Newest Historical Fiction Reviews

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The Butlins Girls by Elaine Everest

4star.jpg Historical Fiction

Fresh-faced Molly Missons has just arrived in Skegness to start her new job as a Butlins auntie. Behind the smiles and confident appearance, she hides a secret; she has taken the job to escape escalating problems at home. She soon finds good friends in her chalet-mates Bunty and Plum, and it turns out that they each have their own reasons for wanting a fresh start. Meanwhile, Molly is shocked to discover that her movie-star crush Johnny Johnson is working as an entertainment adviser at the camp. Is he really as suave as his on-screen persona? And why is he working at the camp anyway? As hidden secrets become discovered, Molly and her new friends face new threats and dangers that may threaten their new-found freedom. Full review...

Blood Forest by Geraint Jones

5star.jpg Historical Fiction

Felix. The lucky one. He doesn't feel especially lucky when he staggers out into the grove and finds twelve of his comrades butchered and mutilated in the worst possible ways. He felt even less lucky when the soldiers arrived, Roman cavalry. He might have run, but he knew he'd never make it. He stepped out to face whatever came next. Full review...

The Last Painting of Sara de Vos by Dominic Smith

5star.jpg Historical Fiction

If you find the techniques used by Rembrandt and Vermeer fascinating, The Last Painting of Sara de Vos provides a masterclass in how to work up a canvas in stages. Framing the novel as the story of a seventeenth century Dutch painting, Dominic Smith vividly sketches out the main contours of his characters and the three time periods they inhabit before we are even one fifth of the way through. Sara is one of the few women artists of the period and her painting is of children skating on a frozen canal, her now dead daughter its central figure. The painting has been in Marty de Groot's family since before Isaac Newton was born and he is the patent lawyer from whom it is stolen in 1950s Manhattan. Ellie Shipley forged a copy of the painting in her postgraduate student years and in 2000 finds herself at the centre of a gathering storm which threatens to destroy her reputation as one of Sydney's foremost fine art academics. Satisfying though those first descriptions are, we then understand these are merely the author's equivalent of the delicate chalk lines used by painters of the Dutch Golden Age to mark out the composition which will follow. Full review...

The Summer House Party by Caro Fraser

4.5star.jpg General Fiction

In the gloriously hot summer of 1936, a group of people meet at a country house party. Within three years, England will be at war, but for now, time stands still. Dan Ranscombe is clever and good-looking, but he resents the wealth and easy savoir-faire of fellow guest, Paul Latimer. Surely a shrewd girl like Meg Slater would see through that, wouldn't she? And what about Diana, Paul's beautiful sister, Charles Asher, the Jewish outsider, Madeleine, restless and dissatisfied with her role as children's nanny? And artist Henry Haddon, their host, no longer young, but secure in his power as a practised seducer. As these guests gather, none has any inkling the choices they make will have fateful consequences, lasting through the war and beyond. Or that the first unforeseen event will be a shocking death… Full review...

The Serpent Sword by Matthew Harffy

4.5star.jpg Historical Fiction

It's AD 633 and Albion is a divided island made up of petty warlords who want to be treated like honourable royalty but act like gangsters. Romans are a memory that have entered into myth and the souls of Albion are torn between the old Gods and the new Christ. It is in this world that we follow the adventures of Beobrand as he undertakes the classic hero’s journey. Beobrand moves from wide-eyed teenager to hardened and honourable warrior through a brutal rite of passage as he hunts the killer of his brother and seeks to become a true warrior. Full review...

The Tyrant's Shadow by Antonia Senior

4star.jpg Historical Fiction

Warning: spoilers ahead for Treason's Daughter. Patience lives with her widowed brother, William, helping to care for his son Richard (nicknamed Blackberry). Despite the Civil war ending, the times are still uncertain. Cromwell is increasingly annoyed with a parliament of rebels refusing to go to the electorate for ratification. William sees this problem at close quarters once he's effectively forced to become Cromwell's legal advisor in an atmosphere poisoned by espionage and religious factions. However when Patience comes across Shadrick Simpson, a charismatic preacher, all becomes clearer for her at least. Meanwhile Sam Challoner, William's brother in law, comes home after privateering with Prince Rupert and realises that the fight at sea is better than peace at home. At least when you're privateering you know who your enemy is. Full review...

Deposed by David Barbaree

4.5star.jpg Historical Fiction

A.D 68. A deposed emperor lies in a prison cell, betrayed and newly blinded by those who were sworn to protect him. He is now crippled and deprived of power, left completely on the edge of despair with a frightened young slave named Marcus as his only companion. Ten years later and it is Emperor Vespasian who wears the purple. Things may have settled since the civil war but Vespasian's son Titus is plagued by worry about plots to murder his father. Gruesome atrocities and mysterious disappearances are rife throughout Rome; it is a city full of falsehoods and intrigues with the fear of rebellion lurking beneath the surface. Furthermore, a man who used to be emperor still lives – a blind man who everyone believes to be dead. His name is Nero and he seeks revenge against those who wronged him. Full review...

The Married Girls by Diney Costeloe

4.5star.jpg Historical Fiction

Wynsdown, 1949. In the small Somerset village of Wynsdown, Charlotte Shepherd is happily married to farmer Billy. She arrived from Germany on the Kindertransport as a child during the war and now feels settled in her adopted home. Meanwhile, the squire's fighter pilot son, Felix, has returned to the village with a fiancée in tow. Daphne is beautiful, charming... and harbouring secrets. After meeting during the war, Felix knows some of Daphne's past, but she has worked hard to conceal that which could unravel her carefully built life. For Charlotte, too, a dangerous past is coming back in the shape of fellow refugee, bad boy Harry Black. Forever bound by their childhoods, Charlotte will always care for him, but Harry's return disrupts the village quiet and it's not long before gossip spreads. The war may have ended, but for these girls, trouble is only just beginning... Full review...

Prussian Blue: Bernie Gunther Thriller 12 by Philip Kerr

3.5star.jpg Crime (Historical)

Bernie Gunther is not your typical hero. In 1939, he was stationed in Berlin as a police officer handling murder cases and occasionally doing work for some high-ranking Nazis. Although never a Nazi party member himself (he was a known member of the Social Democratic Party), he understood that the best thing he could do for himself at that time was to make himself indispensable to men like Reinhard Heydrich and Martin Bormann. So when he is assigned to solve a murder that has occurred at Hitler's Berghof in the Bavarian mountains, he knows that he needs to do it quickly and discreetly – not just for justice's sake, but for his own. He is given exactly one week to apprehend the suspect, and he hopes that with the help of his friend Friedrich Korsch, an investigator with the Krimialpolizei (or Kripo, for short) he just might get lucky. Full review...

The Song of the Stork by Stephan Collishaw

4.5star.jpg Literary Fiction

Stephan Collishaw has achieved a rare feat – a novel set amidst the horrors of Nazi tyranny that does not shy away from human suffering, but does not drown in it either. Full review...

A Time to Tell Lies by Alan Kennedy

4star.jpg Crime (Historical)

Psychologist Alan Kennedy's fifth novel continues the story he began with Lucy by Alan Kennedy. In the autumn of 1942, Captain Alex Vere and Justine Perry are among the men and women picked up and taken to a stately home in Scotland, where they are trained in spy skills. After this first encounter, Alex is smitten yet uncertain if he will ever see Justine again. The spy's life is dangerous and unpredictable, after all. Six weeks later, though, they meet up again in southwest France, where they have been sent to collect Simone, a Special Operations Executive agent. It's Alex's first mission (Justine's fourth) and all goes horribly awry. Alex ends up in custody at the Gendarmerie, facing a German who knows he has a false passport. Full review...

For My Sins by Alex Nye

5star.jpg Historical Fiction

1586: Mary Stuart, Queen of Scots, has time to look back over her past life as she sits, incarcerated by her second cousin Queen Elizabeth I. Mary's life hasn't been one of totally pampered royalty. Growing up in France, away from her mother, widowed and then returning to Scotland to claim the throne before she was even 19, her struggle with fate started early. The tensions between Mary the woman, Mary the Catholic and Mary the political force continue through three marriages, an unsolved murder and the thwarted desire to serve her people. Now it's come to this prison cell but while there's life, there's still hope… Full review...

The Magician's Lie by Grace Macallister

4star.jpg Thrillers

The Amazing Arden is the most famous female illusionist of her day, renowned for her notorious trick of sawing a man in half on stage. But one night she swaps her trademark saw for an axe. When Arden's husband is found dead later that night, the answer seems clear, most of all to young policeman Virgil Holt. Captured and taken into custody, all seems set for Arden's swift confession. But she has a different story to tell. Even handcuffed and alone, Arden is far from powerless, and what she reveals is as unbelievable as it is spellbinding. Full review...

Birdcage Walk by Helen Dunmore

5star.jpg Historical Fiction

Bristol 1792: Lizzie married well. John Diner Tredevant is a property developer who has reached the zenith of his life's work: building a terrace of prestigious houses overlooking the Avon Gorge. In a time of turbulence as France reaches the dawn of revolution, Britain, including Diner, fears it may spread. This puts Lizzie in a difficult position since her mother and step-father both believe in propagating pamphlets and ideas of egalitarianism for and to all, including women. In other words, they think nothing of spreading ideas of the sort that fanned the French flames. However, that's not Lizzie's only problem… there is a darkness in her husband's past of which she's unaware. Full review...

The Witchfinder's Sister by Beth Underdown

4.5star.jpg Historical Fiction

England 1645: Matthew Hopkins is good at his chosen career: seeking, testing and convicting those with the Devil in them. His sister, Alice, doesn't realise the full connotations of his actions until, widowed and pregnant, she returns home. Alice is grateful to be allowed to live under Matthew's roof but then watches his sinister finger of suspicion point in unexpected places. This is a man changed from the boy that Alice used to know. She never then realised that he'd be capable of killing hundreds of people and making her the Witchfinder's Sister. Full review...

The Valentine House by Emma Henderson

4star.jpg Literary Fiction

In June 1914, Sir Anthony Valentine, a keen mountaineer, arrives with his family to spend the summer in their chalet, high in the French Alps. There, for the first time, fourteen-year-old foundling Mathilde starts work as one of the 'uglies' - village girls employed as servants and picked, it is believed, to ensure they don't catch Sir Anthony's roving eye. For Mathilde it is the start of a life-long entanglement with les anglais - strange, exciting people, far removed from the hard grind of farming. Except she soon finds the Valentines are less carefree than they appear, with a curiously absent daughter no one talks about. It will be decades - disrupted by war, accidents and a cruel betrayal - before Mathilde discovers the key to the mystery. And in 1976, the year Sir Anthony's great-great grandson comes to visit, she must decide whether to use it. Full review...

Larchfield by Polly Clark

5star.jpg Literary Fiction

I It's early summer when a young poet, Dora Fielding, moves to Helensburgh on the west coast of Scotland and her hopes are first challenged. Newly married, pregnant, she's excited by the prospect of a life that combines family and creativity. She thinks she knows what being a person, a wife, a mother, means. She is soon shown that she is wrong. As the battle begins for her very sense of self, Dora comes to find the realities of small town life suffocating, and, eventually, terrifying; until she finds a way to escape reality altogether. Another poet, she discovers, lived in Helensburgh once. Wystan H. Auden, brilliant and awkward at 24, with his first book of poetry published, should be embarking on success and society in London. Instead, in 1930, fleeing a broken engagement, he takes a teaching post at Larchfield School for boys where he is mocked for his Englishness and suspected - rightly - of homosexuality. Yet in this repressed limbo Wystan will fall in love for the first time, even as he fights his deepest fears. Full review...

Before the Rains by Dinah Jefferies

4.5star.jpg Historical Fiction

Eliza has tragically punctuated childhood memories of India that have feed her desire to return. Therefore in 1930, following the death of her husband, when the British government commission her to photograph scenes of Indian life, she jumps at the chance. What she doesn't realise is that not everyone she comes across is delighted with the idea. Living within the Sultana's opulent palace complex is definitely an attraction for her, as is Jay, an Indian price who shows Eliza the real India. However, attractions are sometimes dangerous and even deadly. Full review...

The Longest Night by Otto de Kat and Laura Watkinson (translator)

3.5star.jpg Literary Fiction

Emma has a philosophy – let the dead rest, and love the living. The problem with that, as a 96-year-old, is that there are too few living left, and so while the love remains she will go through her memories, taking a woozy, diaphanous path through all the major events of her life. Starting in wartime Berlin with one husband, who gets snatched from her at work, fleeing to another place to wait for peace, and wait for him in vain, moving to Holland and finding new love, and so on – this wispy journey will show all the impacts of war, from rationing right up to exile, death and survival. The memories are coming strongly here and now, as Emma is waiting for at least one of her two sons to visit, and then she will die… Full review...

Vindolanda by Adrian Goldsworthy

3.5star.jpg Historical Fiction

AD 98: in the northern fields of Britannia lies Vindolanda, a Roman auxiliary base situated on the edge of the Roman world. Far from the prosperity and decadence of Rome, the wild and untamed lands around Vindolanda are ripe with rebel tribes and druids set against the destruction of Rome and its armies. In the midst of this destruction is Flavius Ferox; a Briton and Roman Centurion who has been given the task of keeping the peace in this desolate edge of the world. But life in Roman Britain is full of danger and betrayal at every turn, and Ferox knows it will take more than courage to overcome what lies ahead. Full review...

The Yellow House by Jeroen Blokhuis and Asja Novak (translator)

3star.jpg Literary Fiction

If you were the needy kind, would you really join in the drumming-out of town of two people accused of murder purely because of their nationality? Would you get a feeling of belonging just because you were there when someone carried a dead dog down off a mountain? The main character in this novel does. But he has something that will really get him noted, well-thought-of, included. He has come to the south of France to set up an artists' collective, where he can live and work alongside his counterparts, who can inspire each other and best each other to create wonderful art. In fact a much-respected guest is on his way now, so surely he can find kinship? The guest's name is, after all, Gauguin. The main character is, of course, Vincent van Gogh… Full review...

Retribution Road by Antonin Varenne and Sam Taylor (translator)

4.5star.jpg Historical Fiction

Sergeant Bowman wasn't just a hard man, he was something else: a dangerous man. If, indeed, there was someone who was ideal for a suicide mission, it was him. Working as a soldier for the East India Company in the rural, remote, outlaw hotbeds of Asia in the 1850s, he's tasked with taking a boat of unknown prospects up the Irrawaddy to try and combat local warlord Pagan Min. It doesn't go well – to start with, he's supposed to run the rule over ruffians saved from the gallows, but can't command them until he's forced his way to having the knowledge of the mission he needs first, only for all hell to break loose. But get back he does, only to find that while his nightmares about what really happened are met with equally dark goings-on, the official record suggests the mission never actually existed… Full review...

A Mighty Dawn (The Wanderer Chronicles) by Theodore Brun

3.5star.jpg Historical Fiction

A story like this needs a strong central character; it needs a warrior who has conviction, heart and honour. Hakan has all these in abundance, but he didn't get them easily. In this coming of age tale, he goes on a quest to find himself after experiencing the most tremendous of betrayals. Full review...

The Sins of Soldiers by S J Hardman Lea

5star.jpg Historical Fiction

Anson Scott wants to join the British army and World War I for a different reason than most of his fellow Americans. He's a journalist wanting the uncensored inside story to send back home; a deadly enterprise as, if the Germans don't get him, the Brits may deem him a spy. Unperturbed he carries his plan through and finds himself on the French front in 1916. He has an ally in British officer David Alexander, which is just as well since not all his enemies are across no man's land. The two men have a lot in common, more than they know and perhaps more than is good for them as the Somme approaches. Full review...

Viper's Blood (Master of War) by David Gilman

5star.jpg Historical Fiction

Bowman and commander Thomas Blackstone is one of Edward III's greatest weapons, bringing him potentially head to head against the Dauphin once again. However, faced with an elongated stale mate, Thomas' role becomes that of scavenger leader as the chances of victory make way for a greater chance of starvation amongst the armies. There is a light at the end of the tunnel though. Blackstone is to go on a trip: an escort mission to Italy, delivering the French King's daughter Isabelle to Milan and her wedding. Having said that, the light at the end of the tunnel may be an oncoming lance. Isabelle's prospective groom is one of the brothers who killed Thomas' wife and daughter. Death is definitely on the cards… but whose? Full review...

Corpus by Rory Clements

5star.jpg Crime (Historical)

A suicidal overdose and the murder of upper class Cecil Langley and his wife are two events that may be unconnected. However this is England in 1936, a magnet for opposing forces and their first moves in preparation for the coming conflict, assisted or prevented by a royal crisis (depending on which side you're on). Cambridge history professor Tom Wilde may fall into the middle of this accidentally to begin with but his curiosity has been piqued enough to ensure he's not walking away. Full review...

To Capture What We Cannot Keep by Beatrice Colin

4star.jpg Historical Fiction

Paris, February 1887, and work on the foundations of Eiffel's daring tower is about to begin. Engineer Emile Nouguier, taking photographs of the site from a tethered hot air balloon for tourists nearby, chances to meet a young widow from Glasgow named Caitriona Wallace, and his own foundations start to shift. Over the next two years as the tower slowly rises in the Champ de Mars, what began as an impossible dream becomes solid reality – Cait and Emile's love for each other. In a world where more than bustles and corsets hem her in, will Cait be able to break free of her oppressive future, and given their different social strata, can Emile re-shape his? Full review...