If you're a voracious reader who just can't get in to historical fiction books, maybe you haven't been reading the right ones. While a lot of historical novels focus primarily on accuracy and on times when the world was at its worst, like WWII, there are tons of reads out there that focus on the past without being a slog to get through. In fact, this genre is actually super diverse, and ranges from the incredibly accurate and serious (think of those 800 page war dramas), to the dramatic and romantic (anything set in the Golden Age of Hollywood will probably fit here). But there are also a few gems that are just, well... really, really fun.
These are the books that take historical figures and periods and turn them completely on their heads, favoring plots that are a veritable romps through times gone by, full of hilarity, obsession-worthy romance, and some serious quirkiness. Young adult authors in particular have embraced this view of historical novels over the past few years, giving us a TBR stack worth its weight in hearty laughs and characters to fall in love with, all while transporting us to a different era. We've compiled nine must-reads below. Read on public transport at your own risk.
'My Lady Jane' by Cynthia Hand, Brodi Ashton and Jodi Meadows
This hilarious "historical fiction" novel takes a look at the life of Lady Jane Grey...or, at least, her life the way it should have gone. At sixteen, Lady Jane Grey is about to be married off to a stranger and is caught up in a conspiracy to rob her cousin, King Edward, of his throne. But those trifling problems aren’t for Jane to worry about. Jane is about to become the Queen of England. Add in an arranged marriage to a man that is a part-time horse (yes, horse), the unexpected appearance of a stealthy ferret and a reluctant king, mix with some Monty Python-esque humor and a sprinkle of Disney animal magic, and you've got a recipe for the perfect read.
'The Scandalous Sisterhood of Prickwillow Place' by Julie Berry
There's a murderer on the loose—but that doesn't stop the girls of St. Etheldreda's from attempting to hide the death of their headmistress in this rollicking farce. The students of St. Etheldreda's School for Girls face a bothersome dilemma. Their irascible headmistress, Mrs. Plackett, and her surly brother, Mr. Godding, have been most inconveniently poisoned at Sunday dinner. Now the school will almost certainly be closed and the girls sent home—unless these seven very proper young ladies can hide the murders and convince their neighbors that nothing is wrong. The Scandalous Sisterhood of Prickwillow Place is a smart, hilarious Victorian romp, full of outrageous plot twists, romance, mistaken identities, and mysterious happenings.
'A Tyranny of Petticoats: 15 Stories of Belles, Bank Robbers & Other Badass Girls' by Various Authors
Criss-cross America — on dogsleds and ships, stagecoaches and trains — from pirate ships off the coast of the Carolinas to the peace, love, and protests of 1960s Chicago. Join fifteen of today’s most talented writers of young adult literature on a thrill ride through history with American girls charting their own course. They are monsters and mediums, bodyguards and barkeeps, screenwriters and schoolteachers, heiresses and hobos. They're making their own way in often-hostile lands, using every weapon in their arsenals, facing down murderers and marriage proposals. And they all have a story to tell.
'Saving Hamlet' by Molly Booth
Emma Allen couldn’t be more excited to start her sophomore year. Not only is she the assistant stage manager for the drama club’s production of Hamlet, but her crush Brandon is directing. But soon after school starts, everything goes haywire. Emma’s suddenly promoted to stage manager, her best friend, Lulu, stops talking to her, and Josh—the sweet soccer player who’s been cast as the lead—turns out to be a disaster. It’s up to Emma to fix it all, but she has no clue where to start. Then one night after rehearsal, Emma falls through the stage’s trap door…landing in the basement of the Globe Theater. It’s London, 1601, and with her awesome new pixie cut, everyone thinks Emma’s a boy—even Shakespeare himself. Dropped into the middle of the original production of Hamlet, Emma gamely plays her role as backstage assistant, jumping at the chance to experience theater history.. But the Globe’s Hamlet has its own problems, and once Emma starts traveling back and forth through time, things get really confusing. In which reality does she belong? And can she possibly save two epically tragic productions of Hamlet before time runs out?
'Jane Unwrapped' by Leah Rooper and Kate Rooper
Teen scientist Jane’s latest experiment in living went really wrong. After a fatal accident, Jane becomes the first modern-day mummy — and wakes up in the Egyptian underworld without a heart. With nothing to help her get into paradise, Anubis, the snarky god of embalming, wants to devour her soul. Then again, Anubis is drop-dead gorgeous, so maybe things aren’t so bad after all. But a mad god offers Jane a way out of the underworld, and she only has to do the impossible — go back in time and steal King Tut’s heart. Between posing as a priestess, trying to murder the young pharaoh, and being followed by Anubis, who can’t seem to decide if he’s going to kiss her or kill her, Jane has to make a choice: Do the logical thing and steal Tut’s heart, or find a way to save them both ...Even if it means rebelling against all the gods of Egypt in the process.
'Etiquette & Espionage' by Gail Carriger
Fourteen-year-old Sophronia is a great trial to her poor mother. Sophronia is more interested in dismantling clocks and climbing trees than proper manners, and the family can only hope that company never sees her atrocious curtsy. Mrs. Temminnick is desperate for her daughter to become a proper lady. So she enrolls Sophronia in Mademoiselle Geraldine's Finishing Academy for Young Ladies of Quality. But Sophronia soon realizes the school is not quite what her mother might have hoped. At Mademoiselle Geraldine's, young ladies learn to finish... everything. Certainly, they learn the fine arts of dance, dress, and etiquette, but they also learn to deal out death, diversion, and espionage... in the politest possible ways, of course. Sophronia and her friends are in for a rousing first year's education.
'The Friday Society' by Adrienne Kress
Set in turn of the century London, The Friday Society follows the stories of three very intelligent and talented young women, all of whom are assistants to powerful men: Cora, lab assistant; Michiko, Japanese fight assistant; and Nellie, magician's assistant. The three young women's lives become inexorably intertwined after a chance meeting at a ball that ends with the discovery of a murdered mystery man. It's up to these three, in their own charming but bold way, to solve the murder–and the crimes they believe may be connected to it–without calling too much attention to themselves. Set in the past but with a modern irreverent flare, this Steampunk whodunit introduces three unforgettable and very ladylike–well, relatively ladylike–heroines poised for more dangerous adventures.
'Duels and Deception' by Cindy Anstey
Miss Lydia Whitfield, heiress to the family fortune, has her future entirely planned out. She will run the family estate until she marries the man of her late father's choosing, and then she will spend the rest of her days as a devoted wife. Confident in those arrangements, Lydia has tasked her young law clerk, Mr. Robert Newton, to begin drawing up the marriage contracts. Everything is going according to plan. Until Lydia—and Robert along with her—is kidnapped. Someone is after her fortune and won't hesitate to destroy her reputation to get it. With Robert's help, Lydia strives to keep her family's good name intact and expose whoever is behind the devious plot. But as their investigation gets messier and their affection for each other grows, Lydia starts to wonder whether her carefully planned future is in fact what she truly wants.