The best historical fiction books of the UK

The Books I Picked & Why

Flashman

By George MacDonald Fraser

Book cover of Flashman

Why this book?

George MacDonald Fraser is, bar none, my favourite author of all time. His research is meticulous (which is just the thing for chaps like me) and the quality of his writing is superb. It’s also liberally festooned with lots of gut-busting humour, the kind that tiptoes to the edge, which is the best kind, in my opinion. Indeed, he often comes so close to the edge that I actually found myself bursting out laughing and feeling guilty about it at the same time, which somehow made it even funnier. If you want a close, in-depth look into the far-flung corners of the British Empire in the mid 19th Century, reeling with laughter all the way, Flashman is the book for you.


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Sharpe's Rifles: Richard Sharpe and the French Invasion of Galicia, January 1809

By Bernard Cornwell

Book cover of Sharpe's Rifles: Richard Sharpe and the French Invasion of Galicia, January 1809

Why this book?

Cornwell is a solid prose writer, and his research is every bit as meticulous as MacDonald Fraser’s. That this book takes place in the Peninsula Campaign is what caused me to pick it from the shelf and give it a read in the first place. Everything from the strategy and tactics of generals to the gruelling life of the ordinary foot soldier - right down to the loading procedure for the Baker rifle - is intricately interwoven with the plot. A must-read for any amateur student of the Napoleonic Wars.


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Beat to Quarters

By C.S. Forester

Book cover of Beat to Quarters

Why this book?

Forester is the perfect author for a young reader of Historical Fiction, pertaining to the Royal Navy during the Napoleonic Wars in particular. The action is so riveting you’ll swear you can hear the crash of the broadsides, and the defiant growls of the salty tars as they weigh into the enemy with cold steel. However, his real gift is his knowledge of those stately old square-riggers in which Horatio Hornblower sailed. Indeed, I was so engrossed, that by the time I finished the series, I felt that I had a working knowledge of them from stem to stern.


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The Crystal Cave

By Mary Stewart

Book cover of The Crystal Cave

Why this book?

This book, and the ones that followed, of Stewart’s interpretation of “Le Morte d’Arthur,” are pure magic for the young and old alike. Her depiction of a young Merlin’s rise to power is described in such a way that that you would swear you were caught up in a trance right alongside him. The relationship he has with ‘the god’ is both touching and profound, portraying a humble man unfolding the mysteries of the universe.


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The Eagle of the Ninth

By Rosemary Sutcliffe

Book cover of The Eagle of the Ninth

Why this book?

Like so many others, I have always been besotted with the history of Roman Britain. In this novel, Sutcliff brings to life the story of the lost Ninth Legion and the son who feels driven to restore his father’s honour. A compelling spin on historical facts, and an equally compelling story for the YA reader.


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