This week’s Top Ten Tuesday is a tough one–we’re asked to list our all-time favorite books in a particular genre! Personally, it takes a lot for me to characterize a book as an all-time favorite. Then there’s the fact that I read in a variety of genres, so it’s hard for me to pick 10 books in just one genre that I’d consider all-time favorites. That said, here’s my list of top 10 all-time favorite works of historical fiction,* some of which can be classified in other genres as well! In no particular order:
1. Baroness Orczy, The Scarlet Pimpernel — It may not be the greatest novel from a literary standpoint, but it will always hold a special place in my heart! A French Revolution setting, spies disguised as dandies, swashbuckling heroes who rescue those in peril, and a wonderfully swoony romance all combine to make this one of my favorite books.
2. Sharon Kay Penman, Here Be Dragons — Sharon Kay Penman is one of my absolute favorite authors: She makes the Middle Ages come to life. I’ve read and enjoyed most of her books, but my favorite is the Welsh trilogy, which starts with Here Be Dragons. It’s a fascinating blend of fact and fiction about a Welsh prince who strives to unite his people against the encroaching English barons. I’m making it sound dry, but it’s actually full of romance, action, and political machinations!
3. Georgette Heyer, The Grand Sophy — To be honest, I could populate this entire list with Georgette Heyer novels. She truly is the queen of Regency romance! The Grand Sophy is probably my favorite of her novels (although Cotillion and Sylvester are right up there as well!). It features a delightful cast of characters, a strong-willed heroine, and a tightly wound hero with a surprisingly kind heart. An utter delight from start to finish!
4. Kate Ross, Cut to the Quick — I don’t know why the Julian Kestrel mysteries aren’t more popular, but everyone who has read them will tell you they’re absolutely fantastic! The protagonist is a Regency dandy who solves crimes. If that doesn’t intrigue and excite you, I don’t know what will!
5. Elizabeth Wein, Code Name Verity — This is one of the more recent additions to my all-time favorites list. It’s an intense, compelling story of the friendship between two girls who are both “doing their bit” in World War II, one as a pilot and the other as a spy. Although I sobbed through the last 60 pages or so, I absolutely loved this book!
6. Robin McKinley, The Outlaws of Sherwood — I encountered Robin McKinley at an impressionable age, and I think I basically imprinted onto her books like a baby duckling. Her books are generally shelved as fantasy, but I think The Outlaws of Sherwood is more like historical fiction. There’s no magic or anything; the only fantasy element is that the main characters are Robin Hood and his merry men (and women!). For me, this book will always be the true Robin Hood story.
7. Patricia C. Wrede and Caroline Stevermer, Sorcery and Cecelia — Regency England + romance + magic = my personal recipe for a fantastic book! This novel has it all, AND it’s epistolary!
8. Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows, The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society — I loved this epistolary novel set just after World War II, when a journalist strikes up a correspondence with several people who live on the island of Guernsey and learns about their wartime experiences. The voices of the various characters are wonderful, and I enjoyed their kindness toward one another, as well as their shared love of literature.
9. Mary Doria Russell, Doc — I haven’t read many Westerns and am not particularly interested in the genre. But when I read Doc, I immediately thought, “This is why I love historical fiction.” The novel completely immersed me in the dusty, lawless setting of the American West, and I found protagonist Doc Holliday as compelling as he was complex. I forced my mom (another reader who’s indifferent to Westerns) to read it also, and she was equally blown away!
10. Ellis Peters, One Corpse Too Many — I’ve often sung the praises of the Brother Cadfael novels, which feature a crime-solving Benedictine monk in 12th-century Shrewsbury. This novel (book #2 in the series) remains my favorite, probably because it introduces one of my literary crushes, Hugh Beringar!
*Note: My definition of historical fiction is novels that are set in an earlier time period than the one in which they were written. This means that Dickens’s A Tale of Two Cities would be historical fiction (written in 1859, set during the French Revolution), but Bleak House would not (written and set in the mid-19th century). It also means that, much as I adore Jane Austen’s novels, none of them appear on this list!