As a lover of historical fiction, I have read many novels in my time. Here are my top five recommendations.
1. The Outcasts of Time by Ian Mortimer
This is without a doubt the best historical novel I’ve ever read. I remember encountering it in a book shop in Oxfordshire – displayed as a “must read”. When I read the blurb, I had to buy it and I didn’t care how much it cost. It’s about two brothers, John and William, who were around during the plague in the 1340s. They catch the plague and fear they will go to hell. But when they’re dying a voice in the darkness speaks to them – saying he has six days to live.
It then offers them a deal – six days in their own time where they might go to hell – or each day 99 years in the future, where they can make a difference. The brothers choose the latter, and they wake up in the 15th century. On it goes, all the way to the 1940s. The whole thing is set in one settlement. It’s so fascinating seeing how it all changes. Every time there is a move forward in time, something about the town is different, it gets bigger and more modern as it goes along.
Their reactions to modern technology is very funny and how they see time change, what we’ve lost and what we’ve gained. It’s also about making the right choices and the whole book is very cleverly written. I enjoyed reading about each century from a medieval point of view. Do you know how long it took me to read this? Two days – it was that good. Even if you don’t read anything else on this list – this is the one I would recommend hands down.
Ian Mortimer is a British Historian who writes historical novels such as: The Time Travellers Guide to Medieval England.
2. The Gospel of Loki by Joanne M. Harris
I know Viking mythology doesn’t really count as history, but this book is so good I couldn’t resist. This book will make you laugh. It’s witty, clever and funny – three elements that make a great book. It’s a first-person account of the Viking legends through Loki’s perspective. She writes him as a charismatic bad-boy who is highly entertaining. In the character lists, instead of just writing the names of the characters like most authors do, she puts Loki’s sarcastic comments about them. So you’re laughing even before who start the book properly.
Joanne M. Harris is a British author who’s written over fifteen novels. This is the first book of hers I’ve read. Like the last one, I couldn’t put this down. It’s the kind of book who read on a bad day just to make you smile. A most definite recommendation!
3. The Innocent Traitor by Alison Weir
On the front of the book, a reviewer has put, “If you don’t cry at the end, you have a heart of stone”. I completely agree with this statement. This book is about Lady Jane Grey – the nine-day Queen. It goes from her birth to her execution – which makes it more heart-breaking. You read about her growing up in an abusive household. You read about how clever and brave she was. In the back of your mind you know she gets executed at sixteen, but you vainly hope that her story ends differently. You see and begin to hate the people who were key to her ruin for their own power.
That’s why I think the title is so perfect: the Innocent Traitor. This story is written from multiple perspectives, so you really get the whole picture. Alison Weir is an English historian who mostly writes non-fiction historical books during the medieval and Tudor period. She also featured in various documentaries and gives talks.
4. The White Queen by Philippa Gregory
This was the start of a very successful series called the ‘Cousins War’- also known as the War of the Roses. It also became a TV mini-series on the BBC. The White Queen became a number one bestseller. It written from a first-person perspective. The main character is Elizabeth Woodville, who was the Queen of England. She married King Edward IV, a York King. Their marriage caused a lot of controversy due to their vast differences in social status. This book really digs its teeth into the Wars of the Roses and makes the history come to life.
I thought she painted a very good picture of the time period and the struggles of women in 15th-century England. It made me grateful I was born in the 20th. Gregory writes Elizabeth Woodville very well – she creates a heroine, who is a tough and strong character, who also becomes very vengeful to those who have wronged her. It’s an amazing read that I would recommend – it’s a best seller for a reason.
Philippa Gregory, is a famous historian who has written numerous novels, such as The Other Boleyn Girl, and the Tudor Court Series. She’s also featured in documentaries, and gives talks.
5. The Empress by Meg Clothier
This is another book I couldn’t put down. It takes place in the late 12th century and the early 13th. This one is set in Constantinople, during the Byzantine Empire. I didn’t really know anything about Byzantine history so it was fun not knowing what’s going to happen for once. The main characters are Agnes, who is the daughter of the King of France. She’s married off to become the new Empress. Another main character is Theo, who is the son of a Byzantine general. The book is mostly written from their perspectives.
It’s gripping and entertaining, as well as funny in places. You see her rise and fall, then rise again in the dangerous game of medieval royalty. A must read for all history lovers. Meg Clothier, is a British author and journalist who has written for The Guardian.
These are my top five, I hope you enjoy reading them.