Off the Shelf: Historical Fiction

Posted Nov. 30, 2020

By Mary Jo Kachurik,
Adult Services Librarian with the Warren-Trumbull County Public Library

Today I want to highlight historical fiction. This popular genre includes books that tell stories of the past in a dramatic and compelling way. Whether the characters are real figures from history or created by the author, historical fiction tells the story of royalty, pioneers, or everyday people from past eras to help us imagine what it would have been like if we were there.

Historical fiction gives us a way to learn about history-makers in a way that makes them feel more real as well as people who lived outside the history books, but whose stories are no less important than yours or mine. The best historical fiction authors do a lot of research in order to bring these stories to life, making sure the setting is accurate and the people seem real. Their writing lets us experience history in a way that gives us more context than a history book.

If you’re new to historical fiction, here are a few authors you should start with:

Hilary Mantel – Her books about Tudor England (beginning with Wolf Hall) are a great example of telling stories about historical figures from a different perspective. The amount of research that she puts into her books makes for an accurate depiction of the era and helps readers learn the history of King Henry VIII and his court.

Edward Rutherfurd – He writes sagas of families in a certain area, like the city of New York, and tells the story of how people lived across generations of time. His books show how different historical events affected the people who lived through them, from ancient history through today.

Patrick O’Brian – His Aubrey-Maturin series (beginning with Master and Commander) takes place on a British ship during the Napoleonic Wars. The deep level of research gives readers insight into naval battles and life on the high seas.

I would also like to recommend some newly published historical fiction books that are available to borrow from the W-TCPL. These books, written by women and featuring women in different eras of history, tell the story of people we might not otherwise know about:

A Long Petal of the Sea by Isabel Allende

Roser, a pregnant young widow, is forced to flee Spain after the Spanish Civil War in the 1930s. We follow her story as she tries to make a new life in Chile.

Code Name Hélène by Ariel Lawhon

This book is based on the life of Nancy Wake, an Australian who worked as a reporter in Paris just before WWII and later as a spy for the British.

Conjure Women by Afia Atakora

Taking place in the South before and after the Civil War, this book tells us about the lives of three women, in slavery and freedom.

You will find full book reviews of the above titles (plus more in our New Book Spotlight) on the library’s channel on YouTube.