Eric at The Edge of the American West has a post up asking for people’s recommendations of underrated historical novels. There are quite a few that I had not heard of but should be added to my TBR pile. What I particularly appreciate about the suggestions is that they range far outside of my narrow, parochial idea of historical novels.

SEK has an interesting follow-up post discussing the definition of “historical novel.”

One frequently mentioned in the comment thread is Gain by Richard Powers. It’s a novel of more modern history, looking at capitalism and its less pleasant results.

I was glad to see a shout out for Wallace Stegner’s Angle of Repose. I read this incredible book when I was in high school, or some time shortly thereafter, and it took my breath away. To say simply that it is “about a retired historian who researches and writes about his pioneer grandparents” does not begin to do it justice.

Others mentioned include:

Kazuo Ishiguro’s WWII-era An Artist of the Floating World

Declare by Tim Powers, described as a “supernatural suspense thriller” that supplies “a plethora of geopolitical and theological history, and a big serving of A Thousand and One Nights.”

The Crater by Richard Slotkin is set during the American Civil War, is “a vast, detailed portrait not only of the Battle of the Crater, but the whole spectrum of mid-19th-century American society.”

Penelope Fitzgerald’s Human Voices, about the BBC during WW2.

The War of the End of the World by Mario Vargas Llosa, “a fable of Latin American revolutionary history, an unforgettable story of passion, violence, and the devastation that follows from fanaticism.”

I, Tituba, Black Witch of Salem by Maryse Conde is based on the “true story of the West Indian slave Tituba, who was accused of witchcraft in Salem, Massachusetts, arrested in 1692, and forgotten in jail until the general amnesty for witches two years later.” The person who recommends this in the thread, Buster, says that it is “more a fictional meditation on myth and history than a straight-up historical novel.

Cormac McCarthy’s Blood Meridian: Or, The Evening Redness in the West is described as “a perverse, picaresque Western about bounty hunters for Indian scalps near the Texas-Mexico border in the 1850s.”

Mason and Dixon by Thomas Pynchon sounds like a lot of fun: “A sprawling, complex, and comic work from one of the country’s most celebrated and idiosyncratic authors, Mason & Dixon is Thomas Pynchon’s Most Magickal reinvention of the 18th-century novel. It follows the lifelong partnership and adventures of the English surveyors Charles Mason and Jeremiah Dixon (of Mason-Dixon Line fame) as they travel the world mapping and measuring through an uncharted pre-Revolutionary America of Native Americans, white settlers, taverns, and bawdy establishments of ill-repute.”

There are many others that I do not list here so you should visit the comment thread to read the rest of the recommendations, and perhaps add one or two of your own.

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