Walter Scott Prize shortlist of ‘favourite historical novels of all time’ revealed!

The Walter Scott Prize for Historical Fiction have revealed their shortlist of ten ‘favourite historical novels of all time’ as nominated by readers throughout the month of November. I’m pleased that one of my nominations (The Game of Kings) has made it onto the list, along with a lot of other books I’ve read, although I’m surprised by some of the titles as they are not necessarily books I would have expected to see shortlisted. Have a look at the list below and see what you think.

You can vote for the winner here on the Walter Scott Prize website. The poll closes on the 16th December and the winner will be announced in January.

Checkmate by Dorothy Dunnett
The Crimson Petal and the White by Michel Faber
Days Without End by Sebastian Barry
The Eagle of the Ninth by Rosemary Sutcliff
The Game of Kings by Dorothy Dunnett
The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton
A Place of Greater Safety by Hilary Mantel
Tipping the Velvet by Sarah Waters
Waverley by Walter Scott
Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel


Have you read any of these? Which do you think should win? What is your favourite historical novel of all time?

35 thoughts on “Walter Scott Prize shortlist of ‘favourite historical novels of all time’ revealed!

  1. Judy Krueger says:

    I have read four, thanks to you for getting me going on Dorothy Dunnett. I just picked up Queen’s Play at the library yesterday. I wonder if Eleanor Catton will publish another book soon.

  2. Pam Thomas says:

    I have loved Dorothy Dunnett’s books since picking up The Game of Kings at the library at the tender age of thirteen – I didn’t understand the half of it but I was completely hooked. More than fifty years later, I still am. Good to see Checkmate is on the list too, as well as Wolf Hall and The Eagle of the Ninth. Rosemary Sutcliff is one of my five favourite historical novelists – the others being Dunnett, Mantel, Patrick O’Brian and Mary Renault. They all write as though they actually lived it.

    • Helen says:

      I discovered Dorothy Dunnett’s books much more recently than you, Pam, but I’m sure I’ll still be reading them for many years to come too. I like all of the other authors in your top five as well, although I haven’t really read enough by any of them yet to describe them as favourites (except maybe Patrick O’Brian, as I’m seven books into the Aubrey/Maturin series now).

  3. margaretskea Author of prize winning historical novel Turn of the Tide says:

    As a child I loved Rosemary Sutcliff – she began my lifelong love of historical fiction, but as a teenager I was captivated by Dorothy Dunnett and still love to re-read the Lymond series, so my vote has to go to Checkmate.

    • Helen says:

      I somehow missed out on Rosemary Sutcliff as a child but am trying to make up for that now and have enjoyed everything I’ve read by her so far (I haven’t read The Eagle of the Ninth yet, though). I voted for The Game of Kings as it’s the first in the series and where it all begins, but I do love Checkmate too, of course!

  4. Jess @ Jessticulates says:

    I’ve only read one of these, Tipping the Velvet, so that one gets my vote – I’m surprised that one made the shortlist out of all of Waters’ novels, though; Fingersmith is her masterpiece and The Little Stranger is my favourite by her, whereas I’ve always considered Tipping the Velvet to be one of her weaker novels.

    I still haven’t read it, but I knew Wolf Hall would be on there. It’s so well-loved. Now that there’s a confirmed release date for the final book in her Thomas Cromwell series I can finally pick it up in the new year!

    • Helen says:

      I’ve enjoyed all of Sarah Waters’ books, but I think Tipping the Velvet is actually my least favourite so I was a bit surprised to see that one on the list.

      I hope you like Wolf Hall; I’ve been looking forward to the final book and am so pleased the wait is nearly over!

  5. Jane @ Beyond Eden Rock says:

    That is a great list. The only two I haven’t read – yet – are โ€˜Waverleyโ€™ and โ€˜Days Without Endโ€™.I was worried that the Dorothy Dunnett might lose out with votes divided between different books, and I am so pleased that she didn’t.

    • Helen says:

      Yes, I thought Dorothy Dunnett’s votes might have been split between too many books so I was pleased to see two of them reach the shortlist. Days Without End is beautifully written but not my favourite Sebastian Barry book. I haven’t read Waverley yet but will get to it eventually!

  6. Lory says:

    MUST READ DOROTHY DUNNETT. I’m surprised Mary Renault didn’t get a mention. Maybe falling out of fashion? I also greatly admire Rosemary Sutcliff but I still haven’t read The Eagle of the Ninth.

    • Helen says:

      I highly recommend reading Dorothy Dunnett, Lory! I like Rosemary Sutcliff’s books too but have only read a few and The Eagle of the Ninth isn’t one of them.

  7. FictionFan says:

    I’ve only read a few and certainly wouldn’t have rated a couple of them – Days Without End was OK, but not great, The Eagle of the Ninth didn’t work for me at all but that may have been because I listened to an audiobook rather than reading it, and I do wish Waverley wasn’t always the Scott they pick – for my money, The Fair Maid of Perth is a far better historical novel. I think Wolf Hall probably deserves its slot, and I loved The Luminaries, though I’m not sure it necessarily should get into the top ten. I have The Game of Kings to read next year on my CC list…

    • Helen says:

      I don’t really understand all the hype around Days Without End – I love Sebastian Barry’s writing, but that book is my least favourite of the four I’ve read by him. Sorry to hear The Eagle of the Ninth didn’t work for you. Hopefully it was just the audiobook that was the problem! And I haven’t read either Waverley or The Fair Maid of Perth, but I’ll take your word for it. ๐Ÿ™‚

  8. piningforthewest says:

    There are so many good books there that I’ve read, most recently A Place of Greater Safety which I loved, but Wolf Hall, The Game of Kings and Checkmate are also favourites.

    • Helen says:

      I’ve been putting off reading A Place of Greater Safety because of the length, but I’m determined that 2020 will be the year I finally get around to reading it!

  9. jessicabookworm says:

    I haven’t read any of these *hangs head in shame*!! However I do have Hilary Mantel’s Wolfhall on my TBR shelf and there are quite a few of others on the list I would like to try. ๐Ÿ™‚

    • Helen says:

      Wolf Hall and its sequel, Bring Up the Bodies, are both great books. I’m looking forward to the final book in the trilogy being released in 2020. ๐Ÿ™‚

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