40 Best Historical Fiction Books For An Adventure Into The Past

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Are you a history buff looking for a way to explore the past without stepping foot in a time machine? Look no further. We’ve compiled a list of the best historical fiction books to take you on an adventure back in time.

Whether you’re a fan of the American Revolution or WWII, you’re sure to find something in this list. From contemporary novels like Amy Harmon’s A Girl Named Samson to Tolstoy’s War and Peace, you’re sure to be captivated. So get ready to explore the past with this list of the best historical fiction books available.

Best WWI & WWII Historical Fiction Books

The Alice Network by Kate Quinn

The novel The Alice Network takes place in two different time periods: World War I and post-World War II. The story follows Eve Gardiner, a former spy who was part of a group of female operatives called the Alice Network.

Through the intertwining narratives of Eve and Charlie, a pregnant American socialite searching for her missing cousin, Quinn highlights the power of friendship, loyalty, and the indomitable will to survive.

Explore the world of clandestine operations, espionage, and the unbreakable bonds between extraordinary women in The Alice Network

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All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr

Anthony Doerr’s All the Light We Cannot See intricately weaves together the lives of two individuals from opposite sides of the conflict, illuminating the power of human connection amid the darkness of war.

Set against the backdrop of occupied France, Doerr’s novel follows Marie-Laure, a blind French girl, and Werner, a young German orphan with a gift for engineering. Through vivid prose, Doerr brings their stories to life, exploring a world torn apart by the violence and destruction of the war. 

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The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah

The Nightingale brings to life the stories of two sisters and their arduous journey through the darkest days of World War II. 

Vianne, the elder sister, is forced to confront the harsh realities of war as she navigates the challenges of raising her daughter alone while her husband is away fighting. Isabelle, on the other hand, rebels against the occupation, joining the Resistance and risking her life to save others.

In The Nightingale, Hannah’s exceptional storytelling takes us on a journey of love, loss, and hope amidst extreme difficulties. 

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Beneath a Scarlet Sky by Mark T. Sullivan

Pino Lella is determined to stay away from the war and the Nazis. However, that wish becomes impossible when Allied bombs wipe out his family home in Milan. To escape the terror above, Pino flees to an underground railroad helping Jews escape, where he meets and falls for Ana, a widow six years his senior. 

In hopes of keeping Pino safe, his parents have him enlist as a German soldier. However, that decision jumpstarts a domino effect that ends with Pino as the personal driver for General Hans Leyers. With this new position comes valuable knowledge, giving him a chance to thwart the Nazi regime. 

Beneath a Scarlet Sky is a riveting tale based on the true story of a forgotten hero whose courage and resilience shined through during one of history’s darkest moments. Between the captivating account of Pino’s journey and the backdrop of wartime Italy, Sullivan’s novel stands out as one of the best WWII historical novels. It is an absolute must-read and deserves a spot on everyone’s shelf.

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The Book of Lost Names by Kristin Harmel

Eva Traube, a young Jewish woman, is forced to flee Paris when the Nazis invade. With her father missing and her mother arrested, Eva joins the Resistance and devotes herself to forging identity documents to help fellow Jews escape the clutches of the Holocaust.

Harmel’s immerses readers in the clandestine world of Eva’s work, where every stroke of the pen holds the power to save lives. It is undoubtedly one of the best historical fiction books.

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The Memory Keeper of Kyiv by Erin Litteken

In this emotionally charged novel, Litteken embarks on a heart-wrenching journey through the haunting landscapes of war-torn Ukraine during WWII.

The story follows Kateryna, a young Ukrainian woman who finds herself thrust into the chaos and brutality of the war. As the Nazis invade her beloved city of Kyiv, Kateryna faces impossible choices that will shape her destiny. With her family torn apart and her city engulfed in violence, Kateryna must summon every ounce of courage and resilience to navigate the difficult challenges that lie ahead.

The Memory Keeper of Kyiv delves deep into the complexities of war and its aftermath, exploring themes of sacrifice, survival, and the indelible bonds of family and friendship.

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The Huntress by Kate Quinn

The Huntress skillfully weaves together the lives of an English journalist, a Russian female bomber pilot, and an American Nazi hunter, creating a tapestry of intrigue and redemption.

Nina Markova, a former Soviet Night Witch, is a woman determined to seek justice for the atrocities of war. In her relentless pursuit of a notorious war criminal known as the Huntress, her story intersects with journalist Ian Graham’s. 

Kate Quinn’s WWII novel The Huntress delves into themes of justice, revenge, and the difficulties of facing one’s past. As one of the best historical fiction books, readers cannot go wrong with this masterpiece.

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Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys

Between Shades of Gray follows fifteen-year-old Lina Vilkas and her family as they are ripped from their home in Lithuania. Forced into labor camps by the Soviet secret police, Lina, a talented artist, uses her drawings to document the atrocities she witnesses, bravely preserving the truth amidst the chaos and despair.

Between Shades of Gray is an unputdownable story of survival that is perfect for fans of The Book Thief. Sepetys’s prose beautifully captures the emotions and experiences of these characters, immersing us in the physical and emotional landscapes of their lives. 

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From Sand and Ash by Amy Harmon

Eva Rosselli and Angelo Bianco—born under different religious and social circumstances—met when they were children and grew to love one another. But when Angelo chose to join the priesthood, life took them in different directions.

Years later, Eva is desperately fleeing from the Gestapo when Angelo risks everything to shelter her in his convent. Despite the danger of her situation, Eva can’t idly sit while Angelo sacrifices his safety to protect her.

From Sand and Ash is a powerful historical romance that paints an emotionally charged story of love, faith, and courage. With the utmost emotion and strength, the novel confronts readers with a powerful narrative not to be missed. Amy Harmon delivers an unforgettable story that is undoubtedly one of the best historical fiction books out there.

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The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

Liesel, a young girl who finds solace in stolen books, becomes an unlikely heroine as she navigates a world plagued by fear and propaganda. Zusak’s masterful storytelling allows us to feel the weight of every word Liesel reads and every bond she forms as we are transported into the heart-wrenching realities of wartime Germany.

The Book Thief is not simply a tale of survival. It delves deep into the profound impact of literature and how it can inspire resilience during tough times.

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The Rose Code by Kate Quinn

Quinn’s novel takes us back to the tumultuous era of WWII, where three women find themselves entangled in a web of secrets, love, and code-breaking at Bletchley Park, the top-secret British intelligence establishment.

Osla, a young debutante with a flair for code-breaking, joins the ranks of female codebreakers at Bletchley Park, where she becomes both friend and foe to Mab and Beth.

Quinn masterfully unravels the complex dynamics that define the relationships between these women, capturing the essence of their camaraderie, competition, and resilience. As they work together to crack the German Enigma code, their lives become entangled in a dangerous dance of secrecy and intrigue.

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Best 20th Century Historical Fiction Books

The Fountains of Silence by Ruta Sepetys

It’s 1957, and tourists are flooding into Spain. What seems like a time of prosperity is simply a guise hiding the dark secrets of the fascist dictatorship of General Francisco Franco. One of the tourists happens to be eighteen-year-old Daniel Matheson, the son of a Texan oil tycoon.

While there, Daniel’s plans involve his camera and the beautiful country of Spain. However, his journey introduces him to Ana, whose family has not been untouched by the devastating effects of the Spanish Civil War nor the current impacts of the regime. 

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Pachinko by Min Jin Lee

In Pachinko, Min Jin Lee weaves together the lives of multiple generations of a Korean family living in Japan, spanning the tumultuous period from 1910 to 1989. 

In the early 1900s, teen Sunja’s love affair with a charismatic older man ends in despair and betrayal. Between her unexpected pregnancy and a heartbreaking revelation of her lover’s marital situation, Sunja faces a difficult choice. And that choice alters her destiny as well as her son’s.

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The Four Winds by Kristin Hannah

It is 1921, and the Great War has come to an end. For many, it is a time of prosperity. But for Elsa Wolcott, it’s quite the opposite with her lack of marital opportunities. Then Rafe Martinelli walks into her life and changes the trajectory of her life.

Nearly thirteen years later, Elsa is faced with yet another life-changing decision. Due to the drought’s long-reaching effects, millions are out of work and struggling to stay afloat. And on the Martinelli farm, nothing is left untouched—not the land, crop, and most definitely not Elsa’s marriage. As the situation grows more dire, Elsa must decide whether to stay and fight for their home or make the journey to California for a better life.

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The Giver of Stars by Jojo Moyes

In this enchanting tale, a group of courageous and resilient women defy societal norms and embark on an extraordinary journey of empowerment and self-discovery.

The Giver of Stars follows the journeys of five fiercely independent women who become packhorse librarians, delivering books to isolated communities in the Appalachian mountains. Through their determination and unwavering passion for literature, the women form a tight-knit sisterhood that provides solace, inspiration, and a sense of purpose.

The Giver of Stars is a testament to the immeasurable influence of literature and the strength of friendship. Moyes masterfully crafts a tale that celebrates the importance of knowledge, empathy, and the freedom to pursue one’s passions. 

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This Tender Land by William Kent Krueger

It’s the summer of 1932 and orphan Odie O’Banion yearns to break free from the oppressive environment of the Lincoln Indian Training School. After getting into trouble, Odie, along with his brother Albert, their close friend Mose, and a girl named Emmy, escape in a canoe and set out for Mississippi. The four orphans embark on an unforgettable adventure, creating a summer they will remember.

This Tender Land is an enchanting piece of historical fiction perfect for fans of Where the Crawdads Sing

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Lessons in Chemistry by Bonnie Garmus

The story follows Elizabeth Zott, a brilliant young woman navigating the male-dominated field of chemistry in the 1960s. Through her eyes, we witness a world grappling with social change, a society slowly awakening to the immense potential hidden behind closed laboratory doors.

Lessons in Chemistry is a captivating journey through the past, where scientific exploration was fueled by passion and ambition. Prepare to travel to an era when people pushed the limits and women dared to chase their dreams.

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The Help by Kathryn Stockett

The Help follows Aibileen, Minny, and Skeeter, three distinct voices that intertwine to illuminate the harsh realities faced by black maids in the Deep South. Aibileen’s quiet strength and unwavering compassion, Minny’s irreverent wit and resilience, and Skeeter’s determination to challenge the status quo form a captivating trio that holds us spellbound throughout the narrative.

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I Must Betray You by Ruta Sepetys

The year is 1989, and communist regimes are collapsing throughout Europe. However, in Romania, the oppressive dictatorship of Nicolae Ceaușescu offers little freedom to its citizens. For seventeen-year-old Cristian Florescu, who dreams of one day becoming a writer, it is nothing short of demoralizing. And when the secret police blackmails Cristian into becoming an informer, he faces an impossible choice.

I Must Betray You is a mesmerizing addition to the canon of the best historical fiction books. With stunning prose and captivating characters, Sepetys provides a rare glimpse into the little-known history of a nation silenced. 

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11/22/63 by Stephen King

If you’re looking for a thrilling time travel adventure with a touch of historical significance, then 11/22/63 is the book for you. The story follows English teacher Jake Epping, who discovers a portal that takes him back to 1958. His mission: to prevent the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. 

11/22/63 expertly blends elements of historical fiction, science fiction, and thriller to create a captivating read that keeps you on the edge of your seat. King’s attention to detail and character development make the story come alive, immersing readers in the world of the past complete with accurate descriptions of the era’s politics, culture, and lifestyle. 

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The Second Life of Mirielle West by Amanda Skenandore

A leprosy diagnosis for 1920s socialite Mirielle West, wife to a movie star, permanently alters her life. Transplanted from her charming home in California to Carville, a Louisiana institution, Marielle’s former life fades into obscurity. Now locked behind the walls of Carville, Marielle faces the stigma of her diagnosis, isolation, and foreseeable quarantining. Nothing about her life will ever be the same, something she soon comes to realize. 

The Second Life of Mirielle West is an eye-opening piece of historical fiction that explores the true story of America’s only leper colony, Carville, where thousands found themselves branded a leper, stripped of their rights, and forced to remain under quarantine. With a background in nursing, Amanda Skenandore skillfully delves into the health crisis, providing a glimpse into patients’ experiences.

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City of Girls by Elizabeth Gilbert

Vivian Morris, a vivacious and rebellious young woman, finds herself drawn into the captivating world of the Lily Playhouse. As she immerses herself in the bohemian lifestyle, Vivian encounters a colorful cast of characters, each with their own dreams, desires, and secrets. In her quest for fulfillment and connection, Vivian experiences the highs and lows of love, ultimately leading her to uncover profound truths about herself and the world around her.

In City of Girls, Gilbert crafts a mesmerizing narrative that seamlessly blends history, culture, and the essence of female empowerment. While the glittering lights of Broadway and the sizzle of the city’s nightlife form the backdrop of Vivian’s story, City of Girls is ultimately a tale of self-discovery and the complexities of love.

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A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles

A Gentleman in Moscow takes readers on a captivating journey through the tumultuous years of Soviet Russia. The novel follows the life of Count Alexander Rostov, who is placed under house arrest by the Bolshevik government. Despite his confinement, the Count’s experiences within the hotel walls reveal a complex and ever-changing landscape of Russian society.

With A Gentleman in Moscow, Towles adds another gem to the collection of historical books that skillfully transport readers to different eras. 

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A Long Petal of the Sea by Isabel Allende

With A Long Petal of the Sea, Allende takes us on a captivating exploration of the Spanish Civil War and its aftermath. Set against the backdrop of war-torn Spain, the story follows the lives of Roser and Victor, two individuals bound by circumstance and forced into an unimaginable journey of survival and resilience.

Allende’s prose comes alive as she paints a vivid picture of an era marred by conflict and upheaval. From the horrors of war to the challenges of rebuilding shattered lives, A Long Petal of the Sea captures the essence of human endurance and the enduring power of hope.

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Historical Fiction Books Before the 20th Century

Outlander by Diana Gabaldon

At the heart of Outlander lies the remarkable love story between Claire Randall, a courageous and resourceful 20th-century nurse, and Jamie Fraser, a fearless and loyal Scottish warrior. Their passionate and often turbulent relationship captivates readers as they navigate the treacherous landscapes of love, loss, and sacrifice.

But Outlander is more than just a love story. It delves into complex themes such as identity, loyalty, and the consequences of our actions. With its thought-provoking exploration of cultural clashes, political alliances, and the fight for freedom, the novel offers a profound reflection on the human condition and the enduring power of resilience.

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A Girl Called Samson by Amy Harmon

Deborah Samson was born to a struggling Puritan family in 1760, and with no other means of support, she was soon indentured as a servant. But Deborah never loses sight of her dreams of freedom, and when the Revolutionary War breaks out, she sees her chance.

Disguised as a man, Deborah enlisted in the Continental Army to finally earn the independence she had always desired. Yet, in her pursuit of freedom, Deborah faces numerous struggles, especially the dilemma of her own identity and a forbidden love she cannot ignore.

Amy Harmon’s A Girl Called Samson is an extraordinary and stirring story of courage, identity, and love. It is a must-read for historical romance fans, showcasing the strength of the human spirit in its pursuit of independence.

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Kindred by Octavia E. Butler

Kindred follows Dana, a Black woman living in 1970s California who finds herself inexplicably pulled back in time to the antebellum South. Through this unexpected phenomenon, Dana becomes intertwined in the lives of her enslaved ancestors, facing the harsh realities and brutalities of slavery firsthand. 

Octavia E. Butler’s Kindred delves into the historical fiction genre with a unique twist. Butler embarks on a time-traveling adventure, blending the past and present in a thought-provoking exploration of race, power, and identity. 

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The Terror by Dan Simmons

Set in the Arctic during the mid-19th century, this novel takes readers on a chilling expedition with the crew of the HMS Terror as they search for the Northwest Passage. However, after becoming stranded, the crew must face the harsh environment and the killer dangers lurking in the shadows.

What sets The Terror apart is Simmons’ ability to blend historical accuracy with supernatural elements. Simmons skillfully weaves together elements of historical fact and fiction to create a haunting and atmospheric narrative. 

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War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy

In War and Peace, Tolstoy delves into the lives of individuals caught in the tumultuous period of Napoleon’s invasion. With masterful storytelling and keen observational skills, Tolstoy weaves a vast tapestry of characters grappling with war, love, and destiny.

Through his masterful prose, Tolstoy delves into the nature of human existence, pondering the complexities of destiny and free will. Tolstoy’s words resonate with timeless wisdom, drawing readers into the intricate web of emotions and philosophical reflections at the heart of War and Peace.

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Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi

Yaa Gyasi’s Homegoing takes us on a different journey, spanning generations and continents, as it explores the impact of slavery and colonization on the African diaspora.

Gyasi’s debut novel is a breathtaking masterpiece that weaves together the stories of two half-sisters, Effia and Esi, born in different villages in 18th-century Ghana. As their lives diverge, one living in luxury as the wife of a British governor and the other enduring the horrors of the slave trade, Gyasi skillfully paints a portrait of the interconnectedness of human lives and the enduring legacies of trauma.

Homegoing is not an easy read, as it forces us to confront the darkest aspects of human history. Yet, there are also moments of hope and redemption within the darkness. Gyasi’s writing is raw and unflinching but also imbued with compassion and empathy. 

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The Mercies by Kiran Millwood Hargrave

Kiran Millwood Hargrave’s The Mercies is a captivating story set in a secluded Norwegian village during the 1600s. It follows the journey of two women, Maren and Ursa, who confront the harsh reality of their society’s gender expectations and intolerance when their male counterparts disappear at sea. 

Hargrave’s vivid writing style brings the breathtaking scenery and characters’ emotions to life, making The Mercies an unforgettable read.

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Shōgun by James Clavell

Shōgun takes us on a captivating voyage to 17th-century Japan. In this epic tale, Clavell introduces us to John Blackthorne, an English sailor shipwrecked on the shores of Japan. Through his eyes, we navigate the unfamiliar Japanese customs, traditions, and the complex hierarchy of the samurai class. As Blackthorne becomes entangled in power struggles, he embarks on a thrilling adventure brimming with suspense, intrigue, and unexpected alliances.

James Clavell immerses readers in the fascinating world of samurais, geishas, and the intricate political power struggles of feudal Japan.

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The Last Kingdom by Bernard Cornwell

Bernard Cornwell explores the tumultuous times of ninth-century England, where kingdoms clash, alliances shift, and bloodshed is a constant companion.

Torn between his English heritage and Viking upbringing, Uhtred of Bebbanburg, faces inner conflicts that arise from divided loyalties.

Brimming with adventure, political intrigue, and drama, The Last Kingdom is a testament to Cornwell’s expertise in historical fiction.

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She Who Became the Sun by Shelley Parker-Chan

In this striking novel, Parker-Chan skillfully brings to life the story of a young girl in 14th century China. After her family’s downfall, seizes a chance to rewrite her own destiny by daring to take on a male identity. This courageous act sets in motion a chain of events that will ultimately shape the course of history. 

She Who Became the Sun seamlessly weaves together history and imagination to create an utterly mesmerizing reading experience. With her lyrical prose, Shelley Parker-Chan transports us to a time and place where power, ambition, and resilience collide.

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Lady Tan’s Circle of Women by Lisa See

Tan Yunxian is born into an upper-class family, where her grandparents give her a medical education in women’s illnesses. But when she enters an arranged marriage, her mother-in-law forbids her from continuing her studies. Her dreams of becoming a physician must be buried – or so they think.

Despite all odds, Yunxian finds solace and power in the friendships of other women. Together, they challenge the traditional gender roles and redefine what it means to be a woman in the Ming dynasty. 

Lady Tan’s Circle of Women is a gripping story of friendship and the strength of women. This captivating novel will undoubtedly inspire readers and become one of your favorite historical fiction reads.

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The Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett

The Pillars of the Earth takes readers on a journey through medieval England and the construction of a magnificent cathedral. Brimming with political intrigue, religious conflicts, and the magnificent architectural marvels of the time, Follett embarks on an unforgettable journey.

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Master and Commander by Patrick O’Brian

In this captivating voyage, O’Brian brings to life the challenges and triumphs of life at sea during the Napoleonic Wars. The story follows Captain Jack Aubrey and his trusted companion Dr. Stephen Maturin through the era of naval warfare. 

Through the eloquent prose and vivid descriptions, O’Brian transports readers to the deck of HMS Surprise. As Captain Aubrey navigates the treacherous waters of naval warfare, we are swept away by the intensity of the battles.

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Ancient Historical Fiction Books

The Book of Longings by Sue Monk Kidd

It’s the first century and Ana, a courageous and spirited young woman who defies the societal norms of her time. As the wife of Jesus, yes, that Jesus – Ana’s story is a radical departure from traditional narratives. Through her eyes, we bear witness to a vividly imagined world filled with political intrigue, religious upheaval, and personal resilience.

The Book of Longings is an enrapturing story that explores the pursuit of passion, identity, and love. 

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A Thousand Ships by Natalie Haynes

A Thousand Ships gives readers the highly-anticipated take on the Trojan War and its aftermath through the women’s perspective. With over twenty voices, a mix of human women and goddesses, Haynes allows them to tell their stories.

For the women’s take on the Trojan War, I recommend getting your hands on A Thousand Ships. It is an epic page-turner perfect for readers who love ancient historical fiction books.  

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The Red Tent by Anita Diamant

The Red Tent transports readers to biblical times, immersing us in a world of ancient traditions, familial bonds, and the remarkable story of Dinah, the daughter of Jacob and sister to the twelve sons of Israel.

Diamant artfully resurrects a forgotten female voice from the pages of history, providing a fresh perspective on the biblical narrative. As The Red Tent unfolds, it tells a tale of love, betrayal, and the unbreakable bonds of sisterhood. 

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