10 Enthralling Historical Novels Bursting With Drama

From dangerous expeditions to bloody wars, the past is full of dramatic events that have inspired authors to create stories exploring the lives of people, real or fictional, who lived through them. The ten works of historical fiction listed here can transport readers back in time with their descriptive language, compelling characters, and fascinating details. This video was made with Ezvid Wikimaker.

Historical Fiction: Our 10 Picks

Title Author
1. Defender of the Realm Corey Holst
2. The Moor's Account Laila Lalami
3. Last Train from Cuernavaca Lucia St. Clair Robson
4. The Tory Widow Christine Blevins
5. Apricots and Wolfsbane K.M. Pohlkamp
6. The Glimmer Palace Beatrice Colin
7. Normandie Triangle Justin Scott
8. The Thing With Feathers Anne Sweazy-Kulju
9. Mad Blood Stirring Simon Mayo
10. The Lighthouse Road Peter Geye

8 Great Historical Movies

  1. The Sound of Music (1965)
  2. Hidden Figures (2016)
  3. Amadeus (1984)
  4. Lincoln (2012)
  5. Newsies (1992)
  6. Catch Me If You Can (2002)
  7. Pride (2007)
  8. Bombshell: The Hedy Lamarr Story (2017)

Is There A Difference Between History and The Past?

In Depth

From England in the Middle Ages to New York City during World War II, the titles included on this list mine stirring drama from history both recent and long past. Filled with the turbulence of war and intrigue, here, in no particular order, are ten captivating works of historical fiction that are sure to keep readers on the edge of their seats.

For #1 we get "Defender of the Realm" by Corey Holst. At the treacherous border between England and Wales in the 12th century, the English castle town of Dansford is besieged by Welsh soldiers. James, a lowly cobbler, is swept up in the action and ends up becoming an unlikely savior of the castle. Lauded as a hero, he finds himself shedding his merchant rank for a more lofty status, eventually making his way into the domain of nobility. But after he's involved in a case of mistaken identity, James discovers that navigating this new, very genteel world is going to be far more dangerous than he could've imagined.

At #2 is "The Moor's Account" by Laila Lalami. Based on a real, disastrous 16th-century conquistador expedition, this gripping novel imagines the chaotic conquest from the perspective of one of the crew's four survivors, a Moroccan slave. Panfilo de Narvaez and some 600 men set out across the Atlantic with the goal of claiming U.S. Gulf Coast territory for the Spanish empire. But after making landfall in Florida, a host of dangers including starvation, disease, and Native American opposition gradually claim their lives. As social distinctions erode in the wake of the calamity, the enslaved Estebanico becomes peer to his fellow Spanish explorers.

Panfilo de Narvaez and some 600 men set out across the Atlantic with the goal of claiming U.S. Gulf Coast territory for the Spanish empire.

For #3 we find "Last Train from Cuernavaca" by Lucia St. Clair Robson. In 1913 Cuernavaca, the lives of two disparate women converge during the bloody conflict of the Mexican Revolution. English ex-patriot Grace Knight runs a luxurious and world-renowned hotel in the city, and has fallen in love with the soldier Rico. Meanwhile, sixteen-year-old Mexican-American Angela Sanchez is forced to fend for herself after government soldiers invade her parents' estate. While Grace and Rico's romance grows more tumultuous, Angela disguises herself as a man and joins Zapata's rebel army to avenge her family.

Showing up at #4 is "The Tory Widow" by Christine Blevins. It's the year before the American Revolution in New York City, and the widowed Anne Merrick, desperate for money, continues to publish her late husband's British propaganda. When the dissident organization Sons of Liberty raids her shop and destroys her printing press, she is shocked to be confronted by Jack Hampton, the group's leader who kissed her almost a decade ago. Attracted to Jack and his American patriotism but reluctant to get involved, Anne must ultimately decide to which country her loyalties belong.

For #5 we come to "Apricots and Wolfsbane" by K.M. Pohlkamp. A daring, fiercely cunning assassin who uses poison as her weapon of choice, Lavinia Maud prowls Tudor-era England seeking her next victim. But she's not a remorseless killer; taking time out to atone for her sins, the pious young woman believes her deadly line of work is the only way she can exercise her agency in a male-dominated society. As she goes after increasingly prestigious targets, rousing the suspicion of the magistrate she admires, Lavinia is forced to reconsider whether the life she's chosen is the right one after all.

But she's not a remorseless killer; taking time out to atone for her sins, the pious young woman believes her deadly line of work is the only way she can exercise her agency in a male-dominated society.

Landing at #6 is "The Glimmer Palace" by Beatrice Colin. Sparkling with the decadence and theatricality of Weimar-era Berlin, this novel follows the adventures of an orphaned girl as she grows up to become a preeminent star of silent films. Born the illegitimate daughter of a cabaret singer, Lilly Nelly Aphrodite spends her early life in a Catholic orphanage. When, as a preadolescent, she discovers the enchanting Berlin nightlife, a new world of possibilities opens up before her. Going from maid to dancer to typist, and finally to screen acting legend, Lilly's journey is vividly entwined with the social ferment of the early 20th century.

For #7 we have "Normandie Triangle" by Justin Scott. Centered on the infamous naval disaster that occurred as America was entering World War II, this work fictionalizes the events surrounding the destruction of the French ocean liner S.S. Normandie. When a Nazi spy sabotages the ship in 1942 New York City, setting it ablaze on the Hudson River, nautical architect Steven Gates takes up an investigation. As he attempts to recover the ruins of the ship, the German saboteur, who's working undercover on the salvage crew, is planning something even more nefarious.

Coming in at #8 is "The Thing With Feathers" by Anne Sweazy-Kulju. When the Oregon town of Cloverdale welcomed the recently widowed preacher Bowman and his daughter Blair to their small community, they didn't realize the horror they were bringing upon themselves. Years later, the sadistic Bowman torments the populace with fire-and-brimstone tyranny, throwing Cloverdale into a perpetual state of dread. Having suffered a lifetime of abuse at the hands of her father, the pregnant, sixteen-year-old Blair takes refuge with the kindly Sean Marshall. But as they and the town struggle to protect themselves, the preacher's reign of terror reaches brutal new heights.

Years later, the sadistic Bowman torments the populace with fire-and-brimstone tyranny, throwing Cloverdale into a perpetual state of dread.

For #9 we get "Mad Blood Stirring" by Simon Mayo. On New Year's Eve in 1814, Joe Hill and his small crew of sailors are marched into Dartmoor, a racially segregated prison. Although the men hear news that the war has ended, they must wait until the peace treaty is ratified before they can be liberated. As the black inmates stage a production of "Romeo and Juliet," the tragic events of the play mirror the bloody drama that overtakes Dartmoor.

Finally, arriving at #10 is "The Lighthouse Road" by Peter Geye. Norwegian immigrant Thea Eide has arrived in northern Minnesota at the end of the 19th century, alone and soon to be pregnant with her son, Odd. She is aided in labor by the mysterious Hosea, who administers medicine in the town. Decades later in the 1920s, boat-maker Odd has fallen in love with Hosea's daughter Rebekah, and is learning difficult secrets about his mother's past. Evocatively weaving past and present timelines, Geye's wintry novel illustrates how the hardscrabble circumstances of an immigrant woman reverberate through the generations.