Richard II and see her family restored to their true place at the King’s side. But her path is dangerous and full of betrayal…
This is one of the more recent Anne O’Brien books I’ve read and I absolutely loved it! Constance is such a sneaky, ambitious and ultimately unlikable character, but she’s just so interesting and strong that I was fascinated by her story anyway.
Stormbird by Conn Iggulden
The ferocious warrior King and famous victor of Agincourt, Henry V is dead. When his pious son Henry VI finally comes of age years later it becomes clear that he is nothing like his father. His weakness and unstable health and sanity renders him weak and ineffectual, and it isn’t long before the vultures begin to circle…
If you read one series about the War of the Roses, then I would highly recommend it be this one! The characters were so well-developed, and I liked the mix of politics and action (there’s plenty of battle scenes in this one!). If you liked ‘Game of Thrones’ but want some real history, then this is probably a good book for you!
Katherine of Aragon: The True Queen (Six Tudor Queens #1) by Alison Weir
Katherine of Aragon has known since she was a child that one day she would be Queen of England, but she had assumed it would be at the side of Prince Arthur, the man she sets out to England to marry. However, when he dies mere months after their marriage, it seems that her destiny has been lost to her, until her husband’s younger brother sweeps her off her feet. But being Queen of England is going to be harder than she could ever have imagined, and she finds that she will have to fight hard to keep her position as the true queen…
I’ve read so many version of Katherine of Aragon’s story, and this is easily one of the best! Whilst it makes a riveting read as a novel, there’s so much exquisite detail that the Tudor period seems to come alive in the pages, and it breathes life into the fascinating figure of Katherine of Aragon, Henry VIII’s first wife.
In fact, I’d recommend the Six Tudor Queens series in general, as every one released to date has been excellent in my opinion, and I can’t wait to read the Katherine Howard book!
The Last Kingdom by Bernard Cornwell
When Uhtred, a member of the English nobility, is orphaned at age ten, he is taken in by Danes and taught their Viking ways. As an adult he finds himself once again on the side of his countrymen, but finds his loyalties torn in the battle for England, and the strife between Christianity and paganism.
I love pretty much anything to do with Vikings, so I absolutely adored this book! This is the first book in the ever-growing Last Kingdom series (currently up to 12 or 13 books I believe?) so if you enjoy this first book, there’s plenty more of it! Somehow I still haven’t read the second book, but it’s high on my TBR list.
The Boleyn King by Laura Anderson
This book beautifully reimagines history by asking what would have happened if Anne Boleyn had successfully provided Henry VIII with his longed for son and heir…
OK, so this isn’t exactly historical fiction – it’s technically alternative history – but it’s definitely an interesting read for anyone who is interested in history, or anyone who just wants to read a Tudor themed romance. The time period is captured beautifully, regardless of the changing of events, and I really liked the four central characters: William (King Henry XI), his sister Elizabeth and his childhood friends Dominic and Minuette.
So have you read any of these books? What did you think? What are some of your favourite historical reads?