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12 Must-Read Titles in Medieval Historical Fiction

By Ashly Moore Sheldon • December 13, 2022

We love the dark drama of historical fiction set in medieval times, also known as the Middle Ages. This era covers a period of over a thousand years from the fifth century to the late fifteenth century. It was a time of massive change and upheaval, beset by wars and the plague, so it's a rich period for powerful, exciting narratives. Here are twelve of our favorite historical novels set during the Middle Ages.

Matrix by Lauren Groff

This National Book Award finalist imagines the story of Marie de France, the half sister of Henry II, King of England who served as an abbess in twelfth century England. Cast out of the royal court by Eleanor of Aquitaine, and sent to be the prioress of an impoverished abbey, Marie becomes a visionary, feminist force.

By Fire, By Water by Mitchell James Kaplan

This carefully researched and vividly rendered account of 15th-century Spain follows the experiences of Luis de Santángel, a man of Jewish descent with strong ties to the King. As the growing pressures of the Spanish Inquisition threaten him and those he loves, he finds himself caught between allegiances.

Pope Joan by Donna Wollfolk Cross

When her brother is brutally killed during a Viking attack, Joan takes up his cloak—and his identity—and enters the monastery of Fulda. This is a sweeping portrait of a ninth-century woman who disguised herself as a man and rose to become the only female ever to sit on the throne of St. Peter.

Shadows of the Pomegranate Tree by Tariq Ali

A family saga set in Moorish Spain amidst the 15th-century fall of Granada. A wealthy Muslim family struggles to survive after the collapse of their world. It's an evocative look at what life must have been like for those doomed inhabitants, besieged on all sides by intolerant Christendom.

The Forty Rules of Love: A Novel of Rumi by Elif Shafak

This novel weaves together parallel narratives: One contemporary and the other set in the thirteenth century, when Rumi encountered his spiritual mentor, the Shams of Tabriz. In her work reading for a literary agent, Ella Rubenstein becomes mesmerized by the way that Rumi's story mirrors her own.

The Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett

Philip, a devout and resourceful monk, endeavors to build the greatest Gothic cathedral the world has known. A struggle between good and evil turns church against state and brother against brother in this tale of ambition, anarchy, and absolute power set against the sprawling canvas of twelfth-century England

The Lost Queen by Signe Pike

The first book of a thrilling trilogy that reveals the untold story of Languoreth, a powerful queen of sixth-century Scotland and twin sister of the man who inspired the legendary character of Merlin. Intelligent, passionate, rebellious, and brave, Languoreth ruled at a time of enormous disruption and bloodshed.

Cloud Cuckoo Land by Anthony Doerr

In 15th century Constantinople, an orphan named Anna learns to read and finds what might be the last copy of a centuries-old book. This is one of multiple storylines in this wildly inventive, much-lauded novel celebrating the transformative power of childhood reading experiences.

The Widow Queen by Elzbieta Cherezinska

The reimagined story of a tenth century Polish princess whose life has been all but forgotten until now. To her father, the great duke of Poland, Swietoslawa and her two sisters represent three chances for an alliance. But Swietoslawa refuses to be simply a pawn in her father's schemes. She seeks a throne of her own.

The Last Kingdom by Bernard Cornwell

In the middle years of the ninth century, the fierce Danes stormed onto British soil, hungry for spoils and conquest. Kingdom after kingdom fell to the ruthless invaders until but one realm remained. And suddenly the fate of all England—and the course of history—depended upon one man, one king.

Joan: A Novel of Joan of Arc by Katherine J. Chen

Wolf Hall author Hilary Mantel praised this novel for "re-creating Joan of Arc as a woman for our time." With unforgettably vivid characters, transporting settings, and action-packed storytelling, it's a feminist celebration of the fifteenth-century teenager who turned the tide of battle for France in the Hundred Years' War.

The Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco

In this intriguing mystery, Brother William of Baskerville arrives at an Italian abbey in 1327 to investigate claims of heresy. But when his delicate mission is suddenly overshadowed by seven bizarre deaths, he turns detective. His tools are the logic of Aristotle, the theology of Aquinas, the empirical insights of Roger Bacon.

We hope you find something here that intrigues you. Please let us know if we've missed any of your favorites.

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