Incendiary Historical Fiction for Bonfire Night!

Well, hello, hello! In case anyone doesn’t remember (or know) tonight is Bonfire Night in the UK. The night to celebrate when the gunpowder plot was foiled and parliament wasn’t blown up (so we set off fireworks and burn things… yeahhh the logic in that is weird…). Given the historic significance, I thought it would be fun to talk about some *EXPLOSIVE* historical fiction. I wanted to keep this to 5, for symmetry’s sake, but this topic was such *dynamite* I had to do more! I did try to cover a broad spectrum of (mostly British) time periods though…

last kingdom

The Last Kingdom– there are many things to love about Cornwell’s Saxon Stories– the plot and protagonist alone are to die for! But what made me especially excited by this story was how it explores the Norman and Viking period- a part of history often overlooked in British schools- which is a crying shame cos it’s FASCINATING!

at the sign of the sugar plum.jpg

At the Sign of the Sugar Plum– speaking of more random parts of English history- although this one does come up in high school- this is a YA historical fiction about the plague. Yup, there’s a cheerful topic for you… sooo don’t go into this looking for all sunshine and rainbows- even if this is set in a London sweet shop. Also, the sequel is about the Great Fire of London, if I haven’t scared you off with the Black Death 😉

the king's general

King’s General– while not my favourite of Du Maurier’s books, I do really like this take on the English Civil War. Romantic and poignant, this not only tells the story of lost love, what I remember most about this book is the powerful way it captured the country’s divided loyalties and how it felt to be caught in the middle of conflict.


Homegoing– this is one of the most unusual books on the list, because it spans a huge amount of time. Each chapter is a different member of the family, this story spans centuries, exploring the true horror of the slave trade and its impact. It’s remarkable how well this works and how heart-breaking it manages to be with this structure.


Birdsong– I had to really think which Sebastian Faulks book to choose and ultimately went with his story set in WWI. This wasn’t perfect- frankly I wasn’t a fan of the flashforwards to present day- but this wonderfully written story does do a great job of spanning before, during and after the war.

private peaceful

Private Peaceful– sticking to WWI, nothing punches me in the gut emotionally more than this. Even though it’s a children’s book, it doesn’t hold back.

salt to the sea

Salt to the Sea– exploring the fate of the Wilhelm Gustoff in World War II, this is not your normal war story. It isn’t about great battles or the people fighting, it’s about the people stuck in the middle. This is a YA historical fiction that will truly have an impact.

guernsey literary and potato peel pie society

Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society- moving slightly ahead in the timeline, Guernsey does explore the issues of WWII, yet in an epistolary, retrospective way. Set in the aftermath of the Guernsey occupation, this is about uncovering the mystery. Be prepared for some *explosive* revelation, *unbelievable* characters who will touch your heart and, of course, all the *feels*.

sweet clarinet.png

Sweet Clarinet– thinking more about WWII, it’s kind of amazing to note that I’ve never mentioned this book on my blog before, even though it had a profound effect on me. Set during the blitz and exploring the consequences of wartime wounds, this poignant tale tells of trauma and recovery. Most notably, it explores the idea of music as therapy.

daisy jones and the six

Daisy Jones and the Six– and finally, darting across the pond for the last book, I thought I’d end with a book that is THE BOMB for totally different reasons! Like Sweet Clarinet, this is about music. Daisy Jones and the Six explores the 70s rock scene- which is an utterly unique part of history for a book and I am DOWN for it! Unfortunately for us all, they’re not a real band, but if you read this, you’ll wish they were as much as I did!

So, do you like any of my choices? And do you have any other *highly charged* historical fiction you think I was mad to miss? Let me know in the comments!

34 thoughts on “Incendiary Historical Fiction for Bonfire Night!

  1. Bernard Cornwell is someone I should try out one day. An alternative to the plague book is Year of Wonders by Geraldine Brooks about the village in Derbyshire that put itself into quarantine when the plague arrived. Riveting story based on real events.

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  2. I’ve only read The Last Kingdom books and Birdsong from that list… But really enjoyed both! I think there should be more historical fiction in the Anglo-Saxon/Viking period as there is so much scope for adventure!

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  3. OK so I loved The Guernsey etc. and Salt to the Sea but of course I have more! The Pillars of the Earth but also the Fall of the Giants by Ken Follet to begin with. Then as main course I have Beneath a Scarlet Sky by Mark T Sullivan, The Fountains of Silence by Ruta Sepetys and the Alice Network by Kate Quinn. As dessert let’s finish with The Huntress by Kate Quinn and the Tattooist of Auschwitz (by Heather Morris I think) 🙂

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    1. Oh wonderful! I have pillars of the earth on my kindle- I definitely want to try Follet- I have a good feeling about him 😀 And beneath scarlet sky and fountains of silence are both on my tbr. I also want to try tattooist of Auschwitz (have to be in the right mood for it) The only two I hadn’t heard of was huntress and alice network which both sound great- so I have to add them to my tbr!! Thank you so much!! 😀


  4. I’ve only read a couple of these (did quite enjoy “The Last Kingdom”). When I read historical fiction I usually go for ancient history – my favorites are “I Claudius” (and its sequel “Claudius the God”) by Rober Graves for political intrigue in the Roman Empire, the “Athenian Mysteries” series by Gary Corby (fairly humorous series starring Socrates’ fictional older brother and packing in a LOT of historical goodies), and recently “Gates of Fire” by Steven Pressfield (a brutal story of the 300 Spartans at Thermopylae).

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  5. I can always rely on you for making my tbr list longer. 😉 Of the ones you’ve included here I’ve only read Birdsong! 😂 Which I loved by the way. 😄 Hope you had a fun bonfire night! 😄💕

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