This may or may not become a regular feature, or at least semi-regular. But it’s pretty much what it says on the tin – my various recommendations from different genres! Today, after finally finishing the beast of a book that is Outlander, I wanted to share my recommendations of historical fiction, a genre that is very close to my heart just behind fantasy and science fiction.
So prepare to travel back in time, and whisk yourself away by reading…
The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller
Achilles, “the best of all the Greeks,” son of the cruel sea goddess Thetis and the legendary king Peleus, is strong, swift, and beautiful— irresistible to all who meet him. Patroclus is an awkward young prince, exiled from his homeland after an act of shocking violence. Brought together by chance, they forge an inseparable bond, despite risking the gods’ wrath.
They are trained by the centaur Chiron in the arts of war and medicine, but when word comes that Helen of Sparta has been kidnapped, all the heroes of Greece are called upon to lay siege to Troy in her name. Seduced by the promise of a glorious destiny, Achilles joins their cause, and torn between love and fear for his friend, Patroclus follows. Little do they know that the cruel Fates will test them both as never before and demand a terrible sacrifice.
- Time Period: Pre-8th century BC, when the Iliad was written.
- Location: Various Greek city-states, Troy.
- Why Should I Read It? This is a beautiful love story based on ancient works, and one of the most gorgeous portrayals of ancient Greece I have ever read.
Gates of Fire by Steven Pressfield
At Thermopylae, a rocky mountain pass in northern Greece, the feared and admired Spartan soldiers stood three hundred strong. Theirs was a suicide mission, to hold the pass against the invading millions of the mighty Persian army.
Day after bloody day they withstood the terrible onslaught, buying time for the Greeks to rally their forces. Born into a cult of spiritual courage, physical endurance, and unmatched battle skill, the Spartans would be remembered for the greatest military stand in history–one that would not end until the rocks were awash with blood, leaving only one gravely injured Spartan squire to tell the tale…
- Time Period: 480 BC.
- Location: Sparta, Thermopylae.
- Why Should I Read It? If you’re a fan of the film 300, then give this one a try. It is told from the point of view of a Spartan, captured by the Persians, and through him we get a glimpse into Spartan society. Definitely one for the ancient history buffs!
Blood and Beauty by Sarah Dunant
Is there a family in history more dazzling, dangerous and notorious than the Borgias? A powerhouse of the Italian Renaissance, their very name epitomizes the ruthless politics and sexual corruption of the Papacy.
The father, Pope Alexander VI, a consummate politician and a man with a voracious appetite both as Cardinal and Pope. The younger Juan, womanizer and thug, and their lovely sister, Lucretia, whose very name has become a byword for poison, incest and intrigue. But how much of the history about this remarkable family is actually true, and how much distorted, filtered through the age old mechanisms of political spin, propaganda and gossip?
What if the truth, the real history, is even more challenging?
- Time Period: The 15th century AD.
- Location: Rome.
- Why Should I Read It? The Borgias were a fascinating family, and although the truth about them is now pretty much lost amongst all the gossip and scandal of the past, Sarah Dunant writes a fabulous version of their story. Just enough back-stabbing and political corruptness to keep you turning the pages, without being over the top.
La Reine Margot by Alexandre Dumas
Margot is one of several in line to inherit the crown in France, where Roman Catholics and Protestants are jockeying for power. Margot’s mother, Catherine de Medici, is intent on seeing her son take the throne once the reign of King Charles IX ends. After being married to a man she doesn’t love and starting a tryst with one she does, Margot contends with her mother’s at-all-costs plan to control the political fate of the volatile country.
- Time Period: 1572 during the reign of Charles IX.
- Location: Paris.
- Why Should I Read It? It’s a fascinating period of history, and Dumas illustrates it wonderfully. I had to study this particular period for history at school, and ended up reading lots of books set in around it.
Outlander by Diana Gabaldon
The year is 1945. Claire Randall, a former combat nurse, is just back from the war and reunited with her husband on a second honeymoon when she walks through a standing stone in one of the ancient circles that dot the British Isles. Suddenly she is a Sassenach — an “outlander”—in a Scotland torn by war and raiding border clans in the year of Our Lord… 1743.
Hurled back in time by forces she cannot understand, Claire is catapulted into the intrigues of lairds and spies that may threaten her life, and shatter her heart. For here James Fraser, a gallant young Scots warrior, shows her a love so absolute that Claire becomes a woman torn between fidelity and desire—and between two vastly different men in two irreconcilable lives.
- Time Period: 1945 and 1743.
- Location: Scotland – Inverness and the Highlands.
- Why Should I Read It? Jamie Fraser. Is that enough? Oh, well… the only time I really enjoy romance is fiction is when it is in historical fiction, and this book basically has it all. A time travel element, a female lead who doesn’t take crap from anyone, sexy Scotsmen in kilts, castles, beautiful landscapes, adventure, intrigue… ahh just read it please.
The Scarlet Pimpernel by Emmuska Orczy
Armed with only his wits and his cunning, one man recklessly defies the French revolutionaries and rescues scores of innocent men, women, and children from the deadly guillotine. His friends and foes know him only as the Scarlet Pimpernel. But the ruthless French agent Chauvelin is sworn to discover his identity and to hunt him down.
- Time Period: During the French Revolution (1789-1799), but specifically in 1792.
- Location: Paris, Calais and London.
- Why Should I Read It? ODDS FISH, M’DEAR! Percy Blakeney is one of the best characters of all time – acting out a foolish aristocrat in order to keep his cover, he is really incredibly clever and charming. The whole book is a real adventure, and I also highly recommend the film version starring Anthony Andrews.
Empress Orchid by Anchee Min
To rescue her family from poverty and avoid marrying her slope-shouldered cousin, seventeen-year-old Orchid competes to be one of the Emperor’s wives. When she is chosen as a lower-ranking concubine she enters the erotically charged and ritualised Forbidden City. But beneath its immaculate façade lie whispers of murders and ghosts, and the thousands of concubines will stoop to any lengths to bear the Emperor’s son.
Orchid trains herself in the art of pleasuring a man, bribes her way into the royal bed, and seduces the monarch, drawing the attention of dangerous foes. Little does she know that China will collapse around her, and that she will be its last Empress.
- Time Period: 1852.
- Location: The Forbidden City and Beijing.
- Why Should I Read It? It’s a fascinating look at one woman’s rise to power. For me it really appealed because I hadn’t read many books about China, and was interested in learning more. I would not recommended the sequel though!