The historical fiction genre shined in 2012. Several popular and critically acclaimed authors released novels that delighted readers while some authors made a smashing debut in the historical fiction genre. It was a delightful year of reading for historical fiction fans as they journeyed into the worlds of Anne Boleyn, Marie Antoinette, and Wallis Simpson. Readers also got to enjoy novels on historical figures that are lesser known and learn and experience their stories. It was an amazing year of historical fiction thanks to these fabulous novels and the truly talented authors who penned them. Here are the 10 best novels of 2012.
1. "The Sister Queens" by Sophie Perinot:
Sophie Perinot made a flawless entrance into the historical fiction genre with this novel on the bonds of sisterhood. The novel is about the relationship between two sisters who became the Queen of France and the Queen of England, Marguerite and Eleanor of Provence. This beautifully written novel explores the bonds of sisterhood and the very different lives the elegant Marguerite, Queen of France and the headstrong Eleanor, Queen of England had. Well-written, well-paced, full of detail, and historically accurate, Perinot appears a seasoned historical fiction writer with this gorgeous debut. Perinot puts so much detail, history, and most importantly, heart in this novel. Readers will feel her passion and love for these sisters throughout the novel. This novel of sisterhood shines!
2. "The Shadow Queen: A Novel of Wallis Simpson, Duchess of Windsor" by Rebecca Dean:
Vilified, maligned, and misunderstood, Wallis Simpson is not always given a favorable portrayal in historical fiction and history. The focus is always on her relationship with King Edward VIII and how he gave up the throne for her. What was she like before meeting the man that gave up everything for her though? Rebecca Dean explores the childhood and first two marriages of Wallis before she met her Edward. Exceptionally written, detailed, and engrossing, Dean's sympathetic and full look at Wallis Simpson is stunning. Readers will find themselves falling in love with Wallis and wanting everything and anything for her. This novel is a delicious look at a complex woman!
3. "Days of Splendor, Days of Sorrow: A Novel of Marie Antoinette" by Juliet Grey:
The second novel in Juliet Grey's Marie Antoinette trilogy explores the glittering and extravagant days that turned tragic and horrifying for the Queen of France. The novel follows Marie Antoinette in her new role as Queen of France as well as dealing with an unconsummated marriage, a poverty-stricken country that soon turns against the pretty young queen, and the loss of children, scandal, and the French royal family's downfall. Grey continues to offer the best portrayal of Marie Antoinette in historical fiction as she gives the complex woman a voice and well-rounded portrayal. Grey truly brings Marie Antoinette to life. Grey's attention to detail and passion and love for Marie Antoinette shines through beautifully in this novel.
4. "The Secret Keeper: A Novel of Kateryn Parr" by Sandra Byrd:
Sandra Byrd continues her wonderful look at fictional ladies-in-waiting to Tudor queens in this exceptional novel. Juliana St. John, a fictional lady-in-waiting to Kateryn Parr forms a special bond with her as Kateryn becomes the final queen of King Henry VIII. Juliana views Kateryn as her surrogate mother and does anything to protect her. A Tudor period novel full of court intrigue, treachery, and secrets, Byrd's look at the bonds of motherhood makes this novel truly special. The characters of the novel (real and fictional) are well-rounded and interesting. This is another lovely and moving work on the Tudor period by Byrd.
5. "At the Mercy of the Queen: A Novel of Anne Boleyn" by Anne Clinard Barnhill:
Anne Clinard Barnhill made a great debut into the historical fiction genre with her look at the relationship between Anne Boleyn and her cousin, Madge Shelton. Barnhill gives readers a look into the world of Madge, the beloved cousin of Anne Boleyn who became King Henry VIII's mistress to help her desperate cousin. The novel explores the bond between Queen Anne and sweet Madge as they navigate the waters of the treacherous Tudor court together. When a desperate Anne sees her fickle husband, King Henry turning to other women, Anne begs her pretty and sweet cousin to become the king's mistress to protect her interests. What follows is tragedy and heartbreak for both Queen Anne and sweet Madge. This novel explores the bonds between family and women in good times and bad. Barnhill's portrayal of Anne and Madge is beautiful and complex. This is a novel that is a wonderful portrayal of female friendship and loyalty.
6. "The Flower Reader" by Elizabeth Loupas:
A well-written and fascinating fictional character can make a historical fiction novel extra special. Elizabeth Loupas proved that with her creation of the character, Rinette Leslie. Rinette is a young woman in the trust of Mary of Guise. When Mary of Guise asks Rinette to protect a mysterious casket for her daughter, Mary, Queen of Scots, it changes Rinette's life forever. Loupas offers readers a strong plot, a fascinating main female character, a great cast of characters, and the perfect mix of history and fiction. You can tell Loupas had the time of her life creating this novel. This is one of the more unique novels of 2012!
7. "The Second Empress: A Novel of Napoleon's Court" by Michelle Moran:
Taking a step away from the famed Napoleon and Josephine story, Michelle Moran creates a novel that explores the lives of two other very important women in Napoleon Bonaparte's life: his sister, Pauline Bonaparte and his second wife and mother of his son, Marie-Louise of Austria. Moran gives the point-of-view of three different characters: the sassy, spoiled, and selfish Pauline, the strong, intelligent, and root-worthy Marie-Louise, and Paul, Pauline's devoted servant who watches all the action of the Bonaparte family from the sidelines. Rich storytelling, fascinating characters, and attention to historical detail make this one of the most interesting reads of 2012.
8. "Her Highness, the Traitor" by Susan Higginbotham:
The time period after the death of King Edward IV threw England into chaos. People were unsure who should be the next ruler: his half-sister, the Catholic Lady Mary or his cousin, the Protestant Lady Jane Grey. The power struggle for the throne caused much strife and tragedy in the kingdom, tragedy that no two women felt more than Lady Frances Grey, mother of Lady Jane Grey and Lady Jane Dudley, wife of the power hungry Duke of Northumberland and mother of Guilford Dudley, Lady Jane Grey's husband. Susan Higginbotham's novel follows the lives of these two very different, but connected women. Higginbotham's portrayal of these women is fascinating and different as Frances is cold and domineering while Jane is motherly and meek. What both women have in common is that they lost their children to ambition and the crown. Higginbotham's fair and well-rounded portrayal of these women (who are often maligned in books on their children) is strong and well-written. Expertly researched and detailed, is an interesting and creative take on this tumultous time period.
9. "The King's Concubine: A Novel of Alice Perrers" by Anne O'Brien:
Anne O'Brien offers readers a sympathetic and proud view of another much-maligned royal mistress in history: Alice Perrers. O'Brien's portrayal of Alice's rags to riches story from homely young girl abanboned and growing up in a convent to the mistress of King Edward III of England is beautifully written. O'Brien's beautifully written story, meticiulous attention to detail, and love of her main character makes this a must-read for any historical fiction fan.
10. "The Kingmaker's Daughter" by Philippa Gregory:
Anne Neville, the wife of King Richard III of England has received several portrayals in historical fiction, but Philippa Gregory's look at her is truly detailed and developed. Anne goes from meek and timid young daughter of the Earl of Warwick to a strong woman who encountered much heartache and pain in her life, but would defend her husband and child to the end. Gregory's particular attention to the rivalary and mistrust between sister-in-laws and foes, Anne and Elizabeth of Woodville is an interesting element of the novel. Gregory also offers fair and complex portrayals of complicated men such as King Richard III, King Edward IV, and George, Duke of Clarence. Gregory may be known for her novels on the Tudors, but she shines the most in her novels on the Wars of the Roses/Cousins' War.
2012 was an amazing year for historical fiction! Readers, stay tuned to what 2013 will bring in historical fiction!