I got in the mood for historical fiction this year after devouring a bunch of fantasy last year and read one historical after another. I discovered I read a lot of books based on real women, which seems to be one of my favorite topics in historical fiction. With how many books I read, I decided to do a roundup of my top five favorite historical reads this year. Most of these have been published in the last few years and many of the authors have written other historical books, so if you like a book by one of them do yourself a favor and see what else they have.
Now here is the list in no particular order. I chose the books that sucked me in from the first chapter with stories that fascinated me. Below you will find fascinating stories with great voices that are often based on real historical women.
The Vatican Princess by C. W. Gortner – Perfect for those who love scandalous stories about the Borgias.
With the ascension of the Spaniard Rodrigo Borgia as Pope Alexander VI, a new era has dawned in Rome. Benefitting from their father’s elevation are the new pope’s illegitimate children—his rival sons, Cesare and Juan, and beautiful young daughter Lucrezia—each of whom assumes an exalted position in the papal court. Privileged and adored, Lucrezia yearns to escape her childhood and play a part in her family’s fortunes. But Rome is seductive and dangerous: Alliances shift at a moment’s notice as Italy’s ruling dynasties strive to keep rivals at bay. As Lucrezia’s father faces challenges from all sides, the threat of a French invasion forces him to marry her off to a powerful adversary. But when she discovers the brutal truth behind her alliance, Lucrezia is plunged into a perilous gambit that will require all her wits, cunning, and guile. Escaping her marriage offers the chance of happiness with a passionate prince of Naples, yet as scandalous accusations of murder and incest build against her, menacing those she loves, Lucrezia must risk everything to overcome the lethal fate imposed upon her by her Borgia blood.
Burial Rites by Hannah Kent – Discover the last days and past heartbreak of a murderess and the truth behind her crime.
Inspired by a true story: the final days of a young woman accused of murder in Iceland in 1829.
Set against Iceland’s stark landscape, Hannah Kent brings to vivid life the story of Agnes, who, charged with the brutal murder of her former master, is sent to an isolated farm to await execution.
Horrified at the prospect of housing a convicted murderer, the family at first avoids Agnes. Only Tóti, a priest Agnes has mysteriously chosen to be her spiritual guardian, seeks to understand her. But as Agnes’s death looms, the farmer’s wife and their daughters learn there is another side to the sensational story they’ve heard.
Riveting and rich with lyricism, BURIAL RITES evokes a dramatic existence in a distant time and place, and asks the question, how can one woman hope to endure when her life depends upon the stories told by others?
The Violinist of Venice – A fantastic and realistic romance of 18th century Venice and an easy choice for Vivaldi fans.
Like most 18th century Venetians, Adriana d’Amato adores music—except her strict merchant father has forbidden her to cultivate her gift for the violin. But she refuses to let that stop her from living her dreams and begins sneaking out of her family’s palazzo under the cover of night to take violin lessons from virtuoso violinist and composer Antonio Vivaldi. However, what begins as secret lessons swiftly evolves into a passionate, consuming love affair.
Adriana’s father is intent on seeing her married to a wealthy, prominent member of Venice’s patrician class—and a handsome, charming suitor, whom she knows she could love, only complicates matters—but Vivaldi is a priest, making their relationship forbidden in the eyes of the Church and of society. They both know their affair will end upon Adriana’s marriage, but she cannot anticipate the events that will force Vivaldi to choose between her and his music. The repercussions of his choice—and of Adriana’s own choices—will haunt both of their lives in ways they never imagined.
Spanning more than 30 years of Adriana’s life, Alyssa Palombo’s The Violinist of Venice is a story of passion, music, ambition, and finding the strength to both fall in love and to carry on when it ends.
Flight of the Sparrow – Read about the clash between the Puritans and Native Americans in early America and a woman caught between both worlds.
Massachusetts Bay Colony, 1676. Even before Mary Rowlandson was captured by Indians on a winter day of violence and terror, she sometimes found herself in conflict with her rigid Puritan community. Now, her home destroyed, her children lost to her, she has been sold into the service of a powerful woman tribal leader, made a pawn in the ongoing bloody struggle between English settlers and native people. Battling cold, hunger, and exhaustion, Mary witnesses harrowing brutality but also unexpected kindness. To her confused surprise, she is drawn to her captors’ open and straightforward way of life, a feeling further complicated by her attraction to a generous, protective English-speaking native known as James Printer. All her life, Mary has been taught to fear God, submit to her husband, and abhor Indians. Now, having lived on the other side of the forest, she begins to question the edicts that have guided her, torn between the life she knew and the wisdom the natives have shown her.
Based on the compelling true narrative of Mary Rowlandson, Flight of the Sparrow is an evocative tale that transports the reader to a little-known time in early America and explores the real meanings of freedom, faith, and acceptance.
Enchantress of Paris – A fascinating romance about the Sun King’s Court and a woman willing to sacrifice everything for love.
The alignment of the stars at Marie Mancini’s birth warned that although she would be gifted at divination, she was destined to disgrace her family. Nonetheless, Cardinal Mazarin brings his niece to the opulent French court, where the forbidden occult arts thrive in secret. In France, Marie discovers that her powerful uncle rules, using Marie’s sister Olympia to hold the Sun King, Louis XIV, in thrall.
Desperate to avoid her mother’s dying wish that she spend her life in a convent, Marie burns her grimoire, trading Italian superstitions for polite sophistication. As her star rises, King Louis becomes enchanted by Marie’s charm. Sensing a chance to grab even greater power, Cardinal Mazarin pits the sisters against each other, showering Marie with diamonds and silks in exchange for bending King Louis to his will.
Disgusted by Mazarin’s ruthlessness, Marie rebels. She sacrifices everything, but exposing Mazarin’s darkest secret threatens to tear France apart. When even King Louis’ love fails to protect Marie, she must summon her powers of divination.
Fraught with conspiracy and passion, Enchantress of Paris is a captivating historical novel about a woman whose love was more powerful than magic.