10 books like Rites of Passage

By William Golding,

Here are 10 books that authors have personally recommended if you like Rites of Passage. Shepherd is a community of 7,000+ authors sharing their favorite books with the world.

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Middle Passage

By Charles Johnson,

Book cover of Middle Passage

The question of how to portray a historical atrocity like slavery in a work of fiction is obviously monumental. Toni Morrison, Gayl Jones, Colson Whitehead, and John Keene have approached this with consummate brilliance by writing the experience and subjectivity of enslaved and formerly-enslaved people. Johnson, however, focuses on the perpetrators: the men who engage in and profit from the capture and trafficking of other human beings. As in Mantel’s novel, the choice of the protagonist is key. Rutherford Calhoun is a ne’er-do-well free Black man from New Orleans who runs away on a ship to escape debts and engagement to a woman whose love he hasn’t done much to deserve. It turns out this ship is bound for Africa to collect a cargo of people, members of the Allmuseri tribe, an ethnicity Johnson invented for his fiction. But along with the people, they are also collecting something much more…

Middle Passage

By Charles Johnson,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Middle Passage as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Celebrating Fifty Years of Picador Books

Winner of the National Book Award 1990

The Apocalypse would definitely put a crimp in my career plans.

Rutherford Calhoun, a puckish rogue and newly freed slave, spends his days loitering around the docks of New Orleans, dodging debt collectors, gangsters, and Isadora Bailey, a prim and frugal woman who seeks to marry him and curb his mischievous instincts. When the heat from these respective pursuers becomes too much to bear, he cons his way on to the next ship leaving the dock: the Republic. Upon boarding, to his horror he discovers that he…


The Sea Road

By Margaret Elphinstone,

Book cover of The Sea Road

The ‘sea-fiction’ literary canon is very male-focused. But in the real world, women put to sea too, and were sometimes at the forefront of exploration. Maria, the heroine of my novel, was the first non-native woman to set foot on the northwest coast of America, when she arrived with Francis Drake during his circumnavigation voyage in the summer of 1579. Five hundred years earlier, on the other side of the continent, another female pioneer, Gudrid Thorbjarnardóttir, explored and settled the Newfoundland coast. 

Gudrid, the ‘Far Travelled’ of Icelandic sagas, is brought to life in this beautifully written and vividly imagined novel. Rich in historical detail and steeped in the mythology and worldview of the Vikings, it’s a thoroughly convincing portrait of an extraordinary woman at the edge of the known world.

The Sea Road

By Margaret Elphinstone,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

A haunting, compelling historical novel, The Sea Road is a daring re-telling of the 11th-century Viking exploration of the North Atlantic from the viewpoint of one extraordinary woman. Gudrid lives at the remote edge of the known world, in a starkly beautiful landscape where the sea is the only connection to the shores beyond. It is a world where the old Norse gods are still invoked, even as Christianity gains favour, where the spirits of the dead roam the vast northern ice-fields, tormenting the living, and Viking explorers plunder foreign shores.

Taking the accidental discovery of North America as its…


The Walrus Mutterer

By Mandy Haggith,

Book cover of The Walrus Mutterer

In 325 BC, Pytheas of Massalia travelled to northern Britain and beyond, becoming the first writer to chronicle the midnight sun and describe the distant land of Thule (possibly Iceland). His account, On the Ocean, was lost to history and is now known only through references by other writers. But we do have The Walrus Mutterer, a brilliant fictionalization of those travels, to make up for it.

Rian is a young woman from the Scottish region of Assynt who is being trained as a healer when she is enslaved and forced to join Pytheas’s dangerous voyage of discovery. In poetic, lean prose, Haggith details Rian’s trials at sea, her endurance and strength, and the search for the eponymous walrus-hunter, which takes them into the far north.

The writing about the weather and landscape of this lost world is exquisite. The beliefs and practices of this distant way of…

The Walrus Mutterer

By Mandy Haggith,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Northern Britain, Iron Age. Rian, a carefree young woman and promising apprentice healer, is enslaved by a spiteful trader and forced aboard a vessel to embark on a perilous sea voyage. They are in search of the fabled hunter known as the Walrus Mutterer, to recover something once stolen. The limits of Rian's endurance are tested not only by the cruelty of her captor, but their mysterious fellow passenger Pytheas The Greek - and the merciless sea that constantly endangers both their mission and their lives. A visceral evocation of ancient folklore and ritual, The Walrus Mutterer introduces an unforgettable…


The Mighty Dead

By Adam Nicolson, Adam Nicolson,

Book cover of The Mighty Dead: Why Homer Matters

Not a novel, but it reads like one, as Nicolson tells the story of how the greatest sea voyage tale of all time – The Odyssey, and its sister epic The Iliad – came to be, with a cast of characters including the Greek heroes, gods and goddesses crossing the land and seascapes of Ancient Greece. 

Nicolson argues that these poems emerged not in the 8th century BC, when they were first written down, but a thousand years earlier in the oral tradition. In them, he sees the origin myths of the people who became the Greeks – the fusion of the native people of the Eastern Mediterranean and invaders from the northern steppes. 

But it is Nicolson’s personal investment in his subject that is so beguiling. A sailor himself, he brings his deep knowledge of the sea, of sailing, navigation, the capriciousness of wind, the knife-edge between…

The Mighty Dead

By Adam Nicolson, Adam Nicolson,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

"Complex, personal, and profound ... a brash and brave piece of writing ... filled with the swords and spears that inflict the carnage of the Iliad." -The Wall Street Journal

Why Homer Matters is a magical journey of discovery across wide stretches of the past, sewn together by the Iliad and the Odyssey and their metaphors of life and trouble. Homer's poems-transmitted orally across the generations, shaped and reshaped in a living, self-renewing tradition-occupy, as Adam Nicolson writes "a third space" in the way we relate to the past: not as memory, which lasts no more than three generations, nor…


The Alexandria Quartet

By Lawrence Durrell,

Book cover of The Alexandria Quartet

Not crime although there are crimes in it. The narrative structure of the quartet was a major influence on structuring my trilogy. The first three present different versions of the same events and characters in Alexandria, Egypt before and during the Second World War. In Book 1, a self-absorbed, pretentious narrator, Darley, presents an account of an intense love affair. In book 2, Balthazar shows how ignorant he was about what was really going on about him. Mountolive widens the political context and shows both earlier narrators were looking through the wrong end of a telescope. Book 4 manages to tease out yet more solutions to mysteries thought resolved.

The Alexandria Quartet

By Lawrence Durrell,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked The Alexandria Quartet as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Rediscover one of the twentieth century's greatest romances in Lawrence Durrell's seductive tale of four tangled lovers in wartime Egypt that is 'stunning' (Andre Aciman) and 'wonderful' (Elif Shafak)

'A masterpiece.' Guardian

'A formidable, glittering achievement.' TLS

'One of the great works of English fiction.' Times

'Dazzlingly exuberant ... Superb.' Observer

'Brave and brazen ... Lush and grandiose.' Independent

'Legendary ... Casts a spell ... Reader, watch out!' Guardian

'Lushly beautiful ... One of the most important works of our time.' NYTBR

Alexandria, Egypt. Trams, palm trees and watermelon stalls lie honey-bathed in sunlight; in darkened bedrooms, sweaty lovers unfurl.…


The New York Trilogy

By Paul Auster,

Book cover of The New York Trilogy

This is post-modern crime fiction thematically linked and all with increasingly unreliable characters—because they’re each going insane.

In City of Glass private investigator, Daniel Quinn, goes mad sinking deeper into an investigation about identity. Who is telling his story and can they be relied on? Is it any of these characters who appear: ‘the author,’ ‘Paul Auster the writer,’ ‘Paul Auster the detective’?  Whoosh.

I love this stuff but understand it’s an acquired taste!

The New York Trilogy

By Paul Auster,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Paul Auster's signature work, "The New York Trilogy," consists of three interlocking novels: "City of Glass," "Ghosts," and "The Locked Room" - haunting and mysterious tales that move at the breathless pace of a thriller."City of Glass" - As a result of a strange phone call in the middle of the night, Quinn, a writer of detective stories, becomes enmeshed in a case more puzzling than any he might hace written"Ghosts"Blue, a student of Brown, has been hired to spy on Black. From a window of a rented house on Orange street, Blue stalks his subject, who is staring out…


The Deadly Percheron

By John Franklin Bardin,

Book cover of The Deadly Percheron

More insane narrators (or are they?) but you can’t get more unreliable than that. Discovered these thematically linked novels decades ago and came back to them when I was trying to work out the voice of the Trunk Murderer in my Trilogy and what mental state that person might have been in.  

In The Deadly Percheron a psychiatrist has a patient, otherwise seeming perfectly sane, claiming delusions that aren’t necessarily believable. (Except, of course, in fiction the best delusions are. The psychiatrist is drawn in and you know that’s not going to end well.) 

The Deadly Percheron

By John Franklin Bardin,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked The Deadly Percheron as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Between 1946 and 1948 john franklin bardin produced 3 quite extraordinary novels, all distinguished by a hallucinatory intensity of feeling and an absorption in morbid psychology remarkable for the period. "the deadly percheron", "the last of philip banter" and "devil take the blue-tail fly" are unlike anything else in modern crime literature. 10/6/87 UK PRIORITY REISSUE


Fifth Business

By Robertson Davies,

Book cover of Fifth Business

Fifth Business is the first of the Deptford Trilogy as the very first line. Deptford is a small village in Canada, by the way. Canadian author, Robertson Davis, wrote this trilogy in the 1970s. It has several things that have influenced me, not least different narrative perspectives.

A young lad throws a snowball and by mistake hits a pregnant woman, who goes into early labour. That has consequences for various Deptford characters. They all have secrets that affect other and are revealed in increments via the different narratives.

Although there is a main narrator—Dunstan Ramsey, a schoolmaster—for Fifth Business and The World of Wonders. He doesn’t appear as a character in the latter but he’s a character in The Manticore, whose narrator, undergoing Jungian analysis, thinks he might be his father. This narrator seems reliable but there are always secrets… 

Fifth Business

By Robertson Davies,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

The first book in Robertson Davies's acclaimed The Deptford Trilogy, with a new foreword by Kelly Link

Ramsay is a man twice born, a man who has returned from the hell of the battle-grave at Passchendaele in World War I decorated with the Victoria Cross and destined to be caught in a no man's land where memory, history, and myth collide. As Ramsay tells his story, it begins to seem that from boyhood, he has exerted a perhaps mystical, perhaps pernicious, influence on those around him. His apparently innocent involvement in such innocuous events as the throwing of a snowball…


Star of the Sea

By Joseph O'Connor,

Book cover of Star of the Sea

Even professional historians need to slow down and read fiction sometimes! And Joseph O’Connor’s Star of the Sea his is one of my all-time favorites. Set on an emigrant sailing ship during Ireland’s Great Famine, this dark thriller skillfully interweaves the stories of a number of different passengers, one of whom happens to be a murderer. O’Connor, one of Ireland’s leading novelists, finds that perfect balance between “historical” and “fiction.”

Star of the Sea

By Joseph O'Connor,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

* Over a million copies sold *

Rediscover Joseph O'Connor's monumental #1 international bestseller.

In the bitter winter of 1847, from an Ireland torn by injustice and natural disaster, the Star of the Sea sets sail for New York.

On board are hundreds of fleeing refugees. Among them are a maidservant with a devastating secret, bankrupt Lord Merridith and his family, an aspiring novelist and a maker of revolutionary ballads, all braving the Atlantic in search of a new home. Each is connected more deeply than they can possibly know.

But a camouflaged killer is stalking the decks, hungry for…


The Famine Ships

By Edward Laxton,

Book cover of The Famine Ships: The Irish Exodus to America

I love primary sources and histories that reproduce them. Here is another amazing feat of historical detection. “Details have been taken from eye-witness accounts; original Certificates of Registration, paintings, and contemporary lithograph drawings have been reproduced,” may sound dry but this book is alive with the voices of immigrants telling both tragic and triumphant tales. Anyone whose Irish ancestors came to North America between 1846 and 1851 will want to examine the numerous passenger lists that Laxton includes. I think of this book and all it taught me when I visit my hometown and stop by the monument commemorating Irish immigrants on the shore of Lake Ontario.

The Famine Ships

By Edward Laxton,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Between 1846 and 1851, more than one-million people--the potato famine emigrants--sailed from Ireland to America. Now, 150 years later, The Famine Ships tells of the courage and determination of those who crossed the Atlantic in leaky, overcrowded sailing ships and made new lives for themselves, among them the child Henry Ford and the twenty-six-year-old Patrick Kennedy, great-grandfather of John F. Kennedy. Edward Laxton conducted five years of research in Ireland and interviewed the emigrants' descents in the U.S. Portraits of people, ships, and towns, as well as facsimile passenger lists and tickets, are among the fascinating memorabilia in The Famine…


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