Here is our collection of expert book recommendations of the best historical fiction: engaging reading lists for fans of historical novels seeking to be immersed in times past.
If you're looking for the best prize winning books in this genre, a great place to start is the annual Walter Scott Prize.
If you're looking for classic works of historical fiction, we have recommendations from bestselling novelist, Vanora Bennett, who chose the the best historical novels ever published. Zimbabwean novelist Tendai Huchu chose his top hf books, including three set in Africa.
In terms of specific time periods, we have a lists of highly recommended:
Second World War historical fiction
Many of the world's leading historians have made reading lists for Five Books, and here are some historical fiction recommendations by historians. These are good books if you enjoy historically accurate fiction.
Our Asia literary experts have selected the best historical fiction set in Asia and specialists have also picked the best historical fiction set in Africa.
Probably our most-recommended author in this genre is Hilary Mantel, who has twice triumphed at the Booker Prize with the first two instalments of her Thomas Cromwell trilogy, Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies. The third book in the trilogy, The Mirror and the Light, charts Cromwell’s inevitable demise. We also have suggestions for books like Wolf Hall if you are looking for something similar. Another popular author is Robert Harris, whose novels set in Republican Rome or about the Dreyfus affair in 19th century France read almost like history.
We keep a running list of what's best in new historical fiction.
Historical fiction is great for any reader who enjoys both history – and a good, atmospheric story to pull you along too.
The Best Historical Fiction: The 2023 Walter Scott Prize Shortlist, recommended by Cal Flyn
Every year, the judges for the Walter Scott Prize highlight the best new historical fiction. In 2023, the shortlisted books include a slow-burn mystery set in colonial Australia and a thrilling new novel from the author of Fatherland. Cal Flyn, our deputy editor, takes us through the seven books that are set 60+ years in the past and yet speak to the present.
The Best First World War Novels, recommended by Alice Winn
There are dozens of novels about the First World War, many of them well worth your time. Here, Alice Winn—author of In Memoriam, a bestselling story of forbidden love between two young soldiers—selects five of the very best, including autobiographical fiction by former officers and historical novels that bring humanity to the horror of the Great War.
The Best Historical Fiction: The 2022 Walter Scott Prize Shortlist, recommended by Elizabeth Laird
Every year, the Walter Scott Prize highlights the best new historical novels. In 2022, the shortlist comprises four fantastic works of historical fiction that immerse the reader in the past—from 16th-century Scotland to 1920s Trinidad—while confronting universal human dramas we still struggle with today. Elizabeth Laird, one of the judges, talks us through their choices this year.
The Best Tudor Historical Fiction, recommended by Alison Weir
The Tudor dynasty, which ruled England from 1485 to 1603, has been the focus of extraordinary public attention in recent years, thanks to the success of books like Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall and the lavish television drama The Tudors, starring Jonathan Rhys Meyers. We asked Alison Weir, the author of many bestselling factual and novelistic books on the period, to recommend her favourite works of Tudor historical fiction.
Best Medieval Historical Fiction, recommended by Marion Turner
The medieval era in Europe lasted a millennium and saw massive social change and technological innovation, as well as calamities like the Black Death. That makes it a great period for historical fiction, offering a glimpse of a past that was very different from our own lives, and yet can resonate with the present. Here Marion Turner, Professor of English Literature at Oxford University, recommends some of her favourite historical novels set in the Middle Ages and explains why she finds them so compelling.
Historical Fiction Set in the Ancient World, recommended by Harry Sidebottom
The ancient world offers an excellent canvas for historical fiction but too many books fall victim to anachronistic thinking, says Oxford ancient historian Harry Sidebottom, author of two series of historical novels set in Ancient Rome. Here he recommends some of his own favourites, all written during the golden age of classical historical fiction half a century ago.
The Best Historical Fiction: The 2020 Walter Scott Prize Shortlist, recommended by Katharine Grant
Historical fiction is experiencing something of a golden age at present: there’s never been a better time to immerse oneself in the past. The acclaimed novelist Katharine Grant—chair of the judges for the Walter Scott Prize for Historical Fiction—talks us through their 2020 shortlist.
The Best Historical Novels, recommended by Alison Weir
Bestselling British historian and author Alison Weir plunges us deep into the world of walled-up skeletons, Vikings, poisoning, intrigue, witchcraft and rebellion. This is the best of historical novels – books that never compromise on painstaking research.
The Best of Historical Fiction: The 2019 Walter Scott Prize Shortlist, recommended by Katharine Grant
The best historical novels are those so immersive and natural in tone that their period setting is a ‘by-the-way,’ says Katharine Grant, the novelist and judge for the Walter Scott Prize for historical fiction. Here she discusses the six brilliant books that made the 2019 shortlist.
The Best Historical Novels, recommended by Vanora Bennett
Which are the best historical novels? Bestselling author Vanora Bennett recommends.
The Best Historical Fiction for Teens, recommended by KJ Whittaker
Historical novelist K J Whittaker takes us on a time-travelling adventure as she selects five brilliant historical novels for teens.
The Best Historical Fiction, recommended by Tendai Huchu
What is historical fiction? Does it have to be historically accurate? Zimbabwean novelist Tendai Huchu talks us through five important examples of historical novels, including three set in Africa.