Sunday, June 23, 2013

Highly Recommended #Histfic Off the Beaten Path #HNS2013

This list began as a panel at the 2013 HNS Conference called 'Historical Fiction Off the Beaten Path', presented by Andrea Connell of The Queen's Quill Review, author Heather Domin, Audra Friend of Unabridged Chick, and author Julie K. Rose. We drew up a short list of books published within the last five years that fall outside current publishing trends in one or more of the following ways:
  • lesser-known locations or time periods
  • unusual protagonists or points of view
  • lack of famous historical figures
  • POC (people of color) or LGBTQ protagonists
  • mixing of genres or sub-genres
  • unusual choices in style or structure
To that list we've added all the books suggested by the panel audience, as well as additional books suggested since. (initials are included) This list is by no means exhaustive and will continue to grow, so check back to see what's been added, and send us your suggestions!

We're focusing on books published within the last decade, but older books worth mentioning are fine too.

There have been plenty of great books that fit these guidelines since this list was compiled in June 2013. If you have additions to the list, please comment below!

AC = Andrea Connell
AF = Audra Friend
HD = Heather Domin
JR = Julie Rose
Panel = suggestions provided during the panel
Initial.Lastname = suggestions provided via comment or email

Ancient World

Alcestis (2010) by Katharine Beutner — Greece
[HD, JR]: genre mixing (fantasy), unusual setting, LGBTQ

Part Greek mythology, part women’s fiction, part metaphysical rumination, part literary opus, with a bonus lesbian liaison – this book defies categorization, and the result is a truly unconventional historical novel. - HD  

Augustus (1972) by John Edward Williams — Rome
[panel]: unusual style (epistolary)

Daughter of Kura (2009) by Debra Austin — Paleolithic Africa
[HD]: unusual setting
Set on the plains of Paleolithic Africa, this story of a young woman’s journey from matriarch to outcast paints a fascinating picture of our early human ancestors without the use of fantastical elements. - HD  

Lavinia (2008) by Ursula K. LeGuin — Etruria
[JR]: unusual setting

The Sweet Girl (2012) by Annabel Lyon — Greece
[AF]: unusual setting

The Wedding Shroud (2009) by Elizabeth Storrs — Etruria
[HD]: unusual setting

Thunderbolt: Torn Enemy of Rome (2012) by Roger Kean — Carthage
[HD]: genre mixing (action/romance), unusual setting, LGBTQ

Written in Ashes (2011) by K. Hollan VanZandt — Egypt
[AF]: unusual setting


1st Century

Lily of the Nile (2011) & Song of the Nile (2011) by Stephanie Dray — Rome, Egypt
[AF, JR]: genre mixing (magical realism), unusual setting 

The Soldier of Raetia (2009) by Heather Domin — Rome, Germany
[JR]: genre mixing (adventure/romance), unusual setting, LGBTQ
One of my favorite books. Beautifully written and engrossing. You feel transported in time and place. - JR


2nd Century

Eromenos (2011) by Melanie McDonald — Rome
[AF]: unusual setting, unusual style, LGBTQ


3rd Century

The Siege (2011) & The Imperial Banner (2012) by Nick Brown — Syria
[HD]: unusual setting, unusual protagonist


6th Century

The Dragon's Harp (2012) by Rachael Pruitt — Wales
[JR]: genre mixing (fantasy), unusual setting

The Secret History: A Novel of Empress Theodora (2013) by Stephanie Thornton — Constantinople
[AF]: unusual setting

7th Century

The Woman at the Well (2011) & The Sword of God (2012) by Ann Chamberlin — Syria
[JR; Kim Rendfeld]: unusual setting, POC


8th Century

Seidman (2012) by Erich James — Iceland
[HD]: genre mixing (paranormal/romance, YA), unusual setting, LGBTQ

The Cross and the Dragon (2012) by Kim Rendfeld — Francia
[AC, HD]: unusual setting

Under Heaven (2010) by Guy Gavriel Kay — China
[JR]: genre mixing (alternate history), unusual setting


9th Century

The Bone Thief (2012) by V.M. Whitworth — Wessex
[HD]: unusual setting

Pope Joan (1996) by Donna Woolfolk Cross — England, Rome
[T. Pilgrim]: unusual protagonist


11th Century

Illuminations (2012) by Mary Sharratt — Germany
[AF]: unusual setting

Shadow on the Crown (2012) by Patricia Bracewell — England
[JR]: unusual setting

Shieldwall (2011) by Justin Hill — England
[P. Bracewell]: unusual setting

The Forever Queen (2010) & I Am the Chosen King (2011) by Helen Hollick — Anglo-Saxon England
[P. Bracewell]: unusual setting, unusual protagonist


12th Century

Mistress of the Art of Death (2007) by Ariana Franklin — England
[panel]: unusual protagonist


13th Century

A Thing Done (2012) by Tinney Sue Heath — Florence
[JR]: unusual setting, unusual protagonist

Cuzcatlán Where the Southern Sea Beats (1987) by Manlio Argueta — Pre-Columbian South America
[panel]: unusual setting

Something Red (2010) by Douglas Nicholas — England
[HD]: genre mixing (horror), no famous figures

Sultana (2011) & Sultana's Legacy (2012) by Lisa Yarde — Moorish Spain
[HD, JR]: unusual setting, POC protagonists


15th Century

A Prince to be Feared (2012) by Mary Lancaster — Romania
[AF]: unusual setting

I, Iago (2012) by Nicole Galland — Venice
[AF]: unusual setting


16th Century

Equal of the Sun (2012) by Anita Amirrezvani — Persia
[AF]: unusual setting

In the Garden of Iden (1997) by Kage Baker — England
[HF]: genre mixing (light sci-fi)

The Queen's Rivals (2013) by Brandy Purdy — England
[panel]: unusual protagonist

The Raven's Heart (2011) by Jesse Blackadder — England

Tom Fleck (2010) by Harry Nicholson — England
[HD]: unusual protagonist, no famous figures
A delightful, folksy adventure set in rural England and Scotland, this novel uses a likable everyman to tell the story of ordinary people in an extraordinary time, including a rare look at Jewish life in Tudor England. - HD


17th Century

A House Near Luccoli (2012) by D.M. Denton — Genoa
[K. Rendfeld]: unusual setting, genre mixing (literary)

Peony in Love (2007) by Lisa See — China
[T. Pilgrim]: unusual setting, POC protagonist

The Book of Seven Hands (2013) by Barth Anderson — Spain
[JR]: genre mixing (paranormal), no famous figures, LGBTQ

The Midwife's Tale (2013) by Sam Thomas — England
[AF]: unusual protagonist

The Orphanmaster (2012) by Jean Zimmerman — Amsterdam
[AF]: unusual setting

The Tito Amato series series (2004-2009) by Beverle Graves Myers — Venice
[panel]: unusual setting, unusual protagonist

The Temple Dancer (2006) by John Speed — India
[S. McDuffie]: unusual setting

The Tsar's Dwarf (2006) by Peter H. Fogtal — Russia
[panel]: unusual protagonist

White Heart (2013) by Julie Caton — New France
[panel]: unusual protagonist, no famous figures


18th Century

Perfume: The Story of a Murderer (1985) by Patrick Suskind — France
[panel]: unusual protagonist, genre mixing (horror)

Sea Witch (2006) by Helen Hollick — "Pirate Round" South Africa to the Caribbean
[AC]: unusual setting, genre mixing (fantasy)

Spirit of Lost Angels (2012) by Liza Perat — France
[AC]: unusual setting, LGBTQ
A bittersweet, multilayered tale that will touch your heart, told in a humble yet strong and powerful voice during a time of revolution and female suppression. – AC  

The Blighted Troth (2011) by Mirella Sichirollo Patzer — New France
[AF]: unusual setting, genre mixing (Gothic)

The Mirrored World (2012) by Debra Dean — Russia
[AF]: unusual setting

The Tale of Raw Head and Bloody Bones (2013) by Jack Wolf — England
[AF]: unusual setting, genre mixing (horror)

Ti Marie (2007) by Valerie Belgrave — Trinidad
[HD]: unusual setting, POC protagonist


19th Century

Bone River (2012) by Megan Chance — Washington Territory
[panel]: unusual premise, genre mixing (paranormal)

Burning Silk (2010) by Destiny Kinal — France, America
[AC]: unusual setting, unusual protagonist
A sensual and sensitive story written in lush prose. – AC   

Butterfly’s Child (2011) by Angela Davis-Gardner — Japan, Illinois
[AF]: unusual setting

The Crimson Petal and the White (2002) by Michael Faber — England
[panel]: genre mixing (literary, romance)

Daughter of the Sky (2013) by Michelle Diener — South Africa
[AF]: unusual setting

Gillespie and I (2011) by Jane Harris — Scotland
[AF]: unusual protagonist

Gods of Gotham (2012) by Lyndsay Faye — New York City
[AF]: unusual setting

Island of Wings (2011) by Karin Altenberg — St. Kilda islands
[AF]: unusual setting

Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell (2004) by Susanna Clarke — England
[panel]: genre mixing (fantasy)

Miss Fuller (2012) by April Bernard — Rome, New York
[AF]: unusual protagonists

Parlor Games (2013) by Maryka Biaggio — Chicago
[AF]: unusual protagonist

Syncopation: A Memoir of Adèle Hugo (2012) by Elizabeth Caulfield Felt — France
[T. Heath]: unusual protagonist, unusual style

Slant of Light (2012) by Steve Weigenstein — Missouri Ozarks
[AF]: unusual setting

The Family Mansion (2013) by Anthony C. Winkler — Jamaica
[AF]: unusual setting

The Ghost Bride (2013) by Yangsze Choo — Malaysia
[JR]: unusual setting, genre mixing, POC main characters

The Golem and the Jinni (2013) by Helene Wecker — New York City
[AF]: genre mixing (mythology), POC main characters

The Luminist (2011) by David Rocklin — Ceylon
[AF]: unusual setting

The Master (2003) by Colm Tóibín — England
[panel] unusual style

The 19th Wife (2008) by David Ebershoff — Utah
[panel]: unusual protagonist, time-slip, genre mixing (literary)

The Personal History of Rachel duPree (2008) by Ann Weisgarber — South Dakota
[AF]: unusual setting, POC main characters

The Oracle of Stamboul (2011) by Michael David Lukas — Turkey/Ottoman Empire
[AF]: unusual setting

The Rose of Sebastopol (2007) by Katharine McMahon — England, Crimea
[AF]: unusual setting

The Sultan's Seal (2007) by Jenny White — Turkey
[S. McDuffie]: unusual setting

The Thing About Thugs (2010) by Tabish Khair — England
[AF]: POC protagonist

The Transformation of Bartholomew Fortuno (2010) by Ellen Bryson — New York City [panel]: unusual characters and premise

The Virgin Cure (2011) by Ami McKay — New York City
[AF]: unusual protagonist

Whip Smart: Lola Montez Conquers the Spaniards (2012) by Kit Brennan — England, Spain, France
[AF]: unusual setting

Yashim the Eunuch Series by Jason Goodwin (The Janissary Tree 2006, The Snake Stone 2007, and The Bellini Card 2007) — Istanbul, Venice
[S. McDuffie]: unusual settings, unusual protagonist


20th Century

A Different Sky (2010) by Meira Chand — Singapore 
[AF]: unusual setting, POC protagonist

Cascade (2012) by Maryanne O'Hara — New England
[AF, JR]: unusual setting, no famous figures
Complicated, frustrating, very real characters and a lovely evocation of 1930s America, beautifully written. - JR  

Dina's Lost Tribe (2010) by Brigitte Goldstein — France
[panel]: time slip, unusual premise

Fires of London (2012) by Janice Law — England

Oleanna (2012) by Julie K. Rose — Norway
[AC, AF, HD]: genre mixing (literary), unusual setting, no famous figures
A gently told tale with quiet depth, atmospherically stark yet richly detailed. - AC  

Our Man in the Dark (2011) by Rashad Harrison — Southern U.S.
[AF]: POC protagonist

Seal Woman (2007) by Solveig Eggerz — Germany, Iceland
[JR]: genre mixing (literary), unusual setting 

So beautifully written and so present and real—I felt like I was reading a biography and not a work of fiction. - JR  

Skeleton Women (2012) by Mingmei Yip — China
[AF]: unusual setting, POC protagonist

Small Wars (2009) by Sadie Jones — Cypress
[AF]: unusual setting

The Concubine's Gift (2011) by K Ford K — China, Nevada
[AC]: unusual setting, genre mixing (fantasy)
A tastefully handled and respectful exploration of sexuality and a lightening-fast fun read. - AC  

The Detroit Electric Scheme (2010) by D.E. Johnson — Detroit
[AF]: unusual setting

The Edge of Ruin (2010) by Irene Fleming — New York City
[HD]: unusual setting and premise
This short, fast-paced mystery is set in the early days of the American film industry, with an ensemble of quirky characters, an unusual setting and premise, and an interesting peek into a little-known world.  – HD  

The Farming of Bones (1997) by Edwidge Danticat — Haiti
[AF]: unusual setting, POC protagonist

The Gods of Heavenly Punishment (2013) by Jennifer Cody Epstein — Japan
[AF]: unusual setting, POC protagonist

The Orchardist (2012) by Amanda Coplin — Pacific Northwest
[AF]: unusual setting, no famous figures


2013 Releases We Want to Check Out!

Heirs of Fortune by Heather Domin (Germania) [JR]
Hetaera by J.A. Coffey (Greece, Egypt) [AF]
Medea by Kerry Greenwood (Greece) [AF]
Shaman by Kim Stanley Robinson (Ice Age Europe) [HD]
The Golden Dice by Elizabeth Storrs (Etruria) [HD]

3rd Century
The Far Shore by Nick Brown (Syria)[HD]

7th Century Hild by Nicola Griffith (Britain) [AC, AF, JR, P. Bracewell]
The Sword Dancer by Jeannie Lin (China) [HD]

9th Century
The Traitor's Pit by V.M. Whitworth (Britain) [HD]

13th Century
Sultana: Two Sisters
by Lisa Yarde (Spain) [HD, JR]

18th Century
Benjamin Franklin's Bastard by Sally Cabot (America) [AF]
Revolutionary by Alex Myers (America) [AF]
The Purchase by Linda Spalding (America) [AF]

19th Century
Burial Rites by Hannah Kent (Iceland) [AC, AF, JR]
Cinnamon and Gunpowder by Eli Brown (nautical) [AF]
Linen Shroud by Destiny Kinal (America) [AC]
Palmerino by Melissa Pirtchard (Italy) [AC, JR]
The Last Runaway by Tracy Chevalier (American Midwest) [AF]
The Mask Carver's Son by Alyson Richman (Japan, France) [AF]
The Mountain of Light by Indu Sundaresan (India) [AC, AF]
The Outcasts by Kathleen Kent (Texas) [AF]
The Movement of Stars by Amy Brill (New England) [AF]
The Rebellion of Miss Lucy Ann Lobdell by William Klaber (New York) [AF]
The Specimen by Martha Lea (England, Brazil) [AF]

20th Century  
Above All Things by Tanis Rideout (UK, Himalayas) [AF]
A True Novel by Minae Mizumura (Japan, America) [AC]
The Book of Fate by Parinoush Saniee (Iran) [AC]
The Lion Seeker by Kenneth Bonert (South Africa) [AC]


Additional Resources

Europa Editions
Historical Novel Society Review Index
Historical Novel Society Indie Reviews
Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours

Book Bloggers


  1. Thanks for posting this! I've been looking forward to seeing this list ever since you mentioned it. If you're interested in suggestions, I adored Pope Joan and Peony in Love. Both unusual, both fantastic.

    1. Oh, I loved Pope Joan! And I'd not heard of Peony in Love. We had limited ourselves to the past five years for the list for the panel, but I think we can expand our scope!

  2. Many thanks for putting this together. I am honored to see "The Cross and the Dragon" on this list. There are two more books that might fit. I recently read Ann Chamberlin's "Sword of God," a continuation of the story that started with "Woman at the Well," and "A House Near Luccoli" by D.M. Denton, featuring a little-known Baroche composer in Genoa. Both would fit unusual settings and unusual protagonists.

    1. Excellent, thank you! I've added both.

    2. Anonymous11:19 AM

      Thank you Kim and Julie for adding 'A House Near Luccoli'! Diane (DM Denton)

  3. What a great list! Thank you for including SHADOW ON THE CROWN, and my fingers are crossed that the 11th century becomes a 'not unusual' setting! To add to your list: SHIELDWALL, by Justin Hill (11th c and reads like a saga), Helen Hollick's book about Emma, THE FOREVER QUEEN (and she has others leading up to 1066); Nicola Griffith's HILD, about 7th century St. Hilda of Whitby is due out in November, and Nicola's being compared to H.Mantel and S.Undset! Well, you can see what era I've been wandering about in....

    1. :)

      Yes, Hild is at the top of our can't-wait-to-read list!

      Thanks for the recommendations, will add them today!

  4. Thanks for this wonderful list--it looks like a lot of fun, and certainly ample fodder for actual writing procratination! I also have a few more suggestions but some may have been published a little earlier than in the last five years. THE TEMPLE DANCER by John Speed, set in 16th century India; also the Yashim the eunuch mysteries by Jason Goodwin and the Kamil Pasha mysteries by Jenny White. And on and on. . . . any of Pauline Gedge's books about Egypt are wonderful--especially LADY OF THE REEDS. I'm looking forward to reading many of these, and will share the list with my historical novel reader friends. (They call me "the pusher".)

    1. Ooh, great adds, thank you!

      LOL @ "the pusher"!