Spanish philosopher George Santayana once said, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” Which is a great reason to read history books — they teach us about the past! And falling under the history book umbrella are historical fiction books. Just because they’re fiction doesn’t mean they don’t contain information about real times, places, and events. Historical fiction can be a rich, exciting way to learn about history. That’s why history fans and fiction fans should check out this list of ten of the best historical fiction books of 2022!
Historical fiction doesn’t have to mean that a book is set decades and decades ago. I am painfully aware that books set during my childhood are now considered historical fiction. (Just like hearing songs I loved in high school on the oldies station these days. Ouch.) To a 20-year-old, a book set in the 1980s is definitely historical fiction for them, since they weren’t alive to experience it. On this list, you’ll find amazing historical novels set during the start of the AIDS crisis, the American Civil War, the Jazz Age, and more. Whether you are 20 or 120, there are books on this list for everyone to love!
Beautiful Little Fools by Jillian Cantor
Do you love The Great Gatsby? I must admit that I don’t. But it didn’t stop my from loving this retelling, in which — get ready for century-old spoilers — the murder of Jay Gatsby is still an open investigation. When a diamond hairpin is found at the scene of a murder/suicide, the case may not be as simple as it seems. It’s up to one detective to try to get the truth out of his three main suspects: Daisy Buchanan, her friend Jordan Baker, and the late Myrtle Wilson’s sister Catherine McCoy.
Trust by Hernan Diaz
This one has made many of the big end of the year lists. Diaz’s last book, In the Distance, was a Pulitzer finalist, and he followed it up with the story of a Wall Street tycoon and his wife in the 1920s. Well, actually, it’s the story of the real couple that couple was based on. But wait, it’s also a memoir. And even more. Are you confused? Don’t be: just read the book. Diaz’s story of wealth, greed, and privilege is a masterpiece.
Woman of Light by Kali Fajardo-Anstine
Three years ago, Fajardo-Anstine astounded readers with her debut story collection Sabrina & Corina, which was a National Book Award finalist. This year, she astounded readers with her debut novel, about five generations of an Indigenous Chicano family in the American West. It’s an engrossing read about the power of stories and who tells them.
Booth by Karen Joy Fowler
Fowler’s wildly ambitious novel successfully captures the story of a complicated family in a complicated time. Booth covers the story of the family of Abraham Lincoln’s assassin, John Wilkes Booth. Many people don’t realize his father was one of the most famous Shakespearean actors of his time. And his parents’ marriage in England and move to America was mired in scandal, long before JWB came along.
Peach Blossom Spring by Melissa Fu
This excellent debut novel is about three generations of a Chinese family. It spans from 1938 in China as the Japanese army approaches and a young mother must make a difficult decision, to present day, when a daughter wishes to learn about her heritage from her father, who refuses to talk. It’s a powerful story of family, war, and history.
They’re Going To Love You by Meg Howrey
This is a breathtaking, heart-squeezing book about dance, family, and forgiveness. When Carlisle Martin receives the news that her father is dying, she is conflicted. After all, she hasn’t spoken to him in almost 20 years. As the book unfolds, we learn about Carlisle’s childhood and her time visiting her father and his partner in NYC, starting in the early 1980s during the AIDS crisis. Through becoming a dancer like them, she hopes to earn a permanent place in their home, but a betrayal will destroy their relationship.
Anywhere You Run by Wanda M. Morris
One of the year’s best crime novels is also a work of historical fiction! It’s the story of Violet and Marigold Richards in the summer of 1964 in Mississippi. Violet has always been the wild sister, while Marigold was a “good girl.” When Violet kills the white man who attacked her, she flees their town, knowing that there will be no justice for her as a Black woman. Marigold already has troubles of her own: she’s just found out she’s pregnant, which is scandalous for an unmarried woman at the time. But Violet’s actions force Marigold to flee as well, to keep from being found guilty by association. Will they be able to keep ahead of the law and find peace in their new lives?
Marriage Portrait by Maggie O’Farrell
At this point, it’s safe to say Maggie O’Farrell is an expert at writing historical fiction. Instructions for a Heatwave was a great family drama about a family in Ireland during the hot July of 1976. Her last novel, Hamnet, about Shakespeare, his wife, and their son, won the 2021 Booker Prize. And this year, she brings readers on a fascinating journey back to Florence in the 1550s, to tell the story of the young duchess Lucrezia de’ Medici and her very short life and death.
The Whalebone Theatre by Joanna Quinn
This is a wildly imaginative story of a whale carcass that washes ashore in a small village on the English channel. A young orphan and several members of her household turn it into a theater and spend hours and hours flee the realities of life there. But years later, World War II will make it impossible to escape danger, when two of the children become secret agents.
Four Treasures of the Sky by Jenny Tinghui Zhang
And last, but not least, the fourth incredible debut novel on this list is set in the American West in the 1880s. Daiyu is a young woman who was kidnapped from China and brought to America. As Daiyu moves from one place to another, trying to make a life for herself and find peace, anti-Chinese sentiments sweep across the country, and she finds herself facing even more danger. It’s a beautiful, infuriating novel about historical injustices often excluded from the history books.
For more suggestions of books to read if you love historical fiction, check out underrated historical novels, 50 of the best historical fiction books, and some of the most popular historical fiction of 2022.