50 best historical fiction books of all time

The best historical fiction allows us to immerse ourselves in eras long past. Our edit of the best historical fiction books is perfect reading inspiration for when you want to lose yourself with a cast of characters in another time and place.

Bestselling historical novels are meticulously researched and wonderfully evocative of times gone by. Whether you’re looking for the sweeping historical romance of Winston Graham’s historical fiction series Poldark, or feminist retellings of ancient Greek myth like Natalie Haynes’ Stone Blind, there’s a historical fiction novel for everyone. Here, ancient history expert and historical fiction fan Dr Jean Menzies shares some of the very best historical novels of all time.

There’s a reason we’re drawn to the past. History is inescapable. Decisions are made on the back of past events, and lives are affected by the stories of those that came before us. Historical fiction books resonate with modern readers because they give us the chance to immerse ourselves in another time. Each of the historical fiction novels on this list tells the stories of different characters, from the plains of Ancient Greece, the dark middle ages, or the battlefields of WWI and WWII.

Historical fiction books set in Ancient Greece

Stone Blind

by Natalie Haynes

Book cover for Stone Blind

This retelling of the famed myth of Medusa asks who the real monsters are, after all. The sole mortal raised in a family of gods, Medusa is alone in her ability to experience change and to be hurt. Then, when the sea god Poseidon commits an unforgivable act in the temple of Athene, the goddess takes her revenge where she can – and she is changed forever. Writhing snakes replace her hair, and her gaze now turns any living creature to stone. Unable to control her new power, she is condemned to a life of shadows and darkness. Until Perseus embarks upon a quest . . .

The Children of Jocasta

by Natalie Haynes

Book cover for The Children of Jocasta

The Children of Jocasta is a classic Ancient Greek tale flipped on its head. Jocasta is just fifteen when she is told that she must marry the King of Thebes, an old man she has never met. Ismene is the same age when she is attacked in the palace she calls home. With the turn of these two events, a tragedy is set in motion. But not as you know it. In gripping prose, Natalie Haynes reimagines the Oedipus and Antigone stories from mythology if the often-overlooked female characters were at the centre, and in the process tells a new side of this ancient story.

A Thousand Ships

by Natalie Haynes

Book cover for A Thousand Ships

Part history, part legend, the Trojan War often defines antiquity. Natalie Haynes’s powerful historical novel gives new life to the story of two ancient cultures at war. She takes a tale of heroes and kings and explores the experiences of the women caught up in these terrifying events. From slave women to queens, and even a goddess or two, Natalie Haynes’ retelling puts female voices front and centre. Longlisted for the Women's Prize for Fiction 2020 and chosen as one of The Guardian's 'Best Books of 2019', if you're looking for your next historical fiction read, A Thousand Ships is not to be missed.

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Historical fiction books set in Ancient Rome


by James Hynes

Book cover for Sparrow

This vivid coming of age story set at the end of the Roman Empire, follows Sparrow – a boy of no known origin living in a brothel. He spends his days listening to stories told by his beloved ‘mother’ Euterpe, running errands for her lover the cook, and dodging the blows of their brutal overseer. But a hard fate awaits him – one that involves suffering, murder and mayhem. To cope he will create his own identity – Sparrow – who sings without reason and can fly from trouble. This is a book with one of the most powerfully affecting and memorable characters of recent fiction, brought to life through James Hynes meticulous research and bold imagination. 

The Emperor’s Babe

by Bernadine Evaristo

Book cover for The Emperor’s Babe

Booker Prize 2019 winner Bernadine Evaristo’s back catalogue is expansive, and this historical novel is a must-read for fans. In The Emperor’s Babe, visit 2nd century Londinium and follow Zuleika, a Nubian woman in a Roman world just trying to survive. She knows the city, with its slave girls and drag queens, villas and slums, and she knows how to stay one step ahead. Until, that is, she attracts the attention of the Roman Emperor, the most powerful man on Earth . . .

Historical fiction books set in Biblical times

The Red Tent

by Anita Diamant

Book cover for The Red Tent

In the Bible, the fate of Dinah is only given a brief and violent reference: she features in the Book of Genesis story that tells the tale of Jacob and his twelve sons. But Anita Diamant’s The Red Tent gives Dinah space to live and breathe. The narrative, which uses Dinah's voice, is one of betrayal, sorrow and love. Diamant’s feminist text weaves vivid storytelling with original insights into the lives of women in early history.

Historical fiction books set in the 7th century


by Emma Donoghue

Book cover for Haven

An Irish scholar and priest named Artt has a dream: he has to leave the world of sin behind him. So he takes two monks – young Trian and aged Cormac – and travels along the river Shannon, looking for a remote spot where he can found a monastery. The three men drift into the Atlantic, where they discover a steep and bare island, whose only inhabitants are tens of thousands of birds. They call it Skellig Michael, and here begins their fight for faith and survival. 

Historical fiction books set in the 10th century

The Evening and the Morning

Book cover for The Evening and the Morning

It is the end of the Dark Ages and England is facing attack from both the Welsh and the Vikings. As the Middle Ages dawn, three very different characters face a ruthless bishop who is desperate to increase his wealth and power. A young boatbuilder dreams of a better life. A Norman noblewoman follows her husband across the sea to a shocking new world. A capable monk dreams of turning his humble abbey into a centre of learning admired across Europe. This epic tale of ambition and rivalry is the prequel to Ken Follett's international bestseller The Pillars of the Earth, and the fourth book in his historical fiction series.  

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Historical fiction books set in the 12th century

The Land Beyond the Sea

by Sharon Penman

Book cover for The Land Beyond the Sea

Set in 1172 the Kingdom of Jerusalem is also known as Outremer – the land beyond the sea. When the men of the First Crusade captured Jerusalem from the Saracens in 1099, many crusaders stayed on and built a life in this new world of blazing heat, exotic customs and enemies who are also neighbours. But now Saladin, leader of the vast Saracen army, is seeking retribution for the massacre in 1099 In The Land Beyond the Sea, Penman expertly weaves a complicated tapestry to create a historical fiction saga of epic proportions. 

Historical fiction books set in medieval England

The Pillars of the Earth

by Ken Follett

Book cover for The Pillars of the Earth

Welcome to medieval England, where a civil war ravages the country and a monk is on a mission. Ken’s The Pillars of the Earth follows Philip, a devoted monk, who joins forces with Tom, a talented builder, to undertake the most ambitious project either has ever set themselves to. In a world in turmoil, however, their journey will not be a smooth one. The first book in Ken Follett's Kingsbridge series, this historical saga is one to get lost in.

Historical fiction books set in the 14th century

She Who Became the Sun

by Shelley Parker-Chan

Book cover for She Who Became the Sun

An absorbing historical fantasy, She Who Became the Sun reimagines the rise to power of the Ming Dynasty’s founding emperor. In 1345, China lies restless under harsh Mongol rule. And when a bandit raid wipes out their home, two children must somehow survive. The boy despairs and gives in. But the girl resolves to overcome her destiny. So she takes her dead brother’s identity and begins her journey. Can she escape what’s written in the stars, as rebellion sweeps the land? Or can she claim her brother’s greatness – and rise as high as she can dream?

Historical fiction books set in the 16th century

The Dance Tree

by Kiran Millwood Hargrave

Book cover for The Dance Tree

It's 1518 in Strasbourg, and in the intense summer heat a solitary woman starts to dance in the main square. She dances for days without rest, and is joined by hundreds of other women. The city authorities declare a state of emergency, and bring in musicians to play the devil out of the dancing women. Meanwhile pregnant Lisbet, who lives at the edge of the city, is tending to the family's bees. The dancing plague intensifies, as Lisbet is drawn into a net of secret passions and deceptions. Inspired by true events, this is a compelling story of superstition, transformative change and women pushed to their limits.

The Darkest Sin

by D. V. Bishop

Book cover for The Darkest Sin

It's spring in Florence in 1537, and Cesare Aldo is investigating a report that a convent in the northern quarter has been breached. Soon Aldo finds himself immersed in a bitterly divided community. And when a man's body is found in the convent, it seems as if one of the nuns must be the murderer. Meanwhile, Constable Carlo Strocchi finds human body parts in the Arno, which turn out to be the remains of a much feared officer who went missing in the winter. Aldo and Strocchi search for the truth, in an investigation that is increasingly full of peril.

The Sin Eater

by Megan Campisi

Book cover for The Sin Eater

Set in a thinly disguised 16th century England, Megan Campisi’s debut novel is a wonderfully woven tale of treason and treachery, women and power. When fourteen year old May is arrested for stealing a loaf of bread she is sentenced to become a Sin Eater, a devastating sentence that will see her shunned by society and exiled to the edge of town. For a Sin Eater hears the confessions of the dying and eats their sins as a funeral rite, and is believed to be stained by these sins. When May is called to hear the deathbed confessions of two of the Queen’s courtiers she hears whispers of a terrible rumour her invisibility allows her to investigate. 

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by C. J. Sansom

Book cover for Tombland

Tombland is the seventh novel in C. J. Sansom's historical fiction Shardlake series. Set in a politically unstable England following the death of Henry VIII, the intrepid Shardlake must investigate the murder of Edith Boleyn. Since the King's death, Shardlake has been working as a lawyer in the service of Henry's younger daughter, the Lady Elizabeth. And Edith Boleyn's husband is a distant relative of the Lady Elizabeth's mother. Shardlake must uncover the mystery and danger surrounding Edith's death before it results in the complete unravelling of the English court. 

The City of Tears

by Kate Mosse

Book cover for The City of Tears

The sequel to bestselling author Kate Mosse’s epic historical fiction novel The Burning Chambers, The City of Tears is set in France in 1572, when the Wars of Religion have been raging for ten violent years. A royal wedding may mean peace at last. But when Minou Joubert receives a wedding invitation she has no idea that the Joubert family’s oldest enemy, Vidal, will also be there. In the days following the marriage her family are scattered to the four winds and one of her beloved children disappears without a trace. 

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Historical fiction books set in the 17th century 

The Maiden

by Kate Foster

Book cover for The Maiden

A thrilling historical murder tale and so much more besides, The Maiden is inspired by a real-life case from seventeenth-century Edinburgh. Lady Christina is newly married, wealthy and respected. A year later she is on trial for the murder of her lover, James Forrester, her story splashed across newspapers: Adulteress. Whore. Murderess. Why did she risk everything for an affair? And did it really end in murder? She certainly wasn't the only woman who might have wanted Forrester dead. . .

The Mercies

by Kiran Millwood Hargrave

Book cover for The Mercies

When the men of Vardø are all but wiped out in a devastating storm, the surviving women have no choice but to fend for themselves. But as the women grow increasingly independent, suspicions and rivalries grow, coming to a dangerous head with the arrival of Scottish commissioner Absalom Cornet. The Mercies is based on the true story of a devastating storm that hit the Norwegian island of Vardø in 1617 and the subsequent witch trials of 1621.

Historical fiction books set in the 18th century 

The Colony of Good Hope

by Kim Leine

Book cover for The Colony of Good Hope

1728. The Danish King Frederik IV sends a governor, along with some constituents, to Greenland to establish a colony. However, the missionary priest Hans Egede has already spent several years in Greenland attempting to convert the locals. Among those most hostile to Egede is the shaman Aappaluttoq, whose own son was taken by the priest and raised in the Christian faith as his own. The new arrivals are quickly thrown into this rift and sink into a life of dissolution. But Egede remains steadfast in his determination – willing to sacrifice even those he loves for the sake of his mission. 

The House of Fortune

by Jessie Burton

Book cover for The House of Fortune

A glorious, sweeping story of fate and ambition, The House of Fortune is the sequel to Jessie Burton’s bestseller The Miniaturist. Amsterdam, 1705. Thea Brandt is about to turn eighteen and she can't wait to become an adult. Walter, her true love, awaits Thea at the city's theatre. But at home on the Herengracht things are tense. Her father Otto and Aunt Nella bicker incessantly and are selling furniture so the family can eat. And, on her birthday, the day her mother Marin died, secrets from Thea's past threaten to eclipse the present. Nella is feeling a prickling sensation in her neck, which recalls the miniaturist who toyed with her life eighteen years ago.

Daughters of Night

by Laura Shepherd-Robinson

Book cover for Daughters of Night

This historical crime fiction novel is the second from Laura Shepherd-Robinson, following her award-winning debut Blood & Sugar. Set in London in 1782, it’s the story of Caroline Corsham, who is determined to seek justice for a string of murders of high-class prostitutes – crimes that the police are all too happy to ignore. As she delves deeper into the darkest, hidden corners of Georgian society, Caroline soon finds that much more than her reputation is at stake. . .

Ross Poldark

by Winston Graham

Book cover for Ross Poldark

Historical fiction is often the basis for some of the most acclaimed and popular period dramas, and Winston Graham’s Poldark series is no exception. In the first book Ross Poldark, the eponymous hero, returns home to Cornwall, tired from a grim war in America. But the joyful homecoming he has anticipated turns sour, for his father is dead, his estate is derelict and the girl he loves is engaged to his cousin. Then, his sympathy for the destitute miners and farmers leads him to rescue an urchin girl –  an act which alters the course of his life. 

Historical fiction books set in the 19th century

The Wonder

by Emma Donoghue

Book cover for The Wonder

Now a major film from the makers of Normal People and Room, starring Florence Pugh and streaming on Netflix, The Wonder is an unmissable historical fiction masterpiece inspired by the numerous true cases of 'fasting girls'. When eleven-year-old Anna O'Donnell stops eating, but remains miraculously alive and well, and when a nurse is sent to investigate whether she is a fraud, meets a journalist hungry for a story. Vividly drawn and a novel that will keep you turning pages into the night, The Wonder is a psychological thriller about a child's murder threatening to happen in slow motion before our eyes.


by Hannah Kent

Book cover for Devotion

It's 1836 in Prussia, and teenage Hanne is finding the domestic world of womanhood increasingly oppressive. She longs to be out in nature, and finds little companionship with the local girls. Until, that is, she meets kindred spirit Thea. Hanne is from a family of Old Lutherans, whose worship is suppressed and secret. Safe passage to Australia offers liberty from these restrictions. But a long and harsh journey lies ahead, one which will put the girls' close bond to a terrible test.

Moonlight and the Pearler's Daughter

by Lizzie Pook

Book cover for Moonlight and the Pearler's Daughter

It's 1886, and the Brightwell family has just arrived at Bannin Bay in Western Australia after a long sea voyage from England. Ten-year-old Eliza has been promised bright pearls, shells like soup plates and good fortunes in a new land. Ten years later, and Eliza's father Charles Brightwell is the most successful pearler on the bay. When he goes missing from his boat at sea, rumours of mutiny and murder swirl across the bay. But Eliza refuses to believe that her father is dead and, in a town mired in corruption, she sets out to find the truth.

The Midwife

by Tricia Cresswell

Book cover for The Midwife

1838. A violent storm has hit the Northumberland coast, and a woman is found alone, naked and on the verge of death. She has no memory of how she got there, but she can speak fluent French, dress a wound and help women give birth. She starts to rebuild her life, helping those around her and finding a fragile happiness. Until tragedy strikes and she must go into hiding. Meanwhile in London, respectable Dr Borthwick assists mothers and babies in high society, and in the slums of Devil's Acre. The solitary doctor has a secret though, one which threatens to engulf him.

Circus of Wonders

by Elizabeth Macneal

Book cover for Circus of Wonders

1866. In a coastal village in southern England, Nell picks violets for a living. Set apart by her community because of the birthmarks that speckle her skin, Nell’s world is her beloved brother and devotion to the sea. But when Jasper Jupiter’s Circus of Wonders arrives in the village, Nell is kidnapped. Moving from the pleasure gardens of Victorian London to the battle-scarred plains of the Crimea, Circus of Wonders is an astonishing story about power and ownership, fame and the threat of invisibility.

The Elopement

by Tracy Rees

Book cover for The Elopement

Set in 1890s England, this elaborately imagined historical novel spans the luxury and poverty of the late Victorian era. When wealthy heiress Rowena Blythe approaches her twenty-fourth birthday, she is expected to marry, and marry well. But when her parents commission a portrait of her, she meets Bartek, the artist's young assistant, who is unlike any man she has ever met before: wild, romantic and Bohemian. She knows her parents will never approve of Bartek, but will Rowena risk everything for love? 

Dead Man's Walk

by Larry McMurtry

Book cover for Dead Man's Walk

The first book in the famed Lonesome Dove series from Larry McMurtry, Dead Man's Walk takes us into the heart of the American West. Gus McCrae and Woodrow Call first encounter the untamed frontier that will form their characters. The two young men experience their first great adventure in the barren, empty landscape of the great plains, in which arbitrary violence is the only law – whether from nature, or from those whose territory they must cross in order to reach New Mexico. Danger, sacrifice and fear test Gus and Call to the limits of endurance, as they seek the strength and courage to survive against almost insurmountable odds.


by Toni Morrison

Book cover for Beloved

Beloved begins less than a decade after the abolition of slavery in the USA and follows the life of the now emancipated Sethe and family as they try to build a new life for themselves. Disturbances in their home lead them to believe that Sethe’s older daughter, who died years earlier, is haunting them. This must-read novel explores the psychological effects of slavery as well as family and gender dynamics. A tale of brutality, horror and, above all, love at any cost, Beloved is Toni Morrison's enduring masterpiece and best-known work.

The Water Dancer

by Ta-Nehisi Coates

Book cover for The Water Dancer

This is the historical novel that Oprah Winfrey called, ‘One of the best books I have ever read in my entire life.’ Hiram Walker was born into slavery on a Virginia plantation, but one fateful decision will take him away from his plantation family and into the heart of the underground war on slavery. For Hiram is a man with a secret, a mysterious power he was gifted at birth. 

Historical fiction books set in the 20th century

Mrs Porter Calling

by AJ Pearce

Book cover for Mrs Porter Calling

The third in A J Pearce's charming and uplifting World War Two series find Emmy Lake enjoying huge success at Woman’s Friend magazine, where she is the much-loved agony aunt. But the arrival of a glamorous new owner puts this all at risk, as Mrs Porter's plans are slowly revealed and it becomes clear she will destroy everything readers love about the magazine.


by Kate Morton

Book cover for Homecoming

A gripping mystery set between Australia and London, Homecoming, is the much-anticipated new novel by Kate Morton. When 89-year-old Nora's health takes an unexpected turn for the worse, Jess boards the first plane out of London, her home of twenty years, to be by her grandmother's bedside in Sydney. Soon, she discovers that the usually stoic Nora has been hiding a family secret and vows to get to the heart of the mystery of what happened on a fateful Christmas Eve sixty years before. 

Cast a Cold Eye

by Robbie Morrison

Book cover for Cast a Cold Eye

The stunning sequel to Edge of the Grave, winner of Bloody Scotland's Scottish Crime Debut of the Year.

Violence is rife in early-thirties Glasgow, but it tends to be violence of the heated, spontaneous kind. When a man is found in a narrowboat with a single shot to the back of the head, it's clear to Inspector Jimmy Dreghorn that this is no ordinary killing. It's also clear to the Special Branch agents sent from London to investigating a suspected IRA cell. When one person's freedom fighter is another's terrorist, and with political and sectarian tensions rising, Dreghorn must pursue the killer into the dark heart of humanity.

Other Women

by Emma Flint

Book cover for Other Women

Emma Flint’s evocative historical novels transport you to another time and place. In her new book, Other Women, the destination is London, devastated by the impact of the Great War. For unmarried Beatrice Cade, the war has robbed her of the chance to find true love and have a family, just like it has for millions of others. One day a chance encounter changes her life, and she falls head over heels in love with someone she should never have met. An enthralling tale of obsession, murder and lives intertwined by forbidden love, Other Women is a novel that you won’t be able to put down. 

Winter Garden

by Kristin Hannah

Book cover for Winter Garden

Spanning sixty-five years and moving between war-torn Leningrad to modern-day Alaska, Winter Garden is the ultimate historical fiction tearjerker. Follow estranged sisters Meredith and Nina as they reunite at their father's deathbed alongside their disapproving mother Anya. But soon the dark secret of their mother's past unravels, uncovering an extraordinary story that will shake the very foundation of the family and who they think they are. 

The Librarian of Auschwitz: The Graphic Novel

by Antonio Iturbe

Book cover for The Librarian of Auschwitz: The Graphic Novel

Based on the life of Dita Kraus, a holocaust survivor, The Librarian of Auschwitz tells the story of the smallest library in the world – and the most dangerous. Imprisoned by the Nazis at Auschwitz aged fourteen along with her mother and father, Dita is asked to take charge of the eight precious books the prisoners have managed to smuggle past the guards. But in the children's block of Auschwitz, where the slightest transgression can result in execution, Dita must risk her life to keep the books alive. Out of one of the darkest chapters in human history, this graphic novel tells an extraordinary story of courage and hope. 


by Lily King

Book cover for Euphoria

Lily King, author of bestselling Writers & Lovers brings us a story of three young scientists caught in a passionate love triangle that threatens their careers and ultimately their lives. Set between the two World Wars in the jungle of New Guinea, follow Nell Stone, a famous anthropologist known for her controversial work on South Pacific tribes, her aggressive husband Fen and Andrew Bankson who stumbles into their lives. Andrew soon becomes fascinated with the couple, leading to a firestorm of love and jealously. 

The Four Winds

by Kristin Hannah

Book cover for The Four Winds

Texas, 1934. Elsa Martinelli finally has everything she had wished for – a family, a home and a livelihood on a farm on the Great Plains. But when drought threatens her family and community, Elsa must decide whether to stay and fight for the land she loves or flee to California in search of a better life. Hailing praise from Matt Haig and Delia Owens, author of Where the Crawdads Sing who called The Four Winds ‘powerful and compelling’, this is a must-read historical fiction book of the year. 

An Ocean Apart

by Sarah Lee

Book cover for An Ocean Apart

Inspired by real-life stories of the Windrush Generation and the author's own mother’s experiences as a nurse coming to Britain from the Caribbean, Sarah Lee's moving debut is an unmissable read for historical fiction fans. In Barbados, 1954, Ruby Haynes first sees an advertisement to train as a nurse in Great Britain's new National Health Service. While her beloved sister Connie takes some convincing, they're soon on their way to a new country in search of new experiences. But when they arrive, they find that England isn't the promised land they'd been lead to believe . . . and Connie soon struggles to keep the secret of the daughter she left at home in search of a better future for them both.

The Nightingale

by Kristin Hannah

Book cover for The Nightingale

This is a page-turning tale of the forgotten women of World War II, a story of resilience and of the endurance of women. Vianne and Isabelle Mauriac are sisters, separated by circumstances, but both launching on a perilous path of survival in war-ravaged France. Set to become a major motion picture, this multi-million copy bestseller is historical fiction at its finest. 


by Hernan Diaz

Book cover for Trust

Everyone in 1920s New York knows of Benjamin and Helen Rask, the Wall Street tycoon and the daughter of bohemian aristocrats. They live in a sphere of untold wealth, but what is the true cost of their fortune? This mystery sits at the heart of Bonds, a bestselling 1938 novel that all of New York has read. But, like all stories, there are different perspectives, and Hernan Diaz puts these different narratives into conversation with each other, in a novel that tracks across a century and documents the truth-bending power of money, with provocative revelations at each turn. 

The Last Summer

by Karen Swan

Book cover for The Last Summer

Spirited Effie Gillies has always lived on the little Scottish island of St Kilda. When the island is visited by Lord Sholto, heir of the Earl of Dumfries, sparks fly between him and Effie. She shows the handsome stranger her island for a week, and then a storm hits and shatters her world. Three months later, and the islanders are being evacuated. Effie is offered a position on the Earl's estate, and now the differences between them seem impossible, especially when a terrible secret is uncovered back on the island. Based on the true story of St Kilda, this novel takes the reader back to both island life and high society in the 1930s.

The Lamplighters

by Emma Stonex

Book cover for The Lamplighters

Inspired by true events, Emma Stonex’s debut historical novel is a riveting mystery which will grip the reader, and a beautifully written exploration of love and grief. In Cornwall in 1972, three keepers vanish from a remote lighthouse, miles from shore. The door is locked from the inside, and the clocks have stopped. Twenty years later, the women they left behind are still struggling to move on. And then a writer approaches them. He wants to give the women a chance to tell their side of the story. What happened to those men, and to the women they left behind?

Soul Sisters

by Lesley Lokko

Book cover for Soul Sisters

Soul Sisters tells the story of the friendship between Scottish Jen McFadden and South African-born Kemi Mashabane. Since they were children, Jen and Kemi have lived like sisters in the McFadden home in Edinburgh. On a visit to London the women meet handsome South African lawyer Solam Rhoyi and he has a great impact on them both. Kemi returns to her birth country, and Jen decides to come too, but it soon becomes clear that Solam is looking for a wife to help further his political ambitions. The women, bound by friendship and love, are also connected by a family secret, one which threatens to reveal itself with shocking consequences.  

The Attic Child

by Lola Jaye

Book cover for The Attic Child

It's 1907, and twelve-year-old Celestine is locked in the attic of a house by the sea. He has been forcibly removed from his home in Africa and is treated as a servant. He dreams of home and family, even as his mother's face, and his real name, begin to fade. Decades later a young orphan girl is banished to the same attic. Under the floorboards she finds mysterious artefacts, and on a wall there is a sentence etched in a language she does not recognise. What she does recognise though, is that she is not the first child to be held captive in the attic. This dual-narrative tale of love, loss and family secrets shines a light on the early Black British experience. 

The Kitchen Front

by Jennifer Ryan

Book cover for The Kitchen Front

Young widow Audrey is trying to keep a roof over her and her children's heads, two years into the Second World War. So she decides to enter a BBC cooking contest, which aims to help housewives eke out their rations. The prize is a role as the programme's first-ever co-host, and the competition is intense: there's Audrey's estranged sister Gwendoline, Gwendoline's maid Nell, and trained chef Zelda, who is desperate to succeed in a man's world – and to keep her secret hidden . . .

The Woman Warrior

by Maxine Hong Kingston

Book cover for The Woman Warrior

Chinese-American Hong Kingston delves into her mother’s past in this tale of a changing China in the 1940s. Fusing myth and memoir, The Woman Warrior is a classic of feminist writing. Throughout her childhood, Maxine Hong Kingston listened to her mother's mesmerizing tales of a China where girls are worthless, tradition is exalted and only a strong, wily woman can scratch her way upwards. Growing up in a changing America, surrounded by Chinese myth and memory, this is her story of two cultures and one trenchant, lyrical journey into womanhood.

Sunset Swing

by Ray Celestin

Book cover for Sunset Swing

Kerry Gaudet, a young nurse, travels to LA on an urgent hunt to find her missing brother. A serial killer is on the loose, and Kerry fears the worst. Meanwhile, recently retired PI Ida Young is reluctantly helping the police, when a young woman is found dead in her hotel room – the LAPD turn their gaze on Ida as the main suspect. And Dante Sanfelippo is trying to extricate himself from the Mob so he can move to the Napa Valley to make wine. First he has one more favour to do, one that throws him headlong into a dangerous conspiracy. This swirling story of life and death in the City of Angels completes Ray Celestin's  American crime quartet.

Yours Cheerfully

by AJ Pearce

Book cover for Yours Cheerfully

A sequel to AJ Pearce's heartwarming and touching debut, Dear Mrs Bird, Yours Cheerfully is a charming and hilarious tonic. When the Ministry of Information calls on Britain’s women’s magazines to help recruit desperately needed female workers to the war effort, Emmy is thrilled to be asked to step up and help. But when she and Bunty meet a young woman who shows them the very real challenges that women war workers face, Emmy must tackle a life-changing dilemma between doing her duty, and standing by her friends.

Pippo and Clara

by Diana Rosie

Book cover for Pippo and Clara

It’s 1938, Mussolini is in power in Italy and war is on the horizon. Pippo and Clara are brother and sister, newly arrived in an unspecified city with their family. When their mother goes missing one morning they both go in search of her, with Clara turning right and Pippo left. As a result of their choices, the children’s lives will be changed forever. Diana Rosie’s Pippo and Clara tells the story of a family and a country divided. But will Clara and Pippo – and their mother – find each other again?

The Pull of the Stars

by Emma Donoghue

Book cover for The Pull of the Stars

As war and disease ravage Ireland, Nurse Julia Power works in a tiny ward in an understaffed hospital, where expectant mothers struck by an unfamiliar flu are quarantined together. Julia is assisted by two new arrivals, Doctor Kathleen Lynn, on the run from the police, and a young volunteer helper, Bridie Sweeney, and over the course of three days these women will change each other's lives in unexpected ways. The Pull of the Stars is a classic story of hope and survival from the bestselling author of Room.

The Most Precious of Cargoes

by Jean-Claude Grumberg

Book cover for The Most Precious of Cargoes

Told with fairytale lyricism, this historical novel is set against the horrors of the Holocaust. A poor woodcutter and his wife live in a forest. Despite their poverty and the war raging around them, the wife prays that they will be blessed with a child. A Jewish man rides on a train with his wife and twin babies. When his wife no longer has enough milk to feed them both, in desperation he throws his daughter into the forest, hoping that she’ll be saved. When the woodcutter’s wife finds the baby she takes her home, though she knows this act of kindness may lead to her death. This moving historical fiction book is a testament to our capacity for kindness in even the darkest times. 

The Nickel Boys

by Colson Whitehead

Book cover for The Nickel Boys

Colson Whitehead's second Pulitzer Prize-wining novel is based on the history of a real reform school in Florida. When one innocent mistake sees Elwood Curtis sentenced to a period of time at The Nickel Academy he is faced with a vicious environment of emotional and physical abuse. He befriends fellow inmate Tucker, but one decision will have decades-long repercussions for both boys. The Nickel Boys is a devastating, driven narrative by a great American novelist whose work is essential to understanding the current reality of the United States.

Kololo Hill

by Neema Shah

Book cover for Kololo Hill

Neema Shah’s debut is a heartbreaking historical fiction novel set in Uganda and Britain. Uganda, 1972. When a devastating decree is announced which says all Ugandan Asians must leave the country in ninety days, Asha and Pran and Pran’s mother Jaya must leave everything they’ve ever known for a new life in Britain. But as they try to rebuild their lives, a terrible secret hangs over them. Neema Shah’s extraordinarily moving novel explores what it means to leave your home behind, what it takes to start again, and the lengths some will go to protect their loved ones.

For even more historical fiction recommendations, don't miss this episode of Book Break: