The best military history fiction books set in the pre-1900s

The Books I Picked & Why

Gates of Fire: An Epic Novel of the Battle of Thermopylae

By Steven Pressfield

Gates of Fire: An Epic Novel of the Battle of Thermopylae

Why this book?

Steven Pressfield writes one heck of a war novel, but it is how he captures the warrior ethos and spirit, brotherhood, and honor that make his novels must-reads. In Gates of Fire, we follow the famous 300 Spartans (and allies) at the Battle of Thermopylae as they stand against the incredibly massive army of the Persian Emperor Xerxes through the eyes of a Spartan servant/squire. Written long before the Spartan mythos took control of pop culture, this novel features the best fictional depiction of the most famous last stand in history. If you have any interest in ancient Greek warfare and culture, Pressfield will make it worth your time.


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The Last Kingdom

By Bernard Cornwell

The Last Kingdom

Why this book?

The Last Kingdom is the first novel of the Saxon Chronicles and is one of my top series I’ve read to date. Cornwell is a master of bringing the gritty, gutty, politics, and warfare of the “Dark Ages” to life with his roguish hero, Uhtred of Bebbanburg. Born a Saxon, raised a Viking, Cornwell takes us on a journey through kingdoms in turmoil, invaders from across the seas, and cutthroat politics at home. Uhtred is constantly torn between his loyalties, cultures, and women, and all the while we are introduced to some of the most fascinating historical and fictional characters put to paper. Cornwell is a master storyteller and will truly bring you alongside him in the shield wall as a thousand Norsemen pound their shields and scream for your head.


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The Killer Angels: The Classic Novel of the Civil War

By Michael Shaara

The Killer Angels: The Classic Novel of the Civil War

Why this book?

Killer Angels is considered a must-read of American Civil War historical fiction, focusing on four different officers (Longstreet and Lee for the South and Buford and Chamberlain for the North) over the course of the Battle of Gettysburg. Gettysburg is widely considered the turning point of the Civil War (in tandem with Vicksburg) with an astronomical number of casualties over the course of three days. Shaara brings the officers to life and one finds themselves understanding the interpersonal relationships and the personalities of the men ordering tens of thousands of soldiers to sacrifice themselves. If you have any interest at all in learning about arguably the most important battle of the war, start here. If that isn’t enough to pick it up, it is a Pulitzer Prize winner.


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Warriors of God: Richard the Lionheart and Saladin in the Third Crusade

By James Reston

Warriors of God: Richard the Lionheart and Saladin in the Third Crusade

Why this book?

Warriors of God is an up-close and very personal deep dive with two legendary players during the Third Crusade, Richard the Lionheart and Saladin as they battle for the Holy Land. We dive headfirst into each ruler’s accession to power and how they clashed over the sands of the Levant. The novel is as gripping as it is profound, and I would highly recommend it to anyone seeking to further their knowledge and understanding of the crusades and their impact on our world today. However, it should be noted that while “history” tends to cross the line into fiction at times. Warriors of God is the only non-fiction history novel on this list. I feel that the narrative and story are strong enough to be read for knowledge and entertainment.


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Blood Eye: A Novel (Raven: Book 1)

By Giles Kristian

Blood Eye: A Novel (Raven: Book 1)

Why this book?

While written in a similar vein as The Last Kingdom, Kristian has a knack for making his writing come to life in a very Anglo-Saxon epic poem kind of way. In this novel, we follow an orphan of sorts, Raven, as he joins a rapacious band of Norsemen embarking on a violent quest. Kristian is a relative newcomer compared to the others on this list, but he does not disappoint and will take the reader on a grand adventure.


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