My favorite books set in a world that’s not quite ours

Why am I passionate about this?

My books blend two of my lifelong passions—post-Roman British history, and landscape archaeology. I fell in love with the first somewhere in my late teens, through the not-unusual route of Arthurian legend, and with the latter the first time I saw the British tv series Time Team. Over the last nearly-fifty years, I’ve continued to read and study, both formally and informally, in both areas. My books are an extension and expression of both those interests, but I am too much of a ‘what if?’ person to limit myself to true historical fiction. You’ll also find a few hints of two of my other interests, birdwatching and walking, dropped into the books here and there.


I wrote...

Empire's Daughter

By Marian L Thorpe,

Book cover of Empire's Daughter

What is my book about?

In a land reminiscent of Britain after the decline of Rome, a young fisherwoman is faced with a nearly-impossible decision: to defend her country, or to stay with her lover. Torn between love and loyalty, her choice propels her into a world wider and more complex than she could have imagined, where her actions will influence not just her future, but the future of all the women—and men—of her land.

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

The books I picked & why

Book cover of The Crystal Cave

Marian Thorpe Why did I love this book?

This first book in Mary Stewart’s Merlin series is the book that originally piqued my interest in a post-Roman Britain—but one in which the memory of Rome is not lost, and Roman villas and roads are still part of the countryside. When I started to create my not-quite-British world that is one of the starting points for my series, the feeling of this Britanno-Roman transition period was what I wanted to capture. 

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 Last Light of the Sun

Marian Thorpe Why did I love this book?

Guy Gavriel Kay’s books taught me almost everything I know about creating a world that is based on Earth’s history—but isn’t quite that history. I picked this book because its time frame – or its equivalent in real history – overlaps with my fictional world. The sense of danger and invasion, but also of a world where there are some inklings of a world beyond the isolated, invaded island, inspired some aspects of the world of my book.

By Guy Gavriel Kay,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked The Last Light of the Sun as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A powerful, moving saga evoking the Celtic, Anglo-Saxon and Norse cultures of a thousand years ago from the acclaimed author of The Fionavar Tapestry.

“A historical fantasy of the highest order, the work of a man who may well be the reigning master of the form.”—The Washington Post Book World

Bern Thorkellson, punished for his father’s sins, denied his heritage and home, commits an act of vengeance and desperation that brings him face-to-face with a past he’s been trying to leave behind...

In the Anglcyn lands of King Aeldred, the shrewd king, battling inner demons all the while, shores up…


Book cover of The Northern Girl

Marian Thorpe Why did I love this book?

Lynn’s trilogy, The Chronicles of Tornor, was published in the late 70s. Set in lands with strong similarities to Europe, but with a different geography and with some influences from Eastern philosophies, the last of the trilogy, The Northern Girl, envisioned a world where the open expression of sexuality is not restricted to heterosexual relationships. When I set out to create the cultures of my world, this was one of the societal structures I used as a model: not the only one, but an important one.

By Elizabeth A. Lynn,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Northern Girl as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

This novel of a young servant girl who finds the warrior within herself--and radically alters the peaceful-but-oppressive world in which she lives--is the final volume in Elizabeth Lynn's World Fantasy Award-winning trilogy.

"A marvelous blend of fantasy and realism." --Marion Zimmer Bradley

"Astonishing." --Theodore Sturgeon

"A fine ear for the right word and a fine eye for action." --Vonda McIntyre

"Unusual, powerful and beautiful." --John Varley

"A book of depth and vigor and surprises." --Robert Silverberg

"Her women have dignity and strength." --Marge Piercy

"An adventure story for humanists and feminists." --Joanna Russ


Book cover of The Gate to Women's Country

Marian Thorpe Why did I love this book?

While generally considered science fiction, this one of Tepper’s books is centred on a society where men and women live separately – and why, and the effects of such a divided society on the lives of men and women. Although the divided society in my book owes more to Sparta than Tepper’s book, she gave me the idea to examine the consequences of such a society in my pseudo-post-Roman world.

By Sheri S. Tepper,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked The Gate to Women's Country as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

THE GATE TO WOMEN'S COUNTRY tells of a society that exists three hundred years after our own has nearly destroyed itself. Now, male warriors are separated from women at an early age and live in garrisons plotting futilely for the battles which must never be fought again. Inside the women's towns, education, arts and science flourish. But for some like Stavia, there is more to see. Her sojourn with the man she is forbidden to love brings into sharp focus the contradictions that define their lives.

And when tragedy strikes, Stavia is faced with a decision she never thought she…


Book cover of The Old Ways: A Journey on Foot

Marian Thorpe Why did I love this book?

The only non-fiction book on my list, Macfarlane’s series of essays on the ancient and sometimes hidden roads and tracks of Britain gives us glimpses into a past world, but also places landscape, and travel (both physical and psychological) through that landscape as the focus of the book. I chose this book as my fifth title because landscape, and my characters’ relationships with place, is an integral part of my books, and Macfarlane’s insights helped me further understand and express that.

By Robert Macfarlane,

Why should I read it?

5 authors picked The Old Ways as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The acclaimed author of The Wild Places and Underland examines the subtle ways we are shaped by the landscapes through which we move

Chosen by Slate as one of the 50 best nonfiction books of the past 25 years

In this exquisitely written book, which folds together natural history, cartography, geology, and literature, Robert Macfarlane sets off to follow the ancient routes that crisscross both the landscape of the British Isles and its waters and territories beyond. The result is an immersive, enthralling exploration of the voices that haunt old paths and the stories our tracks tell. Macfarlane's journeys take…


You might also like...

Split Decision

By David Perlmutter,

Book cover of Split Decision

David Perlmutter Author Of The Encyclopedia of American Animated Television Shows

New book alert!

Why am I passionate about this?

I am a freelance writer from Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada, specializing in media history and speculative fiction. I have been enchanted by animation since childhood and followed many series avidly through adulthood. My viewing inspired my MA thesis on the history of animation, out of which grew two books on the history and theory of animation on television, America 'Toons In: A History of Television Animation (available from McFarland and Co.) and The Encyclopedia of American Animated Television Shows (available from Rowman and Littlefield). Hopefully, others will follow.

David's book list on understanding the history of animation

What is my book about?

Jefferson Ball, the mightiest female dog in a universe of the same, is, despite her anti-heroic behavior, intent on keeping her legacy as an athlete and adventurer intact. So, when female teenage robot Jody Ryder inadvertently angers her by smashing her high school records, Jefferson is intent on proving her superiority by outmuscling the robot in a not-so-fair fight. Not wanting to seem like a coward, and eager to end her enemy's trash talking, Jody agrees.

However, they have been lured to fight each other by circumstances beyond their control. Which are intent on destroying them if they don't destroy each other in combat first...

5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in the Norsemen, wizards, and the Iliad?

10,000+ authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about the Norsemen, wizards, and the Iliad.

The Norsemen Explore 16 books about the Norsemen
Wizards Explore 95 books about wizards
The Iliad Explore 32 books about the Iliad