For a long time I thought my favorite historical fiction era was the Victorian section– mainly because of my love for Sherlock Holmes and dudes wearing tops hats (and ladies wearing bustles). And then later I thought maybe the 1920s were my favorite, because flappers and modern lit authors and also flappers. But lately I’ve figured out that, no, none of that’s true. My actual favorite time period to read about? Totally the French Revolution/Napoleonic Wars.
There’s just so many good books set during that time period! Even the real life events are super fascinating (despite the efforts of my French Revolution 101 prof, who somehow made it BORING), and basically it’s just an awesome time to set stories in. Rromance! Espionage! Betrayal! Class issues! Lots and lots of fighting (including naval fighting– always exciting)! Weird fashions! Scientific discoveries and whatnot! The invention of the hot air balloon!1 And so on!
So WHAT, I hear you ask, WHAT books should I read if I want to be as enamored with the FR/NW time period as you are, Anastasia? Thank you for asking! Here’s my favorite (so far) FR/NW-ish hisfic books. Basically I’m covering a timespan of about 1785-1830 or so, even though TECHNICALLY the N. wars were over by 1815. People were still dealing with the ramifications of them in 1830ish, though, so I’m counting it. Also, since this IS a French-focused list, I’m focusing on stories set either in France or dealing directly with French peoples/situations re:French revolution, etc. So no Regency romances, since they’re mostly set in England and only seem to deal with the wars through having a few military characters show up to flirt with the heroines.
Here we go!
- Scaramouche by Rafael Sabatini (1921). This starts off directly before the French Revolution, and ends somewhere around the time people’s heads started being chopped off (I think). What’s nice about Scaramouche is the protagonist, Andre, is directly involved with certain aspects of the Revolution, which I think is somewhat unusual.
- The Scarlet Pimpernel by Baroness Orczy (1905). This is set mostly in England, starring British characters, but there’s some devilish French revolutionaries in here so I’m counting it. I wasn’t actually as wild about this as I hoped to be; maybe because there’s not enough action? It’s more of a romance than anything else, so if you like that you’d probably like this book.
- Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell by Susanna Clarke (2005). Set mostly in England again, starring British characters, but I love alternate history and especially alt. history with fantasy elements! The bits where J. Strange is in France are probably the best bits of the book, too.
- The Hornblower books by C.S. Forester (1940s-1950ish). Well, DUH.
- The Temeraire series by Naomi Novik (2006-present). Another fantasy alt. history, this time with dragons! I’m way behind on reading this series, but I love it nonetheless.
- The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas (1844). Do NOT be turned off by how long it is! It actually moves fairly quickly, and if you get the more recent translation (which I’ve linked to) you won’t even get annoyed by the language. This book is actually what inspired me to make this list, btw!
- The Red Necklace by Sally Gardner (2008). Wasn’t overwowed by this when I first read it, but it’s one of the only YA books that I’ve read that count for this list, so here it is. Also: magical realism. Yay!
What’re your favorite Revolution/Napoleonic Wars books? Recommendations welcome!
Thanks to Once Upon a Bookshelf for the list-y inspiration!
- Have never actually read any hisfic book that deals with the hot air balloon, sadly enough. ↩