I love a good historical fiction novel. Through their pages, you get to travel back in time and experience any time period, culture, or past events of your choosing. How great is that?
In this collection, I’ve shared the best historical fiction books of 2023, all newly published this year. These are the historical novels I’ve loved reading recently, featuring beloved authors including Abraham Verghese, Tan Twan Eng, and Julianne MacLean.
My definition of historical fiction here is broad; simply, novels set before the time in which the author is writing.
Step into these books and experience their evocative settings and complex narratives while deepening your understanding of history, human nature, and the world around us.
Without further ado, I hope you enjoy these new historical fiction books as much as I have…
The best new historical fiction novels 2023
The Covenant of Water by Abraham Verghese
Found at the top of bestseller lists everywhere this year, The Covenant of Water is Abraham Verghese’s long-awaited new novel about love, faith, and medicine, published fourteen years after one of my all-time favourite books, Cutting for Stone.
Set against the historical progress of India from 1900 through to the 1970s, The Covenant of Water is a big, multi-generational book about the whole spectrum of life, including both joy and sadness… quite a lot of sadness.
Above all, this is an incredibly well-written, beautiful, and ambitious book – one that I’ll absolutely be re-reading and thinking back to for a long time to come.
The House of Doors by Tan Twan Eng
As I read The House of Doors this autumn, I remembered just how truly divine Tan Twan Eng’s writing is. Set in Penang in 1921, Lesley Hamlyn and her husband Robert, a lawyer and war veteran, receive an unexpected visitor: Robert’s old friend, the famed writer “Willie” Somerset Maugham, along with his secretary Gerald.
The story that unfolds is both mesmerizingly written and incredibly insightful into the complicated nature of love and what we hide from our loved ones, the world, and ourselves.
As with Tan Twan Eng’s previous novels (The Garden of Evening Mists, The Gift of Rain) I wanted to enjoy each and every glorious sentence. If I didn’t have a million other books to read, I’d turn to the beginning and start all over again.
North Woods by Daniel Mason
North Woods is a strange and peculiar book. As soon as you start reading it, you’ll see what I mean. That said, you’ll also see how startlingly beautiful it is. Tumble into these pages for the story of a single house in the woods of New England, as told through the lives of those who inhabited it over centuries.
For now, the best I can describe it is a hybrid between Richard Powers’ The Overstory and Maggie O’Farrell’s lavishly beautiful writing in The Marriage Portrait. I think Daniel Mason might be receiving some literary awards in the year ahead.
A Storm of Infinite Beauty by Julianne MacLean
While searching for an easygoing yet gripping novel to tumble into while on holiday this summer, an advance copy of Julianne MacLean’s A Storm of Infinite Beauty was exactly what I wanted.
Last year, I adored MacLean’s 2021 novel These Tangled Vines, a multi-generational love story set in dreamy Tuscany, and while A Storm of Infinite Beauty isn’t quite as light and breezy, it’s fantastic in other ways.
With a blend of romance and historical fiction, think Taylor Jenkins Reid meets Great Circle by Maggie Shipstead. You’ll uncover a multigenerational plot, an emotional love story, buried secrets in the past, and wild and powerful nature in Alaska. I loved the flashbacks, the slow uncovering of the past, and the down-to-earth side of our main character, a beloved Hollywood icon.
The Trackers by Charles Frazier
Just look at that cover. From the bestselling author of Cold Mountain, The Trackers follows Val Welch, a painter in Depression-era America tasked with creating a mural for the new post office in Dawes, Wyoming.
There, he meets John and Eve Long, a mysterious couple with whom Val quickly becomes enchanted, and – when Eve disappears – hopelessly entangled.
Wild Beautiful and Free by Sophfronia Scott
Pick up Sophfronia Scott’s 2023 historical novel Wild Beautiful and Free for a powerful and inspiring exploration of race, belonging, and the pursuit of freedom in the face of prejudice.
Born the daughter of an enslaved woman and a Louisiana plantation owner in the 1800s, Jeannette Bébinn is raised alongside her white half-sister – until she suddenly loses her father and is sold into a very different life.
This is the story of Jeannette’s bold journey to carve out her place in a world that tells her she doesn’t belong, escaping enslavement and travelling across the U.S. to search for purpose, love, and belonging during the Civil War.
Atalanta by Jennifer Saint
With Atalanta, the new release for 2023 by the author of Ariadne, Jennifer Saint wonderfully reimagines this ancient myth.
When Princess Atalanta is born a daughter rather than the son her parents hoped for, she is abandoned on a mountainside. But she grew up to be a fierce huntress, raised by bears and the only woman in the world’s most famous band of heroes, the Argonauts.
Written with captivatingly rich and evocative prose that’s perfect to read before bed, this is Jennifer Saint’s captivating retelling of a woman who refuses to be contained.
River Sing Me Home by Eleanor Shearer
Offering an eye-opening look at life post-abolition as one woman searches for her lost children, River Sing Me Home is one of the best new historical novels of 2023.
As shared in this collection of the best historical fiction of all time, Eleanor Shearer’s novel is a searing story of courage and sacrifice that will have you sobbing at points. Set in 1834 in the aftermath of the Slavery Abolition Act, we meet Rachel, a former slave searching for her family.
This journey will take her from the cane fields of Barbados to the forests of British Guiana in the hope of finding the faces of the beloved children she never forgot.
Homecoming by Kate Morton
At this point, I’m convinced that picking up a book by Kate Morton is a guarantee of a good read. Read Homecoming for the beloved author’s latest historical fiction novel for 2023, about a shocking event in South Australia in 1959 and repercussions that echo across continents and generations.
Struggling to make ends meet, Jess is a journalist in London searching for a good story. When she rushes to Australia after her beloved grandmother falls sick, Jess discovers a long-buried secret that would make the perfect story – until she realises how she’s implicated.
Tom Lake by Ann Patchett
When I think back to reading Tom Lake, I’m transported right back to Ann Patchett’s hazy evocation of slow, dreamy sunny days under cherry trees in the spring of 2020.
As the comfortingly wise and self-assured protagonist narrates the story of her time as an actress in her twenties – with her three daughters her audience – we too are transported back in time. It’s a delightful novel; Patchett creates a world that’s hopeful, cozy, and reassuring, painting a masterful picture of motherhood, family, and the moments that make us who we are.
Lady Tan’s Circle of Women by Lisa See
According to Confucius, “an educated woman is a worthless woman.” But in Lisa See’s gorgeous new book, Lady Tan’s Circle of Women (which I loved listening to as an audiobook), Tan Yunxian is raised by her grandmother, one of only a handful of female doctors in China.
In her early years, Yunxian unlocks more freedom and knowledge than she thought possible, but when she’s sent into an arranged marriage, she finds herself isolated, powerless, and forced to act like a proper wife.
This captivating book about community, knowledge, and Chinese medicine asks: how might a woman like Yunxian break free of these traditions and treat women and girls from every level of society?
Did You Hear About Kitty Karr? by Crystal Smith Paul
When Kitty Karr Tate, an icon of the silver screen, passes away and leaves her multimillion-dollar estate to the St. John sisters, three young, wealthy Black women, it prompts questions. A lot of questions.
This stunning debut by Crystal Smith Paul for 2023 is brimming with glamour, mystery, and the allure of showbiz.
Beyond That, The Sea by Laura Spence-Ash
Grab a copy of Beyond That, The Sea for a sweeping love story by Laura Spence-Ash, weaving the story of two families living through World War II on opposite sides of the Atlantic.
When London seeks cover from the skies in 1940, eleven-year-old Bea’s working-class parents make the impossible choice to send her to America. As the war rages, she adjusts to the affluent lifestyle of the Gregory family that feels miles away from her life back home.
When she’s called back to England, Bea is desperate not to leave behind her new friends and summers on the coast in Maine. This gorgeous new historical fiction book for 2023 is about navigating two different worlds – and the heartache, belonging, and forgiveness that come from being stuck between them.
Weyward by Emilia Hart
If you love the idea of a spellbinding novel about witchcraft, female resilience, and the transformative power of the natural world, read Weyward.
In this enchanting historical novel for 2023, Emilia Hart weaves together stories of three extraordinary women across five centuries. Beginning in 1942 as World War II rages, Weyward takes us all the way to 2019 as one character flees London for a ramshackle cottage inherited from a long-forgotten great aunt.
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