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Favorite HF Books of all Time?

Historical Fiction

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Mar 28, 2010, 6:47pm Top

I just thought that it would be interesting to know what everyone's favorite books are (if it's possible to choose!).
Mine are the following...

Since this is the Historical Fiction group, I'm limiting this to HF.

A Tale of Two Cities
I, Claudius
Les Miserables
Pride and Prejudice
Tess of the D'Urbervilles
The Crucible
The Mayor of Casterbridge
Corelli's Mandolin

Mar 29, 2010, 12:19am Top

The books Sarum and London of Edward Rutherfurd are very high on my list of HF. Surprised you haven't read them yet, Jori, given your impressive library so far :-)

Mar 29, 2010, 1:34am Top

Troy trilogy by David Gemmell.

Mar 29, 2010, 7:05am Top

I'd agree that most of the books on your list should be on everyone's list, Jori, but I'd have to quibble with your definition of historical fiction. : -)

We've discussed this here many times, and there's no need to be dogmatic about it, but I don't think it is useful to describe a book as "historical fiction" just because it is old. The author has to have set the book consciously in a period before the time of writing, and made a serious effort to make the characters act and think as people of that time might have. Some readers insist that it's only HF if it's set before the author's lifetime. I think it also makes sense to limit the definition to novels and short stories written since 1814 (publication date of Waverley), but again, not everyone agrees on that.

Three of the books on your list definitely aren't HF by any sensible definition of the term: P&P (contemporary setting), Macbeth (written about 200 years before the term "historical fiction" was coined; historical plot but everything else contemporary) and Night (not fiction, author's lifetime). Tess and The Mayor of Casterbridge are debatable - they are set in an earlier time, but more-or-less within the author's lifetime.

What would I add?
At least one Scott, probably The Heart of Midlothian.
At least one Mary Renault - maybe The mask of Apollo or The last of the wine, but it would be hard to pick just one.
At least one Patrick O'Brian - Desolation Island, I think.
Kleist's novella Michael Kohlhaas - this is cheating, because it was published a few years before Waverley, but if Jori can bend the rules, I can too!
The French lieutenant's woman
Jeanette Winterson's The passion
T.C. Boyle's Water Music
Henry Esmond
...and no doubt another dozen or two next time I try to make a list!

Mar 29, 2010, 10:38am Top

Thorold - Yes, I've heard about this... The ever raging battle about what exactly is and is not historical fiction! Sorry, I didn't mean to be mislabeling any titles.

Personally, I myself classify historical fiction in my library as any book set in a time period of 50 years or more in the past.
But that is simply my way of doing things, and I don't expect everyone to share it.

Mar 29, 2010, 11:11am Top

Count me in as one who follows the definition of historical fiction that Thorold uses too. From where I sit, books such as Pride and Prejudice are classics, not historical fiction.

My suggestions:

The Autobiography of Henry VIII: With Notes by His Fool, Will Somers, by Margaret George
Alias Grace, Margaret Atwood
The French Lieutenant's Woman, John Fowles
The Girl with the Pearl Earring, Tracy Chevalier

I'm sure I'll think of some more . . .

Mar 29, 2010, 11:30am Top

Nefertiti-The Heretic Queen & Cleopatra's Daughter by, Michelle Moran

Woman in White by, Wilkie Collins (Might not count depending on definition)

Mar 29, 2010, 12:57pm Top

I too have some favorites, I'm sure I'm forgetting a ton, but these come to my mind

The Autobiography of Henry VIII: With Notes by His Fool, Will Somers, by Margaret George
The Sunne in Splendour by Sharon Kay Penman
Here Be Dragons by Sharon Kay Penman
Tai Pan by James Clavell
Time and Chance by Sharon Kay Penman
Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurty

Mar 29, 2010, 1:10pm Top

I'm with Thorold too. But of course everyone is welcome to their own definitions! :)

I really love Nobel winner Henryk Sienkiewicz's Quo Vadis. It's one of those books I read (and reread, and reread) at a young age, and I find it still holds up for me now. It has basically become my standard for historical fiction.

For younger readers (though I still love these books as an adult), anything by Rosemary Sutcliff is excellent, especially Warrior Scarlet. She has a truly inimitable talent for creating characters who are realistic and true to their historical periods, and yet relatable for modern readers.

I also really like Escape to King Alfred by Geoffrey Trease (again, a book with a target audience of young readers).

No doubt I'll think of more favorites as soon as I post this...

Apr 9, 2010, 8:53pm Top

I really liked The Robe by Lloyd Douglas
Also liked Ivanhoe by Walter Scott

Apr 9, 2010, 9:49pm Top

Here are my favorite books I tagged as "historical fiction"

Lincoln: A Novel by Gore Vidal
Sarum: The Novel of England by Edward Rutherfurd
Night of Flames: A Novel of World War II by Doublas W. Jacobson
Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurtry

Apr 11, 2010, 4:40am Top

I am with the suggestion by wisewoman (wise indeed!) of (almost) anything by Rosemary Sutcliff. But as a family member, LT members may feel I am bound to say that: not the case. My mother was usually introduced at social gatherings by Rosemary Sutcliff as her relative who does not like 'my' books! (see http://www.rosemarysutcliff.wordpress.com)

And on the definition of historical novel, maybe this bothers (some) readers and commentators and LT members more than it does writers? I believe Rosemary would have been as little interested in the definitional issue as she was in the precise definition of 'children', as in 'children's literature'. On the latter she often said she wrote for 'chlldren aged 8 to 88'; and spoke of writing for adults as opposed to children as requiring only 'a slight' gear change, see http://wp.me/p42Yg-8.

Edited: Apr 11, 2010, 5:04am Top

New to the group. Very nice to "meet" all of you.

While there are many different classifications of historical fiction and settings/time periods for the novels, I think my favorite settings are American pioneer/Revolutionary War through Civil War times. One of my favorite books of all-time:

Oh, Kentucky! by Betty Layman Receveur - whose heroine is a fictional character surrounded by real events and many real people.
From Sea To Shining Sea by James Alexander Thom - A fictionalized account of the real members of the family of George Rogers Clark. Also one of my all-time favorite books. In fact, anything by Thom I've read has been outstanding.
The Red Heart by James Alexander Thom
Follow the River by James Alexander Thom
Gone With the Wind by Margaret Mitchell

Thanks for sharing your recommendations...Always looking for the elusive new favorite I've never read yet.

Apr 11, 2010, 10:12am Top

blonderedhead - you may try Lalita Tademy. Her first novel Cane River and the sequel Red River are fictionalized accounts of her ancestors in this period.

Apr 11, 2010, 10:33am Top

King Hereafter Dorothy Dunnett (her two hf series are excellent also, but King Herafter is to my mind outstanding)

Sunne in Splendor Sharon Kay Penman

First Man in Rome Colleen McCullough (The first four books in this series are all excellent)

The Persian Boy Mary Renault (if I have to pick just one of hers)

Apr 11, 2010, 12:20pm Top

I agree that HF is anything set in the past -50 years or so is a good cut-off. I prefer the older settings though.

Went through by database.

The Ottoman Saga by Anne Chamberlin

The Asian Sage by James Clavell

A God Against the Gods - Return to Thebes
by Allen Drury
I have the double edition

The Botticelli Secret by Marina Fiorato

Outlander by Diana Gabaldon - the whole series

The Twelfth Transforming by Pauline Gedge - Anything by her really

I, Claudius and Claudius the God by Robert Graves

The Conqueror by Georgette Heyer

Raptor and Aztec by Gary Jennings

The Far Pavilions by M.M. Kaye

Blood and Jade by Sally Kohonoski

Druids and Bard by Morgan Llywelyn

Silver Nutmeg by Norah Lofts

The Deceivers by John Masters

The First Man in Rome by Colleen McCullough, really the whole series

Gone With the Wind by Margaret Mitchell

An Instance of the Fingerpost by Ian Pears

Here Be Dragons by Sharon Kay Penman

Fire From Heaven by Mary Renault - Really anything by her

Feast of All Saints and Cry to Heaven by Anne Rice

A Thread of Grace by Mary Doria Russell

The Raj Quartet by Paul Scott

Katherine and The Winthrop Woman by Anya Seton

The Egyptian by Mika Waltari

Soldier of the Mist by Gene Wolfe

Edited: Apr 12, 2010, 12:05pm Top

Hornblower. No, Sharpe. No, Hornblower. Oh well, one of those.

Mr.Midshipman Hornblower
Sharpe's Tiger

Apr 12, 2010, 6:10pm Top

Ditto for me, 5hrdrive. But in the end, Sharpe. Well, maybe Hornblower . . .

Sharpe's Rifles

Apr 13, 2010, 2:02am Top

New to the group and an interesting debate on the definition of historical fiction.

From a librarian's point of view anything happening five minutes ago is history, although, most readers consider historical fiction a novel set in a past time period. Many classics are considered historical fiction as they are set in the past.

It is important to remember, what is history to some readers may not history to others depending on their age.

We might consider a different definition for historical fiction. In this genre, the author researches a time period such as the Civil War and writes story set in the period. In true historical fiction, readers will find accurate historical facts, dates and famous characters such Robert E. Lee or Abraham Lincolm (Civil War) playing background characters. The author should also portray the lifestyle and language of the period.

Gone with the Wind is an excellent example of historical fiction set during the Civil War.

Public Librarian specializing in reader's advisory.


May 25, 2010, 2:14pm Top

That's quite a list there! How come not many people talk about Paul L. Maier? I quite enjoyed Pontius Pilate andFlames of Rome.

Edited: May 25, 2010, 6:16pm Top

Judging by the condition the physical books themselves are in, I'd have to say that anything by Gillian Bradshaw

Wolf Hunt

Beacon at Alexandria

and to a lesser extent, Horses of Heaven

and Vonda N. McIntyre 's more science fiction oriented The Moon and the Sun

I particularly enjoy how Gillian Bradshaw always has some small bit of "magic" or fantastical force that gives all her stories just that little touch of Legend.

May 25, 2010, 6:31pm Top

The Ides of March by Thornton Wilder

The Man who Killed Lincoln
by Philip VanDoren Stern*

Pontius Pilate by Paul Maier**

*billed as non-fiction, but practically a novel.

** Knew author.

Edited: May 25, 2010, 11:32pm Top

Some excellent historical fiction has already been nominated (and oh how I do love reading some of the titles and reminiscing how magical it was to read them), but no one so far has mentioned two of my very favorite historical novels, both by Edith Pargeter (aka Ellis Peters): A Bloody Field by Shrewsbury and The Heaven Tree, the first book of the Heaven Tree Trilogy.

I also found The Killer Angels, about the Battle of Gettysburg, to be an extraordinary historical novel, as was The Egyptologist by Arthur Phillips.

Though they are historical mysteries, I feel compelled to mention Sovereign and Revelation by C.J. Sansom, a series that I only recently discovered. All four were good, but those two were amazing. Also Cavalier of the Apocalypse by Susanne Alleyn, set just before the French Revolution.

As far as my #1 favorite, I think I have to say it's The Sunne in Splendour. So far, anyway.

ETA Clan of the Cave Bear ~ don't know how I managed to forget that one!

EATA Is My Antonia by Willa Cather considered historical fiction? If so, that's also a favorite.

Okay, that's all ~ I'm stopping now and going back to everyone else's posts to find new (to me) novels and authors of historical fiction to read. :)

Jun 14, 2010, 5:47pm Top

Girl with a Pearl Earring, by Tracy Chevalier
The Birth of Venus, by Sarah Dunant
The Other Boylen Girl, by Philippa Gregory
The whole Outlander Series, by Diana Gabaldon
The Theyn Chronicles, by Angela Elwell Hunt
The White Pines Chronicles, by Hilda Stahl
Redeeming Love, by Francine Rivers
The Painted Kiss, by Elizabeth Hickey

These are all GREAT books, and I think all but one (Outlander series), is actually true Historic Fiction. If you love art, specifically check out The Painted Kiss. It is phenomenal. It truly brings the artist (Gustav Klimt) to life. It's set during the era of The Vienna Secession.

Jun 15, 2010, 1:29am Top

Patience and Sarah (originally titled A Place for Us) by Alma Routsong (writing under the name Isabel Miller). Written in 1969, it's set in Connecticut and western New York in the early 19th Century (the 1820s, as I recall) and is a landmark as the first lesbian romance with a happy, or at least hopeful, ending.

And don't forget the Victorian lesbiana of Sarah Waters.

Jun 15, 2010, 10:25am Top

Night Soldiers by Alan Furst.
The Walled Orchard by Tom Holt.
"The Viking Saga" Viking's Dawn, The Road to Miklagard and Viking's Sunset) by Henry Treece ("young adult", but God I loved it as a kid).
The Last English King by Julian Rathbone.
Knight with Armour and Count Behemond by Alfred Duggan.

There's quite a few old and out of print books there in that short list. Makes me feel old and I'm not really!

Jun 15, 2010, 11:00am Top

I love young adult HF. *adds some Treece books to her wishlist* Thanks!

Jun 15, 2010, 6:14pm Top

Just looking at all of these reminds me of how many books I have to read! My "to read" document on my desktop is 37 pages long (I just checked). Yikes.

Jun 16, 2010, 11:50am Top

New York by Edward Rutherfurdthe history of New York told through generations starting with the Dutch settlers to modern day. Fascinating and tremendous fun.

Jul 7, 2010, 8:50am Top

There are lots of wonderful examples of Historical Fiction ranging from Mantel's Man Booker winning Wolf Hall to just about everything by Barbara Cartland. Well okay, Cartland's stuff isn't wonderful except in that its a wonder so many people read her but you know what I mean.

I really loved Forever Amber also low-brow, most of Georgette Heyer's Regency Romances and everything by Sansom. Tom Harper's "Mosaic of Shadows" is a good read and I also enjoyed Willocks "The Religion".

Margaret George is a grand writer and there is little to beat her "Autobiography of Henry VIII" while Mark Gattiss's Lucifer Box novel's are great fun and Moore's "The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen" is also a favourite. And I'm a sucker for any pastiche - from Sherlock Holmes to Jane Austen. Another grand story is "Eaters of the Dead" - filmed as The 13th Warrior - by Michael Crichton.

To paraphrase Cecil John Rhodes - and there's a marvellous character to put in an historical novel - "So many books to read, so little time".

Jul 7, 2010, 9:01pm Top

Donna Gillespie - The Light Bearer and Lady of the Light
Elizabeth Chadwick - anything by her.
Gillian Bradshaw - Beacon at Alexandria is my fave.
Margaret George - The Memoirs of Cleopatra
Jules Watson - Dalriada trilogy
Sherri Smith - The Virgin's Tale
Barbara Wood - she has a couple good ones, like Woman of a Thousand Secrets
Michelle Moran - Cleopatra's Daughter
William Dietrich - Hadrian's Wall

i could go on, but i cant think of anymore at the moment.

Edited: Jul 9, 2010, 2:06am Top

Most of you have already mentioned many of my favorites, but I will chime in with:

I, Claudius and Claudius the God
The Raj Quartet
The French Lieutenant's Woman
A Thread of Grace and
Winds of War
Memoirs of hadrian

Edited: Jul 9, 2010, 4:38pm Top

Thanks for reminding me, Anastasia169 ~ in addition to Burr, I also loved Gore Vidal's Lincoln.

Edited to correct typo and add touchstones.

Mar 4, 2011, 7:13pm Top

Thanks for some interesting works to look up. I too have some favourites.

Clan of the Cave Bear and the rest of the series
The Pillars of the Earth

A couple of more recent titles that I loved include

The Botticelli Secret
Tiger Hills

Mar 4, 2011, 8:39pm Top

I just found this thread. Not much time right now, but must mention The Agony and the Ecstasy: A Biolographical Novel of Michelangelo by Irving Stone.

Anyone have an opinion on To Serve Them All My Days by R.F. Delderfield? My wife and I have been watching the BBC miniseries on DVD through Netflix. Makes me want to read the book.

Edited: Mar 4, 2011, 9:26pm Top

In addition to what I've already mentioned (26), I'm going to add Marion Garthwaite's Holdup on Bootjack Hill. It was originally serialized (Jul-Nov 59) in Jack and Jill Magazine, which is where I read it as a child, and I've just recently read Garthwaite's subsequent (1962) expanded novelization. It was children/IR, something of a "Tom Sawyer" type of story with the twist that "Tom" was a tomboy named California "Callie" Dean.

I've got to get around to read Garthwaite's other books. She was a children/IR writer who leaned toward historical novels of old California.

EDIT to fix link

Mar 5, 2011, 3:21am Top

> 36
I really liked To Serve Them All My Days, when I read it about 20 years ago.

Mar 5, 2011, 11:22am Top

So many!!!!!!!!

The Girl with the Pearl Earring
A Tale of Two Cities
Gone with the Wind
The Scarlet Letter

I know that some would disagree tat # 2-4 are historical fiction, but indeed, they are!

Mar 5, 2011, 11:25am Top

#1.....Night by Elie Wiesel is historical fiction?

Mar 5, 2011, 11:40am Top

#36: I read To Serve Them All My Days some years ago and loved it. I went on to buy more of Delderfield's books.

Mar 5, 2011, 3:55pm Top

Interesting . . . off the top of my head

Captain Blood by Rafael Sabatini
Johnny Tremain by Esther Forbes (I reread this recently and it stood up quite well.)
The Black Flower by Howard Bahr

Hmmmm, drawing a blank otherwise. I'm sure I'll think of more.

Mar 5, 2011, 4:31pm Top

This may be simplistic, but I've always had a soft spot for The Witch of Blackbird Pond.

Mar 5, 2011, 8:41pm Top

#40 agreed

Night is both contemporary and true, making it exactly the opposite of historical fiction.

Edited: Mar 6, 2011, 7:17am Top

Most of mine have already been mentioned but here's the list anyway (and I'm also using Thorold's criteria):

The French Lieutenant's Woman, A Maggot - John Fowles
The Crimson Petal and the White - Michel Faber
Mary Called Magdalene - Margaret George
Captain Corelli's Mandolin - Louis de Bernieres (I know it comes right up to date at the end but I'm counting the first half as historical - which, for me, is WWII and before)
Alone in Berlin - Hans Fallada
Now, Once and Then - Morris Glietzman
Remarkable Creatures - Tracy Chevalier
The Elephant Keeper - Christopher Nichloson
Sacred Hearts - Sarah Dunant
Stealing Athena - Sarah Essex
Shipwrecks - Akira Yoshimura
The Thief of Time - John Boyne
Mutiny on the Bounty - John Boyne
Fingersmith, Tipping the Velvet and Affinity - Sarah Waters
Company of Liars - Karen Maitland
Loving Frank - Nancy Horan
People of the Book - Geraldine Brooks
Pillars of the Earth and World Without End - Ken Follett
Forever Amber - Kathleen Winsor
This Thing of Darkness - Harry Thompson
The Athenian Murders - Jose Carlos Somoza
The Madness of a Seduced Woman - Susan Fromberg Schaeffer
Star of the Sea - Joseph O'Connor
An Instance of the Fingerpost - Iain Pears
Frenchman's Creek, Jamaica Inn - Daphne du Maurier
Picnic at Hanging Rock - Joan Lindsay
The Once and Future King by T H White

Oops, got a bit carried away there. As you can probably tell I'm a big fan of HF.

Mar 6, 2011, 9:05am Top

When I was much younger I read a lot of Thomas B. Costain. The Silver Chalice, The Tontine, Below the Salt, etc. Haven't seen any of his novels mentioned here.

Where do religious historical novels come into the equation? Ben Hur, Quo Vadis, The Crown and the Cross, The Day Christ Died, and novels with other religious backgrounds.

Mar 6, 2011, 10:51am Top

It's a very difficult question. I must say I loved The Historian, which is perhaps not quite historical fiction. It takes place in three time periods, two of which are historical, but it has elements of the supernatural in it. Still it was a very good read.

Mar 7, 2011, 12:47pm Top

>46 CharlesBoyd:
It's probably another of those "it depends" questions - some try to fit religious events into a historical period using all the historical information available (Mary Renault's Theseus novels, for instance, or The kingdom of the wicked) whilst others focus on the mythical, timeless quality of religious events and avoid getting too involved in the history. Siddhartha would be a classic example of that, or Kazantzakis's religious novels, perhaps.

Mar 11, 2011, 8:27am Top

Gosh, lots of favorites already on this list, including Gone With the Wind, Katherine, Wolf Hall, Diane Gabaldon's series starting with Outlander, and Georgette Heyer's Regency romances. Some not already on the list are The Eight, by Katherine Neville, Kathleen Koen's Through a Glass Darkly; I'm also a sucker for Margaret Campbell Barnes's work, especially Brief Gaudy Hour (about Anne Boleyn) and My Lady of Cleves (about Anne of Cleves).

In the juvenile category, I *still* periodically reread They Loved to Laugh (a North Carolina orphan in the early 19th century is adopted by a Quaker family), and Kate Seredy's The Good Master and The Singing Tree (a family on the Hungarian plains; the first is just before WW1, while the second covers the war years).

Mar 11, 2011, 9:04am Top

My favorites seem to be mostly mysteries, but some others too:

The Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco
The Mistress of the Art of Death (+ series) by Ariana Franklin (who I was extremely distressed to hear passed away earlier this year)
The Seance by John Harwood
Silent in the Grave (+ series) by Deanna Raybourn
The Interpretation of Murder by Jed Rubenfeld
Dissolution (+ series) by C. J. Sansom
Child 44 by Tom Rob Smith
The Help by Kathryn Stockett
A Death in Vienna (+ series) by Frank Tallis
Maisie Dobbs (+ series) by Jacqueline Winspear

Mar 11, 2011, 10:01am Top

My all-time favorite is The Crimson Petal and the White, but I have to say I'm confused about what is really "historical fiction." I always thought that historical fiction, by definition, meant that it was set back in the past, had characters that are portrayed to act as though a man or woman would act at that time, that the book would discribe events, places, foods, ect that would be historically correct, but, at the same time, be fictional. There is no real way to tell what some historical figures motives were for what they did, or what happened. There are some authors out there who take a lot of poetic licence with their novels, but there are a lot out there who try to stay within what is known as fact.

If I wanted to read historical fiction and want to to be clear-cut, then I'd want historical non-fiction... And to tell you all the truth, me personally, I've found books like that a bit dry and patchy because a lot of history is not recorded in perfect detail.

I don't wish to offend anyone, it's just what I think, but please, if you have a different opinion please tell me what it is; I'm always up for new ideas. ;)

Mar 11, 2011, 11:40am Top

#51 I think the debate in this thread about what constitutes historical fiction has to do with the distinction of whether or not a book's setting was contemporary to the author, even if that author lived in a period that is historical to us. There are two camps 1) Those who consider any novel set in a period historical TO US to be historical fiction, and 2) Those who believe that, in order to be considered historical fiction, the novel must be set in a period historical to THE AUTHOR.

I, and many people on the thread, belong in the second camp. To us, "historical novel" implies that the author could not have had first-hand knowledge of the time period and setting. Therefore, while we'd consider most of Dickens' novels to be contemporary, we'd say A Tale of Two Cities is historical.

Mar 11, 2011, 12:30pm Top

Mar 11, 2011, 2:15pm Top

I'm a recent reader of historical fiction, so I don't really have a favorite. I too can see ambiguity in the definition, but to give it a shot: I liked The Killer Angels by Michael Shaara and the work of his son, Jeff Shaara. I am also considering taking a look at David Gemmell's Troy trilogy and the work of Steven Pressfield and George Garrett.....no touchstone.

Mar 11, 2011, 4:25pm Top

@51,52>> I'm definitely with SaraHope, in the second camp myself, that the book needs to be set in a period historical to THE AUTHOR. I can be fairly liberal about that, however, so that I'd consider Charlotte Brontë's Shirley to be historical fiction. Shirley is set a mere four to five years prior to Charlotte's birth, but it's "historical" in the sense that it deliberately looks back to the Luddite uprisings in the Yorkshire area during the economic depression that accompanied the war with the U.S. (War of 1812).

On the other hand, I think you may be going a little too far, SaraHope, when you say that the author "could not have had first-hand knowledge of the time period and setting." For example, One Crazy Summer by Rita Williams-Garcia is set in California in 1968, and the author, according to her website, was born in 1957, and she tells us that, growing up, "I learned to read early, and was aware of events going on as I grew up in the 60s." I haven't yet read One Crazy Summer (I've got it in a TBR pile), but considering the subject, which includes participation in a Black Panther summer camp in a time and place in which the Black Panther Party was in its historical ascendancy, I'd consider that the author's deliberate looking back to this historical context makes One Crazy Summer an "historical novel."

What I think is particularly important in whether the author is deliberately "anchoring" the setting to a particular time-past, no matter how recent that time-past might be, which makes Shirley an historical novel even though set a mere four or five years before Brontë's birth and makes One Crazy Summer an historical novel even though set when the author was eleven years old.

The mere fact, though, that the book is set in a past relative TO US should absolutely not be sufficient to qualify it was "historical fiction" or else Jane Eyre, Wuthering Heights, and Villette would all be "historical fiction," which I definitely don't consider to be the case.

Now here's a good one, though. How about The Naked and the Dead? It was written in 1948, just three or four years after the events described, but these events, now matter how recent they were at the time of Mailer's writing, were still anchored in a time-past, the Pacific Theater in the Second World War. It's a close call, but I think I might be inclined to treat The Naked and the Dead as "historical fiction" based on the anchoring in a time-past, no matter how relatively recent. I doesn't in any way purport to deal with "contemporary" events or a "contemporary" setting of 1948, and there's a distance or alien-ness to it, though perhaps a 1948 reader might have felt otherwise. Close call on this one.

Mar 11, 2011, 9:26pm Top

ooh, I see. I'm very new to this and never have heard of those two camps of historical fiction! I'd have to go with the second one.

Mar 12, 2011, 12:29am Top

I will second jnwelch's recommendation of Remarkable Creatures - message 53. Am also read Toby Green's non-fiction Inquisition: The Reign of Fear. Such a fascinating era/event and I find so little adult historical fiction on the subject. So far, the best is By Fire, By Water

Mar 12, 2011, 1:51am Top

>54 barney67: Oh, yes, deniro! Very definitely The Killer Angels!

Mar 12, 2011, 4:30am Top

>54 barney67:,55
deniro's post almost suggests there might be a third camp - historical fiction = books I read a long time ago ... :-)

The "author's lifetime" thing is definitely debatable: the strongest argument against treating books set in the author's lifetime as "historical fiction" is the simple fact that almost all mainstream fiction is explicitly or implicitly set in the past. If you're not careful the category becomes meaningless. There obviously is a strong case for including books set in the recent past and involving major historical events, where the author has had to use the same sort of techniques you would use for a book set in the distant past.

I think I suggested in another thread that one possible rule of thumb would be only to consider books as "historical fiction" if the author had obviously had to do research in written records to get the information necessary to write the book. That would rule out anything based mainly on personal recollection or "what my grandmother told me".

Mar 12, 2011, 9:26am Top

Cold Mountain, hands down my favorite.

I thought Taipan was awful, but Lonesome Dove was one of the best westerns ever written.

Also agree with limiting definition to times far enough before the author's own time that s/he must become a bit of a historian to write convincingly about it.

Mar 12, 2011, 3:17pm Top

#60> Ah, yes. Cold Mountain is a very good call, although I actually enjoyed Frazier's second book, Thirteen Moons, even more.

Mar 12, 2011, 5:24pm Top

hmmm, interesting

Cold Mountiain
Outlander series
Into the Wilderness series
Lady of the Forest
Master and Commander
anything by Bernard Cornwell
anything by Mary Renault

I'm sure there are tons more, but I'm not thinking clearly right now-thoughts on friends in Japan.

Mar 12, 2011, 10:15pm Top

I just found this thread and was surprised that The Killer Angels was mot mentioned till yesterday. To my mind it is the best historical fiction I have ever read, bar none

Mar 13, 2011, 12:20pm Top


I agree "anything by Bernard Cornwell."

Mar 13, 2011, 6:51pm Top

Ariana Franklin died? NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO! I loved those books.

Mar 14, 2011, 3:14pm Top

The Other Boleyn Girl by Philippa Gregory. i love the story behind mary boleyn. its very intricate and believable.

Edited: Mar 14, 2011, 4:05pm Top

Burr and Lincoln and Julian by Gore Vidal
Patrick O'Brian and George McDonald Fraser- almost any of theirs
Birdsong by Sebastian Faulks
Gilgamesh the King by Robert Silverberg
Possession by A S Byatt

Mar 15, 2011, 11:28am Top

A fellow LTer sent me a private message asking what I thought about Bernard Cornwell's bias against Christianity. I replied that I didn't think Cornwell had such a bias. Turns out this person hasn't read any of Cornwell's work and is trying to decide whether to read one of his novels. I suggested "The Archer."

Anyone have any thoughts on this subject?

Mar 15, 2011, 11:42am Top

authors can have a bias and still be worth reading. in fact in my opinion we all have biases, just that very few of us admit to them. apparently reading vidal's Burr so enraged some person in their youth, with its dissing of the sainted founding fathers, they starte don a career path that has led them to being a leading member of the tea party. i cant remeber if it was glenn beck, but then again as an australian i didnt greatly care. theres a bias for you lol

Mar 15, 2011, 1:59pm Top

I've read a lot of Bernard Cornwell books and haven't seen anything suggesting that alleged bias.

Edited: Mar 15, 2011, 3:44pm Top

"....Vidalʻs Burrʻs. . . dissing of the sainted founding fathers."

I have read, sporadically about the founding fathers since the 1960s, and havenʻt seen the adjective "sainted" applied to them. They were so idiosyncratic and different from each other that generalizing about them is as hard as generalizing about "ALL Muslims", "ALL Communists", etc. To put Patrick Henry in the same box with Benjamin Franklin or James Madison defies any characterization-logic. But write-ups of them do tend to be exaggeratedly favorable -- especially if by U. S. Conservatives of a "Statesʻ Rights" tendency.

I am working now on an article to be titled:
"Where Conservatives OPPOSE Statesʻ Rights" on the aftermath of the Supreme Courtʻs 7-2 decision for the Plaintiff in "Rice v. Cayetano" (02/2000), where judicial conservatism was clearly on the "Cayetano" side*, but was clashing with political conservatism, which was clearly on the "Rice" (plaintiffʻs) side. The political prevailed.

As for Burr, it was well known at the time that Gore Vidal started out with a prejudice against 109466::Thomas Jefferson and in favor of T Jʻs arch-rival 5709::Aaron Burr (a distant relative (?) of Vidal). The historical Burr is hard to condone, but G V did have plausible issues with T J, quite apart from T. J.ʻs being a slave owner, an overly moderate supporter of Revolutionary France, and quite possibly a crypto-supporter of "the English nation and fleet".

*Benjamin Cayetano, Hawaiʻiʻs governor at that time was technically the defendant. How much he wanted to win the case is another question. The opposing lawyers were both Conservative Caucasians: Theodore Olson, later U.S. solicitor general, for "Rice", and John G. Roberts later Chief Justice (!) for "Cayetano".

Mar 16, 2011, 6:09am Top

#68 Agreeing with #69 in that all human have some bias (unless they have no opinions about anything at all). I haven't read anything by Cornwell either but I can't think of any writer of fiction I have read who didn't have some bias or other whether it is pro/con Christianity, pro/con socialism, pro/con liberalism etc. Even if the writer has no bias the characters certainly should or where is the story?

Mar 16, 2011, 3:08pm Top

68> A fellow LTer sent me a private message

how do you send a private message please?

(i knw, off topic but i was just wondering)

Mar 16, 2011, 3:23pm Top

magelet87 - leave a comment on their profile page and tick the box for private message.

Mar 16, 2011, 3:30pm Top

thanks so much!

Edited: Mar 17, 2011, 9:00am Top

I have read these books by Bernard Cornwell:

3462. Sharpe's Tiger, by Bernard Cornwell (read 19 Jul 2001)
3464. Sharpe's Triumph Richard Sharpe and the Battle of Assaye, September 1803, by Bernard Cornwell (read 22 Jul 2001)
3468. Sharpe's Fortress Richard Sharpe and the Siege of Gawilghur, December 1803, by Bernard Cornwell (read 5 Aug 2001)
3477. Sharpe's Trafalgar Richard Sharpe and the Battle of Trafalgar, October 21, 1805, by Bernard Cornwell (read 24 Aug 2001)
3482. Sharpe's Rifles Richard Sharpe and the French Invasion of Galicia, January 1809, by Bernard Cornwell (read 2 Sep 2001)

I quir reading him because I was so dismayed by Sharpe's conduct in Sharpe's Trafalgar, where he murders a man who knew of his adulterous conduct--I prefer heroes who do not murder and I even disapprove of heroes who are adulterors.

Edited: Mar 17, 2011, 4:41pm Top

76> I prefer heroes who do not murder and I even disapprove of heroes who are adulterors

i know what you mean. it would be hard to decide between a murderer or and adultress...

Mar 18, 2011, 1:42am Top

Sharpe's Regiment.. . the best of all the Sharpe books. . Indecently it's also the best Sharpe movie as well

Mar 18, 2011, 9:45am Top

Not too many people are unflawed, even heroes. Sharpe evolves quite a bit over the series.

Some of my favorites are Sharpe's Eagle, Sharpe's Sword, and Sharpe's Honour. And the battle of Waterloo is amazing in Sharpe's Waterloo.

Mar 20, 2011, 6:05pm Top

True historical fiction--according to the NALB (National Assoc. of Librarians) is:Historical fiction is a sub-genre of fiction that often portrays fictional accounts or dramatization of historical figures or events. THerefore, just because a book was written 50 or 1000 years ago, does not mean it is historical fiction. It must be about a REAL person or event fictionalized. Just my 2 cents....

Given my definiton, my fav historical fiction books are:
A Tale of Two Cities, Charles Dickens
The Clan of the Cave Bear by Jean Auel
Any of The First North Americans Series by W. Michael Gear and Kathleen O’Neal Gear; this is about the lives of the Reindeer People of North America fictionalized....very good! (People of the Moon, The Animal Wife, Reindeer Moon)
Shogun by James Clavell
The Killer Angels by Michael Shaara
Andersonville by Mackinlay Kantor
Hawaii by James Michener
Cane River by Lalita Tademy

Just to name a few..............

Mar 24, 2011, 8:03pm Top

I posed the question of whether Bernard Cornwell had an anti-Christian bias, on his website. His reply:

"I think I would say that I keep a neutral attitude towards Christianity, which means that for every wonderful saintly Christian there's probably at least one real utter bastard, but Christians who read my books only ever notice the bastards and never give me credit for the saints. That's okay. Christians are supposed to be tolerant, so I persevere."

Mar 24, 2011, 9:23pm Top

and a perfectly honest and accurate response...

I've never noticed that Cornwell had an anti-christian bias.

Mar 24, 2011, 11:20pm Top

I've just stumbled onto this thread and I've gotten plenty of good ideas for future reads. Just to add my 2 cents, my favourites are:

Diana Gabaldon's Outlander series (particularly the earlier books)
Sara Donati/Rosina Lippi's Into The Wilderness Series (absolutely loved all of these)
The Guernsey Literary And Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer
and one I loved when I was younger, Young Exile by Eliane Whitehouse.

Mar 25, 2011, 7:05pm Top

I just finished "The Blighted Troth" and if you love historical fiction in the classic sense, then this book is a must!
It takes me back to my teenage years and discovering the joy of reading Dumas' 'Lady of the Camellias' and Flaubert's 'Madame Bovary.' I had no idea authors still had the skill and imagination to write such works. The Blighted Troth is historical fiction in a classic sense - beautifully written, the language spare yet evocative and a sweeping story of love, evil, famine, disease, redemption and resolution skillfully told in an effortlessly understated manner.
As a reader you have the comfortable feeling of being in the hands of a master. I feel truly excited by this book and feel sure Ms Patzer has a great literary future ahead of her.

Edited: Mar 26, 2011, 3:03pm Top

Some of my all time favourite historical fiction books are:
De schaduw van de adelaar
Het rood en het zwart
Het goud van de waarheid
Vogels zonder vleugels
De tijgerkat
And of course (almost) any novel by Umberto Eco.

Mar 28, 2011, 7:05pm Top

My favorites lean towards the children's/YA side, but:

My Name is Not Angelica by Scott O'Dell
Sarah Bishop by Scott O'Dell
Moloka'i by Alan Brennert
True North by Kathryn Lasky
Calico Captive by Elizabeth George Speare
Pirates! by Celia Rees
Bloody Jack series by L.A. Meyer
The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle by Avi
Tangled Threads by Pegi Deitz Shea
A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith
The Ransom of Mercy Carter by Caroline Cooney
The Dungeon by Lynne Reid Banks
Victory by Susan Cooper
Copper Sun by Sharon M. Draper
almost anything by Karen Cushman, Karen Hesse, and Richard Peck

Mar 29, 2011, 1:09am Top

@86>> I'm especially fond of Copper Sun.

A couple other children's/YA of African-American interest that I have in my TBR piles and that I'm especially interested in getting to are Victoria Bond's Zora and Me and Rita Williams-Garcia's One Crazy Summer.

Mar 29, 2011, 1:24am Top

Lots of good ones already mentioned but my favoites not included yet:

The two wondeful series by Dorothy Dunnett, and especially her life of Macbeth King Hereafter.

Highly recommended!

Mar 29, 2011, 12:00pm Top

I can only think of one at the moment:

The Good Earth

That counts as HF, right?

Mar 30, 2011, 9:07am Top

Obviously Hilary Mantel's Wolf Hall and anything by Sharon Penman

Mar 30, 2011, 9:33am Top

On a slightly unrelated note (sorry) can anyone recomend a good HF book set in Malta? My mum's going on holiday there soon and asked me to recommend an appropriate read

Mar 30, 2011, 10:35am Top

Weren't some of Dorothy Dunnett's books set on Malta?
Patrick O'Brian's Treason's harbour is set mostly there, with a little excursion to the Red Sea, but it's probably not a good place to start if you haven't read the earlier books in the series.

Mar 30, 2011, 11:39am Top


I know there is one book set during WWII and one during the Great Siege, but I only know the German titles rigth now I'd have to check.

Mar 31, 2011, 7:19am Top

#91 The Information Officer is set in Malta, I think during WWII, though I'm afraid I can't tell you any more than that about it because I couldn't get into it at all and abandoned it after about 30 pages, none of which I can remember. That doesn't sound like a great recommendation, I know, but I believe it was very popular with other people.

Mar 31, 2011, 7:47am Top

>92 thorold:-94
We are doing well, aren't we? - two concrete suggestions for books you probably shouldn't read, and three hopelessly vague recommendations. Perhaps you should just explain to your mother how to make a Maltese cross...

Mar 31, 2011, 8:14am Top

Sorry, I actually went upstairs yesterday to get the books to check for titles, but never got around to posting them, my bad.

The Kappillan of Malta is set during WWII and The Great Siege, Malta 1565 during the Great Siege (obviously)

Mar 31, 2011, 9:15am Top

Thanks people :)

Mar 31, 2011, 10:41am Top

KayEluned, if your mom likes blood, guts, gore, battles, sieges, and other nitty-gritty assortments, then The Religion by Tim Willocks might fit the bill. If she doesn't like such things then she shouldn't come within a city block of a copy. Well, there is a sort of love story embedded in it. And it made the shortlist for the Bad Sex in Fiction award in 2006! A nice serene historical fiction read featuring Malta is not coming to mind at the moment.

Edited: Apr 5, 2011, 7:59am Top

Here is my reaction to The Kappillan of Malta right after I read it:

2456 The Kappillan of Malta, by Nicholas Monsarrat (read 31 Jul 1992) This is a novel of Malta from June 10, 1940, to August 1942 centered on a priest who is of an old Malta family though the son of an English naval officer killed at the battle of Jutland. The book is laced with accounts of Malta in 1500 B.C., of St. Paul coming to Malta in 60 A.D., of Count Roger in 1090, of the Great Siege of 1565, and of Malta in Napoleonic times. It is an inspiring story but a little long. Sex scenes, while handled discreetly and non-blatantly, were still offensive.

Apr 5, 2011, 12:17pm Top

Dorothy Dunnett's The Disorderly Knights (Third in Legendary Lymond Chronicles) is set in Malta, but I wouldn't recommend reading her series out of order. Her books are absolutely wonderful, but not quick reads by any means.

Apr 13, 2011, 6:27pm Top

I would like to introduce a radical element.
May I propose Sir Thomas Malory's Le Morte D'Arthur? - written in the 1470s and first printed in 1485, the subject matter was then nearly a thousand years in the past.

Apr 13, 2011, 10:34pm Top

Doesn't sound radical to me.

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