Best Historical Fiction Books

I love all books, really, but especially enjoy historical fiction. My favorites have to do with the Tudors, but as you can see from the list below I also dig a few outside the realm of crazy ole Henry VIII. Coming up with a “favorites” list is very hard, because you just know you’re going to leave one or two books off. I hope I remember them all! If you like historical fiction, here are my all-time favorites in no particular order. Maybe one or two of these books will tickle your fancy as well. If you’ve got a few favorites you’d like to share, please do! List them in the comments so we can all enjoy.

The Many Lives & Secret Sorrows of Josephine B.
by Sandra Gulland

This book starts a wonderful trilogy about Josephine Bonaparte. (The next two are Tales of Passion, Tales of Woe and The Last Great Dance on Earth.) I’m not always a fan of books that are written in diary form, but these books are so well done I didn’t even notice. I remember reading them until late into the night, thinking about them during the day, and rushing out to get the next one. They are that good.

The Other Boleyn Girl
by Philippa Gregory

This was the book that started my Tudor fiction craze. I had never read historical fiction before. Can you believe it? When I picked this book up, I was hooked. I started reading everything having to do with the time period. I read several fiction books but also delved into the nonfiction area. I rented documentaries and movies, and I’ve been hooked every since. The Other Boleyn Girl is told from Mary Boleyn’s perspective. Mary is an extremely interesting character in history (in my opinion) and Gregory does a great job with her story.

To the Tower Born
by Robin Maxwell

I read this one recently, but confess that Robin is one of my favorites when it comes to historical fiction. I really enjoy her take on things, and her latest, O, Juliet, is sure to show up on an upcoming favorites list. Not to give away the plot or ending, but To the Tower Born appealed to me because it was the first one I’d read that drew the conclusion it drew about the mystery of the princes in the Tower.

The Last Queen
by C.W. Gortner

I enjoyed The Last Queen for many reasons, not the least of which is because it created a very level-headed and realistic take on Queen Juana of Castile that I had not encountered before. Juana, as you know, was the older sister of Princess Catalina, who became Catherine of Aragon and Henry VIII’s first wife.

She’s also known as being a bit nutty (to say the least) and in love with her husband, Philip of Flanders, heir to the Hapsburg Empire. She unexpectedly becomes next in line to head up Spain, and from there her life seems to go sour. Juana also figures prominently in history as being the mother of the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V, who is an important figure when it comes to Henry VIII’s divorce fiasco. Gortner’s narrative brings all these historic characters to life.

Portrait of an Unknown Woman
by Vanora Bennett

This book features the Thomas More family and his daughter Meg. It also has Hans Holbein, who has yet to become the famous court painter. Holbein gets a commission to the More family at their country home in Chelsea. It’s a love story, with Meg falling for her tutor, John Clement, and it’s also a statement on the times, with Meg becoming horrified at her father’s treatment of Protestant heretics. The paintings Holbein completes start to unravel a mystery about John Clement. I loved the detail in this one especially.

The Poyson Garden
by Karen Harper

Karen Harper has a lot of really wonderful books about Elizabeth I and Henry VIII, but I especially loved her mystery series, which starts with The Poyson Garden. It has all the political, romantic, and historic details of other historical fiction books, but also has a genuine mystery in each one. The refreshing thing about a mystery in this time period, is that you can’t solve the crime with all the gadgets and technology that we have today. The rest of the books in this series are: The Tidal Poole, The Twylight Tower, The Queene’s Cure, The Thorne Maze, The Queene’s Christmas, The Fyre Mirror, The Fatal Fashione, and The Hooded Hawke.

The Queen’s Man
by Sharon Kay Penman

If I have a second favorite period of history (the Tudor being my first) it would be the reign of Henry II. His family (wife Eleanor of Aquitaine, sons John and Richard) is truly fascinating. Henry II is very underrated in terms of what he did for establishing English laws, but I’m getting beside the point here. This book begins when King Richard comes back from the crusades. He’s been gone for a couple months, so you know in a family like this one his younger brother John wastes no time in trying to get his older brother’s throne. Mom Eleanor hires Justin de Quincy, (illegitimate son of a bishop) to help solve a mystery. The Queen’s Man, is the first in a series and truly wonderful. I haven’t read the next book in the series yet, but you can be sure they are on my TBR (to be read) pile.

Death Comes As Epiphany: A Catherine LeVendeur Mystery
by Sharan Newman

I first read this one in a mystery book group. I would have never picked up this type of book, so it goes to show you that being in a book group can broaden your horizons. This book is set in 12th century France, and has a wonderful main character, Catherine LeVendeur. Catherine is smart (always a requirement for the books I like) and best of all, clumsy. I just find this so endearing about her. (Could be because I’m a klutz myself. Just saying.) Catherine starts out in a nunnery with the famous Heloise, but ends up falling for Edgar. All the characters in this book are wonderful, and the detail of Paris and the surrounding areas is great. Religion plays a prominent part in these books, as it does in so many historical fiction works. This one is the first in a series, then comes: The Devil’s Door, The Wandering Arm, Strong as Death, Cursed in the Blood, The Difficult Saint, To Wear the White Cloak, Heresy, The Outcast Dove, and The Witch in the Well.

The White Queen
by Philippa Gregory

Another interesting period in time is the cousin’s war, or War of the Roses. This was the struggle for power between the Houses of Lancaster and York. Hey, if you thought Henry VIII was interesting, wait until you hear about his grandmother and mother. Gregory did a wonderful job with this book, and it has all the intrigue, political fighting, backstabbing, and romance to make your head swoon (in a good way.) As a writer, I also appreciated her marketing approach by putting Elizabeth Woodville’s dialog on Twitter.

A Rose for Virtue
by Norah Lofts

Norah Lofts is such a gem, I could list quite a few books of hers, but this one stuck with me the most. First of all, Hortense de Beauharnais is an extremely interesting character in history, and yet so few books are written about her. Hortense was Queen Consort of Holland, daughter of Josephine, stepdaughter of Napoleon, wife of Louis Bonaparte (King of Holland) and mother of Napoleon III. This book is hard to find these days, but you can still pick it up at used bookstores or on Amazon.

Cleopatra’s Daughter
by Michelle Moran

Okay, am I the only one in history that didn’t know Cleopatra’s kids actually lived? I had no idea until I read this book. (Too much time spent in Tudor history and not enough in other parts of the world perhaps.) Michelle is a wonderful storyteller, and I love that fact that she tells this from the daughter’s perspective.

The Secret Bride: In The Court of Henry VIII
by Diane Haeger

What’s that? A woman that stands up to Henry VIII? (And it isn’t Anne Boleyn?) That’s right, it’s Mary, Henry’s sister. She went along with Henry’s insistence that she marry Louis XII of France (and become queen consort) but when he died she took matters into her own hands and married Henry’s pal, the handsome Charles Brandon, Duke of Suffolk. This is a wonderful book that is rich in historical detail.

That’s my list, and I know as soon as I hit “publish” I’m going to think of a few more. What would you add to this list?

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1 Comment on "Best Historical Fiction Books"

  1. Jean Plaidy is one of the best Historical fiction authors. Her books are addictive, all of them.


    Cherie Reply:

    I love her too, Elizabeth and I’m glad you commented. Jean is a classic!


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