92 books like Dirty Old London

By Lee Jackson,

Here are 92 books that Dirty Old London fans have personally recommended if you like Dirty Old London. Shepherd is a community of 11,000+ authors and super readers sharing their favorite books with the world.

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Book cover of The Viking Way: Magic and Mind in Late Iron Age Scandinavia

Lilith Saintcrow Author Of A Flame in the North

From my list on European history books for writing Western epic fantasy.

Why am I passionate about this?

Like any writer, I’m fascinated with what makes people tick and why they act the way they do. Naturally, this means I read a lot of history. I love reference reading; I love researching arcane questions for a tiny detail that will bring a character or their world to life. Creating epic fantasy is an extension of both my drives as a reader and a writer. Pouring myself into characters who inhabit different settings is a deeply satisfying exercise in both craft and empathy, and each history book has some small bit I can use to make my settings more compelling, more enjoyable for readers, and more real.

Lilith's book list on European history books for writing Western epic fantasy

Lilith Saintcrow Why did Lilith love this book?

This is a pretty dense scholarly work, but that very density makes it a cornucopia for anyone interested in how a specific historical culture regarded magic.

I appreciated that while academic, Price is never boring or needlessly obscure; he does a very good job of not only explaining the historical record but also the best guess at how it can be interpreted.

Not only did it teach me a great deal about the Vikings, but it also taught me other strategies and ways of thinking about other cultures’ magical practices, and for a fantasy writer, that’s pure gold.

By Neil Price,

Why should I read it?

4 authors picked The Viking Way as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Magic, sorcery and witchcraft are among the most common themes of the great medieval Icelandic sagas and poems, the problematic yet vital sources that provide our primary textual evidence for the Viking Age that they claim to describe. Yet despite the consistency of this picture, surprisingly little archaeological or historical research has been done to explore what this may really have meant to the men and women of the time. This book examines the evidence for Old Norse sorcery, looking at its meaning and function, practice and practitioners, and the complicated constructions of gender and sexual identity with which these…


Book cover of The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire

Lilith Saintcrow Author Of A Flame in the North

From my list on European history books for writing Western epic fantasy.

Why am I passionate about this?

Like any writer, I’m fascinated with what makes people tick and why they act the way they do. Naturally, this means I read a lot of history. I love reference reading; I love researching arcane questions for a tiny detail that will bring a character or their world to life. Creating epic fantasy is an extension of both my drives as a reader and a writer. Pouring myself into characters who inhabit different settings is a deeply satisfying exercise in both craft and empathy, and each history book has some small bit I can use to make my settings more compelling, more enjoyable for readers, and more real.

Lilith's book list on European history books for writing Western epic fantasy

Lilith Saintcrow Why did Lilith love this book?

I was in love the moment I opened an abridged version of Gibbon’s magnum opus as a young history buff, and was even more delighted when I sought out the multivolume full experience.

Gibbon’s view of the Roman Empire is magisterial and his footnotes are a cranky delight; he’s up-front when his sources have axes to grind and sourly suspicious of his own motivations.

Sure, he’s an 18th-century British colonialist with all that entails. He’s also deliciously ironic, hilariously sardonic, and does his mightiest justice when he’s skewering folly and tyranny of any stripe.

By Edward Gibbon,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Spanning thirteen centuries from the age of Trajan to the taking of Constantinople by the Turks, DECLINE & FALL is one of the greatest narratives in European Literature. David Womersley's masterly selection and bridging commentary enables the readerto acquire a general sense of the progress and argument of the whole work and displays the full variety of Gibbon's achievement.


Book cover of Women's Work: The First 20,000 Years Women, Cloth, and Society in Early Times

Lilith Saintcrow Author Of A Flame in the North

From my list on European history books for writing Western epic fantasy.

Why am I passionate about this?

Like any writer, I’m fascinated with what makes people tick and why they act the way they do. Naturally, this means I read a lot of history. I love reference reading; I love researching arcane questions for a tiny detail that will bring a character or their world to life. Creating epic fantasy is an extension of both my drives as a reader and a writer. Pouring myself into characters who inhabit different settings is a deeply satisfying exercise in both craft and empathy, and each history book has some small bit I can use to make my settings more compelling, more enjoyable for readers, and more real.

Lilith's book list on European history books for writing Western epic fantasy

Lilith Saintcrow Why did Lilith love this book?

Too often, our idea of history (or prehistory) is of men doing things and women silently following. Barber dives into the history of textiles to show how spinning, weaving, and cloth were not only drivers of culture and civilization but also a major technological achievement akin to harnessing fire and developing agriculture.

I was blown away both by the book’s premise and by the obvious passion and breadth of knowledge Barber brought to showing just how the stunning leap forward taken by women with spindles kick-started what we think of as civilization.

We take clothes for granted, but the first person to think of cloth rather than animal skins gave a great gift to humanity, one which may never be equaled.

By Elizabeth Wayland Barber,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

New discoveries about the textile arts reveal women's unexpectedly influential role in ancient societies.

Twenty thousand years ago, women were making and wearing the first clothing created from spun fibers. In fact, right up to the Industrial Revolution the fiber arts were an enormous economic force, belonging primarily to women.

Despite the great toil required in making cloth and clothing, most books on ancient history and economics have no information on them. Much of this gap results from the extreme perishability of what women produced, but it seems clear that until now descriptions of prehistoric and early historic cultures have…


Book cover of A Short History of Byzantium

Lilith Saintcrow Author Of A Flame in the North

From my list on European history books for writing Western epic fantasy.

Why am I passionate about this?

Like any writer, I’m fascinated with what makes people tick and why they act the way they do. Naturally, this means I read a lot of history. I love reference reading; I love researching arcane questions for a tiny detail that will bring a character or their world to life. Creating epic fantasy is an extension of both my drives as a reader and a writer. Pouring myself into characters who inhabit different settings is a deeply satisfying exercise in both craft and empathy, and each history book has some small bit I can use to make my settings more compelling, more enjoyable for readers, and more real.

Lilith's book list on European history books for writing Western epic fantasy

Lilith Saintcrow Why did Lilith love this book?

I love reading history and am fascinated by the Byzantines.

Norwich has an absolute gift not just for overviewing the major trends and events in history but also for choosing telling details that solidify the picture, reaching across centuries to empathize with people who were not so very different than us.

Plus, he’s scorchingly funny when the occasion calls for it. Both the abridged and the three-volume work walk that fine line between major events and small, crystalline, and often poignant or hysterically amusing details.

By John Julius Norwich,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked A Short History of Byzantium as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

"Norwich is always on the lookout for the small but revealing details. . . . All of this he recounts in a style that consistently entertains."
--The New York Times Book Review

In this magisterial adaptation of his epic three-volume history of Byzantium, John Julius Norwich chronicles the world's longest-lived Christian empire. Beginning with Constantine the Great, who in a.d. 330 made Christianity the religion of his realm and then transferred its capital to the city that would bear his name, Norwich follows the course of eleven centuries of Byzantine statecraft and warfare, politics and theology, manners and art.

In…


Book cover of Wayfarer

Steven Wilton Author Of Queen of Crows

From my list on fantasy set in strange new worlds.

Why am I passionate about this?

Back in the dark ages, before the internet and cell phones, the most common form of off-duty soldiers’ entertainment was reading. I read pretty much anything I could get my hands on, but I was always most excited to read fantasy and science fiction. If a book has a wild new world, magic, or tech, I’m in and usually can’t get enough. I remain a cross-genre reader to this day, but fantasy and science fiction always feel like home. Bonus points for dragons.

Steven's book list on fantasy set in strange new worlds

Steven Wilton Why did Steven love this book?

Listed as a ‘gas lamp’ fantasy, and me being a pre-Victorian/Victorian era London fan, I had to grab this one. It had a fresh twist on the mad scientist’s experiment went wrong, creating a superhero and a supervillain. I found that exciting. I loved how the main character (the hero) struggled to learn his abilities and limitations, all the while not knowing who the villain was or what he was up to. I enjoyed this master class on how to put your main character through the wringer. And the twist ending surprised me. Great stuff. 

By K.M. Weiland,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

In this heroic gaslamp fantasy, superhuman abilities bring an adventurous new dimension to 1820 London, where an outlaw speedster and a master of illusion do battle to decide who will own the city.

Think being a superhero is hard? Try being the first one.

Will’s life is a proper muddle—and all because he was “accidentally” inflicted with the ability to run faster and leap higher than any human ever. One minute he’s a blacksmith’s apprentice trying to save his master from debtor’s prison. The next he’s accused of murder and hunted as a black-hearted highwayman.

A vengeful politician with dark…


Book cover of Kitty Peck and the Music Hall Murders

Rachel Brimble Author Of A Widow's Vow

From my list on venture into the darker side of Victorian life.

Why am I passionate about this?

I am by no means an expert on the Victorian era, but I am most certainly passionate – I have written seven novels set in this period and have researched different aspects of the social, domestic, and gender-related issues for each of those books. The Victorian era is such a fascinating time – from the huge differences in money and class, to the beginnings of women starting to initiate (or maybe even demand) change with the first murmurings of women’s suffrage and, of course, the Married Women’s Property Act 1882. Rich in storytelling possibility and the opportunity to bring societal, gender, and sexual issues to the fore, I find writing in the Victorian period immensely exciting.

Rachel's book list on venture into the darker side of Victorian life

Rachel Brimble Why did Rachel love this book?

This book was recommended to me by a friend who knew I liked books set in the Victorian era. However, at the time, I had not read any books set in a music hall and certainly not a mystery. This book takes the reader deep into the underbelly of Victorian London and introduces a whole cast of eerie characters as well as some wonderful characters with hearts of gold.

The descriptions of the places our heroine is forced to visit are so exquisitely drawn that I could literally taste, smell, hear and see everything. The charm of Kitty and her friends gives a welcome reprieve from the darker aspects of the novel, yet it is those aspects that thrill the most!

By Kate Griffin,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Kitty Peck and the Music Hall Murders as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Limehouse, 1880: Dancing girls are going missing from 'Paradise' - the criminal manor with ruthless efficiency by the ferocious Lady Ginger. Seventeen-year-old music hall seamstress Kitty Peck finds herself reluctantly drawn into a web of blackmail, depravity and murder when The Lady devises a singular scheme to discover the truth. But as Kitty's scandalous and terrifying act becomes the talk of London, she finds herself facing someone even more deadly and horrifying than The Lady.

Bold, impetuous and blessed with more brains than she cares to admit, it soon becomes apparent that it's up to the unlikely team of Kitty…


Book cover of Sketches by Boz

Steve Morris Author Of Out on Top – A Collection of Upbeat Short Stories

From my list on short stories for when spare time is short.

Why am I passionate about this?

Short stories suit the speed of modern society. I began writing them as a child and began to get them published in magazines. My first collection of stories in 2009 got quite a lot of press in the UK and two more collections followed. Initially, they were darkly-themed backfiring scenarios for the anti-hero and I redressed the balance in Out on Top. We all deserve some good Karma!

Steve's book list on short stories for when spare time is short

Steve Morris Why did Steve love this book?

This is often overlooked by readers of Dickens. I think the term “sketches” is important here at a point where Dickens was still experimenting with his art and particularly his characters which were always going to be his greatest strength. Sketches by Boz is a collection of fascinatingly detailed insights into London life intertwined in episodes (or scenes) as Dickens terms it through a richly caricatured study of a set of interesting lives of the working classes, in a way that only Dickens has ever been able to do. The “sketches” had, prior to this, been serialized in weekly installments (the soap operas of the day). Dickens had experienced sufficient highs and lows of social mobility in his own life to fully qualify his portrayals. "The Tuggses at Ramsgate" is perhaps for me the most memorable but the whole volume is bursting with energetic individuality and character. I have…

By Charles Dickens,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Sketches by Boz as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Charles Dickens (1812-1870) was an English short story writer, dramatist, essayist, and the most popular novelist to come from the Victorian era. He created some of the most iconic characters and stories in English literature, including Mr. Pickwick from "The Pickwick Papers", Ebenezer Scrooge from "A Christmas Carol", David Copperfield, and Pip from "Great Expectations", to name a few. Dickens' began by writing serials for magazines, and from 1833-1836 he used the pseudonym Boz, taken from a childhood nickname for his younger brother. "Sketches by Boz" contains 56 stories and, like most of Dickens' work, vividly portrayed the lives of…


Book cover of Fingersmith

Rachel Cochran Author Of The Gulf

From my list on queer mystery and crime books.

Why am I passionate about this?

I am a queer writer who lovers to read and write mystery and crime fiction. The history of these genres is often full of homophobic stereotypes and scapegoating of queer characters. While I think it’s important to show queer characters as flawed, I also want to make sure to celebrate the contributions of queer writers to these messy, wonderful genres.

Rachel's book list on queer mystery and crime books

Rachel Cochran Why did Rachel love this book?

Whenever I’m pressed to name a favorite novel of all time, this is the title I turn to.

It’s so many things all at once: a perfectly plotted slow-burn of a crime caper with several killer surprises, an absorbing lesbian romance that burns with passionate intensity, and a fully realized, deeply immersive historical drama that displays masterful research by leaning into the weirder, hidden corners of its familiar Victorian setting.

As a writer, this book fills me with delicious envy; as a reader, it bowls me over with tension and awe.

By Sarah Waters,

Why should I read it?

11 authors picked Fingersmith as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

“Oliver Twist with a twist…Waters spins an absorbing tale that withholds as much as it discloses. A pulsating story.”—The New York Times Book Review

Sue Trinder is an orphan, left as an infant in the care of Mrs. Sucksby, a "baby farmer," who raised her with unusual tenderness, as if Sue were her own. Mrs. Sucksby’s household, with its fussy babies calmed with doses of gin, also hosts a transient family of petty thieves—fingersmiths—for whom this house in the heart of a mean London slum is home.

One day, the most beloved thief of all arrives—Gentleman, an elegant con man,…


Book cover of Things in Jars

Tonya Mitchell Author Of The Arsenic Eater's Wife

From my list on historical fiction books with gothic vibes that will give you the creeps.

Why am I passionate about this?

I’ve loved Gothic fiction since I was a teen, though back then, I didn’t know it was Gothic. I just liked the creepiness, the often-isolated heroine, and the things-aren’t-what-they-seem murkiness of the stories. One of my first reads was Jane Eyre, which has remained a favorite. Though I didn’t like history in school (too much memorization!), I read several historical fiction books from different eras that fascinated me. These things, combined with another genre favorite—mystery/thriller, led to my first book. It turns out that all those things I’d gravitated to in my decades of reading became the things I most wanted to write about - mystery/thriller historical fiction with elements of Gothic. 

Tonya's book list on historical fiction books with gothic vibes that will give you the creeps

Tonya Mitchell Why did Tonya love this book?

Nobody does characters like Jess Kidd. Every person in this story is bizarre—a monster, misfit, or malefactor—yet not one feels contrived. I adored Bridie Devine, a small, rotund, pipe-smoking detective who begins to see the same ghost everywhere she goes.

Bridie’s quarry is a strange girl who’s been kidnapped and might (depending on who you ask) have supernatural powers or be a “lovely grotesque” who’s caught the eye of collectors. I fell in love with Kidd’s imaginative Victorian London, where nothing is as it seems, and evil lurks around every bend.

By Jess Kidd,

Why should I read it?

5 authors picked Things in Jars as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

London, 1863. Bridie Devine, the finest female detective of her age, is taking on her toughest case yet. Reeling from her last job and with her reputation in tatters, a remarkable puzzle has come her way. Christabel Berwick has been kidnapped. But Christabel is no ordinary child. She is not supposed to exist.

As Bridie fights to recover the stolen child she enters a world of fanatical anatomists, crooked surgeons and mercenary showmen. Anomalies are in fashion, curiosities are the thing, and fortunes are won and lost in the name of entertainment. The public love a spectacle and Christabel may…


Book cover of Victorian London: The Life of a City 1840-1870

Jennifer Delamere Author Of Line by Line

From my list on unique insights on the Victorians.

Why am I passionate about this?

I’m the sort of person who reads history books for fun. It’s perhaps odd to be a novelist who prefers nonfiction for my personal reading, but then again, I’ve managed to utilize those traits for writing 9 historical novels. The Victorian era has fascinated me since childhood. (The first play I ever saw was Oliver!, inspired by Dickens’ Oliver Twist. I still remember it vividly.) The Victorian era was a time of momentous change, becoming more like the world we know today and yet still within living memory of a very different way of life. The books I’ve chosen here reflect that time of upheaval and how, for better or worse, people dealt with it.

Jennifer's book list on unique insights on the Victorians

Jennifer Delamere Why did Jennifer love this book?

This is the first detailed history I ever read about the Victorians, and it’s still my favorite.

Picard brings mid-Victorian London to life—the sights, smells, and sounds of the city, the lifestyles of the rich and the poor, the changing attitudes in politics, romance, and religion.

She covers the decades when London was making strides in things we think of as “modern,” from running water and better sanitation to the railways, education, and the rising middle class.

Her chapter notes and references provide endless fodder for anyone interested in learning more about this period. Picard’s writing is lively, fluid, and fascinating.

Anyone who thinks history must be dry and dusty need only to read this book to discover otherwise.

By Liza Picard,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Victorian London as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Like her previous books, this book is the product of the author's passionate interest in the realities of everyday life - and the conditions in which most people lived - so often left out of history books. This period of mid Victorian London covers a huge span: Victoria's wedding and the place of the royals in popular esteem; how the very poor lived, the underworld, prostitution, crime, prisons and transportation; the public utilities - Bazalgette on sewers and road design, Chadwick on pollution and sanitation; private charities - Peabody, Burdett Coutts - and workhouses; new terraced housing and transport, trains,…


5 book lists we think you will like!

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