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With all of history to choose from, it’s no surprise that historical fiction continues to soar as a favorite genre. From historical romance to historical tales of fairy tales and historical adventures, there is a historical fiction niche for everyone. Walk into any bookstore and you’ll probably find the best-selling historical fiction books. Historical fiction books that appeal to the general public are often book club favorites and are shared on social media. There’s nothing wrong with reading trending books, because they’re usually trending for a reason. But what happens when you have no more books to read? You have to dig deeper.
Historical fiction allows themes to be explored, through the eyes of history. As we know, history isn’t always pretty, and maybe that’s why some of these books don’t get the praise we think they deserve. Beyond the shelves of fresh publications and bestsellers, there on the bottom shelf, or crammed between favorite authors, you might find a book with an unusual cover or title. Give the book a chance because you never know what brilliance you’ll find in it. I found some of my favorite historical fiction novels by randomly picking them from the shelves of my library. It may not be the most scientific method, but it did wonders for my reading.
Let’s step back in time with these historical fiction books.
Little By Edward Carey
Told from the point of view of Marie, a Swiss orphan, Little is the gruesome and fascinating fable of the birth of the legendary Madame Tussad. First apprenticed to a medical sculptor, Marie made her way through pre-revolutionary France, sculpting famous heads in wax. Marie’s artistic talents earned her a place at Versailles as the princess’s companion and teacher. Powerful and original, this novel reads like a mythical fairy tale about famous events.
Andover Wolves by Kathleen Kent
When 19-year-old Martha is hired as a servant in her cousin’s household, she doesn’t expect to fall in love with Thomas Carrier, a former royal guard who has fled to the colonies. Rumors of a bounty on Carrier’s life threaten their court and their future. This detailed novel is a prequel to Kent’s The heretic’s daughter.
The murder of a gentleman by Christopher Huang
After a dangerous match at Brittania, an exclusive London club, results in a death, Lt. Eric Peterkin is determined to solve the murder case himself. Eric’s discoveries point him toward wartime disappearance, leading him to abandoned hospitals and dark alleys. When Eric makes a discovery that could threaten more than his membership in the club, will it already be too late?
The Guineveres by Sarah Domet
Four girls, all named Guinevere, are brought together by fate. Raised side by side in a secluded convent, the girls find solace and friendship in each other. Like their 18e birthdays are approaching, they dream of escape and make a plan together.
Bila Yarrudhanggalangdhuray by Anita Heiss
When the Murrumbidgee River overflowed in 1852, the small town of Gundagi was overrun. The surviving members of the Bradley family decide to move to Wagga Wagga. Grieving for her beloved home and family, Wagadhaany is forced to accompany the Bradleys. Heartbroken, Wagahanny dreams of returning to her country and defying the colonialist laws that bind her. This novel is based on real events.
We are all birds of Uganda by Hafsa Zayyan
Divided into sections set in 1960s Uganda and present-day London, this novel explores belonging, generational gaps and racial conflict. In 1960s Uganda, widower Hasan tries to put his life back together as the political climate threatens to destroy everything. Londoner Sameer feels empty despite the fullness of his life and his dream career as a lawyer. An unexpected tragedy calls Sameer home, forcing him to look at the past he never knew.
The summer we broke free by Mia McKenzie
Ava Delaney was a talented young artist, but violence rocked her world. His family uprooted themselves and moved to Philadelphia, bringing their ghosts with them. Conflicting neighbors and church members push the Delaneys further into their dark home. When a strange woman arrives, everything begins to change, including Ava’s apathy towards the world. Simmering and haunting, this novel is stimulating and enjoyable.
The library of legends by Jamie Chang
When the city of Nanjing becomes the target of a bomb, the students of Minghua University are ordered to evacuate. Hu Lian and his classmates must travel over 1,000 miles to safety, laden with the 500-year-old collection of myths and legends. The stories they carry reflect their own treacherous journeys, and Lian realizes that her secrets may be putting her friends in danger. Fantastic and moving, this novel will inspire you.
Exit the actress by Priya Parmar
When humble orange seller Ellen ‘Nell’ Gwyn catches the eye of theater managers, her life’s path takes a whole new turn. Nell was admitted to the theater troupe as a small actor, before playing the main roles and, eventually, finding favor with King Charles II. This romantic and captivating novel is told through the diaries, letters and other excerpts of 17elife of the century.
Cuckoo bird song by Amulya Malladi
At 11, Kokila is promised to marriage. Kokila visits Tela Meda, an ashram where everyone is welcome. Kokila decides to spend the rest of her life in Tela Meda among the outcasts, despite the dire consequences. The women of Tela Meda are Kokila’s family as she grows up and India experiences political changes.
water ghosts by Shawna Yang Ryan
After three women appear in the Sacramento River mist near Locke, California, life for the townspeople becomes increasingly confused and dreadful. Richard Fong, the owner of the gambling den, appears to be related to the three women. Yang layers traditional storytelling and myth with lyrical prose for a completely original experience.
A meaningless death by Mariah Frederick
Years of isolation by her religious uncle taught Jane the art of observation. Now working as a maid, Jane knows how to play the game. When her employer’s fiancé is found dead, Jane is able to slip unnoticed among high society to solve the case. Sharp and meticulously detailed, this mystery is the first of the Jane Prescott mystery series.
What other underrated or unknown historical fiction books are there to check out? Visit our Historical Fiction Archive to explore and check out these underrated novels and YA books for something new for you.