10 Extraordinary Novels Set In Bygone Eras

If you like to fantasize about ancient times and faraway lands, you probably love reading historical fiction. Unlike the drier tone of textbooks, novels can make you feel like you understand the minds and souls of people who lived and died centuries ago. The ten books listed here can transport your imagination anywhere from colonial Massachusetts to Ancient Egypt. When you click links from this website, we may receive advertising revenue to support our research. This video was made with Ezvid Wikimaker.

10 Extraordinary Novels Set In Bygone Eras

Title Author Setting More by the Author
1. Oil and Marble Stephanie Storey Renaissance Florence
2. Flight of the Sparrow Amy Belding Brown Colonial Massachusetts Mr. Emerson's Wife
3. The Enemies of Versailles Sally Christie 18th Century Versailles The Sisters of Versailles
4. The Last Painting of Sara de Vos Dominic Smith Dutch Golden Age Bright and Distant Shores
5. The Boleyn King Laura Andersen Tudor England The Boleyn Deceit
6. The Fair Fight Anna Freeman Late 18th Century England Gingering the World from the Inside
7. The Corpse Reader Antonio Garrido The Song Dynasty The Scribe
8. The Impressionist Hari Kunzru Victorian & Edwardian Eras White Tears
9. Cleopatra's Shadows Emily Holleman Ancient Egypt The Drowning King
10. The Mirror Thief Martin Seay 16th Century Venice

5 Fantastic Historical Films

Literature isn't the only medium that explores past settings. There are plenty of amazing films that tackle different eras as well. Here are five examples that all history fans and cinephiles should watch:

  1. Ben-Hur
  2. Lincoln
  3. The Sound of Music
  4. The King's Speech
  5. The Last of the Mohicans

The History of Ancient Egypt

In Depth

Historical fiction gives readers a glimpse of what life was like in the past, and sometimes features real iconic figures from times long ago. It presents historical events and places in a way that's much more immersive than a textbook, and this helps some people feel a bit more invested in learning about a subject matter that they may have otherwise found uninteresting. With that in mind, we've compiled a list of ten extraordinary novels set in bygone eras. Take note that this list is done in no particular order.

First up, at #1, we have "Oil and Marble" by Stephanie Storey. Set in 16th century Florence, the novel is about two renowned artists of the Renaissance era, Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo. It revolves around the rivalry between the two, which starts when the young and relatively unknown Michelangelo is chosen over Leonardo to work on a massive slab of marble. The story also focuses on the creation of the Mona Lisa and the sculpture of David.

At #2 is "Flight of the Sparrow" by Amy Belding Brown. It's based on the true story of Mary Rowlandson, a woman who was captured by Native Americans in 1676. She lived in a strict Puritan community prior to her capture, and she fears for her life as she's taken by the people she's been taught to hate. Over time, she starts to appreciate their way of life, and question her own beliefs.

It's based on the true story of Mary Rowlandson, a woman who was captured by Native Americans in 1676.

Next, at #3, is "The Enemies of Versailles." Written by Sally Christie, it's the final entry of her "The Mistresses of Versailles" trilogy. It focuses on the story of Jeanne Becu, the Countess of Barry. She's the latest mistress of King Louis XV, and her lowborn status causes the other nobles to despise her. The novel takes a closer look at the inner workings of the French Monarchy shortly before the revolution that threatened to overthrow it.

Next up, at #4, we have "The Last Painting of Sara de Vos" by Dominic Smith. In 1631, Sara de Vos became the first woman admitted to the Guild of Saint Luke, an organization of artists in Europe. A few centuries later, her last known work of art, an enigmatic piece called "At the Edge of a Wood," is stolen from one of her descendants and replaced with a forgery. The story jumps between three characters from different timelines, and it revolves around the mystery surrounding the eponymous painting.

At #5 is "The Boleyn King" by Laura Andersen. Anne Boleyn was the second wife of King Henry VIII, and this book attempts to show what would happen if she had been able to successfully give birth to a male heir. It follows her fictional son, William, as he struggles to prepare for his role as the soon-to-be king of England.

Anne Boleyn was the second wife of King Henry VIII, and this book attempts to show what would happen if she had been able to successfully give birth to a male heir.

Next up, at #6, we have "The Fair Fight" by Anna Freeman. Set in late 18th century Bristol, it's mainly about two women with similarly unfortunate backgrounds. Ruth is a boxer who's born and raised in a brothel, where she is deemed too unattractive to find any real work. Charlotte is a highborn woman scarred by smallpox, which has completely ruined her life. When the two of them cross paths, they both find solace in boxing, and start working together to make their lives better.

Next, at #7, is "The Corpse Reader" by Antonio Garrido. It's about a man named Song, an aspiring forensic investigator living in 13th century China. He has a knack for reading corpses, and because of his talent, he's tasked with identifying a serial killer who may soon go after the emperor. It's a suspenseful tale inspired by the real-life Song Ci, who's considered to be a pioneer of forensic science.

Next up, at #8, we have "The Impressionist" by Hari Kunzru. Pran is the supposed son of a wealthy Indian man. When people learn about his true parentage, he's thrown out into the streets and left to fend for himself. In an effort to figure out who he really is, he travels around the world, assuming many different identities along the way.

Pran is the supposed son of a wealthy Indian man.

At #9 is "Cleopatra's Shadows" by Emily Holleman. Set in Ancient Egypt, it's about the lesser known sisters of Cleopatra, Arsinoe and Berenice. The story alternates between the two sisters, who are both facing their own problems within the royal court. Arsinoe was abandoned at a young age, and now she struggles to find her place in the royal hierarchy. Berenice, on the other hand, has to learn how to be the sole ruler of Egypt.

Finally, at #10, we have "The Mirror Thief" by Martin Seay. It mainly focuses on the eponymous thief and a book that talks about his exploits. It's an epic tale that takes place in three different time periods and settings, and it all revolves around the intricacies of Venetian mirror-making and alchemy in the 16th century.