The best books about the Dark Ages

2 authors have picked their favorite books about the Dark Ages and why they recommend each book.

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Shadowland

By C.M. Gray,

Book cover of Shadowland: A Tale From The Dark Ages

I loved this book! Telling the story of a storyteller's life before eventually revealing his true identity, this novel is based during the end of Roman occupation in England and tells a new version of how Merlin came to be. Since the dark ages have always been of interest to me, thanks to numerous visits to living museums depicting the era and growing up with the mysteries of the era thanks to so much being lost in record from that era, exploring the what could have or just exploring the era through a book is just fascinating for me.


Who am I?

Ever since I was a child the world has fascinated me. I’ve grown up with a deep love of reading and passion for the natural world, so much so that this often inspires both my writing and my artwork. As an artist and writer I seek to showcase the wonder and magic in the world. I have been able to draw upon ancient legends for inspiration into how people’s minds worked in the deep past and use it to enrich my writing further to cement the stories into our world and become more tangible. As a part-time adventurer, it’s only natural that my novels should be that.


I wrote...

A Retreating Tide (The Mirror of Shadows)

By R.A. Whitworth,

Book cover of A Retreating Tide (The Mirror of Shadows)

What is my book about?

A thrilling adventure into the world beyond the ancient stones. Following Alicia, a woman who has no memory of her past and Nathan who’s desperate to escape the abuse he suffered in his, are thrust into an epic adventure through the wilds of the Eárie. In this world where hill tribes roam the mountains, and sprites live in underground caverns they will need to learn what it takes to survive the wilderness as well as the parasitic threat known as the Shadows. 

The King in the North

By Max Adams,

Book cover of The King in the North: The Life and Times of Oswald of Northumbria

Good research is so important to me and this is the historical study that I’d recommend to anyone who wants to know more about the Anglo-Saxon Kingdom of Northumbria. Max Adams has studied the period in detail, but his style of writing is easy to read and sometimes exciting, so much so that I almost felt that I was reading a novel. I love the way Max Adams suggests various possible scenarios, from the written evidence, studies, and archaeology that we have. This is a perfect research book for a novelist, wanting to bring the time period to life. I found that I couldn’t put the book down, once I’d started reading it.


Who am I?

I spent much of my childhood living close to Whitby Abbey and heard many stories of the famous Saint Hilda. As a mother of three, I began writing stories, initially to entertain my children, and eventually published many historical stories for children and young adults – twice shortlisted for the Carnegie Medal. I moved back to the Whitby area in my 60s determined to write for an older age group and indulge my lifelong fascination for the Anglo-Saxon period. I took the half pagan Fridgyth character from my Young Adult adventure mystery – Wolfgirl - and developed her role as a warm, curious, flawed, investigator. I'm working on a third Fridgyth the Herbwife novel.


I wrote...

A Swarming of Bees

By Theresa Tomlinson,

Book cover of A Swarming of Bees

What is my book about?

An atmospheric murder mystery set in the wind-blown monastery of Abbess Hild. The decisive and life-changing decision taken at the Great Synod is swiftly overshadowed as the monastery is ravaged by a deadly plague. Fridgyth, the half pagan herbwife, starts to suspect that all the deaths are not from the sickness. Despite Hild’s stern warnings ‘not to meddle,’ Fridgyth cannot control her curiosity and frustration. Risking her warm friendship with the abbess, she sets off to investigate. 

‘A herbwife on a mule may go where warriors cannot – she may see what warriors cannot see and hear what warriors cannot hear!'

The Sins of the Father

By Annie Whitehead,

Book cover of The Sins of the Father

This is the second book in an exciting series. I loved the first book, which told the story of the fierce Mercian King Penda! The Sins of the Father focuses on the life of Penda’s more sensitive, less warlike son, Ethelred. Annie Whitehead (who is also a respected historian) brings vibrantly to life many of the people and places that I’m interested in, more from the point of view of the ancient Kingdom of Mercia, rather than Northumbria. Familiar characters appear and I find it so interesting to view them from a different angle. These books are not murder mysteries, but utterly fascinating historical novels, which vividly capture both the humanity and battles for power in the ancient kingdoms.


Who am I?

I spent much of my childhood living close to Whitby Abbey and heard many stories of the famous Saint Hilda. As a mother of three, I began writing stories, initially to entertain my children, and eventually published many historical stories for children and young adults – twice shortlisted for the Carnegie Medal. I moved back to the Whitby area in my 60s determined to write for an older age group and indulge my lifelong fascination for the Anglo-Saxon period. I took the half pagan Fridgyth character from my Young Adult adventure mystery – Wolfgirl - and developed her role as a warm, curious, flawed, investigator. I'm working on a third Fridgyth the Herbwife novel.


I wrote...

A Swarming of Bees

By Theresa Tomlinson,

Book cover of A Swarming of Bees

What is my book about?

An atmospheric murder mystery set in the wind-blown monastery of Abbess Hild. The decisive and life-changing decision taken at the Great Synod is swiftly overshadowed as the monastery is ravaged by a deadly plague. Fridgyth, the half pagan herbwife, starts to suspect that all the deaths are not from the sickness. Despite Hild’s stern warnings ‘not to meddle,’ Fridgyth cannot control her curiosity and frustration. Risking her warm friendship with the abbess, she sets off to investigate. 

‘A herbwife on a mule may go where warriors cannot – she may see what warriors cannot see and hear what warriors cannot hear!'

Creative Mythology

By Joseph Campbell,

Book cover of Creative Mythology: The Masks of God, Volume IV

This book, and others by Campbell, has valuable ideas about humanity and mythology that are endlessly useful to fiction writers. Not about craft. About stories. And you’ll get a sense of how stories shape our world. And it has the effects of myth on human existence, fascinating from both a historic and cultural perspective.


Who am I?

I am an author of literary fiction and nonfiction on the creative writing process. My passion is to provide resources for writers who want to create stories as artful literature that will last. A few years ago, I created a website that contains all my fiction and non-fiction, a newsletter, a workshop, and a blog. The website has received over five million visits. I've published six novels, thirty-seven short stories, thirty essays, twenty-six interviews, and dozens of literary quizzes. My fiction has received over fifty+ awards. I’ve written and presented an online video course: Creating Literary Story with Thinkific. I continue to serve writers who are eager to improve.


I wrote...

The Art of Creating Story

By William H. Coles,

Book cover of The Art of Creating Story

What is my book about?

An educative volume with essays about the process of creating fictional stories; interviews with authors, editors, publishers,(including a Pulitzer Prize winner) on the writing process; and original short stories that illustrate concepts and techniques of storytelling in prose. Major topics include characterization, narration, character-based plotting, dialogue, drama, point of view, significance, and revision.

Peace-Weavers and Shield Maidens

By Kathleen Herbert,

Book cover of Peace-Weavers and Shield Maidens: Women in Early English Society

I first came across this short book when researching for stories set in the Anglo-Saxon kingdom of Northumbria. Kathleen Herbert, (herself a historical novelist) provided not only excellent information, but also a practical vision of the period specifically from a woman’s point of view. It is easy to read and presents the information in an accessible way; perhaps one of the earliest books focussed on women’s history.


Who am I?

I spent much of my childhood living close to Whitby Abbey and heard many stories of the famous Saint Hilda. As a mother of three, I began writing stories, initially to entertain my children, and eventually published many historical stories for children and young adults – twice shortlisted for the Carnegie Medal. I moved back to the Whitby area in my 60s determined to write for an older age group and indulge my lifelong fascination for the Anglo-Saxon period. I took the half pagan Fridgyth character from my Young Adult adventure mystery – Wolfgirl - and developed her role as a warm, curious, flawed, investigator. I'm working on a third Fridgyth the Herbwife novel.


I wrote...

A Swarming of Bees

By Theresa Tomlinson,

Book cover of A Swarming of Bees

What is my book about?

An atmospheric murder mystery set in the wind-blown monastery of Abbess Hild. The decisive and life-changing decision taken at the Great Synod is swiftly overshadowed as the monastery is ravaged by a deadly plague. Fridgyth, the half pagan herbwife, starts to suspect that all the deaths are not from the sickness. Despite Hild’s stern warnings ‘not to meddle,’ Fridgyth cannot control her curiosity and frustration. Risking her warm friendship with the abbess, she sets off to investigate. 

‘A herbwife on a mule may go where warriors cannot – she may see what warriors cannot see and hear what warriors cannot hear!'

Daily Life in the Middle Ages

By Paul B. Newman,

Book cover of Daily Life in the Middle Ages

Intriguing, little-known facts make this book another way to travel into the past, showcasing everything from eating, cooking, clothing, housing, and relaxing. It provides fascinating details of what everyday life was really like in the Middle Ages, facts that can’t be gleaned simply by watching movies or television programs.


Who am I?

I’ve always loved reading time travel stories and gobbled up most of what I could find. Over the past few years, I decided that I wanted to try writing one for myself. After reading the books I’ve recommended along with others (including some having to do with the physics of time), I finally took up the challenge and wrote the Waters of Time series which combines my love of the Middle Ages, romance, and time travel all into one.


I wrote...

Come Back to Me

By Jody Hedlund,

Book cover of Come Back to Me

What is my book about?

Research scientist Marian Creighton and her father share one goal—to find a remedy that can help cure her sister Ellen of a deadly genetic disease that already stole their mother away. However, she is skeptical of her father’s methods. She feels his long-time fixation with ancient Holy water and its healing properties are both crazy and a waste of time.

But when Marian’s father falls into a coma after drinking a vial of Holy water, she is determined to test his theories for herself. However, she soon realizes that she is not the only one interested in his research. A break-in and a kidnapping convince her that she must take the plunge and follow her father back to the Middle Ages in order to save both her father and her sister. 

The Song of Heledd

By Judith Arnopp,

Book cover of The Song of Heledd: At the Hall of Cynddylan

This is another historical novel set in my favourite time period AD 600’s, this time in Powys. The main character is Heledd – a peace-weaver bride, she is human, flawed, compelling, and courageous. The background detail is vivid and well researched, but what I love most about this book is the lyrical style of writing, which may almost give the reader the sense that the story is being sung,  reflecting with feeling and humanity, the real Anglo-Saxon poetry that has come down to us. Here is a powerful sense of sadness, regret, and gathering doom, lifted by moments of pure joy – a true lament!


Who am I?

I spent much of my childhood living close to Whitby Abbey and heard many stories of the famous Saint Hilda. As a mother of three, I began writing stories, initially to entertain my children, and eventually published many historical stories for children and young adults – twice shortlisted for the Carnegie Medal. I moved back to the Whitby area in my 60s determined to write for an older age group and indulge my lifelong fascination for the Anglo-Saxon period. I took the half pagan Fridgyth character from my Young Adult adventure mystery – Wolfgirl - and developed her role as a warm, curious, flawed, investigator. I'm working on a third Fridgyth the Herbwife novel.


I wrote...

A Swarming of Bees

By Theresa Tomlinson,

Book cover of A Swarming of Bees

What is my book about?

An atmospheric murder mystery set in the wind-blown monastery of Abbess Hild. The decisive and life-changing decision taken at the Great Synod is swiftly overshadowed as the monastery is ravaged by a deadly plague. Fridgyth, the half pagan herbwife, starts to suspect that all the deaths are not from the sickness. Despite Hild’s stern warnings ‘not to meddle,’ Fridgyth cannot control her curiosity and frustration. Risking her warm friendship with the abbess, she sets off to investigate. 

‘A herbwife on a mule may go where warriors cannot – she may see what warriors cannot see and hear what warriors cannot hear!'

Dark Age

By Pierce Brown,

Book cover of Dark Age

Brown is the author of the New York Times bestselling Red Rising saga, and Dark Age is his fifth novel in the series. Set in a dystopian world where humans have been genetically enhanced and conquered the solar system, the fifth book takes you through the joys of battle to the crushing agony of losing friends on the battlefield. To punctuate just how little time there is to grieve while in battle, he kills beloved characters with a stroke of the pen and almost an afterthought, focusing more on the effort than people. Many veterans found the devastation of losing a friend in combat only to have to return to battle moments later within the pages of this book, and Brown specifically interviewed combat veterans to ensure his depiction was accurate. The result? A gripping page-turner that has you riding high on adrenaline, only to be crushed under the weight…


Who am I?

I’m a Bronze Star and Purple Heart recipient who fought in both Afghanistan and Iraq. As I explored the ramifications of combat and struggled to reintegrate when I returned home, I often felt veterans’ memoirs teetered on the brink of “war porn” as opposed to the crushing devastation and fear men and women face on the battlefield. Seeking to rectify the misconceptions about the longest-running wars in U.S. history, I began writing about my experiences on medium.com and amassed over 40,000 followers (which turned into a book deal). This list of books below directly influenced my work and—I believe—are the gold standards for true war stories.


I wrote...

Where Cowards Go to Die

By Benjamin Sledge,

Book cover of Where Cowards Go to Die

What is my book about?

Stationed on a small base near Pakistan in the aftermath of the September 11 attacks, Benjamin Sledge returns home shattered after embracing the barbarity he witnessed around him. Haunted by his experiences, he begins an odyssey wrestling with mental health and purpose that drives him to volunteer for another tour in the deadliest city of the Iraq War—Ramadi.

In his memoir, Sledge vividly captures the reality of the men and women who learn to fight without remorse, love each other without restraint, and suffer the high cost of returning to a country that no longer feels like home.

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