Best historical fiction of 2021
We are wrapping up the end-of-year wrap-ups with my seven favourite historical fiction novels of 2021 - and boy do these range (sort of) in scope. We've got one set in a twelfth-century English abbey, one set in Ancient Rome, and one set in the antebellum South.
Actually, you know what, this doesn't really range in scope. I have really specific favourite bits of history that I like to read about, don't I?
Anyway - please do read on for the best historical fiction I read this year.
The Prophets, by Robert Jones Jr: A heart-wrenching novel set on a slave plantation in the Antebellum South, about a forbidden love affair and people forming communities and family ties under the kind of pressure that is literally unimaginable for me. Some of the most beautiful writing I have read this year, and a haunting story that everyone should read and sit with.
A Net for Small Fishes, by Lucy Jago: A retelling of a little-known scandal in the court of James I. This was Lucy Jago's first novel and I am looking forward to reading more of them, because it contained some exquisitely-crafted characters. Reviewed in full here.
The Rose Code, by Kate Quinn: One of my favourite World War II reads of recent years. I loved the complexity of the characters and the gripping nature of the story and how hard I was rooting for them even as they kept making such stupid, stupid decisions. Controversially my housemate really didn't like it, but I think she's wrong. Reviewed in full here.
Matrix, by Lauren Groff: A book that ended up being very philosophical, with interesting quirks of language and an absolutely fascinating central character. This is the book that made me realise I want to read all of Groff's backlist. This one is about Marie de France, an abbess of a twelfth-century convent, and it basically is a story of the different types of power women have yielded historically and a hero-worship relationship that lasts a lifetime. Reviewed in full here.
La Chambre des dupes, by Camille Pascal: Camille Pascal writes with a lot of satirical cynicism on modern-day French politics through the lens of historical fiction. This one is about the few weeks where it looked like Louis XV was dying in Metz, and so sent away his mistress Louise de la Vallière. It's scintillating, witty, and incredibly compelling for a novel that is basically epistolary.
Imperium, by Robert Harris: A retelling of the rise to power of Cicero through the eyes of his scribe. Excellent sense of atmosphere and pacing and very interesting characters. Can't wait to read the next two books in the trilogy. Reviewed in full here.
An Instance of the Fingerpost, by Iain Pears: Utterly bonkers. That is the best way I can describe this book. It does a lot of playing with structure and chronology and multi-layered narrative and unreliable narrators. I absolutely loved this book (although it's definitely not one that reads easily) and actually the more I think about it the more I think it should have been in contention for my top of 2021. Reviewed in full here.
There you have it, folks!
See you tomorrow for the best 25 books of the year, and see you again in 2022 for more adventures in reading.