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Loving Shogun?

11 historical fiction epics to read while you wait for the finale

By Ashly Moore Sheldon • April 10, 2024

Based on James Clavell's sweeping historical novel, FX's sumptuous new adaptation of Shogun is being called the television event of the year. Set in seventeenth-century Japan, the story traces the journey of John Blackthorne, an English ship pilot. When his ship is blown ashore in a remote fishing village, Blackthorne and ten other survivors are taken captive in a feudal society where the line between life and death is razor-thin. What follows is an engrossing collision of cultures propelled by heart-stopping, edge-of-your-seat action combined with intricate historical detail and raw human emotion. If you're loving the show and want more stories like these, here are eleven recommendations for you.

What to read if you love Shogun

Musashi by Eiji Yosikawa
This classic Japanese novel tells the story of a man living in the 1600s who sets out to be a samurai—without really knowing what it means. Eventually he comes to understand that following the Way of the Sword is about more than brute strength. Only then can he reach his full potential.

Chesapeake by James Michener
It's the early 1600s and young Edmund Steed is desperate to escape religious persecution in England. Joining Captain John Smith on a harrowing journey across the Atlantic, Steed makes a life for himself in the New World, establishing a remarkable dynasty that parallels the emergence of America.

The First Man in Rome by Colleen McCullough
Ancient Rome is a place of pageantry, passion, and earth-shattering upheaval. Marius is wealthy but lowborn; Sulla, aristocratic but penniless. Both are extraordinary men of vision whose ruthless ambition will lay the foundations of the most awesome and enduring empire known to humankind.

Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurtry
Consistently named as one of America's best-loved novels, this epic frontier story is richly authentic, profoundly moving, and deeply dramatic. Woodrow F. Call and Augustus "Gus" McCrae are two retired Texas Rangers who embark on one last wild adventure driving a herd from Texas to Montana.

The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas
Imprisoned for a crime he has not committed, Edmond Dantès learns of a great hoard of treasure hidden on the Isle of Monte Cristo. He becomes determined not only to escape, but also to claim the treasure and use it to plot the destruction of the three men responsible for his incarceration.

The Far Pavilions by M. M. Kaye
This sweeping epic is set in nineteenth-century India at a time of mutiny against the English colonizers. Ashton Pelham-Martyn is a young Indian-born orphan who has been raised in England as a Hindu. Returning to India as a young man, he falls dangerously in love with an Indian princess.

I, Claudius by Robert Graves
Written off as an idiot because of his infirmities, Claudius survived the everlasting intrigues and bloody purges of the reigns of Augustus, Tiberius, and the Mad Caligula to become Emperor in 41 A.D. Written as his autobiography, this gripping novel captures the grand drama and brutality of ancient Rome.

The Good Earth by Pearl S. Buck
This Pulitzer Prize winner follows the journey of the humble farmer Wang Lung and his family as they struggle to survive in the midst of vast political and social upheavals 1920s China, a time when the last emperor still ruled and the sweeping changes of the twentieth century rumbled distantly.

The Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett
Set against the sprawling medieval canvas of twelfth-century England, this spellbinding saga tells the story of Philip, prior of Kingsbridge, a devout and resourceful monk driven to build the greatest Gothic cathedral in the world. It's a tale of ambition, anarchy, and absolute power.

Pachinko by Min Jin Lee
This absorbing novel traces four generations of a Korean immigrant family from the early 1900s to the present day. From bustling street markets to the halls of Japan's finest universities to the pachinko parlors of the criminal underworld, these complex and passionate characters must fight to control their destiny.

North and South by John Jakes
Two strangers, young men from Pennsylvania and South Carolina, meet on the way to West Point. Thus begins this multigenerational tale set in antebellum America. The Hazards and the Mains are two powerful families joined by a seemingly unbreakable bond . . .  until the storm of war threatens.

As always, we love to hear from you. Let us know if you have any favorite historical sagas to add to this list. And follow us on FacebookTwitter (X), and Instagram to connect with a community of readers like you and get daily book recommendations, literary tidbits, and more.

Read more by Ashly Moore Sheldon

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