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Writers of historical fiction bring the events of textbooks to life. By creating intricate stories and narratives, writers can turn a few lines of the story into a fully detailed plot and storyline. When you want to learn history but also want to remember it clearly for the deeper stories it involves, check out these epic and groundbreaking historical fiction books.
The Colony of Unrequited Dreams through Wayne johnston
Set primarily in Newfoundland, this high-profile novel presents the ways in which characters can change social class. It presents Newfoundland at a time when it was recognized as a province in Canadian Confederation in 1949. A fictional element links the actual main character, Joey Smallwood, to a fictional journalist named Sheilagh Fielding. The book is ambitious and fascinating for people looking to uncover unknown historical stories.
Shanghai Girls through Lisa View
As fascinating as a novel that exists between cultures and worlds, Shanghai Girls offers a glimpse of the impact of WWII through the prism of those affected. The two main characters, Pearl and May, live the lives of people living in war-torn China before becoming wives and mothers in the United States. They face all the discriminations, gender roles and family secrets as immigrants in postwar America.
War and peace by Leo Tolstoy
A historic classic, War and peace is one of the best in Tolstoy. While chronicling the French invasion of Russia, this story does much more. Rather, it is a saga of five Russian families as well as a philosophical treatise on society, war and power which has earned its place of classic by its scope. If you want epic, Tolstoy certainly delivers it in his dense and thoughtful prose.
The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead
The brutality of slavery in the United States is explored in this award-winning novel by Colson Whitehead. It was not for nothing that he won the National Book Award and a Pulitzer in the same year. With fabulistic elements of an actual subterranean train from the days of slavery, Whitehead explores the intergenerational legacy of slavery while delivering jaw-dropping action sequences and intense loyalty among its characters. You won’t be able to let go of this one.
The twentieth wife through Indu Sundaresan
With incredibly in-depth research into the Mughal Empire, Sundaresan crafts a story that is both brilliant fiction and deeply rooted in real texts of the time. 16th and 17th century India comes to life through the eyes of Mehrunnisa, a heroine who struggles against patriarchal rules while finding love and seizing her own power.
Lighting through Eleanor catton
If you want to learn more about a complex and interesting period in New Zealand history, grab this book. Catton tells 1866 about the South Island with clarity and candor, while also creating a gripping mystery of the unsolved crimes that take place in the famous Gold Rush there.
Song of Solomon by Toni Morrison
Widely touted as one of the most influential authors of the 20th century, Morrison paints a striking portrait of 1930-1960 in the United States. Her novel follows Macon “Milkman” Dead III, an African-American man living in Michigan. Morrison’s knack for creating rich family tapestries and showcasing the generational connection truly deserves the name “epic” for this novel.
Daughter of Fortune by Isabel Allende
Allende knows a lot about the Americas and the impacts of colonial life on the social experience of Chile and other parts of South America. Daughter of Fortune portrays the mid-1800s as a time of gold rush, love and adventure. The heroine Eliza Summers embarks on a difficult trip to California with her sweetheart, discovering that she was looking for more than just a new life in a new place.
Love Medicine by Louise Erdrich
Erdrich is known for his incredible storytelling ability and for this vaguely chronological set of conversational stories from the same Ojibwa reservation area. With themes of love and coming home, Love Medicine highlights both the great challenges and the great times of living in North Dakota on a reservation.
Four Reigns by Kukrit Pramoj
Popular in its original version and in translation, this story follows the life of a woman as she lives through the names of the book, with four different kings reigning in Thailand. You’ll learn about history, yes, but you’ll also experience Pramoj’s subtle humor and entertainment while immersing yourself in Thai culture and social life.
Want to learn more about historical fiction? We’ve put together a list of the 50 best historical fictions to keep you in the past all summer long. If you prefer books originally written in other languages, we’ve also got you covered with 12 great historical fiction books in translation. Epic historical fiction books are around every corner at Book Riot.