We all know I’m a lover of historical fiction. If I’m not reading a Victorian classic, I’m reading a book set in the Victorian period.
I thought I’d talk through some of my favourite historical fictions – I’m trying to branch these out a little and not repeat myself (but, of course, I would 100% recommend The Familiars and The King’s Witch).
The Conviction of Cora Burns
I read this one recently and absolutely loved it.
Birmingham, 1880s. Born in a goal and grew up in a workhouse, Cora has always struggled to control the violence inside her. Where can Cora’s life possibly take her when she released from her prison?
I really loved this. A brilliant book which looks at insanity and psychology from a Victorian perspective. Is insanity hereditary? or is it a reaction to our surroundings? Nature vs. nurture? Mix this with photography, and how multiple likeness can show a similar trait in criminals, you’ve got a fantastic book that examines social and cultural issues of a Victorian industrial city.
The Confessions of Frannie Langton
A servant and former slave is accused of murdering her employer and his wife in this gripping and intense read that moves from a Jamaican sugar plantation to the streets of Georgian London.
Confessions was such a compelling read. Sara Collins really knows how to write a story. I think what makes this one so unique is the slave narrative. It was interesting to examine how being a slave affected the psyche of someone their whole life – it raises question of guilt and revenge and justice. It was a sensitive and emotional story of a working-class black woman in Georgian England.
Laura Purcell’s second book is by far my favourite. The Corset is a brilliant Victorian thriller. Is Ruth Butterham mad or a murderer? Victim or villain? Dorothea and Ruth. Prison visitor and prisoner. Powerful and powerless.
I loved the Victorian setting with the narrative of an interview between a murderer and her doctor. The psychology behind this one was so fun to read – not only do you have the pseudoscience of phrenology, but the psychology behind someone’s thought process and guilt. Is insanity brought on by someone or something? or is it ingrained from birth? Such a fascinating conversation. I also love how Purcell spun this story of murder with haberdashery – so unique.
A recent lockdown fave has been Octavia E. Butler’s Kindred which is a story split in two. In 1976, Dana dreams of being a writer. In 1815, she is assumed a slave. The one and only science fiction that I genuinely love!
I’ve never seen such an interesting and different take on the slavery narrative before: that someone from the 20th century can experience first-hand the trauma and brutality of 19th century slavery. It made you think about guilt, of generational trauma, of the suffering of black people, and how they were seen as property before real people. Putting that 20th century perspective made it all the more powerful. I really loved Butlers writing style.
There are an abundance of historical fiction that I love and would recommend, but I don’t want to be here all day. I tend to update you on my reading over on my bookstagram, Bookish Byron, where you might find new recommendations on all types of books.
My only question to you is: what is your favourite historical fiction?
Thank you so much for reading, Lauren X
4 thoughts on “Historical Fiction Recommendations”
Hmm, it’s been a while since I read historical fiction, per se. What I have been reading for preference is alternative history, loosely defined as uchronia or a historical period that never happened but might, just conceivably, really have.
I’ve been taking a long look at Joan Aiken’s children’s fantasy series the Wolves Chronicles, starting with The Wolves of Willoughby Chase. In this series the author imagines that there never was a Glorious Revolution and that the Stuart dynasty remained until at least the 19th century.
Now, although subsequent instalments get wilder and more improbable (and increasingly anachronistic, hence the term uchronia) I’ve been having fun chasing up the late Georgian and Victorian details that she bases much of her alternative history and the literary fiction she riffs on (for example, Brontë novels, Moby-Dick, the Mabinogion).
So, I’ve researched naval vessels, London streets, northern industrial towns, board games and railway routes, among other things — so much for fantasy being purely imaginative!
But while these Chronicles have obsessed me over many years (https://calmgrove.wordpress.com/tag/wolves-chronicles/?orderby=date&order=ASC) I’ve enjoyed other classic alternative histories such as The Man in the High Castle and Keith Roberts’ Pavane, all so much more fun than grinding my teeth over anachronistic language and social attitudes in much historical fiction… 😁
I’ve enjoyed every one of the Pillars of the Earth trilogy by Ken Follett – but I find that period in history fascinating, probably not for everyone.
Currently reading Pilgrims by Matthew Kneale. Slow first half, but it has picked up now.
Thanks so much I am always looking for more books like these to read.