What makes the best historical fiction books so popular? Their obvious appeal, whether you’re reading a classic or discovering a new author, is simply that it’s fascinating to watch the past come to life in the present. But beyond romance, courage, and revelation, the best historical fiction helps us forge a connection to the past that informs our present and our future – themes that run through time are universal.
Sales of historical fiction increased in 2020, despite the pandemic, and they also remained popular this year. Sophie Orme, Publishing Director at Zaffre and Manilla Press, says: “There is a huge appetite for historical fiction and it’s wonderful to see booksellers and retailers championing it.
So what are the best historical fiction books to add to your list in 2021 and beyond? We started the year recommending big hitters from 2020, such as multi-award winning Hamnet by Maggie O ‘Farrell, while later Stacey Halls triumphed with Edwardian gothic romance Ms. England – and newcomer. Emma Stonex wowed readers with The Lamplighters, a ghostly thriller at the end of this year.
So whether you prefer to read your printed books or like to use your digital device (be it one of the best eReaders or the best Kindles), these are the best historical fiction books that should absolutely be on your reading list. unavoidable.
Best historical fiction books to read in 2021
Historical fiction encompasses a huge period of time, so to make it easier for you, we’ve grouped them into time periods – from the pre-19th century to the Victorian era and early 20th century, to the time of WWII and mid to late 20th century.
Some of the best books of 2021 have been historical fiction books, but not all of our chosen novels are from this year – some are notable reads from the last few years that we couldn’t but include on this list.
A must see for true history buffs – there is everything from Greek myths to royal courts and the life of ordinary people in the 1700s. The 19th century began on January 1, 1801, so all of the fictional choices listed below are prior to this time.
This section is a must for those who want to learn about times very different from the modern area.
Victorian and early 20th century
In this section, we’ll share our top picks of historical fiction from the Victorian era and early 20th century. The Victorian era covers the entirety of Queen Victoria’s reign from 1837 until her death in January 1901. Recommendations will also cover literature based on the early part of the 20th century.
Reflecting the growing fascination with the morbid and the supernatural during the Victorian era, there are a few book options based on this topic. Below you will also find tales from foreign countries and their history as the 20th century entered – it was a time of enormous societal change at home and abroad.
Fiction about WWII remains extremely popular – our selection includes stories of ordinary people doing extraordinary things as the threat of war looms larger. There is a fascinating fictional account of the life of a young Queen Elizabeth II (then Princess Elizabeth) and Princess Margaret during World War II. In addition, we have included stories set in the aftermath of the war.
The post-WWII era
Beginning with the WWII era, literature from the mid to late 20th century (what we would call our most recent history) explores themes of race, identity, class and transgression, as the world opened up again after tortuous and long wars.
As such, the fictional recommendations below cover a wide range of experiences in a post-WWII era, from the consequences of war crimes to new lives in new countries.