8 Historical Fiction Books You Need To Read Now

There’s something exciting about being transported to another time and place when we read historical fiction books. But should reading historical fiction be merely about traveling back in time? I tend to think otherwise. 

If reading is just about time travel, one could read science fiction, which takes readers back and far into the future. However, although many readers think so, time travel isn’t necessarily a prerequisite for the best historical fiction books.

However, reading historical fiction allows us to learn about the history, culture, politics, and social life of particular times. When we read about characters living the challenges of their time, we gain a unique perspective on how those societies lived. 

Also, historical fiction books based on true stories connect us with the past to understand historical events and their impact on people. Through the personal stories, we experience how people loved, fought, dreamed, and lived. 

These stories also make us empathize with those who came before us and showed resilience and courage despite everything. Thus, they give us invaluable lessons to be like the good characters of these best-selling historical fiction books. So, let’s discuss some of the best historical fiction books!


1. Pachinko by Min Jin Lee - 4.1/ 5 (South Korea)

Pachinko by Min Jin Lee is one of the best historical fiction books to have come out in recent years. This sweeping saga follows a Korean family from the 1900s to the late 1980s across four generations. It is a troubling history of their homeland and their immigration to Japan.

The novel’s character Sunja’s life changes completely when she becomes pregnant by a wealthy married man. As a poor woman now facing facing, she accepts a marriage proposal from a kind minister who takes her to Japan. However, Shakespeare’s famous line, ‘All’s well that ends well,’ doesn’t hold for Sunja. Because, she and her descendants must grapple with discrimination, identity, and the struggle to belong in a foreign land.

The novel is an ode to family resilience and preserving cultural heritage in adversity. 

Lee’s novel has sold millions of copies worldwide. There are more than 450 thousand Goodreads reviews, making it a best selling historical fiction work. For more contemporary Korean novels, check out the 10 best Korean books.

english patient

2. The English Patient by Michael Ondaatje - 4.1/5 (WWII)

The English Patient, by Michael Ondaatje, is a masterpiece where you will experience war, love, and self-discovery. It is the only novel to have won the The Golden Man Booker, a special one time award for the best fiction from the last five decades of Booker Prize. 

The novel is set against the backdrop of World War II, and has earned its place among the best historical fiction romance novels. It revolves around the English patient, a badly burned man who has fallen from a fiery parachute. 

He finds himself in the care of Hana, a young Canadian nurse, in a dilapidated Italian villa. It also has two other characters; a Sikh British Army sapper, and a Canadian thief. 

As the story unfolds, we see the lives and loves of each characters, carrying their own secrets and scars against the backdrop of war. Ondaatje’s masterfully creates a storyline that travels back and forth, which makes The English Patient one of the best historical romance fiction books.

The novel’s main character is based on the  László de Almásy who was member of a British cartography book. The main character and the novel ending around WWII makes it one of the best historical fiction books based on true stories. 

The book was also adopted into the move of same name, won 9 Academy Awards. It starred critically acclaimed Ralph Fiennes and Juliette Binoche. You can stream the movie on Amazon Prime.

sea of poppies

3. Sea Of Poppies by Amitav Ghosh - 4.0/5 (India)

Sea Of Poppies is the first novel in Amitav Ghosh’s Ibis Trilogy and is widely regarded as one of the best historical fiction books. Like The English Patient, it has multi-regional characters, including an Indian village worker, a British sailor, and a French botanist.

It is set during the 1830s against the backdrop Opium Wars, the novel unfolds on Ibis, a grand ship navigating the waters of the Indian Ocean. The characters, disconnected from their pasts, find themselves on a journey that goes beyond borders and cultures.

They forge a new sense of belonging among themselves and become ship-brothers. Through their voyage from the opium fields along the Ganges to the alleys of Canton (now called Guangzhou, China), we experience the historical upheavals of the era. 

It is the first of the best historical fiction book series, the Ibis Trilogy. The subsequent novels, River of Smoke and Flood of Fire follow the characters’ journeys.  While also discussing colonialism, trade, and human resilience.

Ghosh is famous for his research, which he incorporates into historical fiction. He recently published the nonfiction book Smoke and Ashes: Opium’s Hidden Histories, based on his decades of archival research on the Opium Wars.

homegoing ghana

4. Homegoing By Yaa Gyasi - 4.5/5 (Ghana)

Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi is truly a powerful novel that deserves a place among the best historical fiction books. It follows the parallel paths of two half-sisters in Ghana, and spans several generations.  

It follows two Ghanian half-sisters, Effia and Esi. Effia marries an English colonizer and lives a life of relative luxury in Cape Coast Castle. Her sister Esi suffers a cruel fate in the same castle’s dungeons and is sold to American slave traders.

The narrative then follows both sisters. Effia lives through tumultuous transformations in Ghana between the Fante and Asante wars, colonialism, and the slave trade. Whereas, Esi’s offspring faces the harrowing realities of American slavery and the Civil War.

Although the best historical fiction books often struggle to maintain momentum, Homegoing remains captivating from start to finish. More surprisingly, it is Gyasi’s debut novel, which makes it even more exciting.

So far we have discussed historical fiction by the writers from Africa and Asia. If you would like to explore more historical fiction novels, you can check Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie in best war books. Also, don’t forget to check the one of the best historical fiction romance novels, My Name Is Red by Orhan Pamuk, in Turkish Authors.

Best historical fiction books

5. The Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett - 4.3/5 (England)

The Pillars of the Earth is widely regarded as one of the best historical fiction books of all time. Although the novel is set in a fictional town but it is based on some real characters like Thomas Becket. The grand setting between events like White Ship sinking and the Anarchy, makes it one of the best historical fiction books based on true stories.

The novel is set in the fictional town of Kingsbridge, England during 12th century. The sinking of the White Ship leaves England’s King Henry I without an heir, leading to the Anarchy. The reason for Anarchy is the fight between his daughter, Maud, and nephew, Stephen of Blois, who battle for the crown. 

As happens, the court nobles and churchmen choose sides to benefit from the turmoil, leading to more unrest.

Through the novel, we experience historical strife, capturing intrigue, conspiracy, and the backdrop of medieval civil war. Now, that’s a lot to digest but the gripping storyline, with rich historical backdrop makes this one a great read.

fest of the goat Best historical fiction books

6. The Feast of the Goat by Mario Vargas Llosa - 4.3/5 (Dominican Republic)

The Feast of the Goat by Mario Vargas Llosa is one of the best historical fiction books based on true events. It is set in the Dominican Republic during Rafael Trujillo’s brutal reign. The novel is a gripping and disturbing read about the dictator’s final days in power. 

The novel begins with Urania Cabral returning to her native Dominican Republic from America. Through her memories of 1961, we read about the capital, Trujillo City, ruled by the dictator Rafael Trujillo. Wherever Urania goes, there’s fear and intimidation. 

However, something is also changing.

Within the decadent walls of Trujillo’s palace, the dictator’s waning power breeds a culture of betrayal among his inner circle. Meanwhile, a covert conspiracy by four Dominicans to assassinate him set the stage for a bloody struggle for freedom that will reshape the nation.

One of the novel’s strengths is its examination of the complexities of power and corruption. It is a masterful work on the themes of oppression, resistance, and the human struggle for freedom. It is undoubtedly one of the best sellers in historical fiction you can read.

The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Díaz is an equally powerful work as it also explores the Dominican Republic’s experience under dictator Rafael Trujillo.

long petal of the sea Best historical fiction books

7. A Long Petal of the Sea by Isabel Allende - 4.1/5 (Chile)

A Long Petal of the Sea is a captivating novel that solidifies Isabel Allende’s position as the author of the best historical fiction books of our time. Isabel explores themes of identity, belonging, and a home turned upside down by political upheaval.

The novel is set during the Spanish Civil War and the exile of refugees to Chile. Although Spanish Civil War lasted for 3 years, but the love, loss, and resilience spans decades and continents in this best selling historical fiction.

The narrative follows the lives of Victor Dalmau, a young medical student, and Roser Bruguera, a talented pianist, throught the years of war and displacement. After their marriage, they sail on a SS Winnipeg, a ship chartered by the poet Pablo Neruda, which carries them and two thousand other refugees across the sea to Chile. 

This new land offers them a chance to start afresh away from the horrors of war. Yet, as the global conflict extends, their journey of survival in an unfamiliar continent unfolds, makes them embrace an unexpected partnership.

A Long Petal of the Sea is a masterful work in historical fiction genre, with almost 100,000 ratings on Goodreads, making it the best historical fiction books of recent years.

8. Chesapeake by James A. Michener - 4.2/5 (Native American)

James A. Michener’s novel Chesapeake is widely regarded as one of the best historical fiction books ever written. The novel chronicles the history of the Chesapeake Bay region, from the Native Americans to the modern era. 

The novel follows the lives of several families including Native Americans, European settlers, African slaves, and their descendants, and the challenges and conflicts in Chesapeake Bay area. 

One of the reasons Chesapeake is a best selling historical fiction novel is multiple storylines and historical events in a gripping narrative. The novel explores colonialism, cultural exchange, racial tensions, environmental degradation, and the passage of time.

Best historical fiction books

Best Historical Fiction Books Recap

One of the great things about one of the best historical fiction books is their relevancy. The stories and themes discussed in historical novels are universal and they remain relevant. War, love, betrayl, and other such themes are conclurrent. 

Aprt from traveling back in time, one could always learn more about the past and reflect on how far humans have advanced. If you alos have any particular favourites in the historical fiction genre, leave a comment  so that we can add them into best selling historical fiction list.

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