The 8 best historical novels to read now

Anna Bonet
Photo credit: Martin Poole - Getty Images

From Good Housekeeping

Historic novels are often the most immersive reading experiences. From Hilary Mantel to Toni Morrison, some of the world's most talented writers are doing what they do best when they transport you through time and space back to a world you never experienced.

The period fiction genre can be more educational than history books themselves. The books on this list are also just as suspenseful as thrillers, vivid as sci-fi and as moving as romance and contemporary dramas.

Here are eight of the best historic novels to add to your To Read List...

Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel (2009)

Photo credit: Fourth Estate

The double Booker-winning, literary giant that is Hilary Mantel is best known for her astonishingly vivid historical fiction, and Wolf Hall is the best book to start with. Set in the 16th century, this fictionalised biography of Thomas Cromwell has been followed up with the equally successful Bring up the Bodies in 2012, while the trilogy's conclusion The Mirror and the Light is due to be published next month.

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Girl with the Pearl Earring by Tracy Chevalier (1999)

Photo credit: Penguin

Imagining the story behind one of the world's best known paintings, Chevalier paints a beguiling portrait of the Dutch artist Johannes Vermeer and his model Griet. Over 5 million copies have been sold worldwide of this brilliant book, and for a very good reason.

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The Miniaturist by Jessie Burton (2014)

Photo credit: Picador

It's 1686 in Amsterdam and 18-year-old Nella is presented with a wedding gift from her new husband: a dollhouse replica of the home she has just moved into. Only his house is full of secrets and a miniaturist seems to be able to eerily predict real events with the tiny creations she sends Nella for the dollhouse. Suspenseful and beautifully written, this debut novel quickly made Burton a household name.

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The Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett (1989)

Photo credit: Macmillan

Set in 12th century England, Ken Follett's historical masterpiece tells the story of Tom, who sets out to build the greatest Gothic cathedral of time. With the backdrop of civil war and strife, this is an epic tale of ambition, power, love and loyalty.

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Beloved by Toni Morrison (1987)

Photo credit: Vintage

The late Toni Morrison was one of the best writers of the last century, and this was one of her greatest works. The Pulitzer-prize-winning book takes place in the 1800s and follows the life of Sethe, who is haunted by the memories of slavery.

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The Familiars by Stacey Halls (2019)

Photo credit: Zaffre

This alluring historical novel is about witch-hunting and women's rights in the 17th century. Following a noblewoman and a midwife whose lives become increasingly intertwined and ever more at stake, you won't be able to put this book down.

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Atonement by Ian McEwan (2001)

Photo credit: Jonathan Cape

Atonement opens on a hot summer's day in 1935. 13-year-old Briony Tallis accuses the son of the family's housekeeper Robbie of a crime which he didn't commit, and she'll spend the rest of her life trying to atone for the repercussions this accusation had on all of their lives.

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All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr (2014)

Photo credit: Fourth Estate

Set during the height of World War Two, the lives of a blind French girl and a young German boy collide in this stunningly human book about the devastation of war. Winner of the Pulitzer prize in 2015, this one really pulls at the heart strings.

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