The best books about sieges

8 authors have picked their favorite books about sieges and why they recommend each book.

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The Singapore Grip

By J.G. Farrell,

Book cover of The Singapore Grip

I love how this novel veers between the comic (the preening self-importance of a British family that runs a trading company) and the tragic (death and mayhem as Japanese troops set Singapore on fire in 1942). Father cynically manipulates markets; daughter carries on with unsuitable men; approved suitor arrives from Europe to reveal himself as an idealist who spouts praise for the League of Nations. You’ll learn a thing or two about how colonial companies of the time built enormous wealth by squeezing it from impoverished plantation workers, and how the war turned everything upside down.


Who am I?

I first saw Angkor, capital of the Khmer Empire, in 1969 as a teenager and was bowled over by the place. I kept coming back as a journalist and author. They say you should write about things that truly crank your engine, and I found mine—imperial conquest, Hindu and Buddhist spirituality, astounding architecture, and the lives of the millions of people who inhabited and built the place. I’ve now written three non-fiction books and two historical novels set in the civilization’s twelfth-century peak. The novels are an effort to recreate life in the old days. They draw heavily on my years in Southeast Asia, experiencing what life is like in the present day.


I wrote...

A Woman of Angkor

By John Burgess,

Book cover of A Woman of Angkor

What is my book about?

The time is the twelfth century, the place Cambodia, birthplace of the lost Angkor civilization. In a village behind a towering stone temple lives a young woman named Sray, whom neighbors liken to the heroine of a Hindu epic. Hiding a dangerous secret, she is content with quiet obscurity, but one rainy season afternoon is called to a life of prominence in the royal court. There her faith and loyalties are tested by attention from the king. Struggling to keep her devotion is her husband Nol, palace confidante and master of the silk parasols that were symbols of the monarch's rank. The novel evokes the rites and rhythms of the ancient culture that built the temples of Angkor, then abandoned them to nature.

Siege Warfare

By Christopher Duffy,

Book cover of Siege Warfare: The Fortress in the Early Modern World 1494-1660

Christopher Duffy is a great go-to author for books on early modern warfare, and this is one of his finest—and most important--contributions to the subject. The transformation of the European landscape from a place littered with castles to one dominated by angular, masonry bastions, is an epic all its own, and here it is in all its complex glory. What emerges is a nuanced, nicely illustrated narrative of one of the greatest arms races in military history: increasingly destructive weapons vs. the fortified structures built to thwart them. There is plenty of action in this book, as well, as Duffy spares nothing in the telling of siege warfare and its grisly idiosyncrasies.


Who am I?

During my career as an author, I have written on everything from U.S. Presidents to natural disasters. My true passion, however, is military history, a subject I have followed closely since childhood. Why? I have no idea. Nevertheless, I have read widely on the subject and, with the publication of Outnumbered, fulfilled a longstanding dream. The early modern period of European history, during which the continent’s culture left behind the Middle Ages and laid the foundations of the world we live in today, was an era rife with military change and innovation, as well as endemic conflict and the emergence of powerful, centralized nation-states, all of which I find enthralling. These books bring this time and place to life.


I wrote...

Outnumbered: Incredible Stories of History's Most Surprising Battlefield Upsets

By Cormac O'Brien,

Book cover of Outnumbered: Incredible Stories of History's Most Surprising Battlefield Upsets

What is my book about?

Who doesn’t love a good underdog story? While warfare has consistently demonstrated the decisive impact of superior numbers, lopsided engagements have on occasion had an unexpected outcome. Outnumbered chronicles fourteen momentous battles in which a smaller, ostensibly weaker force prevailed in an epochal confrontation, from ancient times through World War II.

How did Hannibal’s 55,000 Carthaginians turn the tables on an 80,000-strong force of Romans? What allowed 6,000 Englishman to overcome 20,000 French at Agincourt in 1415? Which errors doomed a Russian army twice as large as its opposing German force at the Battle of Tannenberg during World War I? Replete with sudden twists of fate and intriguing character studies, this is a fascinating look at the capriciousness of battle and the unexpected lessons to be learned from overcoming the odds.

Sharpe's Tiger

By Bernard Cornwell,

Book cover of Sharpe's Tiger

This prequel to the Sharpe series covers the eponymous hero’s adventures in India at the siege of Seringapatam before the Peninsular War. For me, Cornwell’s books are a perfect mix of history and breathless action. This one even features a cameo from Wellington. If only they’d let me read this in history at school, I might have stayed awake more often. Cornwell pays great attention to historical detail, and if he messes with it, he does it deliberately. There are sumptuous palaces, epic battle scenes, rockets exploding, and people getting eaten by tigers. There’s also the deliciously nasty Sergeant Obadiah Hakeswill. What’s not to love? 


Who am I?

I grew up devouring old Classics Illustrated comics. By the time I was 12, I’d read all the great adventure stories from H. Rider Haggard to Jules Verne. My childhood obsession became my career. My research has taken me down the Silk Road, into the jungles of Mexico and the mountains of the high Atlas, and following opium caravans through the Golden Triangle. I’ve now written more than twenty novels of historical adventure that have been translated into 25 languages.


I wrote...

When We Were Gods

By Colin Falconer,

Book cover of When We Were Gods

What is my book about?

Caesar, Antony, Cleopatra, Augustus. Only one can rule. Only one can live. Alexandria 51 BC: When Cleopatra VII assumes the throne of Egypt, the Roman empire rules the Mediterranean with an iron fist. But Cleopatra has an audacious plan to change the course of history. Allied first with Caesar and then with his protégé Marc Antony, she dares to challenge the might of Rome. What follows is a bloody game of thrones, in the palaces and on the battlefields of Greece, Syria, and Egypt.

"Spectacular historical fiction blazing with intrigue, romance, and dramatic action." Booklist.

Empires of Sand

By David W. Ball,

Book cover of Empires of Sand: A Novel

Empires of Sand embodies the grandest tradition of historical fiction—an epic, intricate tale that sweeps from European chateaus to North African dunes. In the late nineteenth century, the French Empire stands on the precipice of collapse and attempts to colonize the Sahara. Cultures collide, the consequences deadly. Cousins Moussa and Paul are raised as brothers in Paris until harrowing events separate them, and they find themselves on opposing sides as battle lines are drawn. I read this novel at a measured pace, partly to absorb the nuances of every scene, partly because I did not want it to end. Empires of Sand captivated me to the point that I missed subway stops during my commute. I reread passages to ingrain them in my mind. David Ball’s mesmerizing, poetic prose serves as evidence that he truly views the world with wonder. The sands of the Sahara beckoned as the story unfolded—so…

Who am I?

Frequent visits to my parents’ Maltese homeland from the time I was very young piqued my interest in the island’s opulent history. Life under the rule of the Knights of St John fascinated me most. The Maltese Islands lend themselves very well to literary descriptions—gifted with four compass points of natural beauty, the smell of the sea constant no matter how far inland one might venture, ancient temples that predate the pyramids of Egypt. It was during a pre-college trip to Malta in July 2000 that the idea to write a novel based on the Siege of 1565 took root, thanks to a visit to the Malta Experience in Valletta.


I wrote...

Eight Pointed Cross: A Novel of the Knights of Malta

By Marthese Fenech,

Book cover of Eight Pointed Cross: A Novel of the Knights of Malta

What is my book about?

The violent clash between the Ottoman Empire and the Knights of St John on the island fortress Malta serves as the backdrop to Eight Pointed Cross. Siblings Domenicus and Katrina Montesa live under threat of raids by corsairs loyal to the Ottoman Sultan. Hundreds of leagues away in Istanbul, Demir’s dream of becoming a horseman in the Sultan’s cavalry is his only salvation against torment by his cruel brother.

The 1551 Turkish invasion of Malta and the island’s bloody defence will change the lives of the three protagonists, whose fates are intertwined not only with each other, but with nobles and peasants, knights and corsairs, on both sides of the conflict as the novel sweeps across the Mediterranean. Surviving this battle-soaked world of swords and scimitars will test the limits of every character’s courage, loyalty, and love.

The Siege of Krishnapur

By J.G. Farrell,

Book cover of The Siege of Krishnapur

During my student days in the early 1970s, I travelled throughout North India by train and country bus, often staying in the countryside in former colonial rest houses from days of British rule in India. I tried to imagine what it was like for the British East India Company officials before 1857, and then for the British colonial officials who replaced the company officers after the Indian Sepoy Mutiny. The Siege of Krishnapur vividly recreates the 1857 mutiny from the perspective of British company officials and their families trapped by the local soldiers they had employed. 

Farrell used a diary and letters from those besieged in the real city of Lucknow to illustrate the horrors of hunger, impending rape, torture, and eventual death that many of the British faced. The scenes are graphic, and the portrayals of the relationships among those trapped have stayed with me for years. The novel…


Who am I?

From my days as a student in India in the early 1970s through my years in the U.S. Foreign Service with postings in Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Kenya, as well as assignments to the India, Kenya, and Uganda desks at the Department of State, I learned something of the cultures of South Asia and East Africa and gained an appreciation for the peoples of those countries. During the early months of the Covid-19 pandemic, I had the time to write. I developed a novel that was part autobiography and part fiction, and most of which was set in South Asia and East Africa. The result is Danger and Romance in Foreign Lands.


I wrote...

Danger and Romance in Foreign Lands

By Stephen E. Eisenbraun,

Book cover of Danger and Romance in Foreign Lands

What is my book about?

To see the world, to report political intrigue abroad—these are the ambitions of Scott Higgins, a young American foreign correspondent in South Asia who encounters dramatic and dangerous events there in the 1970s. It is in India that he also makes an unexpected romantic connection with Rakhi, a smart, savvy, and sultry woman employed by a British multinational bank. Scott and Rakhi elope to Nairobi, where Scott takes up his second reporting assignment, and Rakhi continues with her bank in its Kenyan branch. Even as newlyweds, however, their lives are threatened by unseen but dangerous political actors who resent their presence in the country. They flee Nairobi to London, where trouble of a more personal kind still awaits them.

Ninefox Gambit

By Yoon Ha Lee,

Book cover of Ninefox Gambit

Take a deep dive into a universe where calendars and math are key to power. Does it feel surreal and confusing at first? Yes, but that is all part of the new and innovative charm that does away with traditional military sci-fi and reinvents the genre. While the worldbuilding is amazing and mind-boggling, this is a novel driven by its characters. The cast is big and diverse, sporting main characters who are gay, bi and ace, transgender and nonbinary. If you long for a new take on sci-fi, morally ambiguous characters, and kick-ass queers, I recommend this book to you.


Who am I?

Armed with a master’s degree in English studies, a thesis on the merits of speculative fiction, and a chronic illness that showed me what I needed to fight for in life, I write character-driven, diverse, and hopeful science-fiction. I think one of sci-fi’s finest jobs is to open minds and show the world how it could be, for better or worse. My books have protagonists of multiple ethnicities, sexualities, and genders, some of them with physical or mental challenges. Because representation is important. My recommendations for you are sci-fi books with characters whose queerness is commonly accepted and unproblematic within their universes.


I wrote...

We Lost the Sky

By Marie Howalt,

Book cover of We Lost the Sky

What is my book about?

In the distant future when Tuscany is a desolate wasteland, the wanderer Renn struggles to find shelter from a dust storm and accidentally awakens a dormant creature resembling the legendary maddened Moon servants. A teenage survivor of the lost civilization is scavenging long-forgotten technology while keeping an eye on the one remaining great city, Florence. And a Florentine restoration worker is determined to help the impoverished denizens in the city’s slums, though this means going against her own father and the ideology of the ruling class.

As tensions mount in Florence, Renn and an unlikely new traveling companion are drawn toward the city. But it is going to take more than luck to avoid suspicious settlers and survive the perilous journey.

Money to Burn

By Ricardo Piglia, Amanda Hopkinson,

Book cover of Money to Burn

More about hiding out and the lead-up to the final shoot-out than the bank robbery at the start, this novel is based on a real case from the 1960s. After they rob a bank in the Province of Buenos Aires, Dorda and Brigone, escape with the money over the Rio de la Plata. They find a bolthole in Montevideo, the capital of Uruguay, a country much like Argentina culturally and historically, but with fewer hysterical tendencies. Not happy about this are the politicians and police officers involved in the robbery and anxious for their cut of the loot. Piglia does a good job of recreating Argentina in the 1960s. Despite some stylistic pretensions and his overwriting of the main characters, the author manages not to get in the way of the story.


Who am I?

At twenty-six I was living in Wuhan. I had been in China for a couple of years and was looking for a change. Not ready to go back home to New Zealand, I made my way across Europe, through the USA, and on to Argentina. Since that visit, I’ve followed Argentina's economic crises and scoured its newspapers for quirky crime stories. I started to send out true crime articles to various magazines. Eventually, I had enough material to write a novel. For years I’ve wanted to find a literary yet straightforward crime novel set in Argentina. The search goes on, but below are the best I’ve come across so far.


I wrote...

Buenos Aires Triad

By F.E. Beyer,

Book cover of Buenos Aires Triad

What is my book about?

A searing portrait of small-time crooks and immigrant gangs. When an armed robber shoots a British tourist in Buenos Aires, Lucas's life changes forever. A humble watch-seller moonlighting for the gang behind the robbery, Lucas picked the British woman as a target. He wants out of the gang but instead becomes more entangled and joins gang leader Gustavo in extortion work for the triads. In the Argentina of this well-researched noir, an enterprising type can store their loot with crooked nuns, or bet it on scorpion fights at illegal casinos.

The Siege

By Helen Dunmore,

Book cover of The Siege

When I teach creative writing, I often use this excellent historical novel set in the USSR during WW2 as an example. There are scenes from this book seared into my memory—they are so powerful, visceral, and moving.. Helen Dunmore is able to put the reader in the centre of the most harrowing circumstances, where people are starving, freezing, and dying in the thousands, and yet allow us to care about the individual and feel uplifted by their struggle. In Leningrad, Anna has already lost her mother, who died giving birth to her baby brother, Kolya. During the brutal siege of 1941-44, Anna must somehow keep her young brother alive without losing her humanity. A story of one ordinary woman pushed to extraordinary braveryrepresenting so many.


Who am I?

I grew up in small-town America, very far from where I was born (London), with a strong desire to travel and explore. I also developed a thirst for history—the older the better! At eighteen, I went to work on European digs before studying Archaeology in the UK and teaching in Southern Africa. Across these adventures I both experienced and witnessed the victimization of young women—an even more common ordeal in the past. So now I write historical fiction about resourceful, brave women who strive to be the active, powerful centres of their own stories. I hope you find the books on my list as inspiring as I do!


I wrote...

The Errant Hours

By Kate Innes, James Wade (illustrator),

Book cover of The Errant Hours

What is my book about?

My first medieval novel and Book One of The Arrowsmith Trilogy is the story of Illesa, a young woman more or less alone in Plantagenet Britain, as she struggles to save the life of her brother, and then her own in the face of poverty, violence, and corruption. Both a fast-paced tale of courage and a slow-burn romance, this novel interweaves real historical treasures, legends, and facts in an exuberant literary adventure. 

Set in the Welsh Marches where I live, the action is underpinned by extensive historical research. The Errant Hours is a Historical Novel Society Editor’s Choice.

Legend

By David Gemmell,

Book cover of Legend: Book One of the Drenai Saga

Legend and the rest of the Drenai saga were required reading for initiation into a fraternity that I joined many years ago. I can say these books were by far and away the most enjoyable required reading that I have ever been assigned. David Gemmell’s greatest strength is his ability to manage a vast cast of characters and keep the reader’s interest maintained in each and every one. He is an author who is lauded by his peers as one of the best to ever write in the epic fantasy genre and rightfully so.


Who am I?

I currently reside in my home state of Connecticut with my darling wife and a duo of sweet cuddly dogs. I am a renaissance man having dabbled in Acting for Film and Theater, Fencing and Mixed Martial Arts, Professional Dorkary, and a bevy of other passions before coming to land on writing. Having stepped into numerous fantasy worlds over the years I have had the chance to sample many different flavors of imagination and developed a refined taste for all things dark, mystical, and tragic. 


I wrote...

Calling the Reaper: First Book of Purgatory

By Jason Pere,

Book cover of Calling the Reaper: First Book of Purgatory

What is my book about?

The time of the Unity has ended. The realm of man is stranded between Paradise and Purgatory. The Valkyrie and Reaper battle over the fate of all who pass from the land of the living into the afterlife. Eight mortal spirits from vastly different worlds tread the same, path toward their last, crucial decision. In this rich, harrowing tale of pride, deceit, honor, vengeance, and redemption, each individual must battle their inner turmoil, facing the sacrifices they have made before their unavoidable end in the land of the living. But their last day in life is also their first day of death amidst the terrors of the underworld. Lord Master Death wants them all…and the real battle has only just begun.

Louisbourg

By Fairfax Downey,

Book cover of Louisbourg: Key to a Continent

This is the most obscure book on my list. But I truly enjoyed reading it. Not only was it utterly informative about the town and fortress of Louisbourg, the largest fort outside of Europe in its day, but Mr. Downey wrote his work in an almost beautiful way. He made countless references and drew many parallels to other eras and conflicts. After reading, I better understood what it was like to be trapped inside those walls during a siege. Likewise, I shivered as I considered the conditions suffered by the besiegers outside.


Who am I?

Jason has written over twenty historical novels on topics ranging from the Roman Empire to the Islamic invasion of Spain and to the spread of the Viking Age into North America. His latest series, The Long Fuse, follows a young man as he navigates the deadly conflicts of the French & Indian War and the Revolutionary War in Eighteenth-Century America.


I wrote...

Quaker's War

By Jason Born,

Book cover of Quaker's War

What is my book about?

Quaker’s War is the first thrilling episode of Jason Born’s latest series, The Long Fuse, which pits the fate of empire against the hearts of men. He breathes fresh life into familiar characters while introducing a host of new actors, both dear and detested.

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