The best dark historical fiction

Michael Stewart Author Of Ill Will
By Michael Stewart

The Books I Picked & Why

Blood Meridian: Or the Evening Redness in the West

By Cormac McCarthy

Book cover of Blood Meridian: Or the Evening Redness in the West

Why this book?

This book is only loosely based on the events that took place on the Texas-Mexico border in the 1850s, but through the Miltonic grandeur of the language, and the deeply unsettling violence of the world McCarthy builds, this vision of Hell on Earth has rarely been matched. Despite the blood and guts, the prose is starkly beautiful.


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Witchfinder General

By Ronald Bassett

Book cover of Witchfinder General

Why this book?

Matthew Hopkins, the self-appointed Witchfinder General, was one of the most venal and vicious Englishmen to ever live. This is a brutal novel, a veritable catalogue of horror, but a necessary lesson in man’s inhumanity and corruption. There is an authenticity here that will but ice in your marrow. 


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The Underground Railroad

By Colson Whitehead

Book cover of The Underground Railroad

Why this book?

This novel is fully deserving of its Pulitzer Prize. It is about a runaway slave called Cora, and it takes us from plantation bondage, on an odyssey through the dark corners of American life in the 19th century. It does this through the magical realist device of an underground railroad. The characters jump off the page and the tense and gripping plotting will have your glands sweating and your blood pumping. 


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Sugar Money

By Jane Harris

Book cover of Sugar Money

Why this book?

Another slavery narrative that doesn’t pull any punches. Set in Martinique 1765, it tells the tale of brothers Emile and Lucien, who are charged by their French master, Father Cleophas, with a mission. They must return to Grenada, the island they once called home, and smuggle back 42 slaves claimed by English invaders. A gruesomely compelling story.


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The North Water: A Novel

By Ian McGuire

Book cover of The North Water: A Novel

Why this book?

A 19th-century whaling ship sets sail for the Arctic with a killer aboard in this dark, sharp, and highly original novel. In Henry Drax, we have one of the most twisted antagonists in historical fiction. First-class writing and exemplary research, this is an authentic trip into the heart of darkness. A novel free of sentimentality. 


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