9 Unputdownable Historical Fiction Picks for Pride Month

June 16 2022
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If the rampant popularity of Our Flag Means Death shows us anything, it’s that there is a zealous hunger for LGBTQ+ stories, especially historical ones. Therefore, we’ve gathered some of the most moving, passionate, and unputdownable works of queer historical fiction, whisking us from the streets of Victorian London to ancient Greece, gilded New York City, and beyond.

Check out Simon & Schuster’s book recommendations for Pride Month!

At Swim, Two Boys
by Jaime O'Neill

Taking place during a time of upheaval in Ireland, AT SWIM, TWO BOYS follows Jim and Doyler as they devise a plan: Doyler will teach Jim how to swim, and in one year, on Easter 1916, they will swim out to the tiny Muglins Rock. But with the country at a crossroads and their own families unaware of their growing relationship, their future is anything but certain.

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At Swim, Two Boys
Jaime O'Neill

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All the White Spaces
by Ally Wilkes

In this haunting novel filled with creeping suspense, Jonathan is a young stowaway on a ship bound for Antarctica in the wake of the Great War. Excited for an adventure and the chance to live as his true self, he has no idea that there is something dark and mysterious waiting on the isolated, frozen continent. Perfect for fans of the spookily immersive novels of Dan Simmons and Nick Cutter.

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All the White Spaces
Ally Wilkes

Something deadly and mysterious stalks the members of an isolated polar expedition in this haunting and spellbinding historical horror novel, perfect for fans of Dan Simmons’s The Terror and Alma Katsu’s The Hunger.

In the wake of the First World War, Jonathan Morgan stows away on an Antarctic expedition, determined to find his rightful place in the world of men. Aboard the expeditionary ship of his hero, the world-famous explorer James “Australis” Randall, Jonathan may live as his true self—and true gender—and have the adventures he has always been denied. But not all is smooth sailing: the war casts its long shadow over them all, and grief, guilt, and mistrust skulk among the explorers.

When disaster strikes in Antarctica’s frozen Weddell Sea, the men must take to the land and overwinter somewhere which immediately seems both eerie and wrong; a place not marked on any of their part-drawn maps of the vast white continent. Now completely isolated, Randall’s expedition has no ability to contact the outside world. And no one is coming to rescue them.

In the freezing darkness of the Polar night, where the aurora creeps across the sky, something terrible has been waiting to lure them out into its deadly landscape…

As the harsh Antarctic winter descends, this supernatural force will prey on their deepest desires and deepest fears to pick them off one by one. It is up to Jonathan to overcome his own ghosts before he and the expedition are utterly destroyed.

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The Magician
by Colm Toibin

A vivid and profound portrayal of the life and career of author Thomas Mann. Starting with his youth in turn-of-the-century Germany, where he hides his sexuality and dreams from his conventional family, THE MAGICIAN follows Mann through marriage, an acclaimed career, and finally fatherhood, to writers and anti-Nazi activists. Moving, in-depth, and unforgettable.

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The Magician
Colm Toibin

From one of today’s most brilliant and beloved novelists, a dazzling, epic family saga set across a half-century spanning World War I, the rise of Hitler, World War II, and the Cold War.

Colm Tóibín’s magnificent new novel opens in a provincial German city at the turn of the twentieth century, where the boy, Thomas Mann, grows up with a conservative father, bound by propriety, and a Brazilian mother, alluring and unpredictable. Young Mann hides his artistic aspirations from his father and his homosexual desires from everyone. He is infatuated with one of the richest, most cultured Jewish families in Munich, and marries the daughter Katia. They have six children. On a holiday in Italy, he longs for a boy he sees on a beach and writes the story Death in Venice. He is the most successful novelist of his time, winner of the Nobel Prize in literature, a public man whose private life remains secret. He is expected to lead the condemnation of Hitler, whom he underestimates. His oldest daughter and son, leaders of Bohemianism and of the anti-Nazi movement, share lovers. He flees Germany for Switzerland, France and, ultimately, America, living first in Princeton and then in Los Angeles.

In a stunning marriage of research and imagination, Tóibín explores the heart and mind of a writer whose gift is unparalleled and whose life is driven by a need to belong and the anguish of illicit desire. The Magician is an intimate, astonishingly complex portrait of Mann, his magnificent and complex wife Katia, and the times in which they lived—the first world war, the rise of Hitler, World War II, the Cold War, and exile. This is a man and a family fiercely engaged by the world, profoundly flawed, and unforgettable. As People magazine said about The Master, “It’s a delicate, mysterious process, this act of creation, fraught with psychological tension, and Tóibín captures it beautifully.”

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The Parting Glass
by Gina Marie Guadagnino

This colorful look at the grit and glamour of 1800s New York City follows the double lives of a high-society lady and her dutiful maid. When their secret lives unexpectedly intersect, the two women must make difficult choices about family, freedom, and societal expectations. A fascinating exploration of classism, sexuality, and gender that is both timeless and timely.

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The Parting Glass
Gina Marie Guadagnino

Downton Abbey meets Gangs of New York…a gem of a novel to be inhaled in one gulp” (Kate Quinn, New York Times bestselling author) about a devoted maid whose secretive world is about to be ripped apart at the seams—a lush and evocative debut set in 19th century New York that’s perfect for fans of Sarah Waters’s Fingersmith and Emma Donoghue’s Slammerkin.

By day, Mary Ballard is dutiful lady’s maid to Charlotte Walden, a wealthy and accomplished belle of New York City high society. But Charlotte would never trust Mary again if she knew the truth about her devoted servant’s past.

On her nights off, Mary sheds her persona as prim and proper lady’s maid to reveal her true self—Irish exile Maire O’Farren. She finds release from her frustration in New York’s gritty underworld—in the arms of a prostitute and as drinking companion to a decidedly motley crew consisting of members of a dangerous secret society.

Meanwhile, Charlotte has a secret of her own—she’s having an affair with a stable groom, unaware that her lover is actually Mary’s own brother. When the truth of both women’s double lives begins to unravel, Mary is left to face the consequences. Forced to choose between loyalty to her brother and loyalty to Charlotte, between society’s respect and true freedom, Mary finally learns that her fate lies in her hands alone.

A captivating historical fiction of 19th century upstairs/downstairs New York City, The Parting Glass examines sexuality, race, and social class in ways that feel startlingly familiar and timely. A perfectly paced, romantically charged “story of the sumptuous world of the privileged and the precarious, difficult environs of the immigrant working poor is highlighted by vibrant characters and a well-paced plot, which will pull readers into the tangled tale” (Publishers Weekly).

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The Song of Achilles
by Madeline Miller

The captivating modern classic that retells Homer’s Iliad from the perspective of Achilles’s beloved Patroclus. A thoroughly unique novel that is both an epic adventure and a passionate and heartrending love story, THE SONG OF ACHILLES is an unputdownable masterpiece.

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The Song of Achilles
Madeline Miller

“I’ve always thought that a good book should be either the entry point inward, to learn about yourself, or a door outward, to open you up to new worlds. With THE SONG OF ACHILLES, Madeline Miller gave me both.”

Read the full review by Taylor Jenkins Reid here.

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Tipping the Velvet
by Sarah Waters

In Victorian London, a young working-class woman meets her favorite music hall performer, a male impersonator. Together, they embark on a career as a double act and soon fall in love. But their relationship faces setbacks, betrayals, and much more in this enthralling tale of self-discovery and love.

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Tipping the Velvet
Sarah Waters

Provincial Nan King’s world is forever changed when she falls in love with a cross-dressing music-hall singer and follows her to London as her dresser and secret lover.

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Confessions of the Fox
by Jordy Rosenberg

In this novel based on the true story of the infamous Jack Sheppard, a scholar discovers evidence that changes everything we thought we knew about the notorious 1700s thief. This rollicking and clever work of metafiction (featuring plenty of footnotes) is also a gender-fluid love story.

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Confessions of the Fox
Jordy Rosenberg

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Brokeback Mountain
by Annie Proulx

Annie Proulx’s masterful novella that inspired the classic film of the same name, BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN transports us to eighteenth-century Wyoming, where two ranch hands meet one fateful summer. Though they eventually part ways, their connection never dissipates and together they balance their relationships against overwhelming homophobia.

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Brokeback Mountain
Annie Proulx

Many of us have seen the ineffably beautiful Ang Lee film starring Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal, but how many have read the Annie Proulx short story that was the basis for it? Originally published in The New Yorker in 1997, this elegant literary work manages to convey the magnitude of the film in very few pages—and is a revelation for those who believe the short story too narrow to contain multitudes. If you love this story, you'll want to read the original story collection, Close Range.

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Briefly, A Delicious Life
by Nell Stevens

In this historical ghost story unlike any other, a four-hundred-year-old teenaged ghost named Blanca is haunting a Spanish monastery when author George Sand arrives in 1838 with her lover and two children. Blanca soon finds herself infatuated with the unconventional author, but how can she express her love to a woman who isn’t aware she exists?

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Briefly, A Delicious Life
Nell Stevens

An unforgettable debut novel from an award-winning writer: a lively, daring ghost story about a teenage ghost who falls in love with a writer who doesn’t know she exists.

In 1473, fourteen-year-old Blanca dies in a hilltop monastery in Mallorca. Nearly four hundred years later, when George Sand, her two children, and her lover Frederic Chopin arrive in the village, Blanca is still there: a spirited, funny, righteous ghost, she’s been hanging around the monastery since her accidental death, spying on the monks and the townspeople and keeping track of her descendants.

Blanca is enchanted the moment she sees George, and the magical novel unfolds as a story of deeply felt, unrequited longing—the impossible love of a teenage ghost for a woman who can’t see her and doesn’t know she exists. As George and Chopin, who wear their unconventionality, in George’s case, literally on their sleeves, find themselves in deepening trouble with the provincial, 19th-century villagers, Blanca watches helplessly and reflects on the circumstances of her own death (which involves an ill-advised love affair with a monk-in-training).

Charming, original, and emotionally moving, this is a surprisingly touching story about romantic fixation and a powerful meditation on creativity.

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Photo credit: iStock / Volodymyr_Plysiuk

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