“All the Light We Cannot See” by Anthony Doerr

"All the Light We Cannot See" by Anthony Doerr (Photo by hamdi bendali on Shutterstock)

Dive into the past and lose yourself in the captivating worlds of historical fiction! From sweeping epics that transport you to ancient battlefields to intimate stories of everyday lives amidst bygone eras, these novels offer a unique blend of entertainment and historical insight. Whether you yearn for the intrigue of courtly politics, the thrill of groundbreaking discoveries, or the poignant struggles of ordinary people caught in extraordinary circumstances, there’s a historical fiction masterpiece waiting to be discovered. So, dust off your reading glasses, open one of the best historical fiction novels, and prepare to embark on a journey through time!

Historical fiction, a captivating genre that seamlessly melds the significance of history with the art of storytelling, have consistently enthralled readers with their ability to transport us across time and space. These literary gems possess the remarkable capacity to resurrect bygone eras, offering a window into the past that educates, entertains, and enchants. Whether unraveling the intrigues of ancient civilizations, chronicling the turbulence of world wars, or unveiling the secrets of lesser-known epochs, these novels transcend mere storytelling, serving as vessels of empathy, knowledge, and inspiration. To take a look into pivotal moments in world history, we turned to expert sources to discover the top five best historical fiction novels. For history buffs as well as people that just want a good read, our list could be a helpful resource. Let us know your favorite literary works in the comments below!

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Assorted books on wooden table (Photo by Alexander Grey on Unsplash)

The List: Best Historical Fiction Novels, According to Experts


1. “Wolf Hall” by Hilary Mantel (2009)

“Wolf Hall”
“Wolf Hall”

Author Hilary Mantel’s command of the written word combined with research has resulted in a popular novel that is well regarded by our sources. “Wolf Hall,” transports readers to the heart of 16th century England, offering a fresh perspective on the tumultuous reign of King Henry VIII through the eyes of his advisor, Thomas Cromwell. The Guardian lauds Mantel’s ability to inhabit Cromwell’s “restless, brilliant, ambitious mind,” allowing readers to witness iconic historical events like the king’s divorce from Catherine of Aragon firsthand.

Books & Bao takes it a step further, praising Mantel’s sympathetic portrayal of Cromwell, a figure often painted negatively in history. This unique perspective, they argue, elevates “Wolf Hall” to one of the most engaging historical novels ever written. Its impact is undeniable, with Reader’s Digest echoing its critical acclaim and highlighting the captivating blend of power, jealousy, religion, and lust that keeps readers turning the pages.

Whether you’re a Tudor enthusiast or simply enjoy a gripping historical fiction tale, “Wolf Hall” promises an immersive and thought-provoking journey through a pivotal period in English history.

2. “The Water Dancer” by Ta-Nehisi Coates (2019)

“The Water Dancer”
“The Water Dancer”

“The Water Dancer” is a story of American slavery in the south. The significant success of this novel has earned contemporary author Ta-Nehisi Coates acclaim in the literary world. Hailed by Oprah Winfrey as “one of the best books I have ever read,” Ta-Nehisi Coates’ “The Water Dancer” promises a powerful and unforgettable story. Pan Macmillan sets the stage, introducing Hiram Walker, a man born into slavery on a Virginia plantation who possesses a mysterious, life-saving power. This unique gift sets him on a daring path towards freedom, leading him away from his family and into the heart of the underground railroad.

Book Riot delves deeper into Hiram’s journey, highlighting his escape from bondage fueled by his newfound power. This National Book Award-winning novel explores not just physical freedom, but also self-discovery and the complex meaning of family.

Born to a white plantation owner and an enslaved Black woman, he navigates a society divided by race and class. Through his journey, he questions the true meaning of family and the bonds that transcend bloodlines. (BuzzFeed News). Whether you seek a thrilling escape story, an exploration of hidden abilities, or a thought-provoking examination of family and freedom, “The Water Dancer” has it all!

3. “War and Peace” by Leo Tolstoy (1869)

War and Peace on Amazon
“War and Peace”

As required in many literature classes, this book is famous for its prose and rich detail. Often hailed as the greatest novel ever written, Leo Tolstoy’s “War and Peace” takes readers on a sweeping journey through the lives of five aristocratic Russian families amidst the turmoil of the Napoleonic Wars. The Guardian emphasizes Tolstoy’s masterful use of literary realism, effortlessly transporting readers from the opulent drawing rooms of Moscow to the chaotic battlefields. His aim, they explain, was to use fiction to illuminate the “truth” of history, offering a nuanced and deeply human perspective on a pivotal moment in time.

Short Form delves into the personal narratives woven into this grand historical tapestry. They highlight the three central characters: Pierre Bezukhov, grappling with inheritance and seeking spiritual fulfillment; Prince Andrei Bolkonsky, driven by duty to fight Napoleon; and Natasha Rostov, a young woman captivating both men. Their individual stories intertwine with the larger historical events, offering an intimate look at the war’s impact on individuals and society at large.

4. “I, Claudius” by Robert Graves (1934)

“I, Claudius”
“I, Claudius”

Reader’s travel back to ancient Rome in this novel by Robert Graves. It humanizes individuals from antiquity in a riveting read. Prepare to be transported back in time through the eyes of a most unlikely emperor: Claudius. Discovery paints a vivid picture of this groundbreaking historical fiction novel, which presents a “fictionalized autobiography” of Claudius himself. Through his detailed observations and meticulous style, we gain entry into his mind and witness the political intrigue unfolding within his own family.

List Muse highlights Claudius’ unique perspective, emphasizing how he overcame physical limitations and navigated deadly plots to become emperor in 41 A.D. They label the novel a “masterpiece,” underscoring its enduring impact.

The Guardian explains how the novel serves as a fictionalized account of Claudius’ predecessors – Augustus, Tiberius, and Caligula – before delving into his own reign in a subsequent book. While the author later downplayed its artistic merit, “I, Claudius” remains a beloved classic of the historical fiction genre.

5. “All the Light We Cannot See” by Anthony Doerr (2013)

“All the Light We Cannot See”
“All the Light We Cannot See”

This novel is about the events of World War II Paris, and the plight of a young woman. Dive into a captivating tale of wartime destinies intertwined in Anthony Doerr’s “All the Light We Cannot See,” a historical fiction novel lauded for its emotional depth and thrilling narrative. B&N Reads sets the scene: a young, blind French girl flees Paris with a valuable jewel, while an orphaned boy joins the Hitler Youth. Their paths collide, irrevocably altering the course of their lives and potentially shaping history itself.

Book Riot emphasizes the novel’s widespread acclaim, highlighting its Pulitzer Prize win and recognition as one of the most well-known World War II novels. The story, they explain, revolves around the survival of a blind French girl and a German boy navigating the complexities of occupied France.

Reader’s Digest offers further praise, suggesting that the novel’s enduring popularity stems from its masterful blend of imaginative storytelling and gripping suspense. Spending over two and a half years on the New York Times Bestseller list and garnering numerous awards, “All the Light We Cannot See” promises a powerful and unforgettable reading experience.


Note: This article was not paid for nor sponsored. StudyFinds is not connected to nor partnered with any of the brands mentioned and receives no compensation for its recommendations.

About Alan Corona

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  1. james lenz says:

    I like the books by T H. Harbinger. They tell current stories related to industry and farming. The latest, America’s Dairyland, follows a family through generations as Big Food eventually drives them out of business.

  2. Gerard F Scheuermann says:

    There is a new historical fiction that is winning awards. The title is “Brighter than the Flames. It recently received the Colorado Author Award for historical fiction.

  3. Nancy says:

    I love “Winds of War” and “War and Remembrance” by Herman Would, about a family caught up in WW2.

  4. Nancy says:

    “Winds of War” and “War and Remembrance” by Herman Wouk another incredible saga.

  5. Barbry Dean says:

    I Claudius.

    I still have my copy. Watching the PBS series was a game changer for me. Loved the series and love the book.

  6. James Mallory Carigan says:

    I believe that All the King’s Men, by Robert Penn Warren, and Small Mercies, by Dennis Lehane, have been left off, to the detriment of the list.

    I would also mention Slaughterhouse Five, by Kurt Vonnegut.

  7. Delores Schiller says:

    Robert Harris should be on the list.
    His Cicero Trilogy of the Roman Republic is a work of Art.

    Also Daphne du Maurier had several excellent novels set during the English civil Wars.

    Then there are Mary Renault’s exquisite set of novels against the backdrop of Ancient Greece.

  8. Roy Faria says:

    Alan, Very good choice.

  9. Tom Gardner says:

    Any WWII list that does not include War and Rememberance by Herman Wouk is bogus.