Some good historical fiction

Slammerkin, The Crimson Petal and the White, Fingersmith, An Instance of the Fingerpost – great reads.

I hadn’t paid much attention to historical fiction in recent years – seemed like it was dominated by romance or military stuff for a long time.

But these books are going to be classics, or at least still in print for a long time, IMHO.

Anyone else read these, or some other good ones? I feel like bingeing. (Binging?) How do you spell that anyway?

Two that I am reading now:

Anita Diamant, The Red Tent.

Per Olov Enquist, The Royal Physician’s Visit.

Sarah Smith’s written at least one other book which was awfully similar to Fingersmith. It’s worth reading but not back to back.

I always recommend Dorothy Dunnett although she’s not new she is very good.

Pillars of the Earth (can’t remember the author)

The Memoirs of Cleopatra by Margaret George

Mary Queen of Scots and the Isles by Margaret George

Margaret George also wrote The Autobiography of King Henry VIII, which I’m going to read as soon as I’m done with the other books I’m reading now and which, if it is anything at all like her other books, I’m sure I will love.

Pillars of the Earth is by Ken Follet, who’s written a lot of good suspense novels.

I’d recommend almost anything by Cecilia Holland. City of God is set in Renaissance Rome; Belt of Gold in Constantinople c. 800 AD; Jerusalem is an excellent story about the Crusader States and the events leading up the disaster at Hattin (disaster or victory, depending on your viewpoint).

Steven Saylor’s books set in Republican Rome (starting with Roman Blood) are both good mysteries and good historical novels.

Is there a particular period you’re interested in?

For ancient Rome, no one beats Colleen McCullough’s series beginning with “The First Man in Rome.” Meticulously researched. “Pillars of the Earth” by Follet is definately a good read though it’s more fiction than historical.

Any Sharon Kay Penman, especially ‘Here Be Dragons’ and ‘Sunne in Splendor’. She writes about Wales and England in the during King Edward ‘Longshanks’ (of Braveheart), also Richard III last of the Plantagents.

Gary Jennings, ‘Aztec’, ‘Spangle’, ‘Raptor’ and ‘The Wanderer’, the last is about Marco Polo.

The Sharpe’s Rifles Series by Bernard Cornwell. Cornwell has a new series about the 100 Years War. He’s a good read.

Books are your friends:D

The Marcus Didius Falco detective series by Lindsay Davis are great fun. I believe the first is Silver Pigs. Get three at a time from the library. They are fast reads and you’ll want to keep going.

Also, The Difference Engine By Willliam Gibson and Bruce Sterling shows us 1885 after Babbage’s little machine starts the Industrial Revolution just a bit early. Lord Byron as the Prime Minister just tickles me.


Baldwin, a particular period? Well, I’m about petered out on 19th century England. Something medieval sounds good – something like Connie Willis’s Doomsday Book.

eenerms, I’ve read Penman and Jennings and liked them, so I’ll trust your judgment on Cornwell. 100 Years’ War, huh? Sounds good.

Monica, the only George I’ve read is The Autobiography of Henry VIII and you’re gonna love it. Maybe I’d better pick up her others, if you say they’re good.

KidCharlemagne – that user name and you’re suggesting Roman stuff? Okay. I’ve passed up her books because I’ve thought that they’d be like costume dramas, like the old biblical movies. They’re better than that?

Primaflora, I think Dunnett might be too smart for me. I tried to read one of hers a few years ago and I was really lost, really fast. I can’t remember which one.

Brian, I have an Enquist on the shelf – you’re liking it? I’ve heard good things about The Red Tent too.

Martin, thanks for the tip on the Gibson-Sterling. Is it SF, alternate history? I’ll check out those Falco books too.

Thanks, everybody – appreciate the input!!!

Yes indeed.

AuntiePam, I’m with Primaflora - Dorothy Dunnett is wonderful. But only if you have a lot of time.

She wrote two series of historical novels that I recommend highly. Both take place in Europe during the Renaissance. Titles are:

The Lymond Chronicles:
The Game of Kings
Queens’ Play
The Disorderly Knights
Pawn in Frankincence
The Ringed Castle

The House of Niccolo:
Niccolo Rising
The Spring of the Ram
Race of Scorpions
Scales of Gold
The Unicorn Hunt
To Lie With Lions
Caprice and Rondo

They are a little hard, especially the Lymond series, in which she didn’t always translate her French, German, Latin, etc. quotes into English. If you find this intimidating, there are a couple of Dorothy Dunnett Companions written by Elspeth Morrison, to help with some of the more obscure details. They’re not necessary but nice to have along.

Primaflora - did you take your user name from the character in the Niccolo series, or is it just an amazing coincidence?

Just wanted to chime in with another vote for Dorothy Dunnett and recommend The Lymond Chronicles over the House of Niccolo.

I actually read it on recommendation from someone else here on the SDMB and really liked it. It’s the most meticulously researched piece of historical fiction I’ve ever read; It gives you a great idea of what daily life was like in ancient Rome. Don’t let the romantic cover fool you into thinking it’s a sappy soap opera - It’s not.

I should add that the last 100 pages or so contain a number of glossaries that define latin terms, customs, names, etc. There are also a number of detailed maps. It’s the kind of book that inspires internet searches and further reading.

Can’t recommend anything more highly than
The Flashman Series by George McDonald Fraser… funny, entertaining and very well researched. If you haven’t read them… they are the “rediscovered papers” of Harry Flashman (the horrid bully from Tom Brown’s Schooldays) recounting the way he cowered and blustered his way to the top during the height of the British Empire. Comes complete with academic footnotes.
in a similar vein
The Bandy Papers (Volume 1-3) by Donald Jack are also incredibly funny and pretty historically accurate (WW I).

Peter Lovesey’s Sgt. Cribb and Constable Thackeray police novels, the first being Wobble to Death. Great Victorian whodunits. And his later novel The False Inspector Dew, about an ocean voyage circa 1920.

William Marshall’s The New York Detective and Faces in the Crowd. New York City in 1884, intricate, historically precise, and screamingly funny.

Peter Dickinson’s The Last Houseparty. Wonderful juxtaposition of a 1930s English country-house mystery and its 1980s resolution.

Joe R. Lansdale’s The Bottoms. Don’t have to explain that one, do I?

Kid – you’re making these sound really good.

Some historicals really get the flavor of the time period because of how the writer conveys the differences between then and now. Not just behavior and clothes and food and indoor plumbing, but different ways of looking at things.

For me that’s a sign of a good historical – when the writer can make me something in a different context, and make me understand all the reasons people acted like they did.

Ike – nah, no explaining needed, but that book isn’t on my historical shelf.

vl_mungo – I have Pat Barker’s WWI stories – they’re pretty dark and the humor’s there but hard to find, so maybe The Bandy Papers would balance them out.

I didn’t think there’d be so many suggestions that I hadn’t heard of. Way cool!

Katherine, by Anya Seton. It’s the love story of John of Gaunt and Katherine Swynford.

Brief Gaudy Hour, by Margaret C. Barnes. About Anne Boleyn.

For ancient Rome, read I, Claudius and Claudius the God by Robert Graves. These are the books that the I, Claudius TV series was based on.

The Cadfael mysteries by Ellis Peters are entertaining.

Also, if you don’t mind a little time travel in your historical fiction:

Connie Willis’s The Doomesday Book is set in England during the Bubonic plague. Her book To Say Nothing of the Dog is set in Victorian times, and is great fun.

The Plague Tales by Anne Benson is set during the time of the bubonic plague in Europe.

Speaking of time travel…

The Outlander series by Diana Gabaldon takes a woman back in time about 200 years to the Jacobite revolt in Scotland. Yummy, yummy read.

I must also ditto The Masters of Rome series. I have all the books, and the last book in the series just came out last November. Not to spoil anything, but

Julius Caesar is murdered and Octavian steps into his shoes.