The mammoth list of off-the-beaten-path book recommendations, brought to you by our HNS Conference panel

shopJulie K. Rose, Heather Domin, Audra Friend, and I presented a lively panel at the HNS conference in St. Petersburg. Members of the audience shared many suggestions for off-the-beaten-path books, and although we started out with a six-page handout of  these novels, I’m sure the length has increased considerably…so Heather Domin has graciously compiled a comprehensive list of our recommendations plus those from panel attendees. I can tell you that my heaving TBR pile is about ready to topple with additions from this wonderful list! Happy TBR pile-building!!!  (the list can be found at


This list began as a panel at this year’s HNS Conference called ‘Historical Fiction Off the Beaten Path’, which I co-presented with Andrea Connell of The Queen’s Quill Review [AC], Audra Friend of Unabridged Chick [AF], and author Julie K. Rose [JR]. The purpose of our panel was to show readers the variety of historical fiction available to them, and to show writers that there is an audience for every story. The four of us came up with a short list of books published in the last five years that fall outside current trends in historical fiction:

• lesser-known locations and/or periods
• unusual protagonists or points of view
• lack of famous historical figures
• POC  (persons of color) and/or LGBTQ characters
• characters with physical differences
• mixing of genres or sub-genres
• unusual choices in style or structure

To that list we’ve added all the books suggested by the panel audience, with the intention of starting a miniature database on our websites. This list is not exhaustive and will continue to grow, so check back to see what’s been added, and please do send us your own suggestions!

Ancient World

Alcestis by Katharine Beutner (Greece)
HD, JR: genre mixing (mythology), unusual setting, LGBTQ
Part Greek mythology, part women’s fiction, part metaphysical rumination, part literary opus, with a bonus lesbian liaison — this book defies categorization, and the result is a truly unconventional historical novel. -HD

Augustus by John Edward Williams (Rome)
[panel] unusual style (epistolary)

Daughter of Kura by Debra Austin (Paleolithic Africa)
HD: unusual setting
Set on the plains of Paleolithic Africa, this story of a young woman’s journey from matriarch to outcast paints a fascinating picture of our early human ancestors without the use of fantastical elements. – HD

Lavinia by Ursula K. LeGuin (Etruria)
JR: unusual setting

The Sweet Girl by Annabel Lyon (Greece)
AF: unusual setting

The Wedding Shroud by Elizabeth Storrs (Etruria)
HD: unusual setting

Thunderbolt: Torn Enemy of Rome by Roger Kean (Carthage)
[panel] LGBTQ protagonist, genre mixing (action/adventure)

Written in Ashes by K. Hollan vanZandt (Egypt)
AF: unusual setting

1st Century

Lily of the Nile by Stephanie Dray (Rome, Egypt)
AF, JR: genre mixing (magical realism), unusual setting

The Soldier of Raetia by Heather Domin (Rome, Germany)
JR: genre mixing (adventure/romance), unusual setting, LGBTQ
One of my favorite books. Beautifully written and engrossing. You feel transported in time and place. -JR

2nd Century

Eromenos by Melanie McDonald (Rome)
AF, HD: unusual setting, LGBTQ

3rd Century

Agent of Rome series (The Siege and The Imperial Banner) by Nick Brown (Syria)
HD: unusual setting, unusual protagonist

6th Century

The Dragon’s Harp by Rachael Pruitt (Wales)
JR: genre mixing (fantasy), unusual setting

7th Century

The Woman at the Well by Ann Chamberlin (Syria)
JR: unusual setting

8th Century

Seidman by Erich James (Iceland)
HD: YA, genre mixing (paranormal/romance), unusual setting, LGBTQ

The Cross and the Dragon by Kim Rendfeld (Francia)
AC, HD: unusual setting

Under Heaven by Guy Gavriel Kay (China)
JR: genre mixing (alternate history), unusual setting

9th Century

The Bone Thief by V.M. Whitworth (Wessex)
HD: unusual setting

11th Century

Illuminations by Mary Sharratt (Germany)
AF: unusual setting

Shadow on the Crown by Patricia Bracewell (England)
JR: unusual setting

12th Century

Mistress of the Art of Death by Ariana Franklin (England)
[panel] unusual protagonist

13th Century

A Thing Doneby Tinney Sue Heath (Florence)
JR: unusual setting

Cuzcatlán Where the Southern Sea Beats by Manlio Argueta (Pre-Columbian South America)
[panel] unusual setting

Something Red by Douglas Nicholas (England)
HD: genre mixing (horror)

Sultana by Lisa Yarde (Spain)
HD, JR: POC main characters, unusual setting

15th Century

A Prince to be Feared by Mary Lancaster (Romania)
AF: unusual setting

I, Iagoby Nicole Galland (Venice)
AF: unusual setting

16th Century

Equal of the Sun by Anita Amirrezvani (Persia)
AF: unusual setting

In the Garden of Iden by Kage Baker (England)
AF: genre mixing (light sci-fi)

The Queen’s Rivals by Brandy Purdy (England)
[panel] unusual protagonist

The Raven’s Heart by Jesse Blackadder (England)

Tom Fleck by Harry Nicholson (England)
HD: unusual protagonist, no famous figures
A delightful, folksy adventure set in rural England and Scotland, this novel uses a likable everyman to tell the story of ordinary people in an extraordinary time, including a rare look at Jewish life in Tudor England. -HD

17th Century

The Book of Seven Hands by Barth Anderson (Spain)
JR: genre mixing (paranormal), no famous figures, LGBTQ

The Midwife’s Tale by Sam Thomas (England)
AF: unusual protagonist

The Orphanmaster by Jean Zimmerman (Amsterdam)
AF: unusual setting

The Tito Amato series by Beverle Graves Myers (Venice)
[panel] unusual setting, unusual protagonist

The Tsar’s Dwarf by Peter H. Fogtal (Russia)
[panel] unusual protagonist

White Heart by Julie Caton (New France)
[panel] unusual protagonist, lack of historical figures

18th Century

Perfume: The Story of a Murderer by Patrick Suskind (France)
[panel] unusual protagonist, genre-mixing (horror)

Sea Witch by Helen Hollick (“Pirate Round” South Africa to the Caribbean)
AC: unusual setting, genre mixing (fantasy)
A pirate adventure with wide appeal starring a multidimensional and charming rogue. -AC

Spirit of Lost Angels by Liza Perat (France)
AC: unusual setting, LGBTQ
A bittersweet, multilayered tale that will touch your heart, told in a humble yet strong and powerful voice during a time of revolution and female suppression. –AC

The Blighted Troth by Mirella Sichirollo Patzer (New France)
AF: unusual setting, genre mixing (Gothic)

The Mirrored World by Debra Dean (Russia)
AF: unusual setting

The Tale of Raw Head and Bloody Bones by Jack Wolf (England)
AF: unusual setting, genre mixing (horror)

19th Century

Bone River by Megan Chance (America)
[panel] unusual premise, genre mixing

Burning Silk by Destiny Kinal (France and America)
AC: unusal setting, unusual protagonist
A sensual and sensitive story written in lush prose. –AC

Butterfly’s Child by Angela Davis-Gardner (Japan, Illinois)
AF: unusual setting

The Crimson Petal and the White by Michael Faber (England)
[panel] genre mixing (literary, romance)

Daughter of the Sky by Michelle Diener (South Africa)
AF: unusual setting

Gillespie and I by Jane Harris (Scotland)
AF: unusual protagonist

Gods of Gotham by Lyndsay Faye (New York City)
AF: unusual setting

Island of Wings by Karin Altenberg (St. Kilda islands)
AF: unusual setting

Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell by Susanna clarke (England)
[panel] genre mixing (magical realism)

Miss Fuller by April Bernard (America)
AF: unusual protagonists

Parlor Games by Maryka Biaggio (America)
AF: unusual protagonist

Slant of Light by Steve Weigenstein (Missouri)
AF: unusual setting

Syncopation: A Memoir of Adele Hugo by Elizabeth Caulfield Felt (France)

The Family Mansion by Anthony C. Winkler (Jamaica)
AF: unusual setting

The Golem and the Jinni by Helene Wecker (New York City)
AF: genre mixing (mythology), POC main characters

The Luminist by David Rocklin (Ceylon)
AF: unusual setting

The Master by Colm Tóibín (England)
[panel] unusual style

The 19th Wife by David Ebershoff (America)
[panel] unusual protagonist, time-slip, genre mixing (mystery, literary)

The Personal History of Rachel duPree by Ann Weisgarber (South Dakota)
AF: unusual setting, POC main characters

The Oracle of Stamboul by Michael David Lukas (Turkey/Ottoman Empire)
AF: unusual setting

The Rose of Sebastopol by Katharine McMahon (England, Crimea)
AF: unusual setting

The Thing About Thugs by Tabish Khair (England)
AF: POC main character

The Transformation of Bartholomew Fortuno by Ellen Bryson (America)
[panel] unusual characters and premise

The Virgin Cure by Ami McKay (NYC)
AF: unusual protagonist

Whip Smart: Lola Montez Conquers the Spaniards by Kit Brennan (England, Spain, France)
AF: unusual setting

20th Century

A Different Sky by Meira Chand (Singapore)
AF: unusual setting, POC main characters

Cascade by Maryanne O’Hara (New England)
AF, JR: unusual setting, no famous figures
Complicated, frustrating, very real characters and a lovely evocation of 1930s America, beautifully written. -JR

Dina’s Lost Tribe by Brigitte Goldstein (France)
[panel] time slip (1300s), unusual premise

Fires of London by Janice Law (England)

Oleanna by Julie K. Rose (Norway)
AC, AF, HD: genre mixing (literary), unusual setting, no famous figures
A gently told tale with quiet depth, atmospherically stark yet richly detailed. -AC

Our Man in the Dark by Rashad Harrison (Southern U.S.)
AF: POC main characters

Seal Woman by Solveig Eggerz (Germany, Iceland)
JR: genre mixing (literary), unusual setting, no famous figures
So beautifully written and so present and real — I felt like I was reading a biography and not a work of fiction. -JR

Skeleton Women by Mingmei Yip (China)
AF: unusual setting, POC main characters

Small Wars by Sadie Jones (Cypress)
AF: unusual setting

The Concubine’s Gift by K Ford K (China, Nevada)
AC: unusual setting, genre mixing (fantasy)
A tastefully handled and respectful exploration of sexuality and a lightening-fast fun read. -AC

The Detroit Electric Scheme by D.E. Johnson (Detroit)
AF: unusual setting

The Edge of Ruin by Irene Fleming (New York City)
HD: unusual setting
This short, fast-paced mystery is set in the early days of the American film industry, with an ensemble of quirky characters, an unusual setting and premise, and an interesting peek into a little-known world. –HD

The Farming of Bones by Edwidge Danticat (Haiti)
AF: unusual setting, POC main characters

The Orchardist by Amanda Coplin (Pacific Northwest)
AF: unusual setting, no famous figures

Coming in 2013

Heirs of Fortune by Heather Domin (Germania) [JR]
Hetaera by J.A. Coffey (Greece, Egypt) [AF]
Medea by Kerry Greenwood (Greece) [AF]
Shaman by Kim Stanley Robinson (Ice Age Europe) [HD]
The Golden Dice by Elizabeth Storrs (Etruria) [HD]

3rd Century
The Far Shore by Nick Brown (Syria)[HD]

6th Century
The Secret by Stephanie Thornton (Constantinople) [AF]

7th Century
Hild by Nicola Griffith (Britain) [AC, AF, JR]
The Sword Dancer by Jeannie Lin (China) [HD]

9th Century
The Traitor’s Pit by V.M. Whitworth (Britain) [HD]

11th Century
Godiva by Nicole Galland (Britain) [AC, AF, JR]

13th Century
Sultana: Two Sisters by Lisa Yarde (Spain) [HD, JR]

18th Century
Benjamin Franklin’s Bastard by Sally Cabot (America) [AF]
Revolutionary by Alex Myers (America) [AF]
The Purchase by Linda Spalding (America) [AF]

19th Century
Burial Rites by Hannah Kent (Iceland) [AC, AF, JR]
Cinnamon and Gunpowder by Eli Brown (nautical) [AF]
Linen Shroud by Destiny Kinal (America) [AC]
Palmerino by Melissa Pirtchard (Italy) [AC, JR]
The Ghost Bride by Yangsze Choo (Malaya) [JR]
The Last Runaway by Tracy Chevalier (American Midwest) [AF]
The Mask Carver’s Son by Alyson Richman (Japan, France) [AF]
The Mountain of Light by Indu Sundaresan (India) [AC, AF]
The Outcasts by Kathleen Kent (Texas) [AF]
The Movement of Stars by Amy Brill (New England) [AF]
The Rebellion of Miss Lucy Ann Lobdell by William Klaber (New York) [AF]
The Specimen by Martha Lea (England, Brazil) [AF]

20th Century
Above All Things by Tanis Rideout (UK, Himalayas) [AF]
A True Novel by Minae Mizumura (Japan, America) [AC]
The Book of Fate by Parinoush Saniee  (Iran) [AC]
The Lion Seeker by Kenneth Bonert (South Africa) [AC]

Additional Resources

Europa Editions
Historical Novel Society Review Index
Historical Novel Society Indie Reviews
Unusual Historicals
Royalty Free Fiction
Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours

2 responses

  1. Pingback: Alliance of Independent Authors Member News. Bulletin #26 | Self-Publishing Advice

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: