Longing for a different time? These historical fiction titles can do that for you.
Let’s jump out of this stressful time and into another (probably still stressful, let’s be real) time, shall we? Perhaps you’ve had enough of the current time, and perhaps you’ve even tired of fiction set in the current time. These historical fiction (fiction set in the past) titles will transport you back in time, to things that may or may not have actually happened this way. Some are realer than others, but regardless, the stories are beautifully told and incredibly necessary. Let’s take a journey to the past and forget about the present.
‘River of Teeth’ by Sarah Gailey
Here is a very true statement: In 1910, a Louisiana congressman came up with a ridiculous plan to import actual hippos into the U.S., due to a meat shortage, to be used as livestock. This plan was never put into place, obviously, as it is the literal stupidest thing ever. However, in River of Teeth, we are transported to an alternate reality where this actually happened and years later as a result there are feral hippos overrunning the Louisiana bayous–in other words, absolute mayhem (but with hippopotamuses). This is the tale of a wrangler and his crew hired to clear them out. Fun, right? This is fun.
‘D-Day Girls: The Spies Who Armed the Resistance, Sabotaged the Nazis, and Helped Win World War II’ by Sarah Rose
This one is as real as real gets on this list, folks. D-Day Girls is the untold history of the women who were recruited by Britain’s elite spy agency to become spies and help the Allies achieve victory in World War II. In 1942, 39 women answered this–extremely unheard of–call, leaving their worlds behind to go undercover in France. Sarah Rose takes from real research and diary entries to bring us the story of three of these incredible women. In a novel filled with espionage, history, and thrills, D-Day Girls is an excellent read, and shoves in your face what women are capable of, so listen up and don’t forget it.
‘Daisy Jones & the Six’ by Taylor Jenkins Reid
Daisy Jones & the Six takes you back to the 1960s, and transports you into the very real and wild world of rock and roll. With supremely feminist themes (these women are badass), the novel also deeply explores addiction, delving into the glamorization of drug addiction, while not actually glamorizing drug addiction itself. Daisy is a wannabe singer growing up in ‘60s Los Angeles, partying with rock stars and sneaking into clubs. She soon joins forces with a band (The Six) and their lead singer Billy Dunne. The book is written like a biographical account of one of “the most popular bands of the ‘60s,” but it’s not actually a real band. That’s the “fiction” part of this.
‘Pride & Prejudice’ by Jane Austen
Okay, is this technically “historical fiction?” No. However, it will transport you back in time, which is the whole point of this. Plus, desperate times (now) call for desperate measures (reading this perfect book). This classic novel by Jane Austen follows Elizabeth Bennet, a strong and outspoken young woman living in the Regency Era of Great Britain, as she learns the repercussions of her fast judgments, and particularly those regarding the wealthy Mr. Darcy. In this gorgeous love story, Elizabeth learns what real goodness is, and that it’s not always what’s on the surface that counts. On the other hand, Mr. Darcy has his own lessons to learn about prejudice, and it’s these lessons, learned by both, that eventually bring them together for good.
‘All Out: The No Longer Secret Stories of Queer Teens Throughout the Ages’ Edited by Saundra Mitchell
In this collection of seventeen stories told by seventeen different queer authors, All Out is all over the place in the best possible way. From a reimagining of Red Riding Hood, this time about a transgender soldier in the midst of war, to an asexual teen girl figuring out her identity in the roller derby scene of the 1970s, this grouping of stories is a YA dream, perfect for teens and adults alike, and telling stories that range all different identities and cultures. This collection journeys through time and gives representation to characters not often recognized in historical fiction.
‘Carols and Chaos’ by Cindy Anstey
Okay, this is a fun one. Meant for Jane Austen fans, Carols and Chaos is a “Christmas adventure” (wonderful term) set in 1817 on a country estate. We follow the lives of the estate’s very busy maid, Kate, and Matt, the valet of two of the estate guests, who is also very busy himself. These are two very busy people and it would be very inconvenient if they were to, say…fall in love with each other. But guess what? That might just happen, and you can guess what that will mean–chaos (but also: carols).
‘Little Women’ by Louisa May Alcott
Again, is this a “true” example of historical fiction, in the strictest definition? No! But, once again, it will surely transport you back in time, so hear me out.
Ah, another classic. As Bob Odenkirk weirdly says as the dad in the recent Greta Gerwig movie adaptation, “My little women.” And, yes, this book belongs to all of us, at this point, as it is engraved into our little brains due to years and years of other movie and miniseries retellings–a classic. And you know what? Can’t get enough of it. Give me another retelling of it, hell, keep giving me adaptations of Little Women until the end of time. Make Florence Pugh play every character, who cares! Anyways, this is the story of the March sisters growing up in Civil War-era New England and everyone should read it.
‘The Book of Longings’ by Sue Monk Kidd
The Book of Longings is the story of a woman finding her voice in a time when women’s voices weren’t generally heard (Galilee in the first century). Our hero, Ana, is brave, ambitious, and wealthy, and spends her time learning and writing about the narratives of silenced women. She is supposed to marry an older, widowed man…that is, until she meets literal Jesus (Christ) and begins a love affair with him. She tries to build a life with him (Jesus), and naturally there are many trials and tribulations (for example, she is the sister of Judas, which might cause a problem, just saying). Although not a “true story,” this novel is intricately researched and excellently written.
‘The Song of Achilles’ by Madeline Miller
In this gorgeous retelling of the Trojan War, we follow Patroclus, our shamed hero, a young and awkward prince sent in exile to the court of King Peleus and his (perfect) son, Achilles. The timeline mostly follows the events depicted in The Iliad (the difference being that in The Iliad, Patroclus was not as awkward, and an actual warrior). Achilles and Patroclus become friends, and the relationship becomes much deeper, resulting in a love story in its purest and most devastating form, in a time where honor, glory, and image were more valued than life and love.