5 Historical Fiction Novels You Need to Read

Historical fiction is a genre that can help us understand people and events of the past. Recently, they have become a way to make even more connections between our present and our shared histories.

This is a list of five of the best historical fiction romances I’ve ever read. They span different times in history and all represent something beyond the cliché of a love story.

The first novel on this list is “Where the Lost Wander” by Amy Harmon. It starts right here in St. Joseph, Mo., and takes readers on a journey across the Oregon Trail.

Widowed at 20, Naomi May wants to travel west with her family to start over. For John Lowry, a half-Pawnee man, the trail is an opportunity to find his footing in the world. The story of these two is so powerful that you won’t care about the back and forth of perspectives or the mystery the author leaves you with when she stays with one character for multiple chapters.

This book holds nothing back; it will have your heart hurting in the intro. Throughout, it’s a testament to the spirit of humanity and the beauty of true love, not just romantic love, but the kind of kinship as well.

“The Nightingale” by Kristen Hannah takes place in war-torn France and follows two sisters who take very different paths as World War II bears down upon them. It’s the best book I’ve ever read.

It’s an excellent study of women during wartime. Some women chose to rebel and do work for the resistance while even more women than that were forced to stay on the home front, take care of their children and, in many cases, were forced to take Nazi soldiers into their homes.

The romance in this is heartbreaking. By telling the stories of the sisters, you get two fleshed-out romances. Vianne, the oldest, watches her husband go off to war only to get the news he’s been taken as a prisoner of a war camp. Isabelle, the younger sister, meets a man in the resistance as she flees Paris, and they share a tangled web of time together throughout the novel.

Both perspectives are equally investing and show the resilience of women during wartime no matter what roles they bring upon themselves.

It is soon to be a major motion picture starring Elle and Dakota Fanning.

“Salt to the Sea” by Ruta Sepetys is a tour de force that covers the perspectives of four different individuals at the end of World War II trying to flee central Europe.

Joana Vilkas is a refugee fleeing Lithuania as well as her past mistakes and decisions in life.

Florian Beck is an ex-Nazi from East Prussia fleeing the country with valuable information about Nazi secrets and with Hitler’s favorite piece of stolen artwork.

Emilia Stozak is a 15-year-old from Poland. She fled to Prussia earlier in the war, and now, she hopes to leave Europe altogether in order to spare her child’s life.

Alfred Frick is a Nazi sailor assigned to the Wilhelm Gustloff. He is a Nazi through and through, and yet, he still finds a place in his heart for the refugees fleeing.

These individuals’ stories all intertwine as they come aboard the doomed MV Wilhelm Gustloff, one of the last ships fleeing during Operation Hannibal in 1945. It was way over capacity and was sunk in the Baltic by a Russian U-Boat. Over 9,000 people died, making it the deadliest maritime disaster in history.

This novel also has its own film adaption in the making, and I’m glad it does because this story deserves so much more attention than it has.

“My Name is Mary Sutter” by Robin Oliveira takes place during the American Civil War. It’s not your traditional romance novel, but there are elements of it throughout.

Mary Sutter has never been one to be swept off her feet; she’s always paid more attention to the family business of being a midwife. When the war calls, she leaves her family behind to work for Dorothea Dix. In D.C., she meets Doctors William Stipp and James Blevins. Both men are impressed by her work and fall in love with her, but this is not a cliché love triangle.

This is a story of purpose, duty and an urge to care for fellow man. I cannot fail to mention how accurate this novel is when it comes to facts about the war and the practices these surgeons undertook. The book is graphic and all too real.

The final novel I want to mention is “What the Wind Knows.” It is the second Amy Harmon novel on this list, and that is for a good reason. I went into this novel expecting an “Outlander” rip-off, but I was dead wrong. This is Harmon’s best work.

Our heroine, Anne Gallagher, falls through time in Ireland to 1921, one of the country’s bloodiest years, into the arms of a man who is fighting in the Irish Republican Army.

This is a fantastic novel to start with if you have never read a historical fiction book. It’s not exhaustingly long, the characters are likable, it explores a very interesting time in history and the time travel adds a science fiction element that is surprising.

It’s a must-read if you like “Peaky Blinders.”

There’s my list of five must-read historical fiction romances. All of these really spoke to me and are on my “favorites” shelf in my room. I recommend all of them wholeheartedly.



Elora Maxwell is an aspiring author. She loves traveling, watches old films and loves classic country music.

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Elora Maxwell

Elora Maxwell is an aspiring author. She loves traveling, watches old films and loves classic country music.