9 Stirring Historical Novels Where Past and Present Collide

Works of historical fiction don't necessarily have to take place entirely in the past. Many authors include contemporary characters who act as a mirror or foil for the history presented in the story. The books listed here use multiple perspectives like this, allowing the past and present to intertwine. This video was made with Ezvid Wikimaker.

9 Stirring Historical Novels Where Past and Present Collide

Title Author
1. The Imperial Wife Irina Reyn
2. The Forgotten Letters of Esther Durrant Kayte Nunn
3. The Fountain of St. James Court Sena Jeter Naslund
4. The Photographer's Wife Nick Alexander
5. The Fire Katherine Neville
6. And After the Fire Lauren Belfer
7. The Road Back Liz Harris
8. Lacewood Jessica James
9. The World to Come Dara Horn

8 Great Historical Films

  1. Schindler's List (1993)
  2. 12 Years a Slave (2013)
  3. Doctor Zhivago (1965)
  4. Milk (2008)
  5. Braveheart (1995)
  6. Lincoln (2012)
  7. Hotel Rwanda (2004)
  8. All the President's Men (1976)

Is There a Difference Between History and The Past?

In Depth

Historical novels can offer insight into not only the past, but the present as well. Many feature curious minds pursuing closely-guarded secrets, ancient teachings, and abandoned dreams. Ultimately, these stories prove that history can act as both a window and a mirror. Here, in no particular order, are nine stirring historical novels where dual narratives of past and present intertwine.

Coming in at our #1 spot is "The Imperial Wife" by Irina Reyn. A German princess marries a Russian prince to salvage her dying kingdom. She is given the Order of Saint Catherine, an award and title granted by the imperial dynasty. From that point on, she is known as Catherine the Great, and becomes one of the most notorious rulers in history. Three centuries later, a world-renowned auctioneer named Tanya Kagan obtains the Order, and relentlessly pursues the sale of the ages. The precious artifact connects these two women's tales of failing marriages, growing power, and headstrong survival.

At the #2 spot is "The Forgotten Letters of Esther Durrant" by Kayte Nunn. Marine biologist Rachel Parker has taken a detour in her research on the Isles of Scilly. She's uncovered beautiful, unsent love letters, and is determined to find their intended recipient. Her story links to that of Esther Durrant, a woman of the 1950s who was sent to a remote island when it was the location of an insane asylum. Rachel holds the key to understanding what happened to Esther, as the letters reveal her undying search for love and understanding.

She's uncovered beautiful, unsent love letters, and is determined to find their intended recipient.

At #3 is "The Fountain of St. James Court" by Sena Jeter Naslund. Katherine Callaghan is putting the final touches on her new novel. She has been inspired by the life of Elisabeth Vigee-LeBrun, a portrait painter who lived in the tumultuous era of the French Revolution. As Elisabeth's work becomes indicative of the monarchy's excesses, Katherine mingles her own challenges as an aging writer with that of the hated painter. They share a deep, philosophical connection in her mind, as they both desire artistic achievements without popular consent.

At #4 is "The Photographer's Wife" by Nick Alexander. We follow the life of Barbara Marsden: from a child escaping the Nazi Blitz, to the wife of a famous British photographer, and finally a generous yet secretive mother of two. Her daughter Sophie is planning an exhibit to celebrate her father's legacy, partly to explore a history she has for so long felt deprived of. Through a series of revelations uncovered from his photographs, a dark truth that Barbara has kept hidden for her entire adult life comes to light.

Coming in at #5 is "The Fire" by Katherine Neville. According to legend, Charlemagne's chess service grants immortality to whoever wins all of its pieces. In the present day, Alexandra Solarin is on a mission to relocate the pieces her family buried, as she's become aware of a sinister group of men that is doing the same. In the year 1822, Haidee Pasha is sent by her father, the ruler of Albania, to leave the country, and hide the most powerful piece from the invading Turkish force. As the chess set's powers are unraveled through this interrelated plot, we discover it has a far more ancient, mystical origin than initially believed.

According to legend, Charlemagne's chess service grants immortality to whoever wins all of its pieces.

At the #6 spot we have "And After the Fire" by Lauren Belfer. A once lost, anti-Semitic cantata composed by Johann Sebastian Bach was unknowingly passed on to one of his students, Sara Itzig Levy. Many years later, an American soldier accidentally loots the artifact during the Second World War. When the cantata reaches Susanna Kessler in 2010 through an inheritance, she is determined to return it to its rightful owner. Through Kessler's quest, we understand how hatred of the Jews grew over the centuries to reach an apex in Nazi Germany, and also how such hatred continues to affect Susanna in her own life.

At #7 is "The Road Back" by Liz Harris. Amy Stevens is searching for answers in an old building that was once a home for unwed mothers. Through a need to know why she was given away for adoption, we're transported into the story of Patricia Carstairs as she accompanies her father on a research trip to the Himalayan Mountains. There, she falls for a local man named Kalden, but they are forced apart by the prejudices of their families. Their forbidden love encompasses heartbreak, abandonment, and above all a hope that their story might one day be redeemed.

At #8 is "Lacewood" by Jessica James. New York socialite Katie McCain heads south with a whim to purchase an old Virginian mansion. She has grown enticed by its remnant details of a lively Antebellum history, particularly the trove of love letters and photographs under the name of Annie. Through her curiosity of the bedazzling Southern belle's life, Katie sees a mirror image of her own pursuits for meaning, purpose, and love.

Through her curiosity of the bedazzling Southern belle's life, Katie sees a mirror image of her own pursuits for meaning, purpose, and love.

Finally at our #9 spot is "The World to Come" by Dara Horn. The Yiddish language and its artistic culture once thrived throughout early 20th Century Europe. After the Holocaust, it became nearly extinct, with very few of its speakers or their achievements left. Enter Benjamin Ziskind, a modern-day Jew who has just stumbled upon what he believes to be an original work of Yiddish painter Marc Chagall. He's convinced that it's the property of his family, and steals it during a party. What ensues is a battle to keep his heritage, and his people's legacy, alive.