The 9 Best Authors of Historical Fiction

Take a look at some of the best authors of historical fiction, and consider taking a look at a few historical fiction books.

Historical fiction is one of the broadest genres of literature. Stories take place all over the globe, ranging from London, England to Paris, France, and even to New York. American, British, English, German, and countless other authors have left their marks on this genre.

Whether it’s a 19th-century story about the American Civil War or the Napoleonic campaign, or a 20th-century story focusing on World War I or Nazi Germany and World War II, there is always something new to learn. These stories even stretch back to the Middle Ages and Henry VIII. 

If you are looking for some of the best historical fiction novels, what are a few books to consider? Pick your time and take a look at a few thrillers below.

1. All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr, 2014

Best Authors of Historical Fiction

Even though there are a lot of WWII novels, this one might be at the top of the list. All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr stands out from the crowd. The author brilliantly uses wartime drama to focus on a story that comes down to two characters.

The blind daughter of a museum locksmith flees from Paris after the Germans conquered it. She leaves with her father carrying a priceless jewel from her home. On the other hand, a German orphan is forced to join the Hitler Youth, being thrust into action with inadequate training. The story captivates the audience every step of the way, leading up to a thrilling conclusion. 

“You know the greatest lesson of history? It’s that history is whatever the victors say it is. That’s the lesson. Whoever wins, that’s who decides the history. We act in our own self-interest. Of course we do. Name me a person or a nation who does not. The trick is figuring out where your interests are.”

Anthony Doerr, All the Light We Cannot See
All the Light We Cannot See: A Novel
  • Doerr, Anthony (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 544 Pages - 04/04/2017 (Publication Date) - Scribner (Publisher)

2. The Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett, 1989

Even though he might be better known for his spy novels, he has undoubtedly shown his abilities as a historical fiction writer. Ken Follett focuses on the Middle Ages in this adventure. The book focuses on a Mason, a priest, and a witch.

Quickly, this book became one of the author’s best-selling novels. The book focuses on a mason searching for a job to support himself and his loved ones. He eventually falls in love with a witch, who is outlawed. A priest then signs him to build a cathedral, but that is when the story takes a dramatic turn. This book is sure to hold your attention from start to finish. 

“You never know,” Jack said speculatively. “There may come a time when savages like William Hamleigh aren’t in power; when the laws protect the ordinary people instead of enslaving them; when the king makes peace instead of war. Think of that – a time when towns in England don’t need walls!”

Ken Follett, The Pillars of the Earth
The Pillars of the Earth (Deluxe Edition) (Oprah's Book Club) by Ken Follett (2007-11-14)
  • Ken Follett (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 01/01/2007 (Publication Date) - NAL Trade (Publisher)

3. Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel, 2009

A lot of people grow up listening to fairy tales about castles and kings. Historical fiction is not exactly a fairy tale, but it will provide a great education on Tudor England. Wolf Hall, by Hilary Mantel, focuses on the reign of Henry the VIII, a scandalous time in English History. This English king broke away from the Catholic Church to marry a new wife. Thomas Cromwell plays a central role, and the story tracks the evolution of the dynasty. The story is researched well, written to hold your attention, and is sure to teach you something new. 

“The trouble with England, he thinks, is that it’s so poor in gesture. We shall have to develop a hand signal for ‘Back off, our prince is fucking this man’s daughter.’ He is surprised that the Italians have not done it. Though perhaps they have, and he just never caught on.”

Hilary Mantel, Wolf Hall
Wolf Hall
  • Mantel, Hilary (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 604 Pages - 08/31/2010 (Publication Date) - Picador (Publisher)

4. Fingersmith by Sarah Waters, 2002

In this story, Fingersmith examines Korea when the Japanese occupied it. The novel focuses on two women who run elaborate schemes on each other. Then, they fall in love with each other and team up against other grifters. You might have even seen the movie related to this book, The Handmaiden. Unlike the movie, this book takes place in Victorian Britain. Full of schemes, lies, and deception, you will be captivated from start to finish. 

“Is this desire? How queer that I, of all people, should not know! But I thought desire smaller, neater; I supposed it bound to its own organs as taste is bound to the mouth, vision to the eye. This feeling haunts and inhabits me, like a sickness. It covers me, like skin.”

Sarah Waters, Fingersmith
  • SarahWaters (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 10/31/2002 (Publication Date) - RiverheadBooks (Publisher)

5. Outlander by Diana Gabaldon, 1991

Do you want to learn more about Scottish history? If so, you’ll probably enjoy this book about Scotland. In Outlander, by Diana Gabaldon, you’ll follow the story of an English nurse as she explores the wilderness.

The story is set in the Scottish Highlands just after 1946, but the nurse is transported to 1743. This is a time when Scotland and England were experiencing a lot of tension. She becomes sucked into a conflict that she had previously only read about in history books. The book is part of an eighth book series, and it is one of the most successful book series of all time.

“Does it ever stop? The wanting you?” “Even when I’ve just left ye. I want you so much my chest feels tight and my fingers ache with wanting to touch ye again.”

Diana Gabaldon, Outlander
Go Tell the Bees That I Am Gone: A Novel (Outlander)
  • Hardcover Book
  • Gabaldon, Diana (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 928 Pages - 11/23/2021 (Publication Date) - Delacorte Press (Publisher)

6. The Other Boleyn Girl by Philippa Gregory, 2001

This is another book that focuses on the Middle Ages and the Renaissance. In The Other Boleyn Girl, you get to see another story about King Henry the 8th through the eyes of Anne Boleyn, as told by author Philippa Gregory. After Henry annulled his marriage to Catherine of Aragon, he married Anne. Although did he have his eyes on another girl? That is exactly what this story will explore. If you are looking for a scandalous work of historical fiction, you will probably love this story.

“I can’t sleep, I can’t eat, I can’t do anything but think about him. At night I dream of him, all day I wait to see him, and when I do see him my heart turns over and I think I will faint with desire.”

Philippa Gregory, The Other Boleyn Girl
The Other Boleyn Girl by Philippa Gregory (2003-06-04)
  • 06/19/2024 (Publication Date) - Touchstone; 1st Scribner Paperback Fiction Ed edition (2003-06-04) (Publisher)

7. March by Geraldine Brooks, 2005

If you are looking for a classic that features a bunch of mature themes, then you’ll probably love March, by Geraldine Brooks. The book focuses on women who have to stay home and support the family while the fathers go off to fight. It takes place during the Civil War, and the main character is an abolitionist with strong roots in religion.

During the course of the story, his soldiers are going to clash with the army of the Confederacy. Then, he will go right back home to his family, emitting a tremendous amount of suffering that he witnesses on a daily basis. Learn about the Civil War through first-person accounts. 

“I realize that lust stands high in the list of deadly sins. And yet lust – the tightening of the throat, the flushed cheeks, the raging appetite – is the only word accurate to describe the sensation I felt that morning, as the painted door closed and I was left with the liberty of all those books.”

Geraldine Brooks, March
March: Pulitzer Prize Winner (A Novel)
  • Brooks, Geraldine (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 320 Pages - 01/31/2006 (Publication Date) - Penguin Books (Publisher)

8. War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy, 1867

Leo Tolstoy
Leo Tolstoy

There is a good chance you have heard of this epic, War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy, and there is a big reason why. A pillar of classic literature, the book takes place during the Napoleonic Wars of the 19th century. During this time, Moscow, Russia is under attack by Emperor Napoleon.

The book follows numerous characters from all socio-economic backgrounds. You’ll follow the sun of account, a romantic Countess, and a prince who fights against his status to fight back against the French. If you haven’t checked this one off your list yet, it is time to do so. 

“Here’s my advice to you: don’t marry until you can tell yourself that you’ve done all you could, and until you’ve stopped loving the women you’ve chosen, until you see her clearly, otherwise you’ll be cruelly and irremediably mistaken. Marry when you’re old and good for nothing…Otherwise all that’s good and lofty in you will be lost.”

Leo Tolstoy, War and Peace
War and Peace (Vintage Classics)
  • Used Book in Good Condition
  • Tolstoy, Leo (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 1296 Pages - 12/02/2008 (Publication Date) - Vintage (Publisher)

9. Girl with a Pearl Earring by Tracy Chevalier, 1999

Even if you haven’t heard of the book before, there’s a good chance you’ve seen the picture on the front. It features a famous painting by Johann Vermeer, and the book is every bit as beautiful. The book takes place during the 17th century, and the story focuses on giving the girl in the painting a life of her own.

The book follows a teenage girl as she becomes a maid and the Vermeer household. Eventually, the painter takes note of her, but her life takes a dramatic turn. Learn more about a frequently overlooked period in history with this amazing work by Tracy Chevalier. You can also check out these authors like William Boyd.

“I heard voices outside our front door – a woman’s, bright as polished brass, and a man’s, low and dark like the wood of the table I was working on. They were the kind of voices we heard rarely in our house. I could hear rich carpets in their voices, books and pearls and fur.”

Tracy Chevalier, Girl with a Pearl Earring
Girl with a Pearl Earring: A Novel
  • Chevalier, Tracy (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 240 Pages - 01/01/2001 (Publication Date) - Penguin Books (Publisher)

Final Word on Best Authors Of Historical Fiction

If you are looking for some of the greatest works of historical fiction, then you may want to check the Pulitzer Prize list to experience the retelling of some of the most exciting times in history. Or, you might be interested in some of the best sellers from The New York Times.

Whether you’re focusing on the colonial times of the 18th century, the twists and turns of the 19th century, or the action-packed 20th century, there is something for everyone on this list. You have probably studied plenty of non-fiction history books in school, but there is always something new to learn if you pick up a work of historical fiction

Want more? Check out our guide to the best historical fiction books.

FAQs About Best Authors of Historical Fiction

Are there other authors I may want to check out to learn more about historical fiction? 

There are a lot of works of historical fiction, and it is easy to overlook some of them. You may also want to check out works by Umberto Eco, Kristin Hannah, and Bernard Cornwell to broaden your horizons.

Why do people like works of historical fiction so much?

Historical fiction is a popular genre because people get to learn about important times in human history from a different point of view. It is one thing to take a look at textbooks in history class, but it is often helpful to read works of historical fiction to imagine what life might have been like for someone living in that time. This could be a peasant, an emperor, or someone in between.