Secrets of History: The 20 Best Historical Fiction Authors Like Sarah Penner

Sarah Penner is known for interesting, intelligent, and gripping historical fiction novels. Her bestselling novel, The Lost Apothecary is set in 1791 on the dark streets of London and follows a female apothecary who provides local women with poisons to escape the men in their lives. 

Secrets of History: The 20 Best Historical Fiction Authors Like Sarah Penner

Her second novel, The London Seance Society is set in 1837 in a château on the outskirts of Paris. A seance is planned, led by spiritualist Vaudeline D’Allaire, known for her ability to conjure the spirits of murder victims in order to verify the identity of their killers.

These novels have both been adored by her fans and since receiving the Goodreads Choice Award and being nominated for Best Historical Fiction (2021), her popularity and fanbase have grown worldwide.

Whether you’ve enjoyed Sarah Penner’s work or the descriptions of these books have caught your attention, you may want to add some books by the following 20 authors to your reading list (see also “Authors Like Christina Dodd“). 

Sarah Zettle/Darcie Wilde

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Darcie Wilde is a pseudonym used by American author Sarah Zettle. She is currently residing in Florida and has written a wide range of books using both names.

She is known for regency-makeover books and the Rosalind Thorne mystery books. These books uncover the darker side of Regency-era London. Wilde adds a layer of secrecy, scandal, and investigation to her novels which are packed with detailed imagery of glittering ballrooms and chivalry, romantic enough to make any Jane Austen or Bridgerton fan swoon.

One of her best-selling novels, The Secrets of the Lost Pearls, follows Rosalind searching for a valuable, lost pearl necklace. She is forced to investigate her close circle of friends and family, but in doing so, uncovers dark secrets of fraud, forgery, blackmail and murder. Tormented and confused by her discoveries and restricted by her status as an unmarried woman, Rosalind must find a way to reveal the truth.

Wilde puts a new spin on the often romanticized era, appealing to both Regency and murder mystery fans. Her stunning descriptions and captivating characters make her regency novels engaging, and any beady-eyed Pride and Prejudice fans will notice the small quotes included from Austen’s original work.

Madeleine Miller

The Song of Achilles: A Novel

Madeleine Miller has risen in success significantly since her first publication in 2011. This book, The Song of Achilles is still read regularly, and remains popular with readers of all ages across the globe. 

During the pandemic and through the rise of TikTok, YouTube, and other social media platforms, The Song of Achilles gained even more popularity and became a ‘trendy’ book among young readers.

The American writer’s novels focus on ancient history and typically center around a Greek mythology tale. Her most popular books are The Song of Achilles, Galatea, and Circe, which offer revisions of the popular stories and go into depth about some of the more niche and overlooked characters included. 

Hilary Mantel

Wolf Hall (Wolf Hall Trilogy, 1)

Possibly one of the most famous British historical fiction novelists, Hilary Mantel is definitely one to add to the reading list if you’re a fan of historical fiction. Her novels are often based on historical facts and in-depth research, making for educational and insightful readings.

Her best-sellers include Wolf Hall (2009), Beyond Black (2005), and Bringing Up the Bodies (2012). She is renowned for her captivating writing style and engaging characters – there’s a reason she’s been awarded the Booker Prize twice!

She predominantly concentrates on the English Tudor era, which follows the secrecy, brutality and hierarchy of the English system. 

Bernard Cornwell

last kingdom,the (Warrior Chronicles)

Another great name in the historical fiction world is English-American writer Bernard Cornwell, who is most known for his graphic, devastating and barbarous portrayals of English and European history in books such as The Last Kingdom.

He usually adopts a military angle, as some of his novels cover the Napoleonic wars, Anglo-Saxon battles, and the Peninsula war. 

He and his spouse, Judy Cornwell have also written a series of historical fiction novels together using the pseudonym, Susannah Kells. They tackle stories based on the American Revolutionary war and the English Civil war.

His stories produce gritty, brutal, and honest historical retellings, using engaging and complex characters to lead and narrate. Worthy of all the positive reviews, Cornwell is a must-read novelist if you enjoy military historical fiction (If you like these types of stories, you might also enjoy the works of Tom Clancy and similar authors.).

Taylor Jenkins Reid

The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo: A Novel

This author is a New York Times best-seller and a worthy winner of the Goodreads Choice Award for Historical Fiction in 2019, 2021, and 2022. 

She gives a voice to those marginalized by using protagonists from ethnic minority backgrounds or members of the LGBTQ+ community. These refreshing perspectives have intertwined history, romance, mystery, and drama, and are written with elegance, detail, and a captivating style. 

Her best-selling novels include The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo (2017), Carrie Soto is Back (2022), and Malibu Rising (2021). 

Lucinda Riley

Seven-Sisters Series Lucinda Riley 6 Books Collection Set

Lucinda Riley or Edmonds was originally a film, television, and theater actress, so she has plenty of experience with drama, which is definitely reflected in her writing.

Her most popular series of novels, titled The Seven Sisters series, is inspired by the mythology of a famous star cluster and tells the captivating story of adopted sisters. Each sister represents a natural element or feature and has their own story.

Jessie Burton

The Miniaturist: A Novel

Jessie Burton is a historical fiction novelist who tackles various eras and characters. Ranging from 17th-century Amsterdam to 1960s London, her books are diverse and each offer an interesting angle. 

Burton studied at Oxford University before appearing in theater productions of popular plays like Othello and Macbeth. Her novels include The Miniaturist (2014), The Confession (2019), and The Muse (2016) and have all been positively received by readers. 

Kristin Hannah

The Nightingale: A Novel

Kristin Hannah is an award-winning, best-selling author, who has written over 20 books including the following: The Nightingale (2015), The Great Alone (2018), and The Four Winds (2021). 

Like Burton, she writes within numerous eras. For example, the latter novel is set in Texas during the Great Depression, The Great Alone follows a Vietnam veteran in 1970’s Alaska and The Nightingale covers war-torn France in 1939 during the lead-up to the Nazi occupation.

Hannah is a varied and distinguished author whose stories have captured the interest of millions globally. Two of her novels are currently in development to become film adaptations, so the success of her novels is likely to rise following these releases.

Conn Iggulden

Conqueror Series 5 Books Collection Pack (Conqueror, Bones of the Hills, Wolf of the Plains, Lords of the Bow...(Conn Iggulden)

One of the most successful historical writers ever is Conn Iggulden. He often offers books about ancient history, writing novels about the Roman empire, the Athenian empire, Genghis Khan’s Mongolian empire, the Napoleonic era, the English Civil War, and many more. 

Like Bernard Cornwell, he takes factual historical events and transforms them into detailed, engaging dramas, led by gripping character arcs of famous historical figures.

His popular books include the Conqueror series, the Emperor series, and the Wars of the Roses series.

Amor Towles

A Gentleman in Moscow: A Novel

After attending Yale and Stanford Universities respectively, Amor Towles began writing historical fiction novels such as A Gentleman in Moscow (2016), Rules of Civility (2011), and The Lincoln Highway (2021). 

His novels span both American and European history and unveil the political turmoil and personal impacts of historical events and people in power. Gripping, well-written, and fascinating, Towles books are widely recommended across the world (see also “Authors Like Susanna Kearsley“). 

Marcus Zusak

The Book Thief

Although not an explicitly historical writer, Marcus Zusak has written a plethora of positively-received novels. He is an Australian writer with German and Austrian roots and is probably best known for his novel The Book Thief (2006). 

The work has been translated into many languages and has been read by millions worldwide and has an accompanying film adaptation, which has raised the writer’s popularity. 

Ken Follett

The Pillars of The Earth (The Kingsbridge Novels Series)

With over 170 million copies of his 36 novels, Ken Follett remains one of the most popular historical fiction writers ever. He has experience in journalism but has been writing novels since 1978. 

He has no specialized time period, writing books like The Pillars of Earth (1989) set in the medieval era and Eye of the Needle (1978) set in World War II England. His books are often written as a series, so if his work sparks your interest, there’s lots to choose from.

Heather Morris

The Tattooist of Auschwitz: A Novel

Perhaps slightly less known than some of the bigger names in this list, Heather Morris is still not one to miss, especially if you’re interested in World War II or the Holocaust. She is a Kiwi author who has written a series of books set within Auschwitz.

Her tragic but insightful narratives often follow individual stories of Holocaust victims and uncover the horrors of Nazi rule. Her most popular book was The Tattooist of Auschwitz (2018), from which she has created an accurate and important series of similar books. 

Yaa Gyasi

Homegoing

Born in Ghana but raised in Alabama, Yaa Gyasi has written a series of historical fiction, usually inspired by her African heritage and tackling racial issues. 

One of her most notable works is Homegoing (2016), which follows the family line of two Ghanaian twin sisters up until the present day. One was sold into slavery and the other married a wealthy slave owner – this story tells of how these two opposing situations influenced the lives of their relatives.

Important, gripping, and heart-wrenching, Homegoing, as well as her other books, is a fantastically well-written and well-told story that will have you hooked from the first page.

Diana Gabaldon

Outlander

Born and raised in Arizona but with an English-Hispanic background, Gabaldon has written her famous Outlander series, set in the Scottish highlands in the 1700s. 

With elements of romance, violence, and suffering within, Gabaldon’s books make for interesting and gripping reads.

Christina Baker Kline

A Piece of the World: A Novel

Much like Marcus Zusak, Kline is not just known for her historical fiction. She has a range of books available and often writes with a lucid, expressive style.

Her main historical fiction novel is called A Piece of the World (2017) and encompasses passion, art, and friendship as predominant themes. She brings a little segment of American history to light and uses strong characters and their relationships to guide the novel. 

Anthony Doerr

Cloud Cuckoo Land: A Novel

American author Anthony Doerr has written 6 books that have all been popular and qualified as nominees for numerous awards. His books include Cloud Cuckoo Land (2021), The Shell Collector (2001) and All the Light We Cannot See (2014). 

Often set in factual settings and encompassing real historical events, Doerr plays with fictional elements and characters to bring a new perspective to life. His 2021 novel mentioned above toys with time, as narratives jump between 1453 Constantinople, 2020 Idaho and an unknown time and place in the future. 

His fascinating spin on historical fiction is bound to keep you gripped.

Arthur Golden

Memoirs of a Geisha: A Novel

Also not exclusively known for historical fiction, Arthur Golden has heaps of experience with Japanese and Chinese history. After spending years in each country, he gained a thorough grasp of their respective cultures and traditions, which fuel the narrative of his novels. 

His most popular novel, Memoirs of a Geisha (1997) tackles the rights of a young girl in a small village just outside Kyoto in 1929. The narrative follows a young girl whose virginity is being auctioned to the highest bidder. 

Erotic, romantic, engaging, and suspenseful – this novel, along with the author himself, is multifaceted and unforgettable.

Delia Owens

Where the Crawdads Sing: Reese's Book Club (A Novel)

This American author specializes in non-fiction from the perspective of a wildlife scientist. However, she is probably most well-known for the release of the 2018 historical fiction novel, Where the Crawdads Sing

Set in 1969 and following the events of a shock murder in a small American town, this novel mixes historical facts with romance, mystery, and great characterization to create the ultimate coming-of-age story (If you liked this book, check out Call Me By Your Name and other similar books here). 

Phillippa Gregory

The Other Boleyn Girl

Phillippa Gregory is a recognized authority of women’s history, who has received the ‘Outstanding Contribution to Historical Fiction’ Award. 

The range of books she has written is extensive, but the quality of her writing and storytelling never declines. She has written books set in Tudor England, most notably The Other Boleyn Girl (2001) and Georgian England, for example, Wildacre (1987). 

She is a big name in the historical fiction world and has rightly been well-received since she started writing.

Final Thoughts

This list has covered a range of writers, from the biggest historical fiction authors to the niche and lesser-known. Regardless of your genre, time period or plotline preference, there should be an author that suits you on this list.

Frequently Asked Questions

How many books has Sarah Penner written?

As of yet, only two. But she has a novel in the works and due to the success of her debut novel, we are expecting to receive more from her.

Who is the most famous historical fiction author?

Some of the big names on this list definitely make the cut, but others include Toni Morrison, Alison Weir, and Sarah Walters.

Which authors write about World War II?

Ken Follett, Anthony Doerr, and Heather Morris are among the names on this list that have written WWII-related novels, others include Robert Harris and Alex Gerlis.

Which authors write the best historical romances?

Julia Quinn, popular for the Bridgerton books, is often dubbed one of the best historical romance writers.

What are the different types of historical fiction?

Biographical historical fiction, historical romance, military fiction, historical mysteries, alternate history, and historical epics or sagas.

What are the most popular historical fiction books?

1. The Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett
2. Shogun by James Clavell
3. Outlander by Diana Gabaldon
4. The Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco
5. Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel
6. The Thorn Birds by Colleen McCullough
7. War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy
8. The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas
9. The Book Thief by Markus Zusak
10. Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell
11. The Three Musketeers by Alexandre Dumas
12. Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden
13. A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens
14. The Clan of the Cave Bear by Jean M. Auel
15. The Bronze Horseman by Paullina Simons
16. The Killer Angels by Michael Shaara
17. The Killer of Little Shepherds by Douglas Starr
18. The Help by Kathryn Stockett
19. The Red Tent by Anita Diamant
20. The Red Queen by Philippa Gregory

What are the most popular historical fiction book sub-genres?

1. Alternative History
2. Ancient Historical Fiction
3. Epic Historical Fiction
4. Maritime Historical Fiction
5. Medieval Historical Fiction
6. Mythological Historical Fiction
7. Prehistoric Historical Fiction
8. Regency Historical Fiction
9. Roman Historical Fiction
10. Victorian Historical Fiction
11. War Historical Fiction
12. Western Historical Fiction

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Colton Cowie