Historical Novels

These novels are either set in a real time and place, or have characters who really existed.

Novels with Historical People or Places

Kindred | Octavia Butler

Dana, twenty-six, finds herself at a river bank where a boy is drowning. She saves him and then finds herself back in her home. While trying to figure out what’s going on, she appears next to the same boy, Rufus, in a burning room. The year is 1815 (her present is 1976) and she realizes that she is transported when Rufus is in trouble. Rufus is her ancestor. She continues to jump in time to participate in pivotal moments in his life.

The Old Gringo | Carlos Fuentes

An old man rides into Mexico looking for Pancho Villa and his revolutionaries. After proving his skills as a marksman, he is accepted into the group under General Tomas Arroyo. They set out for their base; they find it razed with many dead.

Darkness at Noon | Arthur Koestler

Rubashov is in solitary confinement. He remembers some foreign missions he undertook in support of the USSR Communist Party. He is taken before Ivanov, the examining magistrate, and charged with planning an assassination attempt on No. 1’s life. Rubashov is urged to partially confess to ease his sentence, but he is scornful and resistant.

Death Comes for the Archbishop | Willa Cather

Father Latour is sent to New Mexico by the Catholic Church. He performs many marriages and baptisms in various small communities. He is accompanied by his friend, Father Vaillant. They encounter danger, illness, and insincere priests as they try to bring religious order to the region.

Read “Death Comes for the Archbishop”

Memoirs of a Geisha | Arthur Golden

Through interviews, Sayuri, a retired geisha, tells her life story. When she was nine, she was sent to a geisha house to work. She deals with the extensive politics of this life, and tries to pay off the expenses related to her training. She gets separated from her sister at an early age and tries to find her.

Kidnapped | Robert Louis Stevenson

It’s Scotland in 1751 when David Balfour, sixteen, finds himself homeless when his poor father dies. He believes himself destitute until a letter reveals he is actually from a prosperous family. He travels to the home of his uncle, Ebenezer, who is hostile and scheming. He gets David to go with him to conduct business with a sea captain. After being lured onto the boat, David realizes he has been led into a trap.

Read “Kidnapped”

A Journal of the Plague Year | Daniel Defoe

The narrator recollects the events of 1665 in London when a plague progressed thru the city. A religious man, he uses the Bible to inform some of his decisions, and wonders if God is playing any part in the pestilence.

Read “A Journal of the Plague Year”

The Power and the Glory | Graham Greene

In postrevolutionary Mexico, religious freedom is curtailed and priests have been condemned to die. One such man, known as the whiskey priest, is trying to meet up with a man named Lopez who might be able to help him escape. When he finds out Lopez has been shot, he goes with a boy to see his sick mother. Meanwhile, a police squad is searching the area for any remaining priests. The whiskey priest is trying to get out of the country, but his Catholic duty keeps diverting him to people who need his services.

Fever 1793 | Laurie Halse Anderson

Mattie’s mother and grandfather run a coffee house with the assistance of Eliza, a free black woman. One day their servant Polly dies suddenly. There is talk of some kind of sickness spreading in the town. A week later, the death count is in the 60s.

Read “Fever 1793”

Sweetgrass | Jan Hudson

It is late 1837 in Alberta and Montana where Sweetgrass, a fifteen-year-old girl, wants to marry Eagle Sun. She worries that a marriage will be arranged with someone else. She tries to balance her own wishes with her Blackfoot culture.