The best historical books that aren’t about kings, queens, or regents-in-between

Who am I?

I am a librarian and a writer with a passion for history and challenging the narrative, because sometimes, the things the history books tell us aren’t the whole story. After all, history belongs to the victor, doesn’t it? Finding and writing stories that explore historical lives beyond royals and the wealthy is what I love, and I’m always looking for more books that do this. I started reading historical fiction as a child, delving into things like the Dear America and American Girl series, that told the stories of everyday people in these grand moments of history, and reading those books inspired me to write my own.


I wrote...

Sailing by Orion's Star

By Katie Crabb,

Book cover of Sailing by Orion's Star

What is my book about?

East India Company sailor Nicholas Jerome has no patience for pirates, determined to leave his father's thieving past behind. After a convict and an enslaved woman escape his grasp with the aid of an aristocrat’s mysterious wife, he faces one last chance to save his career. Finding an unexpected home with a new crew, he gains a chosen younger brother in René Delacroix, the son of his wealthy captain and the grandson of Jamaica’s cruel governor.

But there’s a storm brewing in the Delacroix household. For René and his best friend Frantz, the Robin Hood tales about legendary pirate Ajani Danso and his famed female quartermaster are a lifeline amidst the governor’s abuse. Danso robs greedy merchants, frees slaves, and shelters queer sailors, inspiring the downtrodden across the New World.

The books I picked & why

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Nottingham: The True Story of Robyn Hood

By Anna Burke,

Book cover of Nottingham: The True Story of Robyn Hood

Why this book?

A queer and gender-bent retelling of Robin Hood, this book swept me off my feet. Combining the origins of Robin Hood, the repression of the poor and working class in this period in England, deep friendships, and a romance full of yearning, this story made me feel deeply. I felt Robyn’s desperation to feed her family and take on the Sheriff of Nottingham for destroying someone she loved. I felt Maid Marian’s struggle with her realization that she is, indeed, a lesbian in love with Robyn. I felt it all in my bones. The book takes what people love about a Robin Hood story and makes it even more radical with its inclusion of lesbian and trans characters, and doesn’t shy away from the realities of rebelling against power.

Nottingham: The True Story of Robyn Hood

By Anna Burke,

Why should I read it?

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


Tipping the Velvet

By Sarah Waters,

Book cover of Tipping the Velvet

Why this book?

A queer historical fiction classic, this Sarah Waters gem focuses on Nan, a working-class girl who works in her family’s oyster restaurant. The story follows her travels—and her heartbreak—when she falls in love watching Kitty Butler, a local actress. This book gives a beautifully vivid portrayal of a character at the intersection of womanhood, queerness, and the working class, and also has interesting things to say about gender. You grow up with Nan as you read, you cry when she cries, you get frustrated with her when she makes mistakes, and you cheer for her when she finally learns to value herself. Digging in to the beginnings of the socialist movement in London, this book explores something more than so many other Victorian-era novels.

Tipping the Velvet

By Sarah Waters,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked Tipping the Velvet as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.


The Golem and the Jinni

By Helene Wecker,

Book cover of The Golem and the Jinni

Why this book?

This historical novel intertwined with beautiful elements of fantasy, tells the story of Chava, a golem created by a Rabbi, and Ahmad, a Jinn born in the Syrian desert, both of whom find themselves in turn of the century New York. This book is gorgeously written and has such a marvelous foundation of characters and their relationships with one another that it has become one of my favorites. As Chava and Ahmad slowly become friends and form an unbreakable connection, we also get a deep dive into the chaotic beauty of immigrant neighborhoods in this period, and the people who live in them. A truly spellbinding look at friendship, building family, and making a home for yourself. 

The Golem and the Jinni

By Helene Wecker,

Why should I read it?

6 authors picked The Golem and the Jinni as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

'One of only two novels I've ever loved whose main characters are not human' BARBARA KINGSOLVER

For fans of The Essex Serpent and The Mermaid and Mrs Hancock.

'By far my favourite book of of the year' Guardian

Chava is a golem, a creature made of clay, brought to life by a disgraced rabbi who dabbles in dark Kabbalistic magic. When her master, the husband who commissioned her, dies at sea on the voyage from Poland, she is unmoored and adrift as the ship arrives in New York in 1899.

Ahmad is a djinni, a being of fire, born in…


A Tip for the Hangman

By Allison Epstein,

Book cover of A Tip for the Hangman

Why this book?

This book, set during the Elizabethan period, tells the intrigue-filled story of Christopher (or Kit) Marlowe as he agrees to be a spy for the Queen of England in order to make the money he needs to become a playwright. I know what you’re thinking. This does involve a monarch, but it’s very much about what happens when a desperate man makes a deal with powerful people to achieve his dreams, and ends up in trouble. If you know what happened to the famous playwright who was Shakespeare’s peer before his death (or what likely happened to him), you know what I mean. This book is a thriller, but is at its heart a love story about a man in love with his art and his best friend, and his struggle to choose between them. 

A Tip for the Hangman

By Allison Epstein,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked A Tip for the Hangman as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.


Villains of All Nations: Atlantic Pirates in the Golden Age

By Marcus Rediker,

Book cover of Villains of All Nations: Atlantic Pirates in the Golden Age

Why this book?

This is my nonfiction pick for this list, and one of my favorite books on any historical period, ever. This was a foundational text for my own trilogy set in the golden age of piracy, and at least half of it is underlined and filled with my excited notes. This book takes on the period through what Rediker calls “history from below” exploring the lives of pirates, sailors, enslaved people, and those fighting against empires and the damaging effects of colonization in the 18th century. It stands against the depiction of pirates as lazy thieves, and instead paints a picture of social and economic rebellion. The pirates weren’t perfect, but they were building something of their own in juxtaposition to the rampant abuses of the era. 

Villains of All Nations: Atlantic Pirates in the Golden Age

By Marcus Rediker,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked Villains of All Nations as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Pirates have long been stock figures in popular culture, from Treasure Island to the more recent antics of Jack Sparrow. Villains of all Nations unearths the thrilling historical truth behind such fictional characters and rediscovers their radical democratic challenge to the established powers of the day.

5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in jinn, piracy, and William Shakespeare?

6,000+ authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about jinn, piracy, and William Shakespeare.

Jinn Explore 16 books about jinn
Piracy Explore 100 books about piracy
William Shakespeare Explore 119 books about William Shakespeare

And, 3 books we think you will enjoy!

We think you will like A General History of the Pirates, The Five, and Pirate Nests and the Rise of the British Empire, 1570-1740 if you like this list.