Top Ten Historic Fiction Reads

Historic Fiction is the latest trend taking the literary world by storm. Here are ten works that will have you hooked on the genre, from wartime romances to colonial mysteries.

1. A Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue- A rollicking ride through 1700s Europe, Mackenzie Lee writes her characters as witty as they are daredevils. Henry Montague is a lord’s son with a certain distaste for everything polished London society holds dear- touring the continent with a grumpy guide, his best friend who he may have feelings for and his wise-cracking sister will only end in disaster or dreadful boredom, whichever gets him first. Complete with dashing rescues, secret artefacts and exotic locales, this novel is just hilarity with a historic twist.

2. All the Light We Cannot See - Anthony Doerr’s masterpiece is set during the Second World War and follows three distinct stories of courage and clemency. Each of the characters is fleshed out so well that one cannot help but be immersed in their fate- adventures across war-torn nations, quests for love and touching loss are all features of this exquisite novel. The lyrical tone, vivid settings and winding plot will have readers begging for more: read for tugs on your heartstrings and relatable characters.

3. Alex and Eliza - Fans of the musical Hamilton may be familiar with its protagonist Alexander’s eventful life, but this novel focuses on the romance between him and Eliza Schuyler in its portrayal of Hamilton as Washington’s youngest protégé on a quest to prove himself. Eliza is witty as she is determined, and the fiery chemistry between them will keep readers hooked even if the fast-paced subplots and cracking one-liners aren’t enough.

4. Out of the Easy - Set in the dark world of powerful madams and gangs that rule the streets of the 1950s French Quarter, a murder brings young Josie Moraine to question everything she has ever been taught. Raw emotion, the consequences of power and coming of age are all explored in Sepetys’ work- known as she is for her historic fiction. Palpably gritty, mesmerising and intriguing, every layer of this novel is rich in mystery that will keep you guessing till the very last page.

5. The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society- With a movie coming out in late 2018, this story told in a series of letters is equal parts heartwarming and droll. The quaint island of Guernsey is populated by a cast of characters so varied and so riveting that you will find yourself just as interested in their experiences as the protagonist, an author from London whose cutting remarks and relatable tone will have you in both stitches and tears, often on the same page. Read it to love, laugh and linger on the picturesque Channel Island that is revealed to be the site of intrigues, wartime romance and spirited adventures.

6. The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane- The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane is first and foremost a journey: through tea-infused villages and mountains, through the bonds between mothers and daughters, through the sharp line between tradition and modernity. With an intricately wound timeline, cultural nuance and near-poetic prose, readers will come for the deep exploration of identity but stay for the relatable plot. Lisa See’s latest is clearly a book for the ages.

7. Brooklyn- Fodder for Saoirse Ronan’s Academy Award-nominated role as a young Irishwoman caught between her homeland and the New World, Brooklyn is all the movie gave its viewers and more. Written with cutting emotion and clarity, the novel portrays palpably the chaos within Eilis’ mind: turn-of-the-century New York and the Emerald Isle both come alive in this award-winning work which is historic fiction at its insightful best.

8. Penelopiad- Atwood is best known for her dystopian work The Handmaid’s Tale but her questioning of gender roles continues in this retelling of the Odyssey from a female perspective. Deceptively simple, Penelope’s meandering tone and melancholic perspective interspersed with the choral commentary of her twelve maids make for a work that upends everything you thought was obvious about Greek mythology and even society. Myths are classic basis for historic fiction but the Penelopiad takes it one step further by questioning the accuracy of the myth itself- a thought-provoking yet light read.

9. A Very Pukka Murder- A wisecracking, whiskey-drinking Maharaja who doubles as a detective, a dead British resident, an adventure going from opulence of royal palaces and to the seediest of alleys - what more can one ask? Think of it as a colonial twist on Downton Abbey with a heavy dose of mystery, wit and confounding puzzles. Read it for the suspense, the giggles and the wonderfully vivid portrayal of turn of the century India.

10. I Was Anastasia- Identity, empire and more are thrown into question when a young woman emerges from a Berlin canal and slowly reveals that she is the last scion of Russia’s overthrown Romanovs. Her detractors call her Anna, her supporters Anastasia- blurring lines, genres and historic sources, this novel is the perfect blend of the fantastic and the mysterious with a dash of classic detective story. You won’t be able to stop turning pages as you question and re-consider each shocking development in this twisting tale of the imposter- or the princess- that shook Europe.

-    Devanshika Bajpai