20 Authors Like Ken Follett for Historical Fiction Fans

Discover inspirational narratives with our top 20 authors like Ken Follett. Dive into historical epics and complex characters that echo Follett’s spellbinding storytelling.

This collection of authors like Ken Follett is perfect for fans of well-crafted historical fiction. As an industry veteran boasting 50 years of experience, Follett is respected for his meticulous attention to detail, authentic characters, and evocative historical backdrops.

One of Follet’s most notable works, The Pillars of the Earth, reveals the astounding saga of a master mason, Tom Builder, in 12th-century England. As the story of Tom and his family unfolds, readers are enthralled by heroics, appalled by dastardly deeds, made to laugh out loud by sheer audacity, and educated on the hardships of the period across society.

The Kingsbridge series, World Without End, and the Century trilogy are further evidence of his compelling storytelling prowess that has charmed readers worldwide. 

This skilled Welsh writer’s talent has earned him many honors, including the 1979 Edgar Award for Best Novel and the 2013 Edgar Grand Master Award. Several of Follett’s works have been adapted for TV and film, including The Pillars of the Earth.

With global book sales of more than 188 million copies, Follett’s success can be attributed to his dedication and passion for history and writing, as he once noted: “The research is the easiest. The outline is the most fun. The first draft is the hardest because every word of the outline has to be fleshed out. The rewrite is very satisfying.

We think these 20 splendid writers are more than worthy of making a list of authors like Ken Follett and hope you find your next historical fiction from our recommendations.

Interested in exploring more of Ken Follett’s work? Read our selection of the best Ken Follett books!

Best Authors Like Ken Follett Ranked

1. Sharon Kay Penman, 1945 – 2021

Sharon Kay Penman
Sharon Kay Penman was a tax lawyer before becoming a full-time writer

Sharon Kay Penman’s novels, chiefly set in England and Wales, showcase her painstaking research. In fact, she spent 12 years on her debut novel, The Sunne in Splendour. The 2008 book paints a sympathetic portrait of Richard III. He was the last Yorkist king of England and reigned from 1483 to 1485.

Another great pick from her stockpile of excellent books is the Welsh Princes’ trilogy, with the first installment being Here Be Dragons. It narrates a unique love story set in 13th-century Wales amidst power and political struggles.

Penman’s ability to reconstruct the Middle Ages authentically sets her apart. The Middle Ages (aka medieval period and Dark Ages) covers the fall of Rome in 476 CE to the start of the Renaissance in the 14th century.

“There’s not a man alive who doesn’t know fear, Dickon. The brave man is the one who has learned to hide it, that’s all.”

Sharon Kay Penman, The Sunne in Splendour
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02/19/2024 02:47 pm GMT

2. Bernard Cornwell, 1944 –

Bernard Cornwell
There are 371 books under Bernard Cornwell’s Goodreads profile

Bernard Cornwell has written about many historical periods. However, his most popular works are the Saxon Stories (The Last Kingdom series, 9th – 10th-century England), which tell the tale of Alfred the Great through the eyes of the warrior Uhtred, and his portrayal of the rogue Richard Sharpe from the Napoleonic Wars (1803 – 1815).

After working briefly as a teacher, Cornwell worked for the BBC (British Broadcasting Corporation) in Northern Ireland. There, he met and fell in love with an American and, on following her back to the U.S., began his writing career.

Cornwell’s ability to depict the grit and glory of bygone eras is unique. His debut novel, Sharpe’s Eagle, was a tremendous success, inspiring him to pen more books featuring Richard Sharpe. The books, of course, later became a hit series starring Sean Bean.

Much of Cornwell’s work has been adapted for TV, including The Last Kingdom and The Warlord Chronicles.

But fate, as Merlin always taught us, is inexorable. Life is a jest of the Gods, Merlin liked to claim, and there is no justice. You must learn to laugh, he once told me, or else you’ll just weep yourself to death.

Bernard Cornwell, The Winter King
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02/19/2024 03:11 pm GMT

3. Elizabeth Chadwick, 1957 –

Elizabeth Chadwick
Elizabeth Chadwick only had four months to write First Knight

Elizabeth Chadwick focuses on her love for writing and doesn’t let rejection set her back. When her novel The Wild Hunt was published, she did not expect to bag many accolades. Some of her honors include the Betty Trask Award and multiple Romantic Novelists’ Association’s Parker Pen Award nominations.

Chadwick has a lot to offer to her readers, but the second installment of her William Marshal series, The Greatest Knight, is one of the best. Imagine being in 12th-century England. You’re a penniless knight, and all you have is your ideals. Suddenly, you became King Henry II’s savior, and now you’re tasked with tutoring his son.

The series is the fictionalized life of the “real Lancelot,” William Marshal.

Another notable mention from Chadwick is The Summer Queen. This time, it’s about the life of Eleanor of Aquitaine, the Queen of France (1137 to 1152), then Queen of England (1152 to 1204). Chadwick’s enthusiastic research and entertaining storytelling make her works an excellent choice for historical fiction enthusiasts wanting to explore the medieval era.

“Fight for your lord, fight for his honour, but never forget that you were fighting for yourself too.”

Elizabeth Chadwick, The Greatest Knight
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02/19/2024 02:52 pm GMT

4. Anya Seton, 1904 – 1990

Anya Seton
Anya Seton spent two years researching her debut novel, My Theodosia

Anya Seton’s books weave historical facts with elements of romance and adventure. Her novels are primarily about female protagonists connected to men who made history, such as in the case of her 1941 book, My Theodosia, a tale of Aaron Burr’s only child from the late 18th and early 19th century.

Seton was lauded for her comprehensive research that brings authenticity to her stories. Among her most notable works is Katherine, highlighting the 14th-century forbidden love between Katherine Swynford and John of Gaunt. Another is The Winthrop Woman, a story about Elizabeth Fones, a founder of Greenwich, Connecticut.

Seton also penned gothic romance set in 18th- and 19th-century England. Her Dragonwyck and Foxfire books were turned into films.

“A woman with opinions had better develop a thick skin and a loud voice.”

Anya Seton, The Winthrop Woman
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02/19/2024 02:52 pm GMT

5. Colleen McCullough, 1937 – 2015

Colleen McCullough
Colleen McCullough established the Royal North Shore Hospital Neurophysiology Department

Colleen McCullough has sold over 30 million copies, with her writing career taking off with the 1977 novel The Thorn Birds. It’s a sweeping family saga set in the 19th-century Australian outback. Aside from being a bestseller, it also became a popular 1983 TV miniseries.

However, McCullough’s historical prowess best shines in her seven-book collection, the Masters of Rome series.

Set in ancient Rome, these works ingeniously bring the city’s political turmoil to life with superb accuracy. Her exploration of historical periods did not stop at Rome; McCullough’s novel Antony and Cleopatra retells one of history’s most infamous love affairs. Her works stand out for their detail, depth, and precise portrayal of power, ambition, and human nature.

“Luck is here for everyone to seize.”

Colleen McCullough, Caesar
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02/19/2024 02:47 pm GMT

6. Philippa Gregory, 1954 –

Philippa Gregory
Philippa Gregory has a PhD in 18th-century literature

Who wouldn’t know about Anne Boleyn and her history-changing decision to seduce King Henry VIII when discussing historical fiction? While many focus on the infamous Anne, Philippa Gregory’s The Other Boleyn Girl shone the spotlight on her sister, Mary. It inspired a 2003 BBC adaptation and a 2008 Hollywood film starring Natalie Portman and Scarlett Johansson.

USA Today calls Gregory “the queen of royal fiction” for her spellbinding depictions of the Tudor period. She has been writing enchanting narratives, marked by robust research and a keen eye for detail, for over 30 years.

Moreover, this British novelist’s Cousins’ War series, beginning with The White Queen, probes the Wars of the Roses. The franchise offers readers a striking portrayal of an era defined by intrigue, power struggles, family feuds, and the indomitable spirit of women.

“A man will always promise to do more than he can do to a woman he cannot understand.”

Philippa Gregory, The White Queen
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02/19/2024 02:51 pm GMT

7. Conn Iggulden, 1971 –

Conn Iggulden
Conn Iggulden was inspired to write historical novels when subbing for a history class

Conn Iggulden is an English teacher turned historical novelist who topped the UK nonfiction and fiction genres simultaneously.

His works immerse readers in harsh realities and the relentless nature of some of the world’s most feared conquerors. They not only serve to entertain but also provide a glimpse into some of history’s most fascinating eras.

What catapulted Iggulden to fame was his Emperor series. This five-book collection recounts Julius Caesar’s life, from his early years to the height of his power. Lionsgate’s Summit Entertainment plans to create a movie franchise inspired by the series, starting with the first two books, The Gates of Rome and The Field of Swords

Another notable series is Iggulden’s Conqueror franchise, which delves into the leadership of Genghis Khan during the Mongol Conquest.

“I appreciate gold only because of what it brings to me and this is where it’s placed me — on this stairs, with the largest city in the world behind me.”

Conn Iggulden, Emperor The Gates of Rome
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02/18/2024 03:31 pm GMT

8. C.J. Sansom, 1952 –

C.J. Sansom
C.J. Sansom was an attorney and worked in Birmingham as a solicitor

Renowned British author C.J. Sansom has cemented his reputation as a master of historical mystery, brilliantly combining fact and fiction. His most celebrated work is the seven-book Matthew Shardlake series, set in 16th-century Tudor England. The series commences with Dissolution, a book about Barrister Sharlake solving a murder at a monastery.

The series has gained acclaim for rich, atmospheric historical storytelling. Sansom brings the past alive, seamlessly interweaving political intrigue, complex characters, and gripping mysteries. His work has topped bestseller lists and bagged him awards such as the Crime Writers’ Association Diamond Dagger and Ellis Peters Historical Dagger.

“In worshipping their nationhood men worship themselves and scorn others, and that is no healthy thing.”

C.J. Sansom, Dissolution
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02/19/2024 02:52 pm GMT

9. James Forrester, 1967 –

James Forrester
James Forrester is the pseudonym of Ian Mortimer

To separate his fiction-writing persona, the British historian Dr. Ian Mortimer wrote under the pen name James Forrester, which is his middle name. Still, his background shines through his novels’ authentic historical details and dialogue.

He’s most famed for his Clarenceux trilogy set in Elizabethan England (1558 to 1603), a period he has studied extensively. His debut novel, Sacred Treason, is a fascinating exploration of religious and political drama during Queen Elizabeth’s time. His careful attention to the minutiae of the past, combined with his ability to weave creative plots, ensures that his novels are entertaining and highly informative.

Dr. Mortimer has multiple best-selling works of non-fiction that read as well as a fiction novel for anyone particularly interested in the medieval period.

“Justice is a relative concept in all ages. The fourteenth century is no exception.”

James Forrester
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02/19/2024 02:56 pm GMT

10. James A. Michener, 1907 – 1997

James A. Michener
James A. Michener inspired the 1949 Rodgers and Hammerstein musical

James A. Michener was an American author best known for his multi-generational historical novels, often set in exotic locations. A true luminary in his field, Michener won the Pulitzer Prize in 1948 for his debut novel, Tales of the South Pacific. It’s a collection of stories about World War II, which served as the basis for the Broadway musical and later film South Pacific.

Michener did extensive research for his novels, offering readers a realistic feel of the time and place of his books’ settings. However, his characters are only based on historical personalities. Michener’s Centennial, for instance, is a tome (1104 pages, to be exact) with an original protagonist, Dr. Lewis Vernor. It depicts the American West and was later adapted into a 12-episode TV miniseries.

“I love writing. I love the swirl and swing of words as they tangle with human emotions”

James A. Michener
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02/19/2024 03:01 pm GMT

11. Kristin Hannah, 1960 –

Kristin Hannah
Kristin Hannah started her writing career while bedridden and pregnant

Kristin Hannah is an American author revered for her well-written characters and excellent story endings. She has already penned more than 20 books, but she’s best known for her 2015 novel The Nightingale, which sold over 4.5 million copies. It masterfully depicts the resilience of women during the harsh backdrop of World War II. It became a 2023 movie featuring Dakota and Elle Fanning.

Hannah’s skill in threading intricate plotlines in different time periods and curating relatable characters earned her many awards, such as the RITA, Audie, and Goodreads Choice awards. Another book, Firefly Lane, also made waves and went on to become a Netflix Original series. Grab a Kristin Hannah book if you want to read historical fiction that puts hope and the female spirit at the forefront!

“Perhaps that’s why I find myself looking backward. The past has a clarity I can no longer see in the present.”

Kristin Hannah, The Nightingale
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02/18/2024 04:42 pm GMT

12. Jeffrey Archer, 1940 –

Jeffrey Archer
Jeffrey Archer has sold over 275 million copies of his books!

Jeffrey Archer is an acclaimed English author and former politician whose literary works top many bestseller lists. His dedication to his novels makes him a gripping storyteller. To offer his readers unputdownable adventures, he researches for months, travels to the places he plans to write about, and outlines his story in detail.

Archer’s most awe-inspiring work is Kane and Abel, which has sold 34 million copies globally. It tells the story of two men’s history that spans 60 years as they live through disasters, such as World War I and the 1929 Wall Street crash. The novel was made into a popular miniseries, further cementing Archer’s place in the literary world.

“I have discovered with advancing years that few things are entirely black or white, but more often different shades of grey.”

Jeffrey Archer, A Prisoner of Birth
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02/18/2024 10:35 pm GMT

Start your Jeffrey Archer fever by discovering the best Jeffrey Archer books of all time!

13. Geraldine Brooks, 1955 –

Geraldine Brooks
Geraldine Brooks was a reporter for The Wall Street Journal

Geraldine Brooks is a noteworthy Australian-American writer, cherished for her ability to paint fascinating historical narratives alongside evocative descriptions of an era’s setting. One of her most remarkable feats is winning the prestigious 2006 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction for her novel March.

Inspired by Louisa May Alcott’s classic Little Women, March explores the American Civil War (1861 to 1865) from the perspective of an absent father. Another excellent historical fiction is her novel Year of Wonders, a tale of survival in a plague-ridden English village set in the year 1666.

Brooks’ novels transport readers to vastly different settings, from the American wilderness to pre-biblical Israel, thus providing an alluring journey back in time. If you’re looking for historical fiction offering deep insights into different eras and cultures, you should definitely delve into Geraldine Brooks’ works.

“It wasn’t a good idea to speak without putting a deal of thought into it.”

Geraldine Brooks, Horse
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02/18/2024 03:50 pm GMT

14. Diana Gabaldon, 1952 –

Diana Gabaldon
Diana Gabaldon was a former professor at Arizona State University

Diana Gabaldon is a distinguished American author lauded for her ability to blend elements of romance, historical fiction, mystery, and science fiction into captivating storylines. Gabaldon’s fame skyrocketed following the release of her debut novel, Outlander, which ignited a phenomenally successful series.

The Outlander series, spanning nine books and counting, has been adapted into an equally popular TV series. It centers on Claire Randall, a 20th-century British nurse. Randall inadvertently travels back in time to 18th-century Scotland during the Highland Clearances.

More specifically, she arrives during the Jacobite Rising or Forty-Five Rebellion (1745), a series of staged protests to restore the House of Stuart to the British Throne.

Gabaldon’s works promise an enthralling read if you’re interested in time-traveling sagas embroiled in love, war, and adventure.

“For if you feel for me as I do for you — then I am asking you to tear out your heart and live without it.”

Diana Gabaldon, Dragonfly in Amber
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02/19/2024 02:47 pm GMT

15. Edward Rutherfurd, 1948 –

Edward Rutherfurd
Edward Rutherfurd, born Francis Edward Wintle, is best known for creating expansive historical novels

Edward Rutherfurd (not Edward Rutherford) has earned a reputation for his sweeping, epic novels illuminating the rich history of cities and countries. His best-known works include Sarum, Russka, London, and China. Each book is a colossal undertaking that maps the history of a single location across centuries.

His debut work, Sarum, centers around English history, particularly Salisbury and the Stonehenge monument. It features an expansive plot covering 10,000 years, from the Ice Age to the present day.

Rutherfurd’s vivid details make it easy for readers to paint locations in their minds. Plus, his novels allow readers to understand better subjects that affect human history, such as the evolution of astronomy, its connection to religious ceremonies, and the power of spiritual beings (shamans, high priests, etc.)

“That is destiny, and you must accept it. Never think you can escape destiny.”

Edward Rutherfurd, London
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02/19/2024 02:51 pm GMT

16. Hilary Mantel, 1952 – 2022

Hilary Mantel
Hilary Mante’s The Mirror & the Light sold over 95,000 copies in just three days

Hilary Mantel’s genius can be best remembered via her sharp social criticism and detailed characterizations. Often, as a reader, she will make you feel like a fly on the wall — you’re privy to everything. You know the protagonists’ struggles and successes and can empathize with the characters more.

Before succumbing to complications brought on by a stroke, she left three decades worth of literary work. An exceptional read from Mantel is her Wolf Hall trilogy, which portrays the rise and fall of King Henry’s Chief Minister, Thomas Cromwell. This series not only received critical acclaim but also won the prestigious Booker Prize — twice!

The first two books in the series, Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies, were each awarded the honor, making Mantel the first woman to win the Booker Prize twice. Mantel’s writings extend beyond Tudor England, as demonstrated in her A Place of Greater Safety, which focuses on the 18th century, specifically the French Revolution.

“Some of these things are true and some of them lies. But they are all good stories.”

Hilary Mantel, Wolf Hall
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02/18/2024 10:26 pm GMT

17. Larry McMurtry, 1936 – 2021

Larry McMurtry
Larry McMurtry wrote over 30 novels

Larry McMurtry dazzled his readers with tales of the American frontier and contemporary Texas. Unlike other novelists, he didn’t stick to one writing style. He experimented and used a variety, ranging from straightforward narration to elegiac storytelling. What sets McMurtry apart is his ability to capture the soul and spirit of America, turning his books into a doorway to the Old West.

Take his 1986 Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, Lonesome Dove, for example. Open the pages of this novel, and you’re suddenly part of the epic tale of retired Texas Rangers contemplating life versus death decisions.

Another one of his notable works, Terms of Endearment, was turned into a 1983 film. It also won an Academy Award for that same year. This novel revolves around a mother and her daughter’s challenges: first, a hasty marriage; second, cancer. Here, McMurtry offered his keen insights into the complexities of human relationships via richly drawn characters.

“The older the violin, the sweeter the music.”

Larry McMurtry, Lonesome Dove
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02/19/2024 02:52 pm GMT

18. James Clavell, 1921 – 1994

James Clavell
James Clavell published his first novel at age 41

Austrian-born British writer James Clavell focused on Europeans in Asia, gifting readers with action-packed plots and electrifying depictions of clashing cultures. 

His iconic Shōgun saga, set in feudal Japan, is widely acknowledged as his magnum opus. Here, he immerses readers in the world of samurais, warlords, and ambitious Europeans. Feudal Japan lasted from 1185 AD to 1603 AD, where lords offered lands or offices to their retainers in exchange for military service.

Clavell’s works offer insights into Asian culture rarely seen in Western literature of his time. His book, King Rat, is based on his experiences as a prisoner during World War II. The 1962 novel exudes realism and sparks visceral emotions as the characters struggle for survival.

Moreover, his novel Tai-Pan, set in 1840s Hong Kong, was adapted into a movie. His ability to bring readers across time and space to distant lands and his insightful cultural explorations make Clavell’s works worth exploring.

“Only by living at the edge of death can you understand the indescribable joy of life.”

James Clavell, Shogun
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02/19/2024 02:56 pm GMT

19. Amitav Ghosh, 1956 –

Amitav Ghosh
Amitav Ghosh received the 2018 Jnanpith Award, the highest Indian literary honor

Amitav Ghosh is an acclaimed Indian writer renowned for his versatility and profound exploration of historical and socio-political themes. His debut novel, The Circle of Reason, won him international recognition and set the high standard for what would come.

Another Ghosh masterpiece is his Ibis trilogy, a powerful narrative set against the backdrop of the First Opium War. The First Opium War, or the Anglo-Chinese War, happened between 1839 to 1942. It started when the British smuggled opium into China despite the country’s protests. His work resonates with readers because of his ability to intertwine complex narratives with historical realities.

“That’s the difference between us: you worry about rules, and I worry about being human.”

Amitav Ghosh, The Circle of Reason
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02/19/2024 02:52 pm GMT

20. Robert Harris, 1957 –

Robert Harris
Robert Harris’ works have been translated into 30 languages

Before his successful writing career, Robert Harris worked as a journalist and TV reporter, where he honed his storytelling skills. His book, Fatherland, pushed him into the literary limelight.

It’s an alternate history thriller set in a world where Nazi Germany won World War II. Originally, Harris wanted to release it as a nonfiction book. But later, he realized he wanted to discuss concepts he could only explore via fiction. So, he decided to create a police procedural fiction instead.

One that has a meticulously researched plot. Eventually, Fatherland was turned into a 1994 movie. Harris has since written several bestsellers, including Pompeii, a riveting account of the city’s final days in 79 AD, and The Ghost, a political thriller adapted into a 2010 film. His talent for fusing historical events with suspenseful fiction will make you feel like you’re part of his tales, urging you to keep flipping until the last page!

“Power brings a man many luxuries, but a clean pair of hands is seldom among them.”

Robert Harris, Imperium
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02/19/2024 02:52 pm GMT