Five Historical Fiction Authors You Should Read

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US-based British author Bernard Cornwell signs a copy of his first book of non-fiction "Waterloo: The History of Four Days, Three Armies and Three Battles" for a fan after giving a talk at a bookshop in London on June 16, 2015. Cornwell, best known for his popular historical novels featuring the adventures of the Richard Sharpe, an British soldier in the Napoleonic Wars, is the author of over 50 novels and one work of non-fiction, "Waterloo". AFP PHOTO / DANIEL SORABJI (Photo credit should read DANIEL SORABJI/AFP/Getty Images)

Historical Fiction is one of the most under-appreciated genres out there. It is the perfect novel for history geeks that want to delve into the past. However, writing a good historical fiction novel is one of the hardest things to do in literature. The author must create a new and compelling tale and make it fit into the historical narrative of its time. In essence, they have to re-write history while keeping real historical figures and events accurate. Renowned historical fiction author Laurel Corona expresses this sentiment perfectly when she said, “do not defame the dead.” For people new to the genre here are five historical fiction authors they should read.

Five Great Historical Fiction Authors

Bernard Cornwell

A great first author to read, Cornwell has dozens of novels to choose from. Cornwell has worked both as a teacher and as a journalist with the BBC. Cornwell is renowned for his English history. Subsequently, Cornwell was given the Order of the British Empire for his contribution to the arts and sciences. He is most known for his series about different wars that England has been involved in and is perhaps the most accomplished historical fiction author about the history of Britain with books from the time of the Romans, to the wars against Napoleon.

His first series, which he wrote in the 1980s, is called the Sharpes Series. This is based on an English soldier named Richard Sharpe during the Napoleonic Wars. During the twenty-four book series, Sharpe travels the world fighting for King and Country against the Napoleonic forces fighting in famous battles such as the Peninsular Campaign and the Battle of Waterloo. He also fights in lesser-known battles such as the Battle of Copenhagen in 1807.

Another fantastic series written by Cornwell is The Grail Quest, which follows the story of an English archer named Thomas of Hookton who lives in the time of the Hundred Years’ War and is thrust into a search for the Holy Grail. The series is now up to four novels and is a fantastic read as the protagonist Thomas travels throughout the United Kingdom and Western Europe in an attempt to find the famous Holy Grail.

Christian Cameron

Christian Cameron is probably the least famous author on this list. Cameron is a Canadian author and army veteran who has a degree in history from the University of Rochester. Cameron writes a wide variety of novels from different eras but his most famous book has to be Tyrant. Tyrant quickly became very popular among fans of Greek history and was made into a series. Most of his series are dedicated to ancient Greece, the Persian Empire and Alexander the Great.

The Tyrant series follows Kineas and his family as they try to defend their lands from the might of the Macedonian Empire and Alexander the Great. While the Long War Series covers the Greek wars with Persia with antagonist Arimnestos. The second book is a fantastic read and is titled Marathon. As the title suggests this book goes over the events of the most recognized naval battle in ancient history: the battle of Marathon.

Cameron’s series about ancient Greece are terrific. For me, the best novel that Christian Cameron has ever written is Washington and Caesar. The story covers the American Revolutionary War from two viewpoints. The first is obviously George Washington. The second is an escaped slave of the first President of the United States named Caesar. Caesar fights for a British unit of escaped slaves named the Loyal Ethiopians against his former owner. The way that Cameron is able to show both sides in a sympathetic light is terrific.  It is rare for any novel, regardless of genre, to have no real villain, but only a strong story that takes readers back to the time of the Revolutionary War.

Ken Follett

Ken Follet, similar to Bernard Cornwell, is one of the most well-known historical fiction authors in the world. The Welsh author got his first break with the novel Eye of the Needle. This story is about a German spy living in Britain during the second World War. His most prominent claim to fame is probably his novel Pillars of the Earth which was adapted into a popular television miniseries starring Oscar Award Winning Actor Eddie Redmayne who has been in films such as Les Misérables, The Theory of Everything and The Danish Girl. That book, written in 1989, was so popular that Follett has since published two sequels to the book.

Pillars of the Earth put Follet on the map, but in my opinion, his most recent series is his most impressive. Named The Century Series, it is a three-book series that goes through the entire 20th century. Similar to Game Of Thrones, The Century Series follows a dozen different characters, starting in 1905, and continuing with their children and grandchildren. It highlights major events such as World War One, the Russian Revolution, World War Two and the Cold War. The characters are all connected in some way, and the organization alone is very impressive. While it mainly focuses on the large-scale conflicts, the series often touches on social movements like the suffragette movement, the creation of unions, and organized crime.

Lawrence Hill

This American author living in Canada is best known for his incredible novel The Book Of Negroes. This book managed to sweep up almost every Canadian literature award. Although he has only written four fictional novels, which pales in comparison to the other authors on this list, his biggest success makes him truly deserving to be mentioned amongst the others. The Book of Negroes is one of the best historical fiction novels I have had the pleasure of reading.

The story follows Aminata Diallo, a young girl who is kidnapped from her village in West Africa. Aminata is transported across the sea and sold into slavery in South Carolina. She manages to escape her captors and escape to Canada using the Underground Railroad. Hill manages to capture the terror a child taken from her homeland and sold into slavery would have felt. Hill also creates a strong female antagonist who overcomes all of the odds against her. The Book of Negroes has won many awards, including the Commonwealth Writer’s Prize and was recently turned into a six-part miniseries.

Margaret George

Margaret George is another American author who specializes in biographical stories about great historical figures. All of her works should be considered mandatory for any history buff. The Memoirs of Cleopatra (1997), Mary Called Magdalene (2002), Helen of Troy (2006), and Elizabeth I (2011) were all on the New York Times Best-Seller List. Because of the tremendous detail in her work, she does not publish as often as the previously mentioned authors. Margaret George spends so much time in her research, which is what makes her such a successful author. George did not publish anything after Elizabeth I until 2018 when she published Confessions of a Young Nero. Fans of any of these historical figures should read Margaret George. Those who are interested in the Tudors need to read Elizabeth I. It is one of the best novels on the subject that you can find.

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