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Historical Fiction

From Victorian England and the Second World War to antebellum Virginia, take your mind to a time long before COVID with these recent and soon-to-be published novels. / BY Athena McKenzie / February 1st, 2021


Lockdown means we can’t travel, but that doesn’t mean we can’t still get away, transported in the pages of a book. If any genre can take us out of these times — and remind us that humanity has survived many crises before — it’s historical fiction. From Victorian England and the Second World War to antebellum Virginia, take your mind to a time long before COVID with these recent and soon-to-be published novels.

Obsessive Book Buyers: Zoomer editors have carefully curated our book coverage to ensure you find the perfect read. We may earn a commission on books you buy by clicking on the cover image. 

1Our Darkest Nightby Jennifer Robson

From the small, private tragedies to its larger, global impact, The Second World War has provided endless influence on novelists. In Our Darkest Night, which is inspired by true events, Toronto-author Robson explores the lesser-known fate of Jewish people in Italy. To survive the Holocaust, Antonina Mazin, a young Jewish woman raised in Venice, must flee to the countryside and pose as a Christian farmer’s wife. Farm life is not easy for Antonia, and some neighbors are wary of her— a distrust shared by a local Nazi official. 

 


2 Pianos and Flowers: Brief Encounters of the Romantic Kindby Alexander McCall Smith

Struggling with a reduced attention span? Consider shorter reads. In these 14 tales, Alexander McCall Smith imagines the lives and loves behind some of the everyday people featured in pictures from the London Sunday Times photographic archive. From the titular “Pianos and Flowers,” in which the Second World War uproots a wealthy family, to “I’d Cry Buckets,” which chronicles the unrequited love of two men, each piece explores the conventions of its time. 


3The Four Windsby Kristin Hannah

One of the most anticipated novels of 2021, The Four Winds takes us back to another time of crisis — The Great Depression. It’s 1934 and the post-war boom has come to an end, with millions out of work and drought devastating the Great Plains. Elsa Martinelli, like many of her neighbors, is forced to make an agonizing choice: fight for the farm she loves or leave it behind and go west, to California, in search of a better life.


4The House on Vesper Sandsby Paraic O'Donnell

Who can resist the twisty turns of a well-executed gothic mystery? The House on Vesper Sands takes readers on a chilling tour of Victorian London as Inspector Cutter investigates the circumstances around a series of missing girls and their connection to the suicide of a seamstress, who had a cryptic message stitched into her skin. 


5Yellow Wifeby Sadeqa Johnson

If you need a reminder that things weren’t great before the pandemic either, Yellow Wife takes readers to antebellum Virginia, its events inspired by true stories. Pheby Delores Brown, the daughter of an enslaved healer and her White master, has led a protected life, with the promise of freedom on her 18th birthday. But when her father’s wife sells her, Phelby is taken to the infamous Devil’s Half Acre, a slave jail in Virginia, where she must learn how to survive.


6The Heiress: The Revelations of Anne de Bourghby Molly Greeley

Does anything offer escape from the drudgery of modern life like the society and romance found in a Jane Austen novel? How about a Jane Austen inspired novel? In this retelling of Pride and Prejudice, the focus turns to Anne de Bourgh, the sickly heiress and intended of Fitzwilliam Darcy (who so inconveniently fell in love with and married Elizabeth Bennet). Determined to break the dominance of her overbearing mother, and shake her dependence on laudanum, Anne flees to London, where she must forge a new identity for herself and navigate a season in society. 


7The Prophetsby Robert Jones Jr.

On nearly every major list of 2021’s most anticipated books, The Prophets revolves around the forbidden union between two enslaved young men on an Antebellum plantation, and presents a reimagining of the history of Black queerness, from Africa to the American South. Its artful storytelling and depictions of Black life has drawn glowing comparisons to James Baldwin, Toni Morrison, Ta-Nehisi Coates, and Colson Whitehead. 

 


8A Thousand Shipsby Natalie Haynes

Already shortlisted for the Women’s Prize for Fiction, A Thousand Ships is an imaginative retelling of the Trojan War from the perspectives of the many women involved. The fall of Troy had terrible consequences that stretched from Mount Olympus to the distant Greek islands. Haynes, a broadcaster and classicist, centres the stories of the women to illustrate the costs of war. 


9Outlawedby Anna North

While stories set in the Wild West are rightfully considered westerns, they are also firmly in the realm of historical fiction — even if the writer presents an alternative, feminist take on frontier life. Outlawed follows Ada, a young woman who loves her husband and her life, but whose childlessness in a town where barren women are routinely hanged as witches, means she must flee town to survive. She joins up with a band of outlaws led by a preacher-turned-robber known to all as the Kid. 


10Annie and the Wolvesby Andromeda Romano-Lax

With its parallel narratives, Annie and the Wolves, blends historical fiction with the speculative. The novel follows historian Ruth McClintock as she delves into the life of outlaw Annie Oakley, convinced that a scarring childhood event was the impetus for Oakley’s crusade to arm every woman in America. McClintock’s obsession with the other woman has cost her a lot, including her doctorate and her fiance, but when she discovers Oakley’s journals, she uncovers secrets that could bring redemption. 


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