If you’re a regular reader of historical fiction, you’ve probably read your fair share of novels set in the twentieth, nineteenth, and even eighteenth centuries. But these 10 exciting novels provide tantalizing peeks into the global world of the sixteenth century. Whether you’re a longtime fan of the era’s court intrigue, Hilary Mantel’s modern classics on the subject, and cultural blockbusters like The Other Boleyn Girl, or are new to the era and its glittering and suspenseful atmosphere of upheaval, these books all offer something new and exciting. From taking a global look at often-ignored peoples and places important to the era to subverting courtly and religious tropes associated with the time, these novels are sure to engross, enlighten, and enthrall.
England, 1538. Joanna, a young novice who is a fugitive of the royal court, becomes caught up in a dangerous plot to kill Henry VIII. Despite trying to build a life with a man who loves her, Joanna can’t escape the essential role she is to play in a seer-foretold prophecy. As Joanna seeks the final piece to her future’s puzzle with a corrupt Spanish spy in a twelfth-century Belgian fortress, she realizes that Henry VIII’s life, the lives of those throughout England, and an entire era of Christendom may depend on her.
What would you sacrifice to protect your way of life? In the sixteenth century, a young nun risks everything to defy the most powerful authorities, fulfill a prophecy, and preserve the future of Christendom.
BETWEEN THE CROWN AND THE CROSS STANDS ONE WOMAN
IN 1538, ENGLAND is in the midst of bloody power struggles that threaten to tear the country apart. Aristocrat-turned-novice Joanna Stafford knows what lies inside the king’s torture rooms and risks imprisonment when she is caught up in an international plot targeting the king. As the power plays turn vicious, Joanna understands she may have to assume her role in a prophecy foretold by three different seers.
Joanna realizes the life of Henry VIII, as well as the future of Christendom, are in her hands—hands that must someday hold the chalice that lies at the center of these deadly prophecies. . . .
In this breathtaking portrait of royal court intrigue, Penelope Devereux is drawn into an aging Queen Elizabeth’s court when her brother becomes a favorite of the Queen’s. Despite falling in love with Philip Sydney—who writes the famous Astrophil and Stella sonnets about her—Penelope is forced to marry a man who hates her. Meanwhile, as Penelope tries to make dangerous deals that will let her be with her true love, a loyalist of Elizabeth’s, Robert Cecil, watches Penelope’s every move, convinced that her brother is becoming too ambitious for his own good.
From “a brilliant new player in the court of royal fiction” (People), comes the mesmerizing story of Lady Penelope Devereux—the daring young beauty in the Tudor court, who inspired Sir Philip Sidney’s famous sonnets even while she plotted against Queen Elizabeth.
Penelope Devereux arrives at Queen Elizabeth’s court where she and her brother, the Earl of Essex, are drawn into the aging Queen’s favor. Young and naïve, Penelope, though promised elsewhere, falls in love with Philip Sidney who pours his heartbreak into the now classic sonnet series Astrophil and Stella. But Penelope is soon married off to a man who loathes her. Never fainthearted, she chooses her moment and strikes a deal with her husband: after she gives birth to two sons, she will be free to live as she chooses, with whom she chooses. But she is to discover that the course of true love is never smooth.
Meanwhile Robert Cecil, ever loyal to Elizabeth, has his eye on Penelope and her brother. Although it seems the Earl of Essex can do no wrong in the eyes of the Queen, as his influence grows, so his enemies gather. Penelope must draw on all her political savvy to save her brother from his own ballooning ambition and Cecil’s trap, while daring to plan for an event it is treason even to think about.
Unfolding over the course of two decades and told from the perspectives of Penelope and her greatest enemy, the devious politician Cecil, Watch the Lady chronicles the last gasps of Elizabeth’s reign, and the deadly scramble for power in a dying dynasty.
Hannah Levi is a midwife who can birth even the most stubborn of babies using her “birthing spoons.” But when a count asks her to save his wife and unborn son—thereby also asking her to break the edict that Jews are not allowed to medically treat Christians—Hannah is torn. Her decision could have consequences not only for her patient and her own freedom but for her long-lost husband, who was captured at sea. THE MIDWIFE OF VENICE is an intimate look at a woman’s life in a type of uncertainty and paranoia.
An opulent, riveting, and suspenseful continuation of the thrilling historical novel The Midwife of Venice set in medieval Constantinople.
AN OPULENT, CAPTIVATING, AND SUSPENSEFUL HISTORICAL NOVEL FROM THE AUTHOR OF THE THRILLING INTERNATIONAL BESTSELLER THE MIDWIFE OF VENICE
The Imperial Harem, Constantinople, 1578. Hannah and Isaac Levi, Venetians in exile, have overcome unfathomable obstacles to begin life anew in the Ottoman Empire. He works in the growing silk trade, and she, the best midwife in the capital, tends to the hundreds of women in Sultan Murat III’s lively and infamous harem. One night, Hannah is unexpectedly summoned to the extravagant palace and confronted with Leah, a Jewish peasant girl who was violently abducted. The sultan favors Leah as his next conquest and wants her to produce his heir, but if the spirited girl fails an important test, she faces a terrible fate. Taken by Leah’s tenacity, Hannah risks everything to help her. But as Hannah agonizes over her decision, an enchanting stranger arrives from afar to threaten her peaceful life with Isaac, and soon Leah too reveals a dark secret that could condemn them both.
Filled with adventure and vivid detail and peopled with memorable characters, The Harem Midwife showcases Roberta Rich’s boundless talent for capturing readers’ imaginations.
After being stolen and sold to Portuguese mercenaries, one East African man becomes an experienced soldier at a young age. During an expedition to Japan, he finds himself once again sold, this time to a powerful Japanese warlord named Nobunaga. Haunted by his past, the man develops an unexpected trust with Nobunaga, who gives him a new name—Yasuke—and the title of samurai, a role never previously entrusted to a foreigner. Now, he must protect Nobunaga and himself from enemies within and outside their ranks in this enthralling reconstruction of a figure long lost to time.
Set in late 16th-century Africa, India, Portugal, and Japan, The African Samurai is a powerful historical novel based on the true story of Yasuke, Japan’s first foreign-born samurai and the only samurai of African descent—for readers of Esi Edugyan and Lawrence Hill.
In 1579, a Portuguese trade ship sails into port at Kuchinotsu, Japan, loaded with European wares and weapons. On board is Father Alessandro Valignano, an Italian priest and Jesuit missionary whose authority in central and east Asia is second only to the pope’s. Beside him is his protector, a large and imposing East African man. Taken from his village as a boy, sold as a slave to Portuguese mercenaries, and forced to fight in wars in India, the young but experienced soldier is haunted by memories of his past.
From Kuchinotsu, Father Valignano leads an expedition pushing inland toward the capital city of Kyoto. A riot brings his protector in front of the land’s most powerful warlord, Oda Nobunaga. Nobunaga is preparing a campaign to complete the unification of a nation that’s been torn apart by over one hundred years of civil war. In exchange for permission to build a church, Valignano “gifts” his protector to Nobunaga, and the young East African man is reminded once again that he is less of a human and more of a thing to be traded and sold.
After pledging his allegiance to the Japanese warlord, the two men from vastly different worlds develop a trust and respect for one another. The young soldier is granted the role of samurai, a title that has never been given to a foreigner; he is also given a new name: Yasuke. Not all are happy with Yasuke’s ascension. There are whispers that he may soon be given his own fief, his own servants, his own samurai to command. But all of his dreams hinge on his ability to protect his new lord from threats both military and political, and from enemies both without and within.
A magnificent reconstruction and moving study of a lost historical figure, The African Samurai is an enthralling narrative about the tensions between the East and the West and the making of modern Japan, from which rises the most unlikely hero.
EQUAL OF THE SUN is a riveting, based-on-a-true-story account of one woman who changed the course of history in the Muslim world. When the Shah dies in 1576 Iran without having named an heir, the court is thrown into chaos. His daughter Princess Pari knows more about the inner workings of the state than anyone else. But when Pari strikes up an alliance with Javaher, a eunuch who knows the secrets of the harem and the world beyond the palace, they thrust themselves into an explosive and deadly power struggle.
Loosely based on the life of a historical Iranian princess, EQUAL OF THE SUN is a gorgeously wrought and evocative tale of power and destiny. When the shah dies suddenly, his daughter is more than qualified to take the throne, but resentment and secrets prevent her. Can she navigate the court in this passionate tale of a powerful woman?
Christopher Marlowe, despite being known now as a popular playwright, was also an “intelligencer” for the queen’s secret service. As he embarks on his last mission to uncover a smuggling scheme, things do not all go as planned. Centuries later, in present day New York, private eye Kate Morgan has a client who has uncovered an old manuscript that someone is desperate to steal. Could the manuscript hold the secret to Marlowe’s centuries-long mystery? And what kind of deadly global game has Kate found herself at the heart of?
London, 1593: It is three weeks before the murder of Christopher Marlowe, playwright and spy in Queen Elizabeth I's secret service -- a crime that remains unsolved to this day. Marlowe is hoping to find his missing muse as he sets off on a new intelligence assignment...and closes in on the secret that will seal his fate.
New York City, present day: Renaissance scholar turned private eye Kate Morgan investigates a shocking heist and murder involving a mysterious, antique manuscript recently unearthed in central London. What secret lurks in those yellowed, ciphered pages...and how, centuries later, could it drive someone to kill?
Propelling us from the shadows of the sixteenth-century underworld to the chambers of a clandestine U.S. intelligence unit, from the glitter of the Elizabethan court to the catacombs of ancient Rome, The Intelligencer's dual narratives twist, turn, and collide as they race toward a stunning finale.
Since the events of the French Civil War forced Ursula Blanchard to leave her daughter Meg behind and move to France with her husband, Meg has lived with a kind foster family. But when Meg goes missing, Ursula rushes back to England to find that her daughter has been sent by the Queen to the family home of a man executed for his crimes against the crown. As Ursula seeks to uncover the mystery behind the man’s crimes and her daughter’s near imprisonment, she finds herself trapped in a net of treason, with a murderer still on the loose.
Her devotion to her family trumps all.
Homesick for England, heartsick at being separated from her young daughter, Ursula Blanchard is struggling to build a new life in France with her husband, Matthew de la Roche. Ursula is devastated when she learns Meg has disappeared from the family that has fostered her since the French civil war forced Ursula to leave her behind. A wanted man in England, Matthew is unable to accompany her as she frantically journeys home.
Upon her arrival, Ursula is stunned to learn that Meg is not missing, but has been sent at the Queen's behest to Vetch Castle, the home of Philip Mortimer, descendant of Roger Mortimer, who was executed long ago for his part in the murder of Edward II. Ursula treads carefully as she seeks the truth about Philip Mortimer's schemes to force the Queen to restore his family's fortunes. But when a murderer strikes, she is quickly ensnared in a web of blackmail and treason that could topple the crown -- and cost Ursula her life.
In 1546, the Sultan of the Ottoman Empire invites every king in Europe to send players to participate in the world’s first known chess championship. The English champion sent to compete in Constantinople is accompanied by his scholarly advisor Roger Ascham and Ascham’s young student Elizabeth Tudor. But upon arrival, the guests bear witness to murder, depravity, and corruption, leading Elizabeth and Ascham to realize that there is another chess match happening beyond the carved boards themselves, one that they may have to outsmart their host to survive.
“A complete success…action fans and PBS types can share their enthusiasm” (Booklist, starred review) when a young Queen Elizabeth I is thrust into a gripping game of deception and lust at the height of the Ottoman Empire in this edge-of-your-seat historical thriller from the New York Times bestselling author of The Great Zoo of China and Temple.
The year is 1546, and Suleiman the Magnificent, the feared Sultan of the Ottoman Empire, issues an invitation to every king in Europe: You are invited to send your finest player to compete in a chess tournament to determine the champion of the known world.
Thousands converge on Constantinople, including the English court’s champion and his guide, the esteemed scholar Roger Ascham. Seeing a chance to enlighten the mind of a student, Ascham brings along Elizabeth Tudor, a brilliant young woman not yet consumed by royal duties in Henry VIII’s court.
Yet on the opening night of the tournament, a powerful guest of the Sultan is murdered. Soon, barbaric deaths, diplomatic corruption, and unimaginable depravity—sexual and otherwise—unfold before Elizabeth’s and Ascham’s eyes. The pair soon realizes that the real chess game is being played within the court itself…and its most treacherous element is that a stranger in a strange land is only as safe as her host is gracious.
The first installment in an exciting historical series, DISSOLUTION takes place in sixteenth-century England, as the country is torn between the Catholic Church and the new Church of England. After a royal commissioner is murdered in a coastal monastery, Henry VIII’s vicar general Thomas Cromwell orders reformer Matthew Shardlake to investigate. But as Shardlake and his protégé dig into the case, they discover sexual misconduct, treason, and a murderer ready to strike again in this thrilling debut mystery.
In the wake of Martin Luther’s 1517 95 Theses, the Papacy struggles to secure its political position while Protestant Anabaptists rebel and are consequently persecuted. As the continent is thrown into war and chaos over these divisions in religion, a young theologian embraces the new heretics and is disinherited. As he travels across Europe under many names, a heretic-hunter known as Q follows him in a page-turning cat-and-mouse game that reveals the larger quest for domination at play in their world. Q is an ambitious European bestseller, by turns thought-provoking and suspenseful.
Photo credit: iStock / victorass88