This list of historical fiction novels was originally published in our historical fiction newsletter, Past Tense. Sign up for it here to get historical fiction recs straight to your inbox!
When people think about historical fiction, they think of WWII fiction. Maybe not always. Definitely not everyone. But it seems like it’s true for a lot of people. And there’s good reason for that. There’s a lot of WWII historical fiction out there and a lot of really great books about WWII. But the oversaturation of stories about WWII can be overwhelming at times. I see plenty of requests from people for historical fiction books that aren’t about WWII. The funny thing is there is so much historical fiction outside the confines of the Second World War, but not everyone seems to be aware of it.
And all this got me thinking about the fact that there’s some great historical fiction out there set during or about wars other than WWII. I took a whole course on the literature of WWI in college! To be fair, that class covered the literature to come out of WWI not about WWI, but still. I think this category of historical fiction about wars other than WWII has appeal to both readers searching for non-WWII historical fiction as well as the WWII obsessed. These are still war stories after all. And the details of these wars is likely even less known to readers.
So let’s take a look at five historical fiction novels about other wars that deserve a spot on your TBR.
A Ballad of Love and Glory by Reyna Grande
War: Mexican American War (1846-1848)
In 1846, just after the annexation of Texas, a Mexican nurse loses her husband and her dreams to the guns of Texas Rangers who storm her land. She vows to defend her country in her late-husband’s honor. An Irish immigrant fighting with the Yankees swims over the Rio Grande to switch sides in an act of defiance after witnessing atrocities against his own countrymen. He creates a battalion of Irishmen willing to fight and die for Mexico’s freedom. Grande weaves together the stories of Ximena and John in a spellbinding tale of war and love, illuminating a forgotten moment in history that continues to impact Mexico and America to this day.
Release date: March 15, 2022
The Alice Network by Kate Quinn
War: World War I (1914-1918)
Bestselling historical fiction author Kate Quinn turns her eye to WWI in this novel about a young woman who joins a network of spies in 1915 occupied France. Many years later, haunted by the betrayal that tore the Alice Network apart, Eve is approached by a young American looking for answers about her cousin, who disappeared in Nazi-occupied France. Their search for answers launches Alice and Charlie on a mission to find answers–no matter the cost.
This book does deal with the aftermath of WWII, but it also focuses heavily on WWI, so I’m going to count it.
War Trash by Ha Jin
War: Korean War (1950-1953)
Yu Yuan is just one of many of the Chinese soldiers taken prisoner by U.S. POW camps during the Korean War. His skill with the English language soon leaves him acting as an intermediary between his fellow prisoners and their American guards. But in a place where kindness and unspeakable cruelty can often be found hand in hand, Yuan finds he has just as much to fear outside the camp as inside it.
The Sympathizer by Viet Thang Nguyen
War: Vietnam War (1955-1975)
Viet Thang Nguyen won the Pulitzer for his novel about the Vietnam War and for good reason. With all the tension of a well-told thriller, The Sympathizer comes to us from the perspective of a communist double agent reporting back to his superiors in Vietnam after coming to America. It’s a story of espionage and identity as well as love and friendship.
American Spy by Lauren Wilkinson
War: The Cold War (1947-1989)
An intelligence officer for the FBI is tasked with joining a shadowy taskforce working to undermine the revolutionary new president of Burkina Faso whose Communist leanings have made him a target for American intervention during the Cold War. She agrees and becomes a key figure in the coup that would eventually take him down, despite admiring the work he’s doing for his country. It’s a face of the Cold War you’ve never seen before, inspired by true events.