The best historical fiction books of the UK

Who am I?

When I was very young, in our tiny hamlet on the Canadian prairies, I recall riding with other children in the Dominion Day parade. Each child was given a little flag to wave, but even then I noticed that while half were given the old dominion flag, the other half were waving the Union Jack. I couldn’t put it into words then, naturally, but later I recognized it as a feeling of being part of something grand – something far larger than myself or even my own country. Those were the dying days of the Empire and the world has moved on, but a fascination for our history lingers to this day.

I wrote...

The Adventures of Charlie Smithers

By C.W. Lovatt,

Book cover of The Adventures of Charlie Smithers

What is my book about?

"Humorous and highly entertaining." ~ The Review - "Poetic prose and humorous undertones that are wildly entertaining." ~ Serious Reading

The time is the nineteenth century. The place, the Serengeti Plain, where one Charlie Smithers – faithful manservant to the arrogant bonehead, Lord Brampton (with five lines in Debrett, and a hopeless shot to boot) – becomes separated from his master during an unfortunate episode with an angry rhinoceros, thereby launching Charlie on an odyssey into Deepest Darkest Africa, and subsequently into the arms of the beautiful Loiyan…and that’s where the trouble really begins. Maasai warriors, xenophobic locals, or evil slavers, the two forbidden lovers encounter everything that the unforgiving jungle can throw at them.

Shepherd is reader supported. When you buy books, we may earn an affiliate commission.

The books I picked & why

Book cover of Flashman

C.W. Lovatt Why did I love 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.

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…

Book cover of Sharpe's Rifles

C.W. Lovatt Why did I love 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.

By Bernard Cornwell,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Bernard Cornwell's action-packed series that captures the gritty texture of Napoleonic warfare--now beautifully repackaged

It's 1809, and Napoleon's army is sweeping across Spain. Lieutenant Richard Sharpe is newly in command of the demoralized, distrustful men of the 95th Rifles. He must lead them to safety--and the only way of escape is a treacherous trek through the enemy-infested mountains of Spain.

Book cover of Beat to Quarters

C.W. Lovatt Why did I love 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.

By C. S. Forester,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Called "as gripping and realistic a sea tale as you are likely to run across" by the New York Times, C. S. Forester's Beat to Quarters finds Hornblower faced with a near-impossible mission off the coast of Nicaragua.
June 1808, somewhere west of Nicaragua -- a site suitable for spectacular sea battles. The Admiralty has ordered Captain Horatio Hornblower, now in command of the thirty-six-gun HMS Lydia, to form an alliance against the Spanish colonial government with an insane Spanish landowner; to find a water route across the Central American isthmus; and "to take, sink, burn or destroy" the fifty-gun…

Book cover of The Crystal Cave

C.W. Lovatt Why did I love 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.

By Mary Stewart,

Why should I read it?

14 authors picked The Crystal Cave as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The spellbinding story of Merlin's rise to power.

Vivid, enthralling, absolutely first-class - Daily Mail

So begins the story of Merlin, born the illegitimate son of a Welsh princess in fifth century Britain, a world ravaged by war. Small and neglected, with his mother unwilling to reveal his father's identity, Merlin must disguise his intelligence - and hide his occasional ability to know things before they happen - in order to keep himself safe.

While exploring the countryside near his home, Merlin stumbles across a cave filled with books and papers and hiding a room lined with crystals. It is…

Book cover of The Eagle of the Ninth

C.W. Lovatt Why did I love 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.

By Rosemary Sutcliff,

Why should I read it?

6 authors picked The Eagle of the Ninth as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it. This book is for kids age 10, 11, 12, and 13.

What is this book about?

The Everyman edition reprints the classic black and white illustrations of C. Walter Hodges which accompanied the first edition in 1954.

Around the year 117 AD, the Ninth Legion, stationed at Eburacum - modern day York - marched north to suppress a rebellion of the Caledonian tribes, and was never heard of again. During the 1860s, a wingless Roman Eagle was discovered during excavations at the village of Silchester in Hampshire, puzzling archaeologists and scholars alike. Rosemary Sutcliff weaves a compelling story from these two mysteries, dispatching her hero, the young Roman officer Marcus Aquila, on a perilous journey beyond…

You might also like...

The Lion and the Fox: Two Rival Spies and the Secret Plot to Build a Confederate Navy

By Alexander Rose,

Book cover of The Lion and the Fox: Two Rival Spies and the Secret Plot to Build a Confederate Navy

Alexander Rose Author Of Empires of the Sky: Zeppelins, Airplanes, and Two Men's Epic Duel to Rule the World

New book alert!

Who am I?

A long time ago, I was an early-aviation historian, but eventually realized that I knew only half the story—the part about airplanes. But what about airships? Initially, I assumed, like so many others, that they were a flash-in-the-pan, a ridiculous dead-end technology, but then I realized these wondrous giants had roamed and awed the world for nearly four decades. There was a bigger story here of an old rivalry between airplanes and airships, one that had since been forgotten, and Empires of the Sky was the result.

Alexander's book list on Zeppelin airships

What is my book about?

From the author of Washington’s Spies, the thrilling story of two rival secret agents — one Confederate, the other Union — sent to Britain during the Civil War.

The South’s James Bulloch, charming and devious, was ordered to acquire a clandestine fleet intended to break Lincoln’s blockade, sink Northern merchant vessels, and drown the U.S. Navy’s mightiest ships at sea. Opposing him was Thomas Dudley, an upright Quaker lawyer determined to stop Bulloch in a spy-versus-spy game of move and countermove, gambit and sacrifice, intrigue and betrayal.

Their battleground was the Dickensian port of Liverpool, whose dockyards built more ships each year than the rest of the world combined and whose merchant princes, said one observer, were “addicted to Southern proclivities, foreign slave trade, and domestic bribery.”

The Lion and the Fox: Two Rival Spies and the Secret Plot to Build a Confederate Navy

By Alexander Rose,

What is this book about?

From the New York Times bestselling author of Washington's Spies, the thrilling story of the Confederate spy who came to Britain to turn the tide of the Civil War-and the Union agent resolved to stop him.

"Entertaining and deeply researched...with a rich cast of spies, crooks, bent businessmen and drunken sailors...Rose relates the tale with gusto." -The New York Times

In 1861, soon after the outbreak of the Civil War, two secret agents-one a Confederate, the other his Union rival-were dispatched to neutral Britain, each entrusted with a vital mission.

The South's James Bulloch, charming and devious, was to acquire…

5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in wizards, the Peninsular War, and ancient Rome?

9,000+ authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about wizards, the Peninsular War, and ancient Rome.

Wizards Explore 94 books about wizards
The Peninsular War Explore 13 books about the Peninsular War
Ancient Rome Explore 283 books about ancient Rome