The best books that combine gritty historical fiction with a pinch or two of love

Who am I?

Give me a castle ruin or guide me through ancient Roman mosaics and you make my day. Accordingly, my preferred reading is historical fiction. I read (and review) lots of it, like 100 books/year. I am also ridiculously romantic. I want there to be some heart with the blood and war, I want characters I can root for despite the horrifying odds facing them. I want protagonists that step out of the past to drag me back with them. When I read, these are the books I choose. When I write, these are the books I aspire to create—Romantic Historical Fiction, if you will.


I wrote...

In the Shadow of the Storm

By Anna Belfrage,

Book cover of In the Shadow of the Storm

What is my book about?

Adam de Guirande is Baron Roger Mortimer’s man through and through. So when Mortimer rebels, what can Adam do but ride with him? Unfortunately, a failed rebellion comes with a heavy cost and Edward II is feeling especially vindictive. Adam can only watch as his beloved lord is hauled off to captivity, and as to himself, well, he can already hear the hammering on the gallows. 

Ultimately, only one person can save Adam, but is his wife willing to risk it all for him?

The books I picked & why

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Rebel's Knot

By Cryssa Bazos,

Book cover of Rebel's Knot

Why this book?

Rebel Knot is set in 17th-century Ireland, torn apart by religious conflict between Catholics and Protestants. This is a war-ravaged Ireland, a land where hope is in short supply and peace is more of a dream than a possibility. And yet, in the midst of all that violence fragile love can flourish—even between people who belong on opposite sides of the religious fence. Ms. Bazos does a fantastic job of transporting the reader back in time, and her two main characters, Niall and Ainé, are wonderfully complex and relatable. The harshness of the times is vividly depicted—as is the growing attraction between the innocent and traumatised Ainé and her new protector, Niall. 

Rebel's Knot

By Cryssa Bazos,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Rebel's Knot as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Ireland 1652: In the desperate, final days of the English invasion . . .

A fey young woman, Áine Callaghan, is the sole survivor of an attack by English marauders. When Irish soldier Niall O'Coneill discovers his own kin slaughtered in the same massacre, he vows to hunt down the men responsible. He takes Áine under his protection and together they reach the safety of an encampment held by the Irish forces in Tipperary.

Hardly a safe haven, the camp is rife with danger and intrigue. Áine is a stranger with the old stories stirring on her tongue and rumours…


Sea Witch

By Helen Hollick,

Book cover of Sea Witch

Why this book?

Meet dashing Jesamiah Acorne, pirate extraordinaire. This cocky, handsome young man proves to have as many layers as an onion, and right at the center lies the traumatic experiences at the hand of his much older brother. Jesamiah has become a pirate to escape—but also because of his love of the sea. Never will he love anyone as much as he loves the sea and his ships—well, until Tiola enters his life under relatively dramatic circumstances. 

This is a book firmly grounded in research, be it of the historical context or of 18th-century ships. It is because of that foundation that Ms. Hollick’s pirate yarn grows into something utterly addictive. How fortunate that this is only the first book in the series!

Sea Witch

By Helen Hollick,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Sea Witch as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The Time : The Golden Age of Piracy - 1716.
The Place : The Pirate Round - from the South African Coast to the Caribbean.
Escaping the bullying of his elder half-brother, from the age of fifteen Jesamiah Acorne has been a pirate with only two loves - his ship and his freedom. But his life is to change when he and his crewmates unsuccessfully attack a merchant ship off the coast of South Africa.
He is to meet Tiola Oldstagh an insignificant girl, or so he assumes - until she rescues him from a vicious attack, and almost certain…


By Love Divided

By Elizabeth St.John,

Book cover of By Love Divided

Why this book?

I have a passion for the 17th century and this novel based on actual diaries and letters from IRL people living through the realities of the English Civil War is a favourite. Ms. St. John writes about her own ancestors, and she imbues her characters with so much life, so many contrary opinions. These are difficult times, and especially for mother Lucy St. John whose son is a through-and-through royalist while daughter Luce is head-over-heels in love with Parliamentarian John Hutchinson. Luce is utterly fascinating: intelligent and with a passion to truly reform, she never loses her humanity or her ability for compassion. This novel is a real treat for anyone desiring well-researched historical fiction – with the added benefit of having a spoonful or two of love to complicate things! 

By Love Divided

By Elizabeth St.John,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked By Love Divided as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

”A fantastic read." Editor’s Choice, Historical Novel Society

London, 1630. Widowed and destitute, Lucy St.John is fighting for survival and makes a terrible choice to secure a future for her children. Worse still, her daughter Luce rejects the royal court and a wealthy arranged marriage, and falls in love with a charismatic soldier. As England tumbles toward bloody civil war, Luce’s beloved brother Allen chooses to fight for the king as a cavalier. Allen and Luce are swept up in the chaos of war as they defend their opposing causes and protect those they love.

Will war unite or divide…


Julia Prima

By Alison Morton,

Book cover of Julia Prima

Why this book?

Several years ago, I came across a series of books set in Roma Nova, a surviving remnant of the Roman Empire. I was fascinated by Ms. Morton’s description of this (unfortunately non-existent) country and her casual references to Roman rites and traditions that had somehow survived to modern times. Julia Prima is the foundation story, set in the 4th century when the Roman Empire is crumbling at the edges. Ms. Morton brings the uncertainties of the times to vivid life. The conflicts between Christians and pagans are exploding, previously safe roads are plagued by bandits and through all this Julia rides towards the distant Rome, determined to find the man she loves. ‘Nuff said, methinks! 

Julia Prima

By Alison Morton,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Julia Prima as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

"You should have trusted me. You should have given me a choice."
AD 370, Roman frontier province of Noricum. Staying faithful to the Roman gods in a Christian empire can be lethal. Half-divorced Julia Bacausa is condemned to an emotional desert and a forced marriage, Lucius Apulius barely clings onto his posting in a military backwater. Strongly drawn to each other, they are soon separated, but Julia is determined not to lose the only man she will love.

Neither wholly married nor wholly divorced, Julia is trapped in the power struggle between the Christian church and her pagan ruler father.…


A Painter in Penang

By Clare Flynn,

Book cover of A Painter in Penang

Why this book?

It is always fascinating when a novel has you discovering periods and countries you know little about. Ms. Flynn’s novel throws this reader straight into the complexities of post-war British Malaysia. Yes, the British are still in control, but the old world order is being challenged. While the rubber plantations remain owned by white planters, the Malays, the Chinese, and the Indians want their share and communist insurgents spread violence and fear. In the midst of all this upheaval stands Jasmine, on the cusp of womanhood. Over a period of several months, she will experience everything from first love to betrayal. She emerges somewhat wiser, somewhat bruised. But that, after all, is what growing up entails, isn’t it? 

A Painter in Penang

By Clare Flynn,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked A Painter in Penang as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Sixteen-year-old Jasmine Barrington hates everything about living in Kenya and longs to return to the island of Penang in British colonial Malaya where she was born. Expulsion from her Nairobi convent school offers a welcome escape – the chance to stay with her parents’ friends, Mary and Reggie Hyde-Underwood on their Penang rubber estate.

But this is 1948 and communist insurgents are embarking on a reign of terror in what becomes the Malayan Emergency. Jasmine unearths a shocking secret as her own life is put in danger. Throughout the turmoil, her one constant is her passion for painting.

From the…


5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in Ireland, the English Civil War, and the Republic of Ireland?

7,000+ authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about Ireland, the English Civil War, and the Republic of Ireland.

Ireland Explore 169 books about Ireland
The English Civil War Explore 14 books about the English Civil War
The Republic Of Ireland Explore 23 books about the Republic of Ireland

And, 3 books we think you will enjoy!

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