Five Favourites – Non-Victorian Historical Fiction

The Cemetery of Forgotten Books Series by Carols Ruiz Zafon
This series includes the books; The Shadow of the Wind, The Angel’s Game, The Prisoner of Heaven and The Labyrinth of Spirts. The beauty of this series is that each book can be read as stand-alone story, and can be read in any order. However I recommend you read them all, in either publication or chronological order (that’s a whole other story) to really immerse yourself in this wonderful series.  I don’t want to spoil the whole series for you but here is the synopsis for The Shadow of the Wind, the first book in the series; Barcelona, 1945. Just after the war, a great world city lies in shadow, nursing its wounds, and a boy named Daniel awakes on his eleventh birthday to find that he can no longer remember his mother’s face. To console his only child, Daniel’s widowed father, an antiquarian book dealer, initiates him into the secret of the Cemetery of Forgotten Books, a library tended by Barcelona’s guild of rare-book dealers as a repository for books forgotten by the world, waiting for someone who will care about them again. Daniel’s father coaxes him to choose a volume from the spiralling labyrinth of shelves, one that, it is said, will have a special meaning for him. And Daniel so loves the novel he selects, ‘The Shadow of the Wind’, by one Julian Carax, that he sets out to find the rest of Carax’s work. To his shock, he discovers that someone has been systematically destroying every copy of every book this author has written. In fact, he may have the last one in existence. Before Daniel knows it his seemingly innocent quest has opened a door into one of Barcelona’s darkest secrets, an epic story of murder, magic, madness and doomed love. And before long he realizes that if he doesn’t find out the truth about Julian Carax, he and those closest to him will suffer horribly.

The Familiars by Stacey Halls
This gripping historical fiction set around the time of the Pendle Hill Witch Trials in the 17th Century. We follow Fleetwood and her husband Richard who are desperate to have a family. Things do not go their way however and Fleetwood suffers several miscarriages. Fleetwood meets the mysterious Alice Gray, an unconventional midwife. Can she help? Is there more than meets the eye? LOVED this one and will definitely read more of her books in the future.

Kate Mosse
Yes, that’s right. Rather than going for a single book, I have gone with the (almost) entire back catalogue of one particular author. Kate Mosse is exceptionally talented and I’ve really loved everything I’ve read by her so far. My favourites include the Languedoc series which includes Labyrinth, Sepulchre and Citadel, the first in a new series The Burning Chambers and some of her standalones such as The Taxidermist’s Daughter, The Mistletoe Bride & Other Haunting Tales and The Winter Ghosts. I have made it my mission to read everything she publishes.

Age of Light by Whitney Scharer
I was lucky enough to meet Whitney and hear her read from the book. This was one of the first historical fiction books I read that focused heavily on art. The Age of Light is set in the 1930’s and Scharer transports us from bohemian Paris to the centre of World War Two in Europe. Based on the real lives of  Lee Miller, renowned photographer and the first female war correspondent  and the famous surrealist Man Ray, this books weaves beautiful writing with the lives of these two alluring artists.

The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller
Definitely in my top three books of all time. Without a doubt. I picked this one up, for a daft reason actually, because I was collecting the Bloomsbury Modern Classics editions and this happened to be one of them. Miller’s take on the Trojan War and the relationship between Patroclus and Achilles left me speechless and haunted. I don’t really know how to talk about this one really, because over a year after I read it, I still struggle to adequetly describe how it makes me feel. Wonderful, spectacular, read it!


As Meat Loves Salt by Maria McCann
In the seventeenth century, the English Revolution is under way. The nation, seething with religious and political discontent, has erupted into violence and terror. Jacob Cullen and his fellow soldiers dream of rebuilding their lives when the fighting is over. But the shattering events of war will overtake them.

A darkly erotic tale of passion and obsession, As Meat Loves Salt is a gripping portrait of England beset by war. It is also a moving portrait of a man on the brink of madness. Hailed as a masterpiece, this is a novel by a most original new voice in fiction.

The House of the Spirits by Isabell Allende
In one of the most important and beloved Latin American works of the twentieth century, Isabel Allende weaves a luminous tapestry of three generations of the Trueba family, revealing both triumphs and tragedies.

Here is patriarch Esteban, whose wild desires and political machinations are tempered only by his love for his ethereal wife, Clara, a woman touched by an otherworldly hand. Their daughter, Blanca, whose forbidden love for a man Esteban has deemed unworthy infuriates her father, yet will produce his greatest joy: his granddaughter Alba, a beautiful, ambitious girl who will lead the family and their country into a revolutionary future.

The House of the Spirits is an enthralling saga that spans decades and lives, twining the personal and the political into an epic novel of love, magic, and fate.

The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield
All children mythologize their birth…So begins the prologue of reclusive author Vida Winter’s collection of stories, which are as famous for the mystery of the missing thirteenth tale as they are for the delight and enchantment of the twelve that do exist.

The enigmatic Winter has spent six decades creating various outlandish life histories for herself — all of them inventions that have brought her fame and fortune but have kept her violent and tragic past a secret. Now old and ailing, she at last wants to tell the truth about her extraordinary life. She summons biographer Margaret Lea, a young woman for whom the secret of her own birth, hidden by those who loved her most, remains an ever-present pain. Struck by a curious parallel between Miss Winter’s story and her own, Margaret takes on the commission.

As Vida disinters the life she meant to bury for good, Margaret is mesmerized. It is a tale of gothic strangeness featuring the Angelfield family, including the beautiful and wilful Isabelle, the feral twins Adeline and Emmeline, a ghost, a governess, a topiary garden and a devastating fire.

Margaret succumbs to the power of Vida’s storytelling but remains suspicious of the author’s sincerity. She demands the truth from Vida, and together they confront the ghosts that have haunted them while becoming, finally, transformed by the truth themselves.

The Thirteenth Tale is a love letter to reading, a book for the feral reader in all of us, a return to that rich vein of storytelling that our parents loved and that we loved as children. Diane Setterfield will keep you guessing, make you wonder, move you to tears and laughter and, in the end, deposit you breathless yet satisfied back upon the shore of your everyday life.

The Girl with a Pearl Earring by Tracy Chevalier
With precisely 35 canvases to his credit, the Dutch painter Johannes Vermeer represents one of the great enigmas of 17th-century art. The meagre facts of his biography have been gleaned from a handful of legal documents. Yet Vermeer’s extraordinary paintings of domestic life, with their subtle play of light and texture, have come to define the Dutch golden age. His portrait of the anonymous Girl with a Pearl Earring has exerted a particular fascination for centuries – and it is this magnetic painting that lies at the heart of Tracy Chevalier’s second novel of the same title.

Girl with a Pearl Earring centers on Vermeer’s prosperous Delft household during the 1660s. When Griet, the novel’s quietly perceptive heroine, is hired as a servant, turmoil follows. First, the 16-year-old narrator becomes increasingly intimate with her master. Then Vermeer employs her as his assistant–and ultimately has Griet sit for him as a model.

The Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett
Everything readers expect from Follett is here: intrigue, fast-paced action, and passionate romance. But what makes The Pillars of the Earth extraordinary is the time the twelfth century; the place feudal England; and the subject the building of a glorious cathedral. Follett has re-created the crude, flamboyant England of the Middle Ages in every detail. The vast forests, the walled towns, the castles, and the monasteries become a familiar landscape.

Against this richly imagined and intricately interwoven backdrop, filled with the ravages of war and the rhythms of daily life, the master storyteller draws the reader irresistibly into the intertwined lives of his characters into their dreams, their labours, and their loves: Tom, the master builder; Aliena, the ravishingly beautiful noblewoman; Philip, the prior of Kingsbridge; Jack, the artist in stone; and Ellen, the woman of the forest who casts a terrifying curse. From humble stonemason to imperious monarch, each character is brought vividly to life.

The building of the cathedral, with the almost eerie artistry of the unschooled stonemasons, is the centre of the drama. Around the site of the construction, Follett weaves a story of betrayal, revenge, and love, which begins with the public hanging of an innocent man and ends with the humiliation of a king.

And there we have it, five Non-Victorian historical fiction that I’ve read and loved, and five that I have my eye on that I will hopefully read in the future! What is your favourite Non-Victorian historical fiction? Let me know in the comments below.

Peace and pages

3 Replies to “Five Favourites – Non-Victorian Historical Fiction”

  1. This is a very inspiring list! I loved Circe by Madeline Miller so I absolutely need to read Song of Achilles. Your resounding recommendation has made me bump it up my list!
    📕MP📚 X

    Liked by 1 person

  2. BookerTalk says:

    The Tracy Chevalier; Zafon and Follett choices are all wonderful. I’ve not got on with Mosse at all though. Setterfield I am definitely going to read having just finished her most recent novel.

    Some others I would recommend – Year of Wonders by Geraldine Brooks (a village in Derbyshire endures a self inflicted quarantine when the Black Plague strikes); the Shardlake series by C J Sansom (crime fiction set in Tudor England) and Helen Dunmore’s The Seige about the real seige of Leningrad by the German forces – it’s heartbreaking


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