The best books for elements of historical adventure fiction

Why am I passionate about this?

My passion for historical adventure and Texas history stems from my heritage: I’m a native Texan related to one of the Alamo defenders. My great-great-great-great-great-granduncle, Isaac Millsaps, was one of the Immortal 32, the reinforcements from Gonzales who answered William Barret Travis's call for help, rode to San Antonio, and died in the Alamo on March 6, 1836. My relationship with words began in elementary school, where I read Beowulf and Dracula by the time I was 10 years old (probably explains a lot about me). I began writing for newspapers in 1975 and have been writing professionally ever since.


I wrote...

Rescuing Crockett

By David Z. Pyke,

Book cover of Rescuing Crockett

What is my book about?

When a portrait raises the possibility that David Crockett survived the Alamo, a handful of Texas Revolution veterans embark on a quest for the truth. Exploring a world healing from war, they investigate the accounts of Alamo survivors and pursue a witness to the battle’s final moments. Their odyssey turns lethal as layers of the last stand's legend peel away to reveal a shocking secret.

"Pyke has achieved something rare: a novel that is dramatically captivating, historically rigorous (if ultimately fanciful), and philosophically inquisitive.... A thrilling historical drama, as engrossing as it is edifying" (Kirkus Reviews). "The characters are well-fleshed out, as real as a Texas storm, and the propulsion of the storyline keeps one glued to the narrative until the very end" (Historical Fiction Company).

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of Gates of Fire: An Epic Novel of the Battle of Thermopylae

David Z. Pyke Why did I love this book?

I chose this for an essential component of historical fiction: giving face and voice to historic characters.

Pressfield transforms the legendary warriors of the Battle of Thermopylae into relatable, three-dimensional characters with depth, emotion, and motivation rarely found in history books. For example, Pressfield imagines Leonidas selecting the men that make up his three hundred Spartans based on the strength of their wives, because the king knows these women will have to endure being widowed.

The battle scenes are epic, describing the terror of standing in the shield wall and finding the courage to face death. The modern city of Sparta was so impressed with Pressfield’s novels about ancient Greece that they made him an honorary citizen of Sparta.

By Steven Pressfield,

Why should I read it?

14 authors picked Gates of Fire as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

In the Sunday Times bestseller Gates of Fire, Steven Pressfield tells the breathtaking story of the legendary Spartans: the men and women who helped shaped our history and have themselves become as immortal as their gods.

'Breathtakingly brilliant . . . this is a work of rare genius. Savour it!' DAVID GEMMELL

'A tale worthy of Homer, a timeless epic of man and war, exquisitely researched and boldy written. Pressfield has created a new classic' STEPHEN COONTS

'A really impressive book - imaginatively framed, historically detailed and a really gripping narrative' ***** Reader review

'Beautifully written and a great joy…


Book cover of Lonesome Dove

David Z. Pyke Why did I love this book?

I chose this for characters and setting. Larry McMurtry was one of the greatest American writers and a chronicler of life in Texas, and he won the Pulitzer Prize for Lonesome Dove, the story of two aging Texas Rangers on a final adventure together.

McMurtry immerses the reader in his world, but more importantly he immerses his characters in that world. The relationships are amazing: between characters who face deeply personal and tragic life-or-death decisions, but also between characters and the novel’s savage, lethal world.

McMurtry’s stories are character-driven slices of life, but authors of plot-driven books can learn from McMurtry when it comes to characters and their world.

By Larry McMurtry,

Why should I read it?

13 authors picked Lonesome Dove as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Larry McMurtry's Pulitzer Prize winning novel is a powerful, triumphant portrayal of the American West as it really was. From Texas to Montana, it follows cowboys on a grueling cattle drive through the wilderness.

It begins in the office of The Hat Creek Cattle Company of the Rio Grande.
It ends as a journey into the heart of every adventurer who ever lived . . .

More than a love story, more than an adventure, Lonesome Dove is an epic: a monumental novel which embraces the spirit of the last defiant wilderness of America.

Legend and fact, heroes and outlaws,…


Book cover of The Day of the Jackal

David Z. Pyke Why did I love this book?

I chose this for authenticity. Newsday's review said it was "chillingly real" and "the reader himself seems to be traveling with 'the Jackal.'"

That’s because Forsyth, as a foreign correspondent working in Europe and Africa, knew assassins, mercenaries, and arms dealers, which allowed him to craft fantastic but believable characters, settings, and situations. Forsyth opens the novel with the depiction of a real assassination attempt, employs historical figures, locations, and details, then seamlessly weaves his fictional plot into this authentic world.

Forsyth reveals lives most of us can only imagine, and he shows that wall-to-wall suspense does not require wall-to-wall action, but is built on plausible intrigue, sustained tension, and excellent writing.

By Frederick Forsyth,

Why should I read it?

8 authors picked The Day of the Jackal as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The Day of the Jackal is the electrifying story of the struggle to catch a killer before it's too late.

It is 1963 and an anonymous Englishman has been hired by the Operations Chief of the O.A.S. to murder General De Gaulle. A failed attempt in the previous year means the target will be nearly impossible to get to. But this latest plot involves a lethal weapon: an assassin of legendary talent.

Known only as The Jackal, this remorseless and deadly killer must be stopped, but how do you track a man who exists in name alone?


Book cover of Raise the Titanic!

David Z. Pyke Why did I love this book?

I chose this for the power of hook and title. This action & adventure novel with historical elements has the greatest title in the history of literature.

The purpose of a title is to sell the book, and no title ever succeeded so well. Raise the Titanic! was published a decade before the wreck of Titanic was discovered, so in the world’s imagination the ship was still largely intact. Cussler tapped into the intoxicating idea of the legendary ship’s resurrection and the completion of its maiden voyage.

I was so struck when I saw Raise the Titanic! in a bookstore, I decided to buy it before I picked it up. The book propelled Cussler from moderate success to the best-selling grandmaster of adventure, and it inspired my search for a hook and title.

By Clive Cussler,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Raise the Titanic! as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A SUNDAY TIMES BESTSELLER

'Cussler is hard to beat' Daily Mail

The fantastic fourth Dirk Pitt classic from multi-million-copy king of the adventure novel, Clive Cussler.

A tidal wave of pounding excitement from the first page to the last . . .

Two and a half miles beneath the icy North Atlantic the mighty Titanic holds the key to the safety of the free world. The Americans want it. So do the Russians. Ace maritime troubleshooter Dirk Pitt faces one of the most stupendous tests of courage and ingenuity ever.

Raise the Titanic is a spellbinding blockbuster of action and…


Book cover of The Winter King

David Z. Pyke Why did I love this book?

I chose this because this is how historical adventure is done. Cornwell brilliantly creates authentic characters, setting, dialogue, plot, and conflict.

The Winter King is the first book of the Warlord Trilogy, which is the best retelling of the Arthur legend I’ve ever encountered, but this could be about any of his novels and series. He’s written about the Stone Age, the Dark Ages, Henry V, Alfred the Great, and the Napoleonic wars. He even took on Shakespeare with Fools and Mortals.

Cornwell’s battle sequences are the best in the business, his storylines are compelling, his characters are memorable, his pacing is perfect, and his worlds are immersive. Cornwell is the acknowledged master of the genre.

By Bernard Cornwell,

Why should I read it?

13 authors picked The Winter King as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Uther, the High King of Britain, has died, leaving the infant Mordred as his only heir. His uncle, the loyal and gifted warlord Arthur, now rules as caretaker for a country which has fallen into chaos - threats emerge from within the British kingdoms while vicious Saxon armies stand ready to invade. As he struggles to unite Britain and hold back the Saxon enemy, Arthur is embroiled in a doomed romance with beautiful Guinevere.


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Dormice & Moonshine: Falling for Slovenia

By Sam Baldwin,

Book cover of Dormice & Moonshine: Falling for Slovenia

Sam Baldwin Author Of For Fukui’s Sake: Two years In Rural Japan

New book alert!

Why am I passionate about this?

Author Author Snow lover Fish out of water Traveller

Sam's 3 favorite reads in 2023

What is my book about?

When two brothers discover a 300-year-old sausage-curing cabin on the side of a Slovenian mountain, it's love at first sight. But 300-year-old cabins come with 300 problems.

Dormice & Moonshine is the true story of an Englishman seduced by Slovenia. In the wake of a breakup, he seeks temporary refuge in his hinterland house, but what was meant as a pitstop becomes life-changing when he decides to stay. Along the way, he meets a colourful cross-section of Slovene society: from dormouse hunters, moonshine makers, beekeepers, and bitcoin miners, to a man who swam the Amazon, and a hilltop matriarch who teaches him the meaning of being 'priden'.

Struggling with Slovene, a language with grammar so complex it can cause brain damage, and battling bureaucracy, he explores the culture and characters of this underappreciated ex-Yugoslav republic, its wild beauty, and its wild animals.

A love letter to Slovenia, this rare, adventurous account follows a foreigner trying to build a new life — and rebuild an old house — in a young country still finding its own place in the world.

Dormice & Moonshine: Falling for Slovenia

By Sam Baldwin,

What is this book about?

'Charming, funny, insightful, and moving. The perfect book for any Slovenophile' - Noah Charney, BBC presenter

'A rollicking and very affectionate tour' - Steve Fallon, author of Lonely Planet Slovenia

'Delivers discovery and adventure...captivating!' - Bartosz Stefaniak, editor, 3 Seas Europe

When two brothers discover a 300-year-old sausage-curing cabin on the side of a Slovenian mountain, it's love at first sight. But 300-year-old cabins come with 300 problems.

Dormice & Moonshine is the true story of an Englishman seduced by Slovenia. In the wake of a breakup, he seeks temporary refuge in his hinterland house but what was meant as…


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