10 Historical Fictions You Haven’t Read | Top Ten Tuesday

Hello, everyone! Can you believe how close to the end of the year we’re getting?! The second half of the year has gone by so quickly, I’m sure of it. Truth be told I’m impressed I actually got a post up today – I’ve got that big exam I’ve mentioned a couple of times in my recent posts coming up and it is consuming all of my headspace!

But too much work and no play isn’t good for anyone, so I took a break to talk about some of my favourite underhyped historical fiction novels! This isn’t the prompt for Top Ten Tuesday this week, but we all know how I love to deviate from the course. So yes, I present to you ten historical fiction novels that I don’t think you’re likely to have read. They’re all fantastic, though!


1.  People of the Book
by Geraldine Brooks

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Click to read blurb

In 1996, Hanna Heath, an Australian rare-book expert, is offered the job of a lifetime: analysis and conservation of the famed Sarajevo Haggadah, which has been rescued from Serb shelling during the Bosnian war. Priceless and beautiful, the book is one of the earliest Jewish volumes ever to be illuminated with images. When Hanna, a caustic loner with a passion for her work, discovers a series of tiny artefacts in its ancient binding – an insect wing fragment, wine stains, salt crystals, a white hair – she begins to unlock the book’s mysteries. The reader is ushered into an exquisitely detailed and atmospheric past, tracing the book’s journey from its salvation back to its creation.

In Bosnia during World War II, a Muslim risks his life to protect it from the Nazis. In the hedonistic salons of fin-de-siècle Vienna, the book becomes a pawn in the struggle against the city’s rising anti-Semitism. In Venice during the time of the inquisition, a Catholic priest saves it from burning. In Barcelona in 1492, the scribe who wrote the text sees his family destroyed by the agonies of enforced exile. And in Seville in 1480, the reason for the Haggadah’s extraordinary illuminations is finally disclosed. Hanna’s investigation unexpectedly plunges her into the intrigues of fine art forgers and ultra-nationalist fanatics, and her experiences will test her belief in herself and the man she has come to love.

This is still the only book by Brooks that I’ve actually read and I so want to amend that. I fell in love with the concept of this book – exploring the history of an object is always something that has fascinated me. The beautiful writing of this has me really excited about Brooks’ other books, most of which I own!


2. The Wolf Wilder
by Katherine Rundell

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Click to read blurb

Feodora and her mother live in the snowbound woods of Russia, in a house full of food and fireplaces. Ten minutes away, in a ruined chapel, lives a pack of wolves. Feodora’s mother is a wolf wilder, and Feo is a wolf wilder in training. A wolf wilder is the opposite of an animal tamer: it is a person who teaches tamed animals to fend for themselves, and to fight and to run, and to be wary of humans.

When the murderous hostility of the Russian Army threatens her very existence, Feo is left with no option but to go on the run. What follows is a story of revolution and adventure, about standing up for the things you love and fighting back. And, of course, wolves.

This was one of the first books by Rundell that I read and I’m proud to say that I loved it so much, I’ve read nearly all of her other books. This is also middle-grade fiction (as are the rest of Rundell’s books) and it is a breeze to read. It’s got a really unique setting and point in history and is so worth the read!


3. The Watchmaker of Filigree Street
by Natasha Pulley

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Click to read blurb

1883. Thaniel Steepleton returns home to his tiny London apartment to find a gold pocket watch on his pillow. Six months later, the mysterious timepiece saves his life, drawing him away from a blast that destroys Scotland Yard. At last, he goes in search of its maker, Keita Mori, a kind, lonely immigrant from Japan. Although Mori seems harmless, a chain of unexplainable events soon suggests he must be hiding something. When Grace Carrow, an Oxford physicist, unwittingly interferes, Thaniel is torn between opposing loyalties.

This book is so underhyped (though I DNF’d the sequel, I admit). This is a beautiful story featuring some tantalising LBGT+ representation as well as a mechanical octopus. If you like a hint of steampunk in your historical fiction, this book is definitely the one for you.


4. The Game of Love and Death
by Martha Brockenbrough

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Click to read blurb

Love is more than a game.

Love and Death choose their players in an eternal game. Death has never lost and Love will do anything to win.

Henry and Flora find each other, not knowing they are the players. Can their love be enough to keep them both alive?

I have almost never seen anyone else talking about this book. In the story, Love and Death are personified and they each “play” with a human being, basically. It’s a great story about fate and a really lovely romance wrapped up in it as well.


5. Jane Steele
by Lyndsay Faye

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Click to read blurb

Reader, I murdered him.

A Gothic retelling of Jane Eyre.

Like the heroine of the novel she adores, Jane Steele suffers cruelly at the hands of her aunt and schoolmaster. And like Jane Eyre, they call her wicked – but in her case, she fears the accusation is true. When she flees, she leaves behind the corpses of her tormentors.

A fugitive navigating London’s underbelly, Jane rights wrongs on behalf of the have-nots whilst avoiding the noose. Until an advertisement catches her eye. Her aunt has died and the new master at Highgate House, Mr Thornfield, seeks a governess. Anxious to know if she is Highgate’s true heir, Jane takes the position and is soon caught up in the household’s strange spell. When she falls in love with the mysterious Charles Thornfield, she faces a terrible dilemma: can she possess him – body, soul and secrets – and what if he discovers her murderous past?

This is actually a pretty popular book but I still think it deserves more hype. It’s a retelling(ish) of Jane Eyre and it’s done really well. I love how strong the female lead is, but most of all the plot is simply amazing with good times promised within its pages.


6. The Venetian Contract
by Marina Fiorato

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Click to read blurb

1576. Five years after the defeat of the Ottoman Empire at the Battle of Lepanto, a ship steals unnoticed into Venice bearing a deadly cargo. A man more dead than alive disembarks and staggers into Piazza San Marco. He brings a gift to Venice from Constantinople. Within days the city is infected with bubonic plague—and the Turkish Sultan has his revenge. But the ship also holds a secret stowaway—Feyra, a young and beautiful harem doctor fleeing a future as the Sultan’s concubine. Only her wits and medical knowledge keep her alive as the plague ravages Venice. In despair the Doge commissions the architect Andrea Palladio to build the greatest church of his career—an offering to God so magnificent that Venice will be saved. But Palladio’s own life is in danger too, and it will require all skills of medico Annibale Cason, the city’s finest plague doctor, to keep him alive. But what Annibale had not counted on was meeting Feyra, who is now under Palladio’s protection, a woman who can not only match his medical skills but can also teach him how to care.

This was such a little hidden gem I found at the library once (it used to be called The Venetian Bargain, and then they got clever with wordplay). This is actually about the Black Death in Venice, so it’s quite topical really, given our current pandemic situation. It’s great though – a really good historical story that’s easy to read!


7. Madame Tussaud’s Apprentice
by Kathleen Benner Duble

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Click to read blurb

In 1789, with the starving French people on the brink of revolution, orphaned Celie Rosseau, an amazing artist and a very clever thief, runs wild with her protector, Algernon, trying to join the idealistic freedom fighters of Paris. But when she is caught stealing from none other than the king’s brother and the lady from the waxworks, Celie must use her drawing talent to buy her own freedom or die for her crimes. Forced to work for Madame Tussaud inside the opulent walls that surround Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette, Celie is shocked to find that the very people she imagined to be monsters actually treat her with kindness. But the thunder of revolution still rolls outside the gates, and Celie is torn between the cause of the poor and the safety of the rich. When the moment of truth arrives, will she turn on Madame Tussaud or betray the boy she loves? From the hidden garrets of the starving poor to the jeweled halls of Versailles, “Madame Tussaud’s Apprentice” is a sweeping story of danger, intrigue, and young love, set against one of the most dramatic moments in history.

This is probably the least-read book on this list, and shockingly so! It’s fantastic! This is about two siblings and they managed to find themselves apprenticed to THE Madame Tussaud at the height of the French Revolution. This story is fraught with poignant history and looks at the events from a perspective I’ve never come across before. It’s great!


8. The Just City
by Jo Walton

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Click to read blurb

One day, in a moment of philosophical puckishness, the time-travelling goddess Pallas Athene decides to put Plato to the test and create the Just City. She locates the City on a Mediterranean island and populates it with over ten thousand children and a few hundred adults from all eras of history . . . along with some handy robots from the far human future.

Meanwhile, Apollo – stunned by the realization that there are things that human beings understand better than he does – has decided to become a mortal child, head to Athene’s City and see what all the fuss is about.

Then Socrates arrives, and starts asking troublesome questions.

Truth be told this does dabble in sci-fi, but I think the historical elements are so much fun it would be remiss of me to not include this on my list. It’s a great concept where a bunch of time travellers want to live in the past according to Socrates’ teachings. So they raise a bunch of slave children that they rescue from various points in history and try to create a new society. It will certainly be unlike anything else you’ve ever read.


9. Orphan Train
by Christina Baker Kline

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Click to read blurb

The author of Bird in Hand and The Way Life Should Be delivers her most ambitious and powerful novel to date: a captivating story of two very different women who build an unexpected friendship: a 91-year-old woman with a hidden past as an orphan-train rider and the teenage girl whose own troubled adolescence leads her to seek answers to questions no one has ever thought to ask.

Nearly eighteen, Molly Ayer knows she has one last chance. Just months from “aging out” of the child welfare system, and close to being kicked out of her foster home, a community service position helping an elderly woman clean out her home is the only thing keeping her out of juvie and worse.

Vivian Daly has lived a quiet life on the coast of Maine. But in her attic, hidden in trunks, are vestiges of a turbulent past. As she helps Vivian sort through her possessions and memories, Molly discovers that she and Vivian aren’t as different as they seem to be. A young Irish immigrant orphaned in New York City, Vivian was put on a train to the Midwest with hundreds of other children whose destinies would be determined by luck and chance.

The closer Molly grows to Vivian, the more she discovers parallels to her own life. A Penobscot Indian, she, too, is an outsider being raised by strangers, and she, too, has unanswered questions about the past. As her emotional barriers begin to crumble, Molly discovers that she has the power to help Vivian find answers to mysteries that have haunted her for her entire life – answers that will ultimately free them both.

I learnt something new in this book! Perhaps Americans would be more familiar with this history, but being Australian I’d certainly never heard of this before. It’s quite a tragic but beautiful story about the displacement of these orphans who were billeted out to random families in America during this time period. Plus it has that nice touch of jumping back and forth from history to present day.


10. Dear Mrs. Bird
by A.J. Pearce

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Click to read blurb

London, 1940. Emmeline Lake is Doing Her Bit for the war effort, volunteering as a telephone operator with the Auxiliary Fire Services. When Emmy sees an advertisement for a job at the London Evening Chronicle, her dreams of becoming a Lady War Correspondent suddenly seem achievable. But the job turns out to be working as a typist for the fierce and renowned advice columnist, Henrietta Bird. Emmy is disappointed, but gamely bucks up and buckles down.

Mrs. Bird is very clear: letters containing any Unpleasantness must go straight in the bin. But when Emmy reads poignant notes from women who may have Gone Too Far with the wrong men, or who can’t bear to let their children be evacuated, she is unable to resist responding. As the German planes make their nightly raids, and London picks up the smoldering pieces each morning, Emmy secretly begins to write back to the readers who have poured out their troubles.

This is possibly one of my favourite most recent finds in this genre. It is a brilliant book whose praise I shall not stop singing. It’s set during WWII and the main character wants to be a War Correspondent – the story follows her life living during the Blitz in London and all the good and bad that happens. It’s compelling to read and heart-breaking at times. Can’t recommend it enough!


That’s a wrap!

Have you read any of these?


Happy reading!

~~ Kirstie ~~

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14 thoughts on “10 Historical Fictions You Haven’t Read | Top Ten Tuesday

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