Favorite Historical Fiction Authors

McCullough on my bookshelf

Following on the heels of Tuesday’s post, 7 Great Historical Fiction Characteristics, From Where I Sit, here are a few amazing historical fiction or historical romance authors I’ve found.  Links are provided and at least one of my favorite titles for each author.  Large tomes absolutely thrill me as I can immerse myself totally in the story.

The first of Sharon Kay Penman’s books which I read was lent to me by a dear librarian friend.  The Sunne in Splendour tells of the reign of Richard III and completely won me over both to the main character and the power of Penman’s writing prowess.  She has several more historical tomes, all of which I own and love.  Her short historical mysteries are not so much to my taste.

Colleen McCullough first came to my attention with The Thorn Birds which brought Australia, the priesthood, and an amazing ranch to the fore.  It was so striking that the movie hit the big time, bringing many more McCullough readers on board.  Her Caesar series is my favorite, but she is so prolific an author I haven’t even read all of her books, although I’ve finished the whole Caesar series.

Margaret George is another favorite historical fiction author whose book, The Autobiography of Henry VIII with Notes by his Fool Will Somers, I read many years ago, yet still remember fondly.  Since that one I have purchased several others of George’s huge tomes, each one a long, luxurious read that I just don’t want to end. Her latest, Elizabeth I, sits on my bedside now, just waiting for me to have time to crack it open.

Diana Gabaldon caught my attention with her arresting characters, Jamie and Claire, set against The Battle of Culloden and modern-day through a time travel device. The Outlander Series is great fun, illuminating a lot of historical material from the personal side of these fictional characters.  Gabaldon’s Lord John series is not as arresting in my opinion but I’ve still read them all as Lord John interacts with Jamie and Claire.  Gabaldon is a great author to discover and then read through all of her books.

M. M. Kaye’The Far Pavilions is an intriguing look at the land of the Himalayas and its British connections.  Read the description in the link for an excellent teaser.  I loved this book but have never found another by this author, more’s the pity.

Herman Wouk. When I started reading The Winds of War, the story so captivated me that I couldn’t eat or sleep without living the book.  I became very upset and when I began War and Remembrance Part I, I had to put it aside.  A few years ago, at a slower part of my life, I picked up the series and tried again.  This time I got through, loving every moment.  The story of a family interconnected with different parts of the Second World War is vibrant and real, telling this part of our history from many different viewpoints, such as a Jewish girl, Pearl Harbour, and the navy and air force.  The Caine Mutiny is Wouk’s first book in the series, a worthy volume as well.

Edward Rutherfurd takes a geographical area and starts perhaps thousands of years ago telling its story through the inhabitants.  He covers many years but keeps the reader on side by showing a silver streak in the hair or brilliant blue eyes from generation to generation.  I loved London, Forest and Sarum, the most.  Again, these are large books with sweeping subjects, all giving an understanding of today through the history.

One final person on whom I shine a spotlight is Alison Weir, who writes history so well it reads like historical fiction.  She is an amazing historian with a long line of books to her credit.  Check out her site here.

The wonderful thing about this post is that you can add to my list of favorite historicals by commenting below.  And if you don’t read historical fiction, perhaps you might share your favorite book of all time. While I love HF, I have many other books which have touched me deeply; in fact, one wonders where to stop with this topic!


32 thoughts on “Favorite Historical Fiction Authors

  1. Interesting, Elaine. I had heard of Colleen McCullough, my mother and older sister were all over the Thorn Birds mini-series. I’ve only read Diana Gabaldon. I have a few Philippa Gregory books on my shelf, unread and waiting. Thanks for the recommends!


  2. I’ve never been a huge reader of historical fiction for whatever reason (oddly enough, I love creative nonfiction. You’d think the two would go together), but I’ve been looking at Edward Rutherford’s “New York” for quite awhile. It’s good to hear that someone else thinks he’s a good read–I’ll have to finally pick it up.


  3. Next to autobiographies, historical fiction is my next favorite type of book to read! I have really enjoyed several books by Philippa Gregory. Your list has me interested in reading Edward Rutherfurd and Alison Weir. I had not heard of either author. Thanks so much!


  4. Add Sarah Donati, and Kate Grenville to Gregory and McCullough. If the book isn’t more than an inch thick I pass it by. 🙂


  5. I enjoy Penman was well, although I’ve always been intimidated by her (in a good way). I read somewhere that when she wrote Sunne in Splendour (in the pre-computer days), she had her completed typewriter-written manuscript (the only copy) in her car and her car got stolen. She never did recover the manuscript and thus rewrote the entire thing. You know how long that book is! That takes a special kind of talent to be able to pull that off twice. I don’t know that I’d be able to redo my work of something ever happened to it (and shudder at the thought of it), which is why I believe a USB key (several, actually) is a paranoid writer’s best friend.
    But my favourite historical author is Judith Merkle Riley. She unfortunately passed away a couple years ago, but her novels are an irresistable blend of historical, magic realism, and humour.


    • Janna, I have both a thumb drive and a hard copy. I’ve had my computer EAT the middle sections of my book before. I saved the work and suddenly I’m missing 100 pages in the middle, not the beginning or what I’d just worked on the day before. I make a hard copy of every chapter so if I ever have to rewrite, I can just recopy.

      Fortunately, that hasn’t happened in a few years since software became more stable. I write LONG so putting in over 100K words would be a hassle. If I ever had a fire in my office, I’d be sunk.

      It’s probably a good idea to have a second copy off-site just in case.

      I read a great historical called London a few years back. I don’t recall the author but if I can find the book again, I’ll let you know. It started with the Norman invasions and went through the building of London to about the 18th or 19th century. Had over 1000 pages. Loved it.


      • Habisha, losing partof your ms is almost worse than losing the entire thing, especially if you didn’t notice right away. At least when one loses the whole thing, it tends to be some sort of catastrophic event that’s hard to miss. That said, I’m staying firmly in the lose-none-of-the-ms camp. I’m glad you haven’t had any mishaps in a long time.
        That book you mention sounds good!


  6. Hi Elaine,
    I love M.M.Kaye’s books and have read all of them, and Colleen McCullough, and Herman Wouk are some of the historical fiction where I can say I have read at least of their books. However the person I love the most is Irving Stone, and the romantic combination that he brings into his books along with the historical happenings that were occurring i n the United States at the time he was writing. Stone died in 1989 but his books have left a legacy. I definitely think he is historical fiction and I have read everyone one of his books.


  7. I’ve only read two authors on your list: Colleen McCullough and Diana Gabaldon. Thanks for the intro to the others! This makes me want to pick up a Gabaldon book again. I just saw that the entire Outlander series is on sale to members of Audible for something like $7.95 apiece. I read those years ago, but I could listen again. Also, I think I didn’t read the last one.


  8. Thanks for this list Elaine. You had told me about Sharon Kay Penman several months ago and have readd a lot of her work since then. I agree, the mysteries are not nearly as interesting and intriguing. I have read some of McCullough, Wouk, Kaye and you know already that until I started searching farther afield, Ken Follett was my favourite, followed by James Michener. It takes longer to get into the Michener books as he backs the story up so many generations; however, I like seeing the underlying reasons for what is happening more currently.
    Now to take your list and get onto the library website, while I wait for the two books already on reserve…


  9. Oh, yes, Ken Follett, Pillars of the Earth is one of my all time favourites. I also fell in love with Jamie and Claire and started writing my own historical after reading the Outlander series. Also a fan of Edward Rutherford and The Thorn Birds long ago. I know people who are turned off by thick books, but I love them.

    Great post, Elaine!


  10. Aha! So you people are the reason I can never find Sharon Kay Penman’s books in the second hand stores!! I have started rereading some of the James Michener and loved them all except Alsaka which I gave away (get it out of the house!). I am a King Arthur nut and love Mary Sewart’s books, Rosalind Miles’ Guinevere series, Alice Borchardt’s Tales of Guinevere, Nancy McKenzie’s Guinevere series plus Parke Godwin for Robin, Sherwood and Beowulf (heavy on the fantasy aspect). Similar in feel is Diana Paxson’s Hallowed Isle series (with somewhat more fantasy than historical fiction). Also love Ann Chamberlin’s Ottoman Empire series. Also her Joan of Arc Tapestries. In the light moldy oldies, Philippa Carr and Jean Plaidy. In the not so light oldies James Clavell. For Egypt, Pauline Gedge. Who could forget Sandra Guilland’s Josephine trilogy – absolutely breath taking. Stephen Lawhead’s Celtic Crusades and Pendragon Cycle are winners, too. I have lots of one-of like Stephen Marlowe’s Memoirs of Christopher Columbus or Cecelia Holland’s Jerusalem. Reminds me of Orson Scott Card’s Women of Genesis series and Ann Rice’s Christ the Lord. Anyone else addicted to Morgan Llewelyn? Wilbur Smith?


    • Hi Janet! So glad you chimed in with such a great list. Many I’ve read and loved, too, but you’ve given me a couple of good new names to search out. Thank you! I’m sure I read a Wilber Smith, Annapolis? a long time ago and loved it. Must check him out again. I loved Pauline Gedge’s Egypt series, too. and one of these days I’ll get many more of these listed on Goodreads. Days are just too short!


      • Thanks Elaine. As you can tell, I am heavy into fantasy and science fiction too, For a blast try Patricia Kennealy-Morrison’s space series that turns into King Arthur in space ( not really as whacky as it sounds if you go through the books in order and she the wife of the former Jim Morrison). My books that I left off the list were haunting me so I revisited them and have more to add. Kathering Kurtz, Knights Templar (not the short stories ones); Gary Jennings, Aztec series ; John Jakes, North South trilogy (oldie but OK by me) ; Patricia Finney’s historical thrillers in England ; Susana Gregory’s Thomas Chaloner Mysteries in Restoration London. Jack Whyte Dream of Eagles series, Sorcerer series and Clothar the Frank. ; Manda Scott’s Boudica books ; The Brothers of Gwynedd series by Edith Pargeter or her medieval mysteries as Ellis Peters ; Umberto Eco – Baudolino, Name of the Rose ; Bernard Cornwell – Warlord Chronicles, Grail Quest, Stonehenge (tried one, but not into his Sharpe series) ; Sandra Dunant – Sacred Hearts, In the Company of the Courtesan ,The Birth of Venus ; Suzannah Dunn – Queen’s Sorrow, Confession of Katherine Howard, The Queen of Subtleties (Anne Boleyn) ; Tracy Chevalier – Girl with the pearl earring, Lady and the unicorn ; Canadians series – looking for book 2 with Molly Brant in it.
        Favourite one ofs:
        Stone carvers, Urquhart
        Gertrude and Claudius, Updike
        Galileo’s Daughter, David Sobel
        The Alban Quest, Farley Mowat
        Buffalo Girls, Larry McMurtry (yes a Western!)
        One thousand white women, Jim Ferguson (also Westernish)
        Empress, Evelyn McCune
        Sappho’s Leap, Erica Jong
        Tears of the Madonna, George Herman (Borgias and Leonardo)
        Sisters in the Wilderness, Catherine Gray (Susanna Moodie and Catharine Traill)


      • I really enjoyed “Girl with the Pearl Earing” too. That was very good. My husband and I enjoy reading historical westerns, so we may try a couple that you listed. We also enjoyed “Rhett Butler’s People” by Donald McCaig, a sort of prequel to Gone With the Wind.


      • What an amazing list, Janet. And all those years I had no idea of this hidden interest we share. I’ll be watching your list as I chose new authors to read, although I have to say I don’t get as much time for personal reading as I used to. Too much reading/researching going on, but it’s all good. Thanks again!


      • My husband has resigned himself to the presence of THE BOOKS in our house. I try popular fiction occasionally and just finished The Girls – Lori Lansens. That was a good book! It made me stop and reflect several times and a few tears were shed. I tried Maeve Binchy once but was not swept away so do not read her books any more. I am always on the look-out for any of the Canada Reads books at second hand or thrift stores. Also I usually love all those Opra picks – I recently got Daughter of Fortune · Isabel Allende and found it to be a great read. Popular fiction has to be a loaner from someone to finish quickly and give back BUT historical fiction has to be MINE. I am flying out to visit son #1 for his birthday and picked up Jack Whyte’s Templar series, one for the trip there and one for going home (and one to spare). At 750 pages each they should be perfect. I got the set for $12 at a new book source I discovered but wild horses could not drag the location out of me! Actually hubby was quite concerned that I have enough books for the trip – what’s that all about!!!


      • I read Binchy when I just want something light, not often. And I read Daughter of Fortune years ago but can’t really remember it. That’s why I keep a journal where I write about my books after I’ve read them. Good to keep a record, especially now that the memory is….what was I saying?


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