20 Best Books Like Blood Meridian (Top Historical Fiction)

If you’ve read Blood Meridian by Cormac McCarthy, you know that the story is a gritty one. When it debuted in 1985, it wasn’t an immediate hit, probably because of its extreme violence. While the book is definitely not for the faint of heart, it grew in popularity as readers started to appreciate its reversal of the themes typical in traditional Westerns.

20 Best Books Like Blood Meridian (Top Historical Fiction)

The author’s unique writing style makes his work distinctive from other authors, especially with his use of punctuation. These defining characteristics of McCarthy’s writing make his work stick with readers and are just a few of the reasons Blood Meridian is still considered a quintessential “great American novel” decades later.

If you want to keep reading historical fiction stories that take place in the American West or have similar “epic” vibes, you can find plenty of them on this list.

Wise Blood by Flannery O’Connor

Wise Blood: A Novel (FSG Classics)

Another book that grapples with religious themes against a bleak setting, Wise Blood by Flannery O’Connor is a fitting choice for McCarthy fans. Like Blood Meridian, Wise Blood features a young main character whose despicable actions mirror those of the people he meets along his travels.

He works hard to rid himself of the religious notions he was raised on, ultimately becoming A somewhat disturbing and strange read, this book has its devoted fans as well as people who don’t quite know what to make of it.

You can pick up a copy of Wise Blood on Amazon.

The Revenant by Michael Punke

The Revenant: A Novel of Revenge

Who doesn’t love a tale characterized by revenge and determination? The Revenant is as dark as Blood Meridian when it comes to themes and the dire nature of humanity. Even more surprising? This novel is based on the true story of a fur trapper named Hugh Glass.

During a trapping mission, Glass is attacked by a grizzly bear and the result is nearly fatal. Two fellow trappers commit to remaining with him while the others continue traveling on, but ultimately go back on their promise. Unexpectedly, Glass survives his injuries and begins a long quest for revenge.  

Pick up your copy of The Revenant here.

Sula by Toni Morrison


Written by famous, award-winning author Toni Morrison, Sula is a gripping historical fiction novel that takes place in the early 20th century. Through themes like motherhood and friendship, the story depicts the lives of two friends, Sula and Nel, who follow different paths in life after growing up in the same tiny Ohio town.

Both women try to navigate their separate worlds but find their lives crossing in ways they didn’t expect.

Sula is available in several different formats.

True Grit by Charles Portis

True Grit: A Novel

Another historical fiction novel that reflects a troubled side of American life, True Grit is a best-selling novel that takes place in the late 1800s and follows the story of a young girl named Mattie. This fourteen-year-old isn’t like most others though because she’s on a mission to avenge the death of her father. She recruits the help of a U.S. Marshal to track down the murderer and set things right.

You can purchase True Grit through Amazon.

Galveston by Nic Pizzolatto


While Galveston isn’t technically classified as historical fiction, it has the same dark undertones as Blood Meridian. This story is a brutal detective thriller that takes readers into the shattered life of Roy Cady. Just alerted to a progressing health condition, Roy also finds out that he’s in the crosshairs of a man who wants him dead. Roy is forced to team up with a troublesome woman and escape to Galveston, an unlikely haven, even if temporary.

Galveston is available here.

The Gardener’s Son by Cormac McCarthy

The Gardener's Son

The Gardener’s Son takes place around the same time as Blood Meridian. Set in 1876, this story is actually a screenplay by Cormac McCarthy. While McCarthy is often recognized for his works in the Western genre, The Gardener’s Son also met critical acclaim.

Inspired by true events, the screenplay depicts the lives of a mill family and its workers embroiled in the volatile world of capitalism. The story can be interpreted as a commentary on the exploitation of workers and the unsavory side of business dealings.

Buy the screenplay through this link.

In Our Time by Ernest Hemingway

In Our Time: Stories (Dover Thrift Editions: Short Stories)

Considered an essential author in American literature by many, Ernest Hemingway wrote In Our Time in the early 1920s (for our favorite Hemingway books, read here). This collection of stories revolves around the first World War, describing events leading up to the war as well as during and after.

Don’t expect to understand everything on the first read, however. Using his typical understated style, Hemingway wrote this collection using what’s been called “sparse” language.

Give In Our Time a try here.

Silence by Shusaku Endo


Silence is a historical fiction novel that takes readers further back in time than Blood Meridian does, to the 1600s in this case. Set in Japan, the book focuses on religious persecution during the time period. When two Jesuit priests Sebastião and Francisco travel to Japan to check in on a fellow priest, they encounter the violent persecution Christians face in the country. The story has been suggested to be a parallel to the struggles Japanese Marxists faced centuries later.

Silence is available for purchase through this link.

Outlawed by Anna North


This historical fiction novel by Anna North takes place in the late 1800s. It depicts the life of a woman named Ada who is forced to flee after she’s unable to conceive a child. She teams up with a group of outlaws who sympathize with her situation and together, they bravely work toward a new future.

This book is a good choice if you’re interested in reading a book that has the same high stakes as Blood Meridian but features a female protagonist.

Buy your copy of Outlawed here.

Yellow Back Radio Broke-Down by Ishmael Reed

Yellow Back Radio Broke-Down (American Literature (Dalkey Archive))

Yellow Back Radio Broke-Down isn’t your typical Western. In fact, its author, Ishmael Reed, does everything he can to parody Western tropes. So, if you’re wanting a historical fiction novel that prides itself on turning the Western genre upside down, you might want to give this book a try.

Granted, it doesn’t seem like this one is for everyone, especially considering many real historical figures turn up in the book in satirical ways. But for those of us who don’t mind a loose interpretation of history, this story can be a lot of fun.

Read Yellow Back Radio Broke-Down here.

The Thousand Crimes of Ming Tsu by Tom Lin

The Thousand Crimes of Ming Tsu: A Novel

In The Thousand Crimes of Ming Tsu, Ming is a Chinese orphan taken in by a dangerous crime boss. After setting his sights on a more peaceful life, Ming secretly marries the daughter of a man high up in the railroad business. The newlyweds are soon separated by her father, and Ming sets out to reunite with her.

Check out The Thousand Crimes of Ming Tsu if you’re in the mood for a historical fiction novel that strays beyond the typical confines of the genre (i.e., includes some supernatural elements to the story). Here’s a link to purchase it.

Wake of Vultures by Lila Bowen

Wake of Vultures (The Shadow, 1)

Like Blood Meridian, Wake of Vultures takes place just before the start of the 20th century and is set in the American Southwest. This story takes the typical Western themes a bit further, though and combines them with elements of fantasy, including an array of monsters.

Featuring a main character that goes by different names depending on the situation, Wake of Vultures is a historical fiction novel that leaves readers wondering what’s going to happen next.

You can find the book here on Amazon.

Half an Inch of Water by Percival Everett

Half an Inch of Water: Stories

Percival Everett is a prolific writer with over 20 books to his name. His short story collection Half an Inch of Water is a collection of short stories that take place in the West. If you enjoyed the disconcerting setting of Blood Meridian, you’ll likely find the strange stories in Half an Inch of Water just as fascinating.

Full of complex characters and things that aren’t always what they seem, this collection is perfect for readers who are looking for writing that’s not your everyday style.

Read Half an Inch of Water here.

No Country for Old Men by Cormac McCarthy

No Country for Old Men

Another novel by Cormac McCarthy, No Country for Old Men debuted in 2005. The book existed in screenplay format initially, but McCarthy decided to turn it into a fully fleshed-out novel. After its publication, the Coen brothers turned it into a film just a couple of years later.

The story takes place in 1980, a century or so after Blood Meridian, but it contains similar themes including devastating consequences that snowball from people’s choices and actions.

Amazon has No Country for Old Men available for purchase as an ebook, paperback, and other formats.

In the Valley of the Sun by Andy Davidson

In the Valley of the Sun: A Novel

Another oddball novel that flips the Western historical fiction genre on its head, In the Valley of the Sun is full of strangeness. The West Texas setting is expected, the vampire-like creatures? Not so much. The story’s main character, Travis, experiences unexpected changes after meeting a particularly pale girl.

When she disappears the next day, Travis must reckon with his new changes while navigating a job and getting to know another woman and her child.

You can get your copy of In the Valley of the Sun here.

Between Two Fires by Christopher Buehlman

Between Two Fires

This book may not initially bear resemblance to Blood Meridian on a surface level, as it takes place in the mid-1300s. However, readers will soon note a similarity in the stories’ religious themes that cross an epic span.

The protagonist of Between Two Fires, Thomas, meets a young survivor of the Black Plague who claims to communicate with religious figures. The ensuing battle between good and evil is one that will keep you reading until the end.

Between Two Fires is available for purchase through this link.

Terra Nullius by Claire Coleman

Terra Nullius: a novel

Part historical fiction, part speculative fiction, Terra Nullius is a story written by an Aboriginal author, Claire Coleman. Short-listed for multiple awards, the book is another one on our list that blends genres and leaves readers scratching their heads at the twists and turns.

Multiple stories are told in this novel, with some from the perspective of the Settlers and some from the Native inhabitants of Australia. The surprise ending really takes the book to a whole new level.

Customers can read Terra Nullius on Kindle or in paperback by following this link.

The Curse of Jacob Tracy by Holly Messinger

The Curse of Jacob Tracy: A Novel

Another story that combines a Western setting with unworldly events, The Curse of Jacob Tracy is about a former soldier who can now see ghosts, much to his dismay. This soldier, known as “Trace,” typically leads a lowkey life guiding trains but finds his daily duties changing once he becomes acquainted with Miss Fairweather. This woman offers Trace a deal he finds too hard to pass up. 

The Curse of Jacob Tracy can be bought here.

Fools Crow by James Welch

Fools Crow (Penguin Classics)

Fools Crow is a 1986 novel by James Welch. His award-winning novel takes place in the 1870s and stands out in the Western historical fiction genre because it’s not only written by a member of the Blackfeet tribe, but it tells a story from the perspective of the tribe as well. The book describes how life is changing due to the white men encroaching on the tribe’s land.

Fools Crow, the novel’s protagonist, is a warrior who knows what devastation the future holds and tries to fight against it.

Buy Fools Crow here.

What Moves the Dead by T. Kingfisher

What Moves The Dead

If you’re looking for a story that has the same dismal undertones as Blood Meridian, take a look at What Moves the Dead by T. Kingfisher. The title alone reveals its themes of decay and desperation, which makes sense as the story is a retelling of The Fall of the House of Usher, a short story by Edgar Allan Poe

What Moves the Dead’s gloomy narrative is also reminiscent of Silvia Moreno-Garcia’s Mexican Gothic. It takes place just before the turn of the 20th century and introduces us to the protagonist, Alex, a former soldier, Alex is summoned to a friend’s home to try and save the family from a mysterious illness that is slowly consuming them all.

If you love historical fiction with a dreary setting, this book is for you. You can buy it here on Amazon. 


If you’ve just finished reading Blood Meridian and can’t get enough of the Western setting, don’t worry. Cormac McCarthy is just one of many authors of Western historical fiction novels, and there are tons of similar books out there. Keep this list handy for the next book-shopping spree!

Frequently Asked Questions

What should I read after Blood Meridian?

Try reading one of Cormac McCarthy’s other books, including:
The Orchard Keeper
Outer Dark
Child of God
All the Pretty Horses
The Crossing
Cities of the Plain
No Country for Old Men
The Road
The Passenger
Stella Maris

Is Blood Meridian the best book?

You’ll find Blood Meridian topping many people’s list of favorite novels. This site provides a handy guide to several lists that include Blood Meridian as a best novel.

Is Blood Meridian the most violent book?

Many readers find Blood Meridian to be one of the most brutal they’ve encountered.

Who to read if you like Cormac McCarthy?

Similar authors include John Steinbeck, Ernest Hemingway, and William Faulkner.

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Krista Watson