Historical Fiction

The Best Historical Fiction Books You’ve Never Heard Of

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Courtney Rodgers


Courtney has been reading and collecting books almost as long as she's been alive. She holds a B.A. in Theatre and Creative Writing. Courtney has been writing with Book Riot since 2019, and is a Bibliologist with TBR: Tailored Book Recommendations. She's currently brainstorming for her next creative project. You can follow her on Instagram.

With all of history to choose from, it’s no surprise that historical fiction continues to soar as a favorite genre. From historical romance to historical retellings of fairytales and historical adventures, there’s a historical fiction niche for everyone. Step into any bookstore, and you’re likely to find the current best-selling historical fiction books. Mass appealing historical fiction books are frequent book club favorites and get bounced around on social media. There’s nothing wrong with reading hyped up books because they’re usually hyped for a reason. But what happens though when you run out of hyped books to read? You have to dig deeper. 

Historical fiction allows for exploration of themes, through the eyes of history. As we know, history isn’t always pretty, and maybe that’s why some of these books don’t get the praise we think they deserve. Past the displays of fresh publications and best sellers, there on the bottom shelf, or crammed between favorite authors, you might find a book with an unusual cover or title. Give the book a chance because you never know what brilliance you’ll find. I’ve found some of my favorite historical fiction novels by picking them at random from my library’s shelves. It might not be the most scientific method, but it’s done wonders for my reading.  

Let’s step back in time with the turn of a page with these historical fiction books. 

Little by Edward Carey book cover

Little By Edward Carey

Told from the perspective of Marie, a Swiss orphan, Little is the gruesome and fascinating fable of how the legendary Madame Tussad came to be. First apprenticed to a medical sculptor, Marie makes her way in pre-revolutionary France, sculpting famous heads out of wax. Marie’s artistic talents earn her a spot at Versailles as companion and teacher to the princess. Striking and original, this novel reads like a mythic fairytale set around famous events. 

The Wolves of Andover Book Cover

The Wolves of Andover by Kathleen Kent

When 19-year-old Martha is hired as a servant in her cousin’s house, she doesn’t expect to fall for Thomas Carrier, a former Royal Guard who fled for the colonies. Rumors of a bounty on Carrier’s life threaten their courtship and future. This detailed novel is a prequel to Kent’s The Heretic’s Daughter.

A Gentleman's Murder cover image

A Gentleman’s Murder by Christopher Huang

After a dangerous game in Brittania, an exclusive London club, leaves one man dead, Lt. Eric Peterkin is determined to solve the murder case himself. Eric’s findings point him towards a wartime disappearance, leading him to abandoned hospitals and down shadowy alleys. When Eric makes a discovery that could threaten more than his club membership, will it already be too late? 

The Guineveres Book Cover

The Guineveres by Sarah Domet

Four girls, all named Guinevere, are brought together by fate. Raised alongside each other in a secluded convent, the girls find solace and friendship in each other. As their 18th birthdays loom closer, they dream of escape and form a plan together. 

Cover of Bila Yarrudhanggalangdhuray by Anita Heiss

Bila Yarrudhanggalangdhuray by Anita Heiss

When the Murrumbidgee River floods in 1852, the tiny town of Gundagi is over taken. The surviving Bradley family members decide to move to Wagga Wagga. Mourning for her beloved home and family, Wagadhaany is forced to accompany the Bradleys. Brokenhearted, Wagahanny dreams of returning to her own country and defying the colonialist laws that bind her. This novel is based on true events. 

We Are All Birds of Uganda Book Cover

We Are All Birds of Uganda by Hafsa Zayyan

Divided into sections set in 1960s Uganda and present day London, this novel explores belonging, generational gaps, and racial conflicts. In 1960s Uganda, widower Hasan is attempting to piece his life back together as the political climate threatens to destroy everything. Londoner Sameer feels empty despite the fullness of his life and dream career as a lawyer. An unexpected tragedy calls Sameer home, forcing him to look at the past he never knew. 

The Summer We Got Free by Mia McKenzie

The Summer We Got Free by Mia McKenzie

Ava Delaney was a talented young artist, but violence shook her world. Her family uprooted and moved to Philadelphia, bringing their ghosts with them. Feuding neighbors and church members push the Delaneys farther into their dark home. When a strange woman arrives, everything begins to shift, including Ava’s apathy to the world. Simmering and haunting, this novel is thought-provoking and enjoyable. 

the library of legends

The Library of Legends by Jamie Chang

When the city of Nanking becomes a bomb target, students of Minghua University are ordered to evacuate. Hu Lian and her classmates must travel over 1,000 miles to safety, entrusted with the 500 year-old collection of myths and legends. The stories they carry mirror their own treacherous journeys, and Lian realizes that her secrets may be putting her friends in danger. Fantastical and sweeping, this novel will inspire you. 

Exit the Actress Book Cover

Exit the Actress by Priya Parmar

When humble orange seller Ellen ‘Nell’ Gwyn catches the eye of the theater’s managers, her life’s path take a brand new turn. Nell is admitted to the theatre troupe as a small cast member, before taking lead roles and, eventually, finding favor with King Charles II. This romantic, sweeping novel is told through Nell’s diaries, letters, and other snippets of 17thcentury life. 

Song of the Cuckoo Bird Book Cover

Song of the Cuckoo Bird by Amulya Malladi

At 11-years-old, Kokila is promised to marriage. Kokila visits Tela Meda, an ashram where everyone is welcome. Kokila decides to spend the rest of her life at Tela Meda among the outcasts, despite the heavy consequences. The women at Tela Meda are Kokila’s family as she grows up and India sees political changes.

Water Ghosts Book Cover

Water Ghosts by Shawna Yang Ryan

After three women appear in the mist of the Sacramento River near Locke, California, the lives of town residents become increasingly fraught with confusion and terror. Richard Fong, the owner of the gambling den, seems to be connected to all three women. Yang layers traditional storytelling and myth with lyrical prose for a wholly original experience.  

A Death of No Importance by Mariah Fredericks cover image

A Death of No Importance by Mariah Fredericks

Years of being sequestered away by her religious uncle have taught Jane the art of observation. Now working as a ladies’ maid, Jane knows how to play the game. When the fiance of her employer is found dead, Jane is able to slip unnoticed between high society to solve the case. Sharp and meticulously detailed, this mystery this the first in the Jane Prescott mystery series. 

What other underrated or unknown historical fiction books are there to discover? Visit our historical fiction archives to explore, and check out these underrated romance and YA books for something new to you.