10 Must-Read Novels That Take Place in the Past

Reading historical fiction is a great way to learn about what life was like in the past, not just intellectually but emotionally. Getting inside the mind of a character living in Ancient Greece or World War II-era Europe can give us empathy for those who came before us, and might even provide a fresh perspective on current events. If you want to dive into this fascinating genre, check out the ten must-read historical novels listed below. When you click links from this website, we may receive advertising revenue to support our research. This video was made with Ezvid Wikimaker.

10 Must-Read Novels That Take Place in the Past

Title Author More by the Author
1. Lancelot Giles Kristian God of Vengeance Blood Eye
2. Day of the Caesars Simon Scarrow Under the Eagle The Eagle's Conquest
3. Tiffany Girl Deeanne Gist Beguiled Maid to Match
4. Thief of Corinth Tessa Afshar Land of Silence Pearl in the Sand
5. The Survivors Kate Furnivall The Betrayal The Russian Concubine
6. Until We Find Home Cathy Gohlke Saving Amelie Secrets She Kept
7. When the Mermaid Sings Helen Hollick I Am the Chosen King The Forever Queen
8. Pleasing Mr Pepys Deborah Swift A Plague on Mr Pepys The Gilded Lily
9. The Sharp Hook of Love Sherry Jones Josephine Baker's Last Dance Four Sisters, All Queens
10. The Game of Hope Sandra Gulland The Shadow Queen Mistress of the Sun

10 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. Bonnie and Clyde (1967)
  9. The King's Speech (2010)
  10. All the President's Men (1976)

5 Real People Who Changed History

  1. Claudette Colvin: Teenage civil rights activist
  2. Rosalind Franklin: Made ground-breaking discoveries about DNA
  3. Nelson Mandela: Peace activist and President of South Africa
  4. Indira Gandhi: First female prime minister of India
  5. Alexander Hamilton: Profoundly shaped America's financial system

Why You Should Read Historical Fiction

In Depth

Historical fiction gives us a glimpse of what life was like back in the day, and it usually features notable people and events from the past. A lot of these stories even shine a spotlight on lesser-known historical figures that most readers have likely never even heard of. With that said, we've compiled a list of ten must-read novels that take place in the past. Take note that this list is done in no particular order.

First up, at #1, we have "Lancelot: The Betrayal" by Giles Kristian. Set in 5th century Britain, it's a story about Sir Lancelot, one of King Arthur's legendary Knights of the Round Table. This book follows the eponymous knight's life, from his days as a young boy training for war all the way to the time he first fell in love with Guinevere and became a renowned knight. It's an emotional tale full of action that fans of Arthurian legends are sure to enjoy.

Next, at #2, is "Day of the Caesars." Written by Simon Scarrow, it's the 16th entry of his "Eagles of the Empire" series, which mainly revolves around two Roman soldiers named Cato and Marco. Set shortly after the death of Emperor Claudius, the book focuses on the political aspects of his heir Nero's reign. When Nero's half-brother, Britannicus, threatens to take the throne for himself, Cato and Marco find themselves caught in the middle of the political struggle between the two factions fighting for control.

When Nero's half-brother, Britannicus, threatens to take the throne for himself, Cato and Marco find themselves caught in the middle of the political struggle between the two factions fighting for control.

At #3 is "Tiffany Girl" by Deeanne Gist. When Louis Tiffany's glassworkers go on strike, he's forced to enlist the help of women from the Art Students League of New York. Flossie Jayne is one of the artists selected by Louis to help finish his stained glass chapel, and she's a part of the "New Woman" feminist movement of the 19th century. The story follows Flossie as she moves to a boarding house close to her workplace, where she meets a journalist named Reeve, whose traditional way of thinking is slowly changed by his new neighbor.

Next up, at #4, we have "Thief of Corinth" by Tessa Afshar. After escaping her dysfunctional family in Athens, Ariadne moves to the city of Corinth in order to live with her father. There, she discovers that her father is an infamous criminal who steals from the rich and corrupt people of the city. As a skilled athlete, Ariadne decides to take on the mantle of the eponymous thief. Her life changes forever when she meets a religious man named Paul, whose teachings help her heal from her unfortunate past.

At #5 is "The Survivors" by Kate Furnivall. After World War II, refugee camps for former prisoners were set up all around Europe. When Klara Janowska and her daughter Alicja arrive at the Graufeld Displaced Persons camp, the fight for survival is far from over. Just when Klara thinks that they're finally in a safe place, she encounters a dangerous man from her past, and now she has to do everything in her power to protect her daughter.

After World War II, refugee camps for former prisoners were set up all around Europe.

Next, at #6, is "Until We Find Home" by Cathy Gohlke. Set during the early days of World War II, it tells the story of Claire Stewart, an American who wants to join the French Resistance. Before the Germans occupied Paris, she agreed to help five French Jewish children escape to England. Unfortunately, things don't go exactly as planned, and now she's forced to leave France and take care of the children with the help of her estranged aunt, Miranda Langford.

Next up, at #7, we have "When the Mermaid Sings" by Helen Hollick. This novella introduces readers to the future pirate Jesamiah Mereno. One day, after a fight with his half-brother, he runs away from home and joins the crew of Captain Malachias Taylor, a friend of his recently deceased father. It's a short coming-of-age story, and it's a prequel to the author's "Sea Witch Voyages" series.

At #8 is "Pleasing Mr. Pepys" by Deborah Swift. It mainly revolves around Deborah Willet, the maid of famous diarist Samuel Pepys. Set after the Great Fire of London in 1666, the story follows Willet as she is hired to be the servant of the iconic diarist's wife. When she encounters an actress named Abigail Williams, she unwittingly finds herself involved in a dangerous web of espionage. It's an interesting take on 17th century London, and it aims to shine a spotlight on a person mainly known for being mentioned in Samuel's diary.

It's an interesting take on 17th century London, and it aims to shine a spotlight on a person mainly known for being mentioned in Samuel's diary.

Next, at #9, is "The Sharp Hook of Love" by Sherry Jones. Heloise is an intelligent scholar who's being trained to become an abbess. When she meets renowned philosopher Pierre Abelard, the two of them quickly fall in love. The story, which takes place in 12th century Paris, follows Heloise and Abelard's forbidden love affair, and it's based on their famous real-life correspondence during the time they were forcefully separated.

Finally, at #10, we have "The Game of Hope" by Sandra Gulland. Inspired by the autobiography of Hortense de Beauharnais, the novel takes a closer look at her life after the death of her father, Alexandre. The story follows a young Hortense a few years after the French Revolution, and it shows how she deals with tremendous loss, romance, and the burden of being Napoleon Bonaparte's stepdaughter.