16 of the best historical fiction novels to read in 2023
One of my favourite benefits of reading fiction is to travel to new places and experience new perspectives.
That said, you can’t beat the freedom that comes with reading historical fiction. What better way to travel back in time and immerse yourself in different time periods, cultures, and events?
I think about historical fiction in the broadest sense: novels set in periods before that in which the author is writing. In this post, I’ve shared some of my favourite examples.
Step into these books and experience their evocative historical settings and complex narratives, deepening your understanding of history, human nature, and the world around us.
Without further ado, here’s my pick of the best historical fiction books to enjoy in 2023…
The best new historical fiction novels for 2023
Wild Beautiful and Free by Sophfronia Scott
Read 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 her father suddenly dies, and she’s sold into slavery.
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.
These Tangled Vines by Julianne MacLean
Read These Tangled Vines for… a multi-generation story of an American mother and daughter who, years apart, find themselves at a winery in Tuscany.
These Tangled Vines feels like a vacation in a book, and it’s exactly what I needed to read during winter in Denmark. Amidst the lush vineyards and sun-kissed hills of Italy, romance author Julianne MacLean weaves a tale of love, loss, and the power of family ties.
It’s the story of Fiona, who unexpectedly travels to Italy in 2017 after being named in her biological father’s will. She didn’t know anything about this man until now, and the uncovered secrets from 1986 threaten to bring enormous riches but also unravel everything.
The Marriage Portrait by Maggie O’Farrell
Read The Marriage Portrait for… a fascinating historical fiction novel about a strong woman in a confined world, set in Florence in the 1550s.
Published in 2022, The Marriage Portrait is one of the best historical fiction books to read this year – and one of the best books I’ve read recently in any genre.
Right from the start of the book, we know that less than a year after fifteen-year-old Lucrezia de’ Medici marries Alfonso II d’Este, Duke of Ferrara, she will be dead. Although the official cause of death was ‘putrid fever’, rumours suggested something very different: that she had been murdered by her husband.
Atalanta by Jennifer Saint
Read Atalanta for… a new historical fiction novel for April 2023 by the author of Ariadne, here reimagining the ancient myth of Atalanta.
When Princess Atalanta is born, a daughter rather than the son her parents hoped for, she is left on a mountainside to die. 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. This is Jennifer Saint’s captivating retelling of a woman who refuses to be contained.
Great Circle by Maggie Shipstead
Read Great Circle for… an epic tale of adventure and daring that spans the globe and a century, exploring themes of identity, ambition, and the pursuit of dreams in a world that tells you they’re impossible.
Great Circle is one of my favorite books of the last decade. It’s a marvelously crafted novel about a tenacious young woman who wishes to be an aviator more than anything, and the actor who plays her in a Hollywood film adaptation decades later.
The Evening and the Morning by Ken Follett
Read The Evening and the Morning for… the gripping prequel to The Pillars of the Earth, one of the best historical fiction novels according to historians on Reddit.
It’s the dawn of the Middle Ages and England faces attacks from the Welsh in the west and the Vikings in the east. In these turbulent times, the lives of three characters intertwine.
A young boatbuilder’s life is turned upside down when his home is raided by Vikings. A Norman noblewoman marries for love but finds the customs of her husband’s homeland to be shockingly different. And a monk dreams of transforming his humble abbey into a center of learning that will be admired throughout Europe.
This 2020 novel by Ken Follett can be read as a standalone, but as with his other novels, you might enjoy knowing the details from the other books in the series beforehand.
Homecoming by Kate Morton
Read Homecoming for… bestselling author Kate Morton’s latest historical fiction novel for April 2023. It’s about a shocking crime in South Australia in 1959, the effects of which 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 is rushed to hospital, Jess discovers a long-buried crime that would make the perfect story – until she realises that her own family is connected.
The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue by V.E. Schwab
Read The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue for… a captivating story about one woman’s journey through time, and her search for a place she can truly connect with others.
If you love big books that span even bigger timeframes, The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue is a bestseller that should absolutely be on your reading list.
In France in 1714, a young woman makes a pact with the devil to live forever. However, she is also cursed to be forgotten by everyone she meets.
After nearly three hundred years of travelling across continents and invisibly shaping history and art, Addie meets a young man in a cozy bookshop who actually remembers her name.
The Second Life of Mirielle West by Amanda Skenandore
Read The Second Life of Mirielle West for… an emotional tale of one woman’s journey to redefine her self-worth in a prejudiced world.
For Mirielle West, a 1920’s socialite married to a silent film star, life is chic, elegant, and privileged. But when her doctor notices unusual lesions on her hand, she’s immediately branded a leper and carted hundreds of miles from home and her young children.
With no cure and no escape, Mirielle realises she must find community and purpose within the leper colony’s walls.
This searing tale of resilience in the Roaring 20s is both scrupulously researched and imbued with the author’s understanding of medicine and stigma.
Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel
Read Wolf Hall for… the first part of one of the best historical fiction series ever, set in England in the 1520s when the country is a heartbeat from disaster.
With unrivalled storytelling and research, Wolf Hall is Hilary Mantel’s meticulously crafted tale of Thomas Cromwell’s rise to become one of the most powerful men in the court of King Henry VIII.
The House of Eve by Sadeqa Johnson
Read The House of Eve for… a daring novel set in 1950s Philadelphia and Washington, DC, exploring what it means to be a woman and a mother, as well as the lengths required to achieve our greatest goals.
Fifteen-year-old Ruby Pearsall is on track to becoming the first in her family to attend college, until a taboo love affair threatens to pull her back down into poverty.
Meanwhile, Eleanor Quarles falls madly in love with William Pride at Howard University, whose elite and wealthy family won’t let just anyone into their fold. Eleanor hopes that she will find her place when she falls pregnant, but this is easier said than done.
The House of Eve is about the collision of these two women in the most unexpected of ways.
Cloud Cuckoo Land by Anthony Doerr
Read Cloud Cuckoo Land for… an enormous novel that masterfully toes the line between historical fiction and speculative fiction, crafting a tale of children on the cusp of adulthood who find resilience and hope in worlds in peril.
In this incredible novel from Anthony Doerr, travel between Constantinople in the 15th century to a library in present-day Idaho and the interstellar ship Argos in a not-so-distant future.
The result is a dazzlingly imaginative story about common ground, the power of books, and dreamers and outsiders.
Shuggie Bain by Douglas Stuart
Read Shuggie Bain for… a deeply moving novel that explores the devastating impact of poverty, addiction, and societal expectations on a young boy growing up in 1980s Glasgow, and the unbreakable bond between a mother and son.
Douglas Stuart is at the forefront of Scottish fiction, and is best known for his debut: the winner of the 2020 Booker Prize, Shuggie Bain. It’s a heartbreaking story of addiction, sexuality, and love as Thatcher’s policies put husbands and sons out of work and paved the way for the city’s drug epidemic.
For another extraordinary book to read next, pick up Young Mungo, Stuart’s 2022 story of queer love and working-class families.
Beyond That, The Sea by Laura Spence-Ash
Read Beyond That, The Sea for… a sweeping love story that tells the story of two families living through World War II on opposite sides of the Atlantic.
When bombs fall over London 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 the war ends and she’s called back home, Bea is desperate not to leave beyond this life of new friends and summers on the coast in Maine. As Bea navigates between the two worlds that pull at her heart, this absorbing novel tells a stunning story of heartache, belonging, and forgiveness.
Weyward by Emilia Hart
Read Weyward for… a spellbinding novel of witchcraft, female resilience, and the transformative power of the natural world.
In this enchanting new book for 2023, Emilia Hart weaves together stories of three extraordinary women across five centuries. Weyward begins in 1942 as World War II rages, and takes us all the way to 2019, where one character flees London for a ramshackle cottage inherited from a long-forgotten great aunt.
The Codebreaker’s Secret by Sara Ackerman
Read The Codebreaker’s Secret for… dazzling historical fiction set in Hawaii and packed with love and intrigue, about a brilliant female codebreaker in WWII.
It’s 1943 and Isabel Cooper and her codebreaker colleagues in Pearl Harbor decipher secrets plucked from the airwaves in a race to bring down the enemy.
Jump to 1965, and fledgling journalist Lu Freitas comes home to Hawaii to cover the grand opening of the glamorous Mauna Kea Beach Hotel, Rockefeller’s newest and grandest project.
But when a high-profile guest goes missing, Lu forms an unlikely alliance with an intimidating veteran photographer to unravel the mystery.
For more of the best books to read in 2023, why not check out these posts too?
- The best books for women to read in 2023
- The best books to read on vacation this year
- 20 of the best modern novels of the 21st century
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