Our Most Anticipated Historical Fiction Books of 2023
“Time is a river,” writes the physicist Michio Kaku. It speeds up, meanders, and slows down.
The philosophy of time is many things. Some regard it as a plague, a loom spun by the heavens so that man may never truly shed the writhing skins of his mortal coil. And to others, that the parochial lenses of mortal existence serve the noble purpose of enhancing the mundane.
Whatever you believe about time, I think one thing may be true—to the people who read, time is a hilltop they may visit again and again.
All the world is contained in the ink-stained pages.
Wind the clock and immerse yourself in history. Our list for the Most Anticipated Historical Fiction Books of 2023 is up!
1. The Mitford Affair by Marie Benedict
Between the World Wars, the six Mitford sisters—each more beautiful, brilliant, and eccentric than the next—dominate the English political, literary, and social scenes. Though they’ve weathered scandals before, the family falls into disarray when Diana divorces her wealthy husband to marry a fascist leader and Unity follows her sister’s lead all the way to Munich, inciting rumors that she’s become Hitler’s mistress.
2. Code Name Sapphire by Pam Jenoff
1942. Hannah Martel has narrowly escaped Nazi Germany after her fiancé was killed in a pogrom. When her ship bound for America is turned away at port, she has nowhere to go but to her cousin Lily, who lives with her family in Brussels. Fearful for her life, Hannah is desperate to get out of occupied Europe. But with no safe way to leave, she must return to the dangerous underground work she thought she had left behind.
3. The Woman with the Cure by Lynn Cullen
In 1940s and ’50s America, polio is as dreaded as the atomic bomb. No one’s life is untouched by this disease that kills or paralyzes its victims, particularly children. Outbreaks of the virus across the country regularly put American cities in lockdown. Some of the world’s best minds are engaged in the race to find a vaccine. The man who succeeds will be a god. But Dorothy Horstmann is not focused on beating her colleagues to the vaccine. She just wants the world to have a cure.
4. The Circus Train by Amita Parikh
1938. Lena Papadopoulos has never quite found her place within the circus, even as the daughter of the extraordinary headlining illusionist, Theo. Brilliant and curious, Lena—who uses a wheelchair after a childhood bout with polio—yearns for the real-world magic of science and medicine, her mind stronger than the limitations placed on her by society. Then her unconventional life takes an exciting turn when she rescues Alexandre, an orphan with his own secrets and a mysterious past. As World War II escalates around them, their friendship blossoms into something deeper while Alexandre trains as the illusionist’s apprentice.
5. The Little Wartime Library by Kate Thompson
London, 1944: Clara Button is no ordinary librarian. While war ravages the city above her, Clara has risked everything she holds dear to turn the Bethnal Green tube station into the country’s only underground library. Down here, a secret community thrives with thousands of bunk beds, a nursery, a café, and a theater—offering shelter, solace, and escape from the bombs that fall upon their city. Along with her glamorous best friend and assistant Ruby Munroe, Clara ensures the library is the beating heart of life underground.
6. The Dark Edge of Night by Mark Pryor
Winter 1940: With soldiers parading down the Avenue des Champs-Élysées, Nazi flags dangling from the Arc de Triomphe, and the Eiffel Tower defaced with German propaganda, Parisians have little to celebrate as Christmas approaches. Police Inspector Henri Lefort’s wishes for a quiet holiday season are dashed when the Gestapo orders him to investigate the disappearance of Dr. Viktor Brandt, a neurologist involved in a secret project at one of Paris’s hospitals.
7. The Perfumist of Paris by Alka Joshi
Tasked with her first major project, Radha travels to India, where she enlists the help of her sister, Lakshmi, and the courtesans of Agra—women who use the power of fragrance to seduce, tease and entice. She’s on the cusp of a breakthrough when she finds out the son she never told her husband about is heading to Paris to find her—upending her carefully managed world and threatening to destroy a vulnerable marriage.
8. The House of Eve by Sadeqa Johnson
1950s Philadelphia: fifteen-year-old Ruby Pearsall is on track to becoming the first in her family to attend college, in spite of having a mother more interested in keeping a man than raising a daughter. But a taboo love affair threatens to pull her back down into the poverty and desperation that has been passed on to her like a birthright. Eleanor Quarles arrives in Washington, DC, with ambition and secrets. When she meets the handsome William Pride at Howard University, they fall madly in love.
9. Stealing by Margaret Verble
Since her mother’s death, Kit Crockett has lived with her grief-stricken father, spending lonely days far out in the country tending the garden, fishing in a local stream, and reading Nancy Drew mysteries from the library bookmobile. One day when Kit discovers a mysterious and beautiful woman has moved in just down the road, she is intrigued. Kit and her new neighbor Bella become fast friends. Both outsiders, they take comfort in each other’s company. But malice lurks near their quiet bayou and Kit suddenly finds herself at the center of tragic, fatal crime.
10. Homestead by Melinda Moustakis
Anchorage, 1956. When Marie and Lawrence first lock eyes at the Moose Lodge, they are immediately drawn together. But when they decide to marry, days later, they are more in love with the promise of homesteading than anything. For Lawrence, his parcel of 150 acres is an opportunity to finally belong in a world that has never delivered on its promise. For Marie, the land is an escape from the empty future she sees spinning out before her, and a risky bet is better than none at all. But over the next few years, as they work the land in an attempt to secure a deed to their homestead, they must face everything they don’t know about each other.
11. Dust Child by Que Mai Phan Nguyen
Dust Child is a captivating novel by author Que Mai Phan Nguyen that interweaves the stories of characters whose lives were upended by the Vietnam War. The story follows two sisters who leave their rural village to work in a bar in Saigon, where they are introduced to the world of American GIs. Meanwhile, an American veteran returns to Vietnam with his wife, hoping to find healing from PTSD. The past and the present collide. The narrative is both immersive and lyrical and explores themes of love, trauma, and reconciliation across race, generation, culture, and language. This is a must-read for anyone interested in the human impact of war.
12. Two Wars and a Wedding by Lauren Willig
Two Wars and a Wedding is a novel by author Lauren Willig that follows the story of Betsy Hayes, an aspiring archaeologist who travels to Athens to pursue her passion for excavation. Set against the backdrop of the Greek-Turkish War and the Spanish-American War, the book explores Betsy’s journey as she becomes a nurse and follows her estranged friend to Cuba. The novel is a tale of friendship, love, and fighting for what is right, and provides a captivating look at a pivotal time in history. A must-read for fans of historical fiction.
13. The Trackers by Charles Frazier
The Trackers is a novel by acclaimed author Charles Frazier that takes place during the Great Depression-era America. The book follows painter Val Welch as he travels to Dawes, Wyoming, to create a mural for the new Post Office. Val ends up staying with a wealthy couple, John Long and his wife Eve, at their sprawling ranch. When Eve flees home with a valuable painting, Val is recruited to track her down, leading him on a journey across America. With poignant insights into human nature and vivid storytelling, Frazier has created a timeless classic that is sure to captivate readers.
14. The Golden Doves by Martha Hall Kelly
In The Golden Doves, American Josie Anderson and Parisian Arlette LaRue are celebrated members of the French resistance, known for their daring theft of Nazi secrets. But their bravery comes with a steep cost when they are arrested and sent to Ravensbrück concentration camp, where Josie’s mother is subjected to horrific experimentation and Arlette’s son is taken from her. Years later, Josie and Arlette embark on a dangerous mission to seek justice and protect their loved ones, delving into a web of secrets that takes them from Europe to French Guiana. Martha Hall Kelly delivers an unforgettable story of female courage and resilience.
15. Lady Tan’s Circle of Women by Lisa See
Lady Tan’s Circle of Women is a captivating novel about Tan Yunxian, a young Chinese woman born into an elite family who is being trained by her grandmother to become a female doctor using the Four Examinations. Despite her family’s disapproval, Yunxian befriends a young midwife-in-training and vows always to support each other. However, when Yunxian enters an arranged marriage, her mother-in-law forbids her from seeing her friend or practicing medicine. The novel explores how Yunxian breaks free from societal expectations to become a renowned female doctor and the power of friendship in supporting her efforts. This captivating story is a triumphant reimagining of a remarkable woman’s life in the Ming dynasty.