Best Historical Fiction Books with Action and Adventure
History Bristling with Action and Adventure
The Best Historical Fiction Adventures
A great historical fiction adventure needs to satisfy several ingredients. Firstly, it needs to conjure up the era in which it is set. It doesn't matter if the action is set in a Roman Fort in Britain, the slums of Regency London or the trenches of World War 1, so long as you can feel yourself there alongside your hero. And your hero is your second ingredient. He need not be too handsome or perfect, we can tolerate a touch of menace or self doubt, but overall he must be a cut above the rest. Finally, we need action and adventure - and lots of it. The plot must zing along, perhaps with some quiet moments of suspense - a bit of romance can be tolerated, but not dwelt upon.
If you crave action in a historical setting, or know someone who does, here are some suggestions for your bookshelf.
The Sharpe Series
Just what is "Historical Fiction?"
Not sure exactly what is and what isn't historical fiction? Or maybe you want to know how you go about writing a historical fiction book. In either case, there's lots of information in my hub about what makes a historical fiction book.
The Sharpe Series by Bernard Cornwell
Bernard Cornwell began writing about Richard Sharpe in 1980 and continues to do so. Sharpe was already popular, but when the TV series starring Sean Bean hit the screens in 1993 there was a renewed interest in the books and Cornwell began writing more adventures for his hero.
The Sharpe books revolve around the adventures of Richard Sharpe, the illegitimate son of a prostitute, who turns his back on a life of crime and rises through the ranks of the British Army during the Peninsula Wars. Sharpe has to contend not only with Napoleon's army, but also with the prejudice and bigotry of his fellow officers, who despise his humble origins. Since writing the original books Cornwell has added some prequels, which extend the series back in time to Sharpe's time in India.
Sharpe is a typical action hero: brave, loyal, daring and irresistible to the ladies. Cornwell researches his books painstakingly and this attention to detail pays off handsomely. In addition to his magnificent hero and realistic settings Cornwell crams his books with a pacey mixture of combat, intrigue, betrayal, adventure and a dash of romance.
There are numerous Sharpe adventures to choose from, and since Cornwell has published prequels and sequels, it is hard to put them in an order; do you go for the first published, or the first chronologically?
Whet Your Appetite for Sharpe
Regency Adventure with Hawkwood
The Hawkwood Books by James McGee
Matthew Hawkwood is a contemporary of Richard Sharpe and the two men have some similarities. Both served in the Rifles during the Napoleonic Wars and both were worthy of the attention of the Duke of Wellington. However, whilst Sharpe is a fairly straightforward character, Hawkwood is an altogether more dark proposition. He faces his enemies not out in the open on the battlefield, but in the foetid alleyways of London's slums, where he works as a Bow Street Runner.
James McGee has created not only a compelling hero in Hawkwood but an engaging vision of London's seamy underworld - the stench almost comes off the page! Add to this a solid supporting cast of characters, ingenious and well-researched historical plots and you cannot fail to enjoy McGee's books.
So far there are four books; start with Ratcatcher, follow it with Resurrectionist, then Rapscallion and finally, this year's Rebellion.
Roman Action with The Legions
The Eagle Series by Simon Scarrow
Simon Scarrow writes great battle scenes and there are plenty of them in his Roman military adventure series. He has two main characters, Quintus Licinius Cato, young and fairly intellectual and Lucius Cornellius Macro, a tough veteran. The series follows the two soldiers in the Imperial Army around 42 AD with the action ranging from the Rome to the Rhine to Britain and beyond.
Scarrow's plots march along with no complicated twists and turns, which is in no way a bad thing. Battle scenes are described blow by blow and feature bucket loads of blood and guts. The dialogue is rough and ready, as you would expect from soldiers - including plenty of expletives.
Start the series with Under the Eagle.
The Grail Quest Action
The Grail Quest Trilogy by Bernard Cornwell
The Grail Quest Trilogy follows the adventures of Thomas of Hookton, an archer, during the reign of Edward III, and his quest to avenge his father's death and retrieve a stolen artefact. Cornwell weaves a story full of vengeance, betrayal and love, all pulled together with historical accuracy and fast-paced action, set against a backdrop of England and France.
Thomas of Hookton is a likeable hero, driven by a desire for personal vengeance against various enemies, including his dastardly cousin, Guy Vexille. Along the way he is involved in some bloody battles, both large and small, and manages to romance a couple of ladies.
The Grail Quest begins with Harlequin, published as The Archer's Tale in the USA, followed by Vagabond and reaching its finale with Heretic.
The Saxon Tales by Bernard Cornwell
No apologies for including another of Cornwell's series - he is the master of the historical adventure yarn! The Saxon Chronicles are set in 9th Century Britain and have as their hero Uhtred Ragnarson. Uhtred is an orphaned Briton, dispossessed of his birthright and adopted by Danes. The story unfolds against the backdrop of King Alfred's battle to save the last remaining kingdom, Wessex, from the invading Danes.
Cornwell has created another engaging hero in Uhtred and the plot twists and turns as Uhtred's loyalties are tested. The action is provided by Uhtred's flight from his captors and the battles in which he fights. As you expect, the historical detail is well-researched and it is a pleasure to read a book set in a period often overlooked by popular fiction.