Historical Musings #70: My Year in Historical Fiction – 2021

Welcome to my monthly post on all things historical fiction. For my first Musings post of the year, I am looking back at the historical fiction I read in 2021 and have put together my usual selection of charts and lists! I have kept the same categories I’ve used for the previous five years so that it should be easy to make comparisons and to see if there have been any interesting changes in my reading patterns and choices (my 2020 post is here, 2019 here, 2018 here, 2017 here and 2016 here).

Before I begin, just a reminder that I do actually read other genres but haven’t included those books in these stats!

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Time periods read about in 2021

In 2020, the 17th century was the most popular time period for my historical fiction reading; I still read a lot of 17th century novels in 2021, but the 20th century was the clear winner this time.

Of the 15 books I read set in the 20th century, 7 took place during World War II, one during World War I and the rest in other decades.

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39% of the historical fiction authors I read in 2021 were new to me.

This is more than the previous year’s 32%, but obviously I’m still most drawn to books by authors I’ve previously read and enjoyed.

Here are three books I’ve read by new-to-me historical fiction authors in 2021:

Red Adam’s Lady by Grace Ingram
Cecily by Annie Garthwaite
Fallen by Lia Mills

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Publication dates of books read in 2021

I’m still mostly reading new or recently released historical fiction, which is due mainly to the temptations of NetGalley. I really want to read more older books this year.

The two oldest historical fiction novels I read in 2021 were St Martin’s Summer by Rafael Sabatini (1909) and I Will Repay by Baroness Orczy (1906).

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10 of my historical reads in 2021 were historical mysteries.

Here are three of the historical mysteries I read last year:

Black Drop by Leonora Nattrass
The Royal Secret by Andrew Taylor
Rags of Time by Michael Ward

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I read historical fiction set in 14 different countries in 2021.

I’m disappointed with this, as 14 is the smallest number of countries I’ve read about in my yearly historical fiction reads since 2017. As usual, more than half of the books I read were set in my own country, England, but France, Scotland and Ireland were the next most popular settings. I say this every year, but I’m determined to read about a wider range of countries in 2022!

Three books I read last year set in countries other than my own:

The Country of Others by Leïla Slimani (Morocco)
Ashes by Christopher de Vinck (Belgium)
Still Life by Sarah Winman (Italy)

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Four historical men I read about in 2021:

John Milton (The Protector by SJ Deas)
William Fowler (Rose Nicolson by Andrew Greig)
Baldwin IV of Jerusalem (The Land Beyond the Sea by Sharon Penman)
William de Valence (A Marriage of Lions by Elizabeth Chadwick)

Four historical women I read about in 2021:

Margaret Mautby Paston (The Royal Game by Anne O’Brien)
Frances Griffiths (The Cottingley Secret by Hazel Gaynor)
Katharine Parr (Katharine Parr, the Sixth Wife by Alison Weir)
Frances Cromwell (The Puritan Princess by Miranda Malins)

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What about you? Did you read any good historical fiction last year? Have you read any of the books or authors I’ve mentioned here and have you noticed any patterns or trends in your own reading?

10 thoughts on “Historical Musings #70: My Year in Historical Fiction – 2021

  1. GoAnnelies - In Another Era says:

    I always love this post! I only read ‘Cecily’ and ‘Rags of time’ from the books you mentioned in this book and enjoyed them both. I don’t keep track of the publication year of my read, but I believe that I tend to read almost no book published in the current year (apart from a few review copies). So my biggest period there will be 2000-2020.

    • Helen says:

      I’m glad you enjoyed Cecily and Rags of Time! Most of the books I read from the current year tend to be NetGalley review copies. I’m trying to request fewer books from NetGalley now so I can concentrate on the older books on my TBR.

  2. Cyberkitten says:

    Ooooh, I *really* like your pie charts – especially the 1st one! I’m *trying* to read historical novels based outside the 19th/20th centuries but that too comfortable modern age keeps pulling me back in. I am (very slowly) drifting back beyond the 1800’s but it’ll take some time to consistently stay there. My ‘Ancient’ reading seems reasonably well populated too (though I need to move outside the Roman Empire!) with much time in-between very sparsely populated.

    Like you, most of my historical reading is based in England (and most of that in London!) so I’ll be trying to do something about that too. But I do like a challenge… To the Bookshelves! [lol]

    • Helen says:

      I’m glad you like the charts! As well as the 19th/20th centuries, I read a lot of books set during the Tudor and Stuart periods, but very little from earlier centuries. No Ancient Rome books at all last year and only one from Ancient Greece!

  3. Calmgrove says:

    I always find bloggers’ ability to table their reading statistics as impressive as the range of books they’ve read, and you’re no exception to that, Helen! I find I get bored compiling my own and then suspect so will others, and dispirited when I think I’ve not learnt anything from my best-laid plans at the start of the year… That’s not of course to say I find your stats boring!

    Excluding speculative fiction, with (say) its time travel elements, and classics describing contemporary events, I find precious little of my reading consists of this genre. Possibles could be Susan Hill’s ‘Black Sheep’, Eva Ibbotson’s ‘The Star of Kazan’, and Angharad Price’s ‘The Life of Rebecca Jones’, rather a tiny haul for someone who’s supposed to be fascinated by history!

    • Helen says:

      I keep a record of publication date and setting (time period and country) as I go through the year, which makes it easier to put these stats posts together. I do sometimes wonder whether anyone but me will actually find them interesting, so I’m pleased to hear I haven’t bored you!

      Thanks for reminding me about Eva Ibbotson, whose books I have enjoyed in the past but haven’t read for a few years.

  4. Susan R Suing says:

    I read the BEST historical fiction ever written this past year. I read all 8 books of the House of Niccolo by Dorothy Dunnett and am almost finished reading through them the second time. It is amazing how much more I have learned on the reread. I have only one regret. I know the books are older, but I dearly wish I could have read them along with a group of other people so we could discuss so much about them as we progressed.

    • Helen says:

      I love the House of Niccolo too, Susan – it’s nice to hear from another Dunnett reader! If you haven’t already read her Lymond Chronicles, I would highly recommend them as I enjoyed them even more than the Niccolo books.

  5. piningforthewest says:

    I read quite a lot of historical fiction last year but only read one from your lists, The Royal Secret, which I really enjoyed.

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