Top Ten Historical Fiction Books of 2016

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A few years ago historical fiction was a niche genre, but now it's mainstream and we've seen some cracking books this year. These are our favourites in alphabetical order by author.

The New Mrs Clifton by Elizabeth Buchan

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As the Second World War draws to a close, Intelligence Officer Gus Clifton surprises his sisters at their London home. But an even greater shock is the woman he brings with him, Krista - the German wife whom he married secretly in Berlin. Devastated by her experiences in Berlin, Krista is broken by the horrors she cannot share, and struggles to adjust to London life. But Gus's sisters can only see the enemy that their brother has brought under their roof, and they feel for their friend Nella, Gus's beautiful former fiancee. What hold does Krista have over Gus? What made him change his mind about Nella? As the women struggle to find their place in the world left scarred by the war, the secrets and lies they hide and share may come to tear them all apart... Full review...

The Midnight Watch by David Dyer

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In the early hours of April 15th 1912, the RMS Titanic sank causing the death of over 1,500 people. The Californian, commanded by Captain Stanley Lord was the nearest ship to it, near enough for anyone on deck that night to see the Titanic's distress rockets. This means it was near enough to go to its aid but it remained inactive while witnessing the unfolding events. Why? Within a day or two of the disaster American journalist John Steadman is sent to cover the Titanic's sinking but the story of the Californian's inaction intrigues him even more. Full review...

The Last Horseman by David Gilman

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Joseph Radcliff and Benjamin Pearce have both had their fill of war and conflict during the American Indian and Civil wars. They now spend their time trying to preserve life as Joseph defends Irish republicans in 19th century Dublin. However war hasn't finished with them. As the new century clicks over, the fight between a large chunk of Europe and the South African Boers intensifies and the Irish regiment they're attached to is mobilised. Joseph's young son Edward runs away to join the army he's grown up with, leaving the two veterans facing peril and horror they thought they'd never revisit but this time they do it to find Edward and bring him home. Full review...

The Words In My Hand by Guinevere Glasfurd

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17th century life circumstances dictate that Helena Jans has to go into service and is employed by Mr Sergeant, an English bookseller living in Amsterdam. There's much excitement when Mr Sergeant welcomes his new lodger, philosopher and scientist, Rene Descartes. However the thrill becomes somewhat muted when Helena's employer realises what the stay entails. Helena on the other hand, is totally enthralled by their guest: an enthrallment that will totally change her life. Full review...

The Dark Circle by Linda Grant

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It's 1949, and with the Second World War over, a new decade of recovery is beginning. For East End teenagers Lenny and Miriam, life has been suspended. Diagnosed with tuberculosis, they are sent away to a sanatorium in Kent, to take the cure, submit to the way of the Doctors, and learn the deferential way of the patient. Through doors newly opened by the one year old NHS, come Lenny in his striped London drape suit, and Miriam in cherry felt red coat, and beret pinned gingerly onto her blue-black curls. Trapped in a sterile closed environment, the twins find themselves meeting air force officers, a car salesman, a university graduate, a mysterious German woman, a member of the Aristocracy, and, arriving to blast away their lethargic submission to authority - an American merchant seaman. Together they discover that a cure is tantalisingly just out of reach, and may only be gained through full scale rebellion... Full review...

The Last Days of Night by Graham Moore

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The night-time of our ancestors is ending. Electric light is our future. The man who controls it will not simply make an unimaginable fortune. He will not simply dictate politics… The man who controls electricity will control the very sun in the sky.

Graham Moore's latest novel is set in 19th Century New York City following the War of the Currents immediately after the discovery of electricity. Paul Cravath is a young lawyer, recently graduated from Columbia Law School, who finds himself at the centre of the biggest lawsuit in American history to date: who invented the light bulb. Enlisted to defend George Westinghouse against 312 lawsuits and a sum of one billion dollars, Paul embarks on a seemingly impossible case to win. Going up against the incredibly intelligent and extremely resourceful Thomas Edison, who has newspapers at his disposal and the support of J.P. Morgan himself, Paul is nonetheless determined to win by any means necessary. In his unwavering quest for victory, Paul encounters Nikola Tesla, the eccentric genius who could have the power to stop Edison; Alexander Bell, the inventor of the telephone and only one to beat Edison before; as well as Agnes Huntington, the astonishingly beautiful opera singer. With the stakes so high, Paul will discover that everyone is desperate to win, setting in motion their own plans with disastrous consequences. Full review...

All Their Minds In Tandem by David Sanger

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October 1879: A stranger walks into New Georgetown, West Virginia to keep an appointment. He calls himself 'The Maker' and has a gift that gives him access to people's minds. Gradually he'll become deeply acquainted with the townsfolk but it mustn't sway him from what he's here to accomplish. One man, one mission and no guarantee how it will end. Full review...

The Summer Before the War by Helen Simonson

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Summer 1914: Beatrice Nash arrives in Rye following the death of her father, hoping to earn a living as a Latin tutor. Despite being the sort of woman with ideas of her own, she has allies in the family of local pillar of the community Lady Agatha. Agatha may not have realised just how modern Beatrice is but she'll stand by her after having been her sponsor for the post initially. Meanwhile Agatha's nephew, medical student Hugh soon warms to Beatrice but his heart belongs to Lucy, his surgeon professor's daughter. Soon, though, the events of a small town summer will fade in importance; the Balkans will explode and Europe is thrown into a war that's far from the swift, romantic, consequence-free conflict of which summer daydreams are made. Full review...

The Voyage of the Dolphin by Kevin Smith

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Dublin 1916: Among the unrest and anti-British feeling worsened by the threat of conscription into a war seen as nothing to do with the Irish, Trinity College faculty has other distractions. They'd like a trophy; the skeleton of an Irish 'giant' to be precise. The only glitch is that the main trophy contender, Bernard MacNeill's skeleton, is somewhere difficult to access and all seasoned explorers are otherwise engaged. There may be hope though. They turn to Fitzmaurice, a student not good enough for anything else. Fitzmaurice agrees, picking his friends Crozier and Rafferty to go with him. So… Gentlemen, lace up your strongest boots and pack your warmest underwear – we're all off to the bloody Arctic! Whether battle cry or epitaph, three men and a dog… and an iguana… are going anyway. Full review...

Sons of the Blood by Robyn Young

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Bastard son, mercenary soldier, protector of the rightful king and seeker of a treacherous secret, Jack Wynter lives in dangerous times. In England, the Wars of the Roses ended a decade agao, with the victory of King Edward of York. But an uneasy peace is fast broken when the King dies, and feuds old and new are awoken. When Jack is sent from his life in Seville to gloomy and dangerous England, he must uncover the truth behind the secret that he has been guarding, and the reason for his Father's fall. As the new Prince Edward readies himself to be king, his uncle Richard makes a move for the throne - leading him and Jack on paths of intrigue, corruption, mystery and war. The old world is turning. A new world is rising. Full review...

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