The Best Historical Fiction of 2021 (2023)

I know, I know, this list is so 20th century it’s embarrassing (although maybe we’re now far enough into the 21st century that the 20th has at last taken firm shape in our imaginations). Perhaps I was just more interested in reading about a century characterized by sweeping historical changes, rather than novel diseases, or perhaps there were just a lot of really good books out this year and I can’t read everything, ok? For whatever reason, the books below lean heavily interwar and midcentury, yet diverge significantly in what they choose to explore and reinterpret from these eras, as well as which silenced voices they bring to the fore. These books also range all over the globe for a decidedly international flair, and each one is as enjoyable as it is well-researched. This year’s crop of historical fiction is also particularly playful and intertextual, full of subtle easter eggs of invented detail that feel true to the way people in the past would think, and that’s an achievement to be celebrated.

Without further ado, here are the best historical crime novels of the year, arranged, of course, in chronological order.

The Best Historical Fiction of 2021 (1)

Lucy Jago, A Net for Small Fishes
Setting: Essex, Jacobean Era

While it’s not difficult to find historical fiction firmly grounded in noir style, a psychological thriller set in the past is much rarer a find, and should justly be celebrated. In Lucy Jago’sA Net for Small Fishes,the classic suspense set-up of close female friendship spiraling into obsessive and even murderous behavior gets a Jacobean touch-up, in what’s perfectly described by the publisher as “Wolf HallmeetsThe Favourite.

The Best Historical Fiction of 2021 (2)

Sarah Penner, The Lost Apothecary
(Park Row)
Setting: London, Late 18th Century

(Video) BEST BOOKS OF 2021 || Historical Fiction

Already optioned for an upcoming television series, Sarah Penner’s The Lost Apothecary makes for some fantastic reading. Penner splits her narrative between the late 18th century, where a lonely woman concocts poisons to use against the men who’ve wronged her clients and slowly bonds with a bright urchin, and the 21st century, where a woman reeling from her husband’s infidelity finds traces of the old apothecary, and perhaps some of its secrets. Immersive without feeling overly detailed, and balance well between the mores of the time and the needs of contemporary readers, The Lost Apothecary is the perfect historical novel to enjoy this holiday season.

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The Best Historical Fiction of 2021 (3)

Jonathan Lee, The Great Mistake
Setting: New York City, 1903

From the author of High Dive comes another rich and riveting work of character-driven historical fiction. The Great Mistake opens with the 1903 assassination of famed city planner Andrew Haswell Green, the man responsible for Central Park, the NYPL, and the MET. From there, Lee takes us back though the life of this complex, conflicted, deep-feeling man as he rises from the humblest of beginning to become “the Father of Greater New York,” all the while haunted by a longing he can never truly express. A triumph of humane historical portraiture, and one of the finest and most pleasurable New York novels I have ever read. –Dan Sheehan, BookMarks Editor-in-Chief

The Best Historical Fiction of 2021 (4)

Sujata Massey, The Bombay Prince
Setting: Bombay (Mumbai), 1921

Bombay, 1921: the British imperial yoke continues to tighten, even as Indian nationalism continues to grow in the face of reaction against the policies of the first world war. Into this power keg steps Perveen Mistry, Sujata Massey’s brilliant and and quick-witted lawyer, approached by a student to intercede in a government crackdown. When her client is found dead, Perveen Mistry suspects the young woman’s untimely demise to be less than accidental, and dives head-first into a murky morass of colonial politics and independence movements in order to uncover the truth.

(Video) 10 Best Historical Fiction Books 2021

The Best Historical Fiction of 2021 (5)

Lori Rader-Day, Death at Greenway
(William Morrow)

I’ve been following Lori Rader-Day’s career from the get-go, so I couldn’t be happier seeing her achieve the recognition she deserves with the elegant and atmospheric Death at Greenway, set during WWII at one of Agatha Christie’s country estates. In this a clever take on the historical thriller, Agatha Christie’s former home plays a prominent role while the Queen of Crime herself stays out of the narrative, yielding to the ordinary Britons who must solve a mystery while sheltering children in the countryside as the Blitz rages.

The Best Historical Fiction of 2021 (6)

Timothy Schaffert, The Perfume Thief
Setting: Paris, 1943

In occupied Paris, a Nazi searches for a parfumier’s secret recipe book, while an aging thief is recruited by a demimondaine to seek the same prize—and keep it safe from the doughy Prussian, who is desperate to hold onto his comfortable bureaucratic existence through securing a valued cultural treasure. As the two play a dangerous game of cat and mouse, they also bond over the struggles of queer life, where sensual delights hold coded meanings, and every woman who loves other women seeks to perfume herself with the heavenly scent of Gabrielle.

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The Best Historical Fiction of 2021 (7)

(Video) My Top 5 Historical Fiction Series! (As of 2021)

Debra Castaneda, The Monsters of Chavez Ravine
(Second Rodeo Books)
Setting: Los Angeles, 1952

There’s been a number of good gentrification thrillers released over the past few years, but Debra Castaneda’s The Monsters of Chavez Ravine has got to be the strangest. In 1952 Los Angeles, a formerly tight-knit Latinx community is being pushed out of their homes by a cabal of city planners and corporate stooges, and the remaining residents must unite to fight off an otherworldly threat that proves to be all too vulnerable to this world’s weaponry. You’ll find yourself cheering for the novel’s heroes and appreciating its unusual historical setting, grounded in the fallout from the Zoot Suit Riots a decade earlier.

The Best Historical Fiction of 2021 (8)

Christine Mangan, Palace of the Drowned
Setting: Venice, 1966

What a perfectly timed novel to make us miss the fashions of the 1960s! Former wunderkind Francis Croy is wintering in Venice, desperate to recapture the poignant urgency of her youthful writing, but only able to pound out formulaic drafts that go immediately to the dustbin. While on her sojourn, she meets the much younger Gilly, dressed in bold new fashions and with an experimental new writing style that makes Francis, still clad in 50s-era cigarette slacks, realize her time in the sunlight may be finished. As the two get closer, and the weather in Venice turns from bad to deadly, a confrontation looms between the women and their respective eras that reflects all the schisms of the mid-sixties.

The Best Historical Fiction of 2021 (9)

Silvia Moreno-Garcia, Velvet Was The Night
(Del Rey)
Setting: Mexico City, 1968

A lonely secretary who lives for the latest issue of her favorite romance comics finds herself dropped into the midst of a real-life adventure when she becomes temporary guardian to her neighbor’s cat. The neighbor, it turns out, is deeply involved with student groups facing vicious government crackdowns, and as Moreno-Garcia’s plucky heroine tries to track her down, she encounters a complex set of characters who are not easily reduced to the roles they have been forced to play. I like to describe this book as a more political Romancing the Stone, in that it shares the same electric charm of an ordinary life that for a brief and glorious moment, becomes extraordinary.

The Best Historical Fiction of 2021 (10)

(Video) Best Historical Fiction Book Ever?

Viet Thanh Nguyen, The Committed
Setting: Paris, 1970s

In Viet Thanh Nguyen’s highly anticipated followup to his brilliant novel of double agents and doubled identities, The Sympathizer, Nguyen’s hero has found refuge in a 1970s Paris roiling with rebellious intent and proliferating philosophies, as he finds himself trapped into working for a group of sartorially decadent gangsters and poring over the anti-colonialist works of Franz Fanon. A delightful, thrilling tale that sets us up perfectly for a third installment of the series (please please please let there be a third).

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Gin Phillips, Family Law (Viking)· Robert Lloyd, The Bloodless Boy (Melville House)·Nekesa Afia, Dead Dead Girls (Atria)·Alison Epstein, A Tip for the Hangman (Doubleday)·Caitlin Starling, The Death of Jane Lawrence (St. Martin’s)·Natashia Deon, The Perishing (Counterpoint)· Abir Mukherjee, The Shadows of Men (Pegasus)·Paraic O’Donnell, The House on Vesper Sands (Tin House)·Kate Quinn, The Rose Code (William Morrow)·Chris Bohjalian, Hour of the Witch (Doubleday) Alka Joshi,The Secret Keeper of Jaipur(MIRA)·Erika Robuck,The Invisible Woman(Berkley)·John Copenhaver,The Savage Kind(Pegasus)·Jacqueline Winspear, The Consequences of Fear (Harper)·Stephanie Marie Thornton,A Most Clever Girl(Berkley)· Natasha Pulley,The Kingdoms(Bloomsbury)

Best BooksBest Books 2021best books of 2021Christine ManganDebra Castanedahistorical fictionLori Rader-DayLucy JagoMolly OdintzSarah PennerSilvia Moreno-GarciaSujata MasseyTimothy SchaffertViet Thanh Nguyen

(Video) Is This The Best Historical Fiction 2021? | Reading the Goodreads Choice Awards Shortlist


What fiction Should I read in 2021? ›

The 10 Best Fiction Books of 2021
  • Klara and the Sun, Kazuo Ishiguro.
  • Open Water, Caleb Azumah Nelson.
  • Afterparties, Anthony Veasna So.
  • Cloud Cuckoo Land, Anthony Doerr.
  • The Love Songs of W.E.B. ...
  • Detransition, Baby, Torrey Peters.
  • My Monticello, Jocelyn Nicole Johnson.
  • The Prophets, Robert Jones, Jr.
Dec 10, 2021

What is the most bought book in the world 2021? ›

Dog Man is the best selling book of 2021! In second place and the only other book to sell over a million copies is Mark R. Levin's American Marxism with a 1,025,638 copies.

What is the best fiction book right now? ›

The 10 Best Fiction Books of 2022
  • Buy Now: Signal Fires on Bookshop | Amazon.
  • Buy Now: Trust on Bookshop | Amazon.
  • Buy Now: Lesser Known Monsters of the 21st Century on Bookshop | Amazon.
  • Buy Now: Young Mungo on Bookshop | Amazon.
  • Buy Now: If I Survive You on Bookshop | Amazon.
  • Buy Now: Vladimir on Bookshop | Amazon.
Dec 8, 2022

What is everyone reading now 2022? ›

The 100 Must-Read Books of 2022
  • A Heart That Works.
  • Afterlives.
  • All the Lovers in the Night.
  • All This Could Be Different.
  • An Immense World.
  • Ancestor Trouble.
  • Animal Joy.
  • Anna: The Biography.

What is the most read book of 2021? ›

USA TODAY's Top 100 bestselling books of 2021
  • " Dog Man: Mothering Heights," by Dav Pilkey.
  • " The Four Winds," by Kristin Hannah.
  • " American Marxism," by Mark R. Levin.
  • " Atomic Habits," by James Clear.
  • " The Midnight Library," by Matt Haig. News Across the U.S.
Dec 30, 2021

What is the number 1 book ever? ›

Top 100 best selling books of all time
1Da Vinci Code,TheBrown, Dan
2Harry Potter and the Deathly HallowsRowling, J.K.
3Harry Potter and the Philosopher's StoneRowling, J.K.
4Harry Potter and the Order of the PhoenixRowling, J.K.
45 more rows

What are the top five fiction bestsellers on the NY Times list? ›

  • Lessons in Chemistry by Bonnie Garmus. ...
  • Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow by Gabrielle Zevin. ...
  • The House in the Pines by Ana Reyes. ...
  • The House of Wolves by James Patterson; Mike Lupica. ...
  • Demon Copperhead by Barbara Kingsolver. ...
  • How to Sell a Haunted House by Grady Hendrix. ...
  • The Boys from Biloxi by John Grisham.

What is the #1 book ever sold? ›

According to Guinness World Records as of 1995, the Bible is the best-selling book of all time with an estimated 5 billion copies sold and distributed.

What is the most read book in 2022? ›

Goodreads Most Read Books of 2022
  • It Ends with Us by Colleen Hoover.
  • The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid.
  • Verity by Colleen Hoover.
  • The Love Hypothesis by Ali Hazelwood.
  • Reminders of Him by Colleen Hoover.
  • Book Lovers by Emily Henry.
  • Ugly Love by Colleen Hoover.
  • Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens.
Jan 10, 2023

What is the most read book in all of history? ›

The most read book in the world is the Bible. Writer James Chapman created a list of the most read books in the world based on the number of copies each book sold over the last 50 years. He found that the Bible far outsold any other book, with a whopping 3.9 billion copies sold over the last 50 years.

What is the most read story book in the world? ›

Most Read Books of All Time
  • The Bible. ...
  • The Holy Quran. ...
  • The Quotations from Chairman Mao Tse Tung. ...
  • Harry Potter Series by J.K. Rowling. ...
  • The Lord of the Rings series by J.R.R. Tolkien. ...
  • The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho. ...
  • The Da Vince Code by Dan Brown. ...
  • The Twilight Saga by Stephanie Myers.
Jan 26, 2023

What is the Sunday Times bestseller 2022? ›

The Castaways: The Sunday Times bestseller and the most gripping, twisty crime thriller book for 2022
  • The Castaways: The Sunday Times bestseller and the most gripping, twisty crime thriller book for 2022. ...
  • Best Seller. ...
  • No One Saw It Coming: The gripping thought-provoking emotional family drama from Sunday Times bestseller.

What is the most sold fiction book? ›

25 Best-Selling Books of All-Time
  • #1 – Don Quixote (500 million copies sold) ...
  • #2 – A Tale of Two Cities (200 million copies sold) ...
  • #3 – The Lord of the Rings (150 million copies sold) ...
  • #4 – The Little Prince (142 million copies sold) ...
  • #5 – Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone (107 million copies sold)

What are the current top 10 fiction books? ›

  • Fairy Tale by Stephen King. ...
  • Hell Bent by Leigh Bardugo. ...
  • The Cabinet of Dr. ...
  • Mad Honey by Jodi Picoult; Jennifer Finney Boylan. ...
  • Remarkably Bright Creatures by Shelby Van Pelt. ...
  • The Midnight Library by Matt Haig. ...
  • Horse by Geraldine Brooks. ...
  • The Last Thing He Told Me by Laura Dave.
3 days ago

What are the top 10 books for 2021? ›

PEOPLE Picks the Top 10 Books of 2021
  • 01 of 10. The Love Songs of W.E.B. ...
  • 02 of 10. The Plot by Jean Hanff Korelitz. ...
  • 03 of 10. A Lie Someone Told You About Yourself by Peter Ho Davies. ...
  • 04 of 10. Ghosts by Dolly Alderton. ...
  • 05 of 10. Smile by Sarah Ruhl. ...
  • 06 of 10. The Lyrics by Paul McCartney. ...
  • 07 of 10. ...
  • 08 of 10.
Dec 13, 2021

What is the highest rated fiction on Goodreads 2021? ›

Preview — Beautiful World, Where Are You by Sally Rooney

Irish author Sally Rooney wins this year's Best Fiction award for her celebrated novel on the complexities of romance, sex, and friendship on our swiftly tilting planet.

What is the most read fiction book? ›

Having sold more than 500 million copies worldwide, Harry Potter by J. K. Rowling is the best-selling book series in history. The first novel in the series, Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone, has sold in excess of 120 million copies, making it one of the best-selling books of all time.


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