The best historical fiction stories that make you feel like you’re really there

Why am I passionate about this?

Rather than identify a genre, I have chosen to focus on the theme of stories that are so powerful they make you feel like you’re in the story with the characters and/or give an insight into how the people within the setting really felt. For me, that is the true challenge of historical fiction – to see inside the heads of historical figures and get a genuine sense of what life was like for both the famous and the common. Here are my five selections of historical novels which are great stories and open a window into the relevant times, inspiring my own desire to open that window for others.


I wrote...

The Fighting Man

By Adrian Deans,

Book cover of The Fighting Man

What is my book about?

In the year 1060, young Brand Holgarsson’s family is wiped out in a Viking raid arranged by Brand’s treacherous uncle Malgard. Malgard is named thegn while Brand is made outlaw and hunted through the woods of East Anglia by Malgard’s men, determined to extinguish the last possible claim to the thegnship. Aided by a strange young woman, Valla, Brand escapes and is befriended by Harold Godwinson, Earl of Wessex, and the choice of the Saxon nobles to be king after the childless Edward (the Confessor). 

Brand nurses his dream of vengeance while sharing Harold’s perils and waiting for Valla who will only return from the “Place of Dreams” if Brand has kept his promise to lie with no other woman. All stories come together at the Battle of Hastings where Harold’s great banner, The Fighting Man, flew above Senlac Ridge in opposition to the papal cross carried by William the Bastard.

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of Sharpe's Tiger

Adrian Deans Why did I love this book?

Richard Sharpe is one of the great characters of historical fiction, paralleling the true career of Arthur Wellesley (later the Duke of Wellington) from India all the way to Waterloo. The first book in the series introduces us to Private Sharpe fighting in India in 1799. Sharpe is relieved from the tyranny of Sergeant Hakeswill and sent on a secret mission into the fortress of the Tipoo Sultan to rescue an intelligence officer in prison.

With Lieutenant Lawford he pretends to be a British deserter and joins the Sultan’s forces in the heavily fortified Seringapatam. A gripping story with wonderful characters that kicks off an exceptional series. Cornwell is the doyen of historical fiction storytellers and makes you feel like you’re really there.

By Bernard Cornwell,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked Sharpe's Tiger as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

*The brand new novel, SHARPE'S ASSASSIN, is available to pre-order now*

Sharpe's Tiger is the brilliant beginning of Sharpe's adventures

India, 1799

The citadel of Seringapatam is under siege. Navigating this dangerous kingdom of bejewelled palaces and poverty, Private Richard Sharpe embarks on a rescue mission to save a senior officer from the clutches of the Tippoo of Mysore - and oust the Sultan from his throne.

The fortress of Mysore is considered impregnable, but one of the greatest threats comes from betrayal within the British ranks. And the man to outwit enemies from both sides is Sharpe . .…


Book cover of Wolf Hall

Adrian Deans Why did I love this book?

If Bernard Cornwell is the doyen of storytellers, Hilary Mantel is the master when it comes to characterisation and authenticity of time and place. Wolf Hall is the first in her Thomas Cromwell trilogy and won the Man Booker Prize. It tells the story of Cromwell’s career, becoming Henry VIII’s right-hand man during the ructions around the separation of the English church from Rome, Henry’s divorce from Catherine of Aragon, and pursuit of Anne Boleyn.

There have been any number of other novels covering these events but what truly sets this writer apart is her ability to get inside Cromwell’s head. The reader is intimately privy to Cromwell’s thoughts in a way that feels authentic and makes for an incredibly rich experience. The second book in the series also won the Man Booker.

By Hilary Mantel,

Why should I read it?

19 authors picked Wolf Hall as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Winner of the Man Booker Prize Shortlisted for the the Orange Prize Shortlisted for the Costa Novel Award

`Dizzyingly, dazzlingly good' Daily Mail

'Our most brilliant English writer' Guardian

England, the 1520s. Henry VIII is on the throne, but has no heir. Cardinal Wolsey is his chief advisor, charged with securing the divorce the pope refuses to grant. Into this atmosphere of distrust and need comes Thomas Cromwell, first as Wolsey's clerk, and later his successor.

Cromwell is a wholly original man: the son of a brutal blacksmith, a political genius, a briber, a charmer, a bully, a man with…


Book cover of Shōgun

Adrian Deans Why did I love this book?

One of those blockbuster airport novels of the 70s which also just happens to be an outstanding piece of literature. The main characters are fictional but squarely based on historical characters and events.

John Blackthorne is the pilot of a Dutch ship which is shipwrecked in Japan a couple of years before the Battle of Sekigahara (1600). Everything about the Japanese is incomprehensible to Blackthorne but gradually he assimilates and becomes an important piece in the political game being played out between the ruthless and bloodthirsty regents presiding over a very precarious peace.

Another wonderfully experiential novel in which – like Blackthorne himself – the reader is constantly shocked by the alien ways of the feudal Japanese.

By James Clavell,

Why should I read it?

9 authors picked Shōgun as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

'Clavell never puts a foot wrong . . . Get it, read it, you'll enjoy it mightily' Daily Mirror

This is James Clavell's tour-de-force; an epic saga of one Pilot-Major John Blackthorne, and his integration into the struggles and strife of feudal Japan. Both entertaining and incisive, SHOGUN is a stunningly dramatic re-creation of a very different world.

Starting with his shipwreck on this most alien of shores, the novel charts Blackthorne's rise from the status of reviled foreigner up to the hights of trusted advisor and eventually, Samurai. All as civil war looms over the fragile country.

'I can't…


Book cover of Ancient Evenings

Adrian Deans Why did I love this book?

This is a novel that divides. It was a work that took Mailer many years to complete and the book that he (apparently) regarded as his masterpiece. It is certainly an incredible piece of work – the product of a powerful imagination in recreating an authentic feel for ancient Egypt with details ranging from cosmology via warfare to street scenes.

Some readers find the strong focus on the sensuality of the Egyptians a bit much. Mailer’s Egyptian world is very sexualised and who’s to say he’s wrong? If you’re not turned off by that kind of thing you’ll be rewarded with one of the most richly detailed and “real” feeling historical novels ever written.

By Norman Mailer,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Norman Mailer’s dazzlingly rich, deeply evocative novel of ancient Egypt breathes life into the figures of a lost era: the eighteenth-dynasty Pharaoh Rameses and his wife, Queen Nefertiti; Menenhetet, their creature, lover, and victim; and the gods and mortals that surround them in intimate and telepathic communion. Mailer’s reincarnated protagonist is carried through the exquisite gardens of the royal harem, along the majestic flow of the Nile, and into the terrifying clash of battle. An extraordinary work of inventiveness, Ancient Evenings lives on in the mind long after the last page has been turned.
 
Praise for Ancient Evenings
 
“Astounding, beautifully…


Book cover of Flashman

Adrian Deans Why did I love this book?

Another book that divides in these very PC times. This is the first in a series of stories telling a kind of meta-history using mainly historical figures and also historic fictional characters. Some will remember Tom Brown’s Schooldays (published 1857). The villain of the piece was the arch cad and school bully – Flashman – who was expelled for drunkenness at the end of the novel. 

More than a century later, GMF began publishing the “discovered memoirs” of Flashman – commencing with his expulsion and recreating his entire army career in which he sees action in many of the famous campaigns of the C19. Despite his celebrity however, Flashman is the first to admit he was the basest of cowards who somehow survived, shrieking with terror, while pursuing his great talents for womanising and feathering his own nest.

Incredibly well researched and brilliantly written. You will learn some detailed history while reading these wonderful (and very funny) books that give amazing insight into the mores and manners of Victorian England.

By George MacDonald Fraser,

Why should I read it?

7 authors picked Flashman as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

For George MacDonald Fraser the bully Flashman was easily the most interesting character in Tom Brown's Schooldays, and imaginative speculation as to what might have happened to him after his expulsion from Rugby School for drunkenness ended in 12 volumes of memoirs in which Sir Harry Paget Flashman - self-confessed scoundrel, liar, cheat, thief, coward -'and, oh yes, a toady' - romps his way through decades of nineteenth-century history in a swashbuckling and often hilarious series of military and amorous adventures. In Flashman the youthful hero, armed with a commission in the 11th Dragoons, is shipped to India, woos and…


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The Dreadwater Gate

By Lisa Cassidy,

Book cover of The Dreadwater Gate

Lisa Cassidy Author Of The Nameless Throne

New book alert!

Why am I passionate about this?

Author Book nerd Fantasy lover Coffee snob

Lisa's 3 favorite reads in 2023

What is my book about?

Born Nameless. Raised in ice and snow. Destined to rule.

Arya Nameless has sidestepped her destiny in favour of joining House Ravenstrike and helping Thiara Ravenstrike become High Warlord of Dunidaen. First, Arya must ensure that Thiara’s only son, Rorin, succeeds in running the Dreadwater Gate into Khadini, a deadly rite of passage that none have survived for decades. If they triumph, Arya will be named general of Ravenstrike’s army and land a political blow against their powerful adversary, Warlord Mathas Crowtalon.

Yet Khadini holds challenges far beyond what they expected. And while Arya contends with wild jungles, fierce enemy warriors, and potential new allies, the Nightstalker continues to seek her with relentless intensity. The monsters hunting her wield a dark magic she has no way of countering. Survival relies on staying hidden, secret.

Yet, when Arya’s wyvern calls, the time for hiding is over. 

Because destiny cannot be ignored forever.

The Dreadwater Gate

By Lisa Cassidy,

What is this book about?

Born Nameless. Raised in ice and snow. Destined to rule.


Arya Nameless has sidestepped her destiny in favour of joining House Ravenstrike and helping Thiara Ravenstrike become High Warlord of Dunidaen. First, Arya must ensure that Thiara's only son, Rorin, succeeds in running the Dreadwater Gate into Khadini, a deadly rite of passage that none have survived for decades. If they triumph, Arya will be named general of Ravenstrike's army and land a political blow against their powerful adversary, Warlord Mathas Crowtalon.


Yet Khadini holds challenges far beyond what they expected. And while Arya contends with wild jungles, fierce enemy…


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