The best historical fiction set in Italy

Who am I?

I’ve been fascinated by history my whole life, and have been reading historical fiction for as long as I can remember. I have a particular passion for the history of Italy, in all its complicated, bloody, and dazzling glory, from the politics to the music to the art to, of course, the food and wine. There is so much within Italian history that captivates, and as a woman of Italian descent it holds a special interest for me. I try to capture the drama, beauty, and complexity of Italy in my own historical novels, and the books on this list all do that in the most compelling way.

I wrote...

The Borgia Confessions

By Alyssa Palombo,

Book cover of The Borgia Confessions

What is my book about?

Rome, 1492. Cesare Borgia is the eldest son of Pope Alexander VI and has been forced to follow his father into the church. Maddalena Moretti comes from the countryside, where she has seen how the whims of powerful men wreak havoc on the lives of ordinary people. 

As war rages and shifting alliances challenge the pope’s authority, Maddalena and Cesare's lives grow inexplicably entwined. Maddalena becomes a keeper of dangerous Borgia secrets and must decide if she is willing to be a pawn in the power games of the man she loves. And as jealousy and betrayal threaten to tear apart the Borgia family from within, Cesare is forced to reckon with his seemingly limitless ambition.

The books I picked & why

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Antoinette's Sister

By Diana Giovinazzo,

Book cover of Antoinette's Sister

Why this book?

Everyone knows Marie Antoinette, but did you know about her fierce and formidable sister, Queen Maria Carolina Charlotte of Naples? You will after reading Diana Giovinazzo’s incredible sophomore novel, and you’ll never be able to forget her. The book follows the story of Charlotte, as she likes to be known, from her childhood as a Hapsburg archduchess to her marriage to King Ferdinand of Naples, where she attempts to guide her feckless husband in taking the reins of power. This is a juicy novel full of drama and court intrigue, as well as a captivating look at southern Italy in the late 18th century.

Raphael, Painter in Rome

By Stephanie Storey,

Book cover of Raphael, Painter in Rome

Why this book?

Stephanie Storey brings Renaissance giant Raphael to life in this gorgeous and impeccably researched novel. We see Raphael’s early career through his time in Rome as painter to popes, and watch as he navigates the potentially deadly politics inherent in being an artist to the powerful. The novel also gives us an up-close and personal look at Raphael’s rivalry with his contemporary, Michelangelo. Raphael’s antics will entertain even as his lifelong question for perfection in his work will resonate with artists of every stripe – I know it did with me!

Courage, My Love

By Kristin Beck,

Book cover of Courage, My Love

Why this book?

I just recently read this wonderful debut novel, and I’ve been thinking about it ever since! Courage, My Love tells the story of two women living in Nazi-occupied Rome who become involved in the Italian resistance and its effort to rid their country of fascism. This is a beautiful, heart-wrenching, timely novel of ordinary people living in extraordinary times, and the courage they have in standing up to evil.

The Chef's Secret

By Crystal King,

Book cover of The Chef's Secret

Why this book?

The Italian Renaissance is my absolute favorite historical era, and Crystal King brings it bloody and scandalous life in The Chef’s Secret. The novel opens with the death of famous chef Bartolomeo Scappi who, it turns out, accumulated some juicy and even deadly secrets in his life working for the rich and powerful. The story is told through the point of view of his nephew and heir Giovanni, who begins piecing together the true story of his uncle’s past from the clues he left behind, even as Scappi’s rivals try to snatch a piece of his legacy for themselves. This book is full of period detail, twists and turns I never saw coming, and plenty of mouthwatering descriptions of grand Renaissance feasts!

The Rossetti Letter

By Christi Phillips,

Book cover of The Rossetti Letter

Why this book?

The Rossetti Letter is absolutely my favorite book of all time. This dual-timeline novel tells the story of Alessandra Rossetti, a 17th-century Venetian courtesan who becomes embroiled in dangerous political intrigue. In the present, PhD candidate Claire Donovan is writing her dissertation on Alessandra and the letter she wrote to warn the leaders of the Venetian Republic about what is known as the Spanish Conspiracy of 1618, and tries to uncover the courtesan’s role in the plot. I’ve never read a book that better describes my favorite city, Venice, more perfectly, both past and present. I reread this book about once a year, and am planning to do so again soon!

5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in Rome, Italy, and the German occupation of Europe?

5,810 authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about Rome, Italy, and the German occupation of Europe.

Rome Explore 204 books about Rome
Italy Explore 226 books about Italy
The German Occupation Of Europe Explore 43 books about the German occupation of Europe

And, 3 books we think you will enjoy!

We think you will like The Library of Legends, Sisters in Arms, and The Social Graces if you like this list.