Hello readers, I have another Bookish Lists post today! Historical fiction novels feature quite often here on my blog, but I’ve noticed that, in YA atleast, the label seems to be becoming an increasingly vague one, stretching to include everything from adding fantasy aspects to sometimes nothing more than a hint of a historical setting. I like my historical fiction novels to be as accurate and feel as authentic to the era as possible, so I find it very annoying when I pick up something labelled ‘historical fiction’ and run into demons, magic or a variety of other things that certainly did not exist in said era (or ever, really). That’s why I started keeping a separate list I classify as historical retellings, for any books that present a modified take on the story, whether it’s introducing a fictional or fantastical aspect into the tale, or perhaps a narrative more akin to fairytale retellings – and there are some pretty amazing ones out there. Today, I’m sharing 7 of my favourites from this list!
1. And I Darken (The Conqueror’s Saga #1) – Kiersten White
No one expects a princess to be brutal. And Lada Dragwlya likes it that way. Ever since she and her gentle younger brother, Radu, were wrenched from their homeland of Wallachia and abandoned by their father to be raised in the Ottoman courts, Lada has known that being ruthless is the key to survival. She and Radu are doomed to act as pawns in a vicious game, an unseen sword hovering over their every move. For the lineage that makes them special also makes them targets.
Lada despises the Ottomans and bides her time, planning her vengeance for the day when she can return to Wallachia and claim her birthright. Radu longs only for a place where he feels safe. And when they meet Mehmed, the defiant and lonely son of the sultan, Radu feels that he’s made a true friend – and Lada wonders if she’s finally found someone worthy of her passion.
But Mehmed is heir to the very empire that Lada has sworn to fight against—and that Radu now considers home. Together, Lada, Radu, and Mehmed form a toxic triangle that strains the bonds of love and loyalty to the breaking point.
This book is one of only two books on this list that stays somewhat close to the historical facts, an amusing thought, considering that this series is a gender-bent retelling of the story of Vlad the Impaler. It’s one of those random what-ifs that come to mind brought to life and it is a completely insane ride – and a rather dark one at that, Lada makes for a very impressive anti-hero – but one that I enjoyed from beginning to end, even if this first book took a re-read for me to fully grasp what was going on. Lada and Radu’s character arcs are masterfully written, and despite them being such polar opposites personality wise, as the series progresses, it’s impossible to not root for both of them though you know how the story has to end. Kiersten White has done a wonderful job of telling this tale in such a way that even if you are knowledgeable about this time period and the events that occurred, each twist is still just as surprising.
2. Dread Nation (Dread Nation #1) – Justina Ireland
Jane McKeene was born two days before the dead began to walk the battlefields of Gettysburg and Chancellorsville – derailing the War Between the States and changing America forever. In this new nation, safety for all depends on the work of a few, and laws like the Native and Negro Reeducation Act require certain children attend combat schools to learn to put down the dead. But there are also opportunities – and Jane is studying to become an Attendant, trained in both weaponry and etiquette to protect the well-to-do. It’s a chance for a better life for Negro girls like Jane. After all, not even being the daughter of a wealthy white Southern woman could save her from society’s expectations.
But that’s not a life Jane wants. Almost finished with her education at Miss Preston’s School of Combat in Baltimore, Jane is set on returning to her Kentucky home and doesn’t pay much mind to the politics of the eastern cities, with their talk of returning America to the glory of its days before the dead rose. But when families around Baltimore County begin to go missing, Jane is caught in the middle of a conspiracy, one that finds her in a desperate fight for her life against some powerful enemies. And the restless dead, it would seem, are the least of her problems.
American history takes a darker turn in this narrative where the Civil War grinds to a halt in the wake of a zombie apocalypse. Walking dead aside, the world Justina Ireland paints is one where slavery has been outlawed, but the extreme discrimination and racism is far from gone. Dread Nation puts a darker twist on an already dark period in history, where the zombies are the monsters you can see, but the true monsters are other humans. This was a unique read, both entertaining and thought-provoking, and definitely worth the read.
3. My Lady Jane (The Lady Janies #1) – Cynthia Hand, Jodi Meadows, Brodi Ashton
Edward (long live the king) is the King of England. He’s also dying, which is inconvenient, as he’s only sixteen and he’d much rather be planning for his first kiss than considering who will inherit his crown…
Jane (reads too many books) is Edward’s cousin, and far more interested in books than romance. Unfortunately for Jane, Edward has arranged to marry her off to secure the line of succession. And there’s something a little odd about her intended…
Gifford (call him G) is a horse. That is, he’s an Eðian (eth-y-un, for the uninitiated). Every day at dawn he becomes a noble chestnut steed—but then he wakes at dusk with a mouthful of hay. It’s all very undignified.
The plot thickens as Edward, Jane, and G are drawn into a dangerous conspiracy. With the fate of the kingdom at stake, our heroes will have to engage in some conspiring of their own. But can they pull off their plan before it’s off with their heads?
My Lady Jane is one of the few books to date that has had me in stitches of laughter from beginning to end. This absurd rendition of history should in no way work, but somehow it does! As a frequent reader of Tudor era fiction, I’ve always felt rather sorry for both Edward and Jane, so this was pretty much the perfect twist on the tale I needed. My Contrary Mary is also set in the same world as this one and many of the characters make an appearance in that book as well. This is a great book for good, long laugh right from page one, and a must-read!
4. American Royals (American Royals #1) – Katharine McGee
Two princesses vying for the ultimate crown.
Two girls vying for the prince’s heart.
This is the story of the American royals.
When America won the Revolutionary War, its people offered General George Washington a crown. Two and a half centuries later, the House of Washington still sits on the throne. Like most royal families, the Washingtons have an heir and a spare. A future monarch and a backup battery. Each child knows exactly what is expected of them. But these aren’t just any royals. They’re American. And their country was born of rebellion.
As Princess Beatrice gets closer to becoming America’s first queen regnant, the duty she has embraced her entire life suddenly feels stifling. Nobody cares about the spare except when she’s breaking the rules, so Princess Samantha doesn’t care much about anything, either . . . except the one boy who is distinctly off-limits to her. And then there’s Samantha’s twin, Prince Jefferson. If he’d been born a generation earlier, he would have stood first in line for the throne, but the new laws of succession make him third. Most of America adores their devastatingly handsome prince . . . but two very different girls are vying to capture his heart.
The duty. The intrigue. The Crown. New York Times bestselling author Katharine McGee imagines an alternate version of the modern world, one where the glittering age of monarchies has not yet faded–and where love is still powerful enough to change the course of history.
The intriguing concept behind this story alone was enough to make me pick it up without hesitation, and having read this author’s books before, I knew that particular brand of drama was something I’d enjoy. It was really interesting how this major twist in American history affected the governments of other countries around the world in this book, and every country that was mentioned seemed to be under a monarchy. While a touch predictable from time to time, this was a hugely entertaining read.
5. Ink and Bone (The Great Library #1) – Rachel Caine
Ruthless and supremely powerful, the Great Library is now a presence in every major city, governing the flow of knowledge to the masses. Alchemy allows the Library to deliver the content of the greatest works of history instantly – but the personal ownership of books is expressly forbidden.
Jess Brightwell believes in the value of the Library, but the majority of his knowledge comes from illegal books obtained by his family, who are involved in the thriving black market. Jess has been sent to be his family’s spy, but his loyalties are tested in the final months of his training to enter the Library’s service.
When his friend inadvertently commits heresy by creating a device that could change the world, Jess discovers that those who control the Great Library believe that knowledge is more valuable than any human life – and soon both heretics and books will burn…
Set in a world where the Great Library of Alexandria not only survived, but grew to become the most powerful and controlling force in the world, this series truly has something for everyone, from books, alchemy, thieves, friendships, politics and more books. Between the wonderful, diverse cast of characters, the truly fascinating world-building and some very interesting reflections on the power of books (even alluding to ebooks vs physical books), this was a fast-paced, thrilling read.
6. Enchantée (Enchantée #1) – Gita Trelease
Paris in 1789 is a labyrinth of twisted streets, filled with beggars, thieves, revolutionaries – and magicians…
When smallpox kills her parents, Camille Durbonne must find a way to provide for her frail, naive sister while managing her volatile brother. Relying on petty magic – la magie ordinaire – Camille painstakingly transforms scraps of metal into money to buy the food and medicine they need. But when the coins won’t hold their shape and her brother disappears with the family’s savings, Camille must pursue a richer, more dangerous mark: the glittering court of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette.
With dark magic forbidden by her mother, Camille transforms herself into the ‘Baroness de la Fontaine’ and is swept up into life at the Palace of Versailles, where aristocrats both fear and hunger for la magie. There, she gambles at cards, desperate to have enough to keep herself and her sister safe. Yet the longer she stays at court, the more difficult it becomes to reconcile her resentment of the nobles with the enchantments of Versailles. And when she returns to Paris, Camille meets a handsome young balloonist – who dares her to hope that love and liberty may both be possible.
But la magie has its costs. And when Camille loses control of her secrets, the game she’s playing turns deadly. Then revolution erupts, and she must choose – love or loyalty, democracy or aristocracy, freedom or magic – before Paris burns…
The court of Versailles, the pomp and grandeur, the decadence, the intrigue, and the complex etiquette, has always been a huge fascination for me. As such, it, along with the French Revolution are areas of history that I’m quite familiar with – and have even higher expectations for. The setting and world-building draws you in, whether it be the side streets of Paris or the splendor of Versailles, and the riveting story will keep you reading. The narration lends a very authentic feel to the tale, along with the real historical events woven into the narrative such as the Tennis Court Oath and the storming of the Bastille. This is a magical read thoroughly worthy of its title!
7. Romanov – Nadine Brandes
Anastasia “Nastya” Romanov was given a single mission: to smuggle an ancient spell into her suitcase on her way to exile in Siberia. It might be her family’s only salvation. But the leader of the Bolshevik army is after them, and he’s hunted Romanov before.
Nastya’s only chances of saving herself and her family are to either release the spell and deal with the consequences, or enlist help from Zash, the handsome soldier who doesn’t act like the average Bolshevik. Nastya has only dabbled in magic, but it doesn’t frighten her half as much as her growing attraction to Zash. She likes him. She thinks he might even like her.
That is, until she’s on one side of a firing squad…and he’s on the other.
Romanov was an intriguing take on an old tale. It was also nice to see one version of the story where someone apart from Anastasia (or Nastya as she goes by in this book) survived. The family dynamic was really well done, and getting to know the Romanov family during their years of imprisonment through Nastya’s eyes was definitely something new. Despite some pacing issues, this was a solid read overall, and it doesa great job portraying some deeper themes like family, kindness and forgiveness.
Have you read any of these books? Are there any others you enjoyed not on this list? Let me know in the comments below!