Historical fiction in Victorian (and Regency) times not set in London – 10 books on a theme

So much of historical fiction is set in London or the Home Counties, one could easily believe that the rest of the country did not exist in the past. And for no period is this more true than Victorian Britain. In fact, I struggled to find 10, so I included 2 from the Regency period as well.

His Bloody Project by Graeme Macrae Burnet

Set up as a true story, but being entirely fictional, we follow this grim, dark tale set in the Scottish Highlands. The sad thing is that stories like this did happen and worse as well. And it’s testimony to the authors brilliant writing style that I felt convinced that it must have happened just so.

The Strings of Murder (Frey & McGray #1) by Oscar de Muriel

Mystery series set in Victorian Edinburgh (and other parts of the British Isles). An English police officer sent to Edinburgh after falling into disgrace with his superiors has to work with Scottish police officer to solve crimes that may or may not have a super natural background. I love them.

Arthur & George by Julian Barnes

There is so little historical fiction set in the Midlands, it has to be celebrated. It’s probably my favourite Barnes. When Conan Doyle meets a young Indian man living in Staffordshire accused of a dreadful crime.

Crocodile on the Sandbank (Amelia Peabody #1) by Elizabeth Peters

They are silly fun mysteries usually set on archaeological digs somewhere in Egypt. Now and then I read one as a bit of a palate cleanser after reading something harrowing. Works every time.

The Anatomist’s Wife (Lady Darby Mystery #1) by Anna Lee Huber

Set in 1830ies Scotland and Northern England, I love this series! Solid mystery adventures.

The Black Country (Scotland Yard’s Murder Squad #2) by Alex Grecian

I live on the edge of the Black Country, another Midlands set book and despite the fact that I rolled my eyes at times, I still liked it enough to recommend.

The Curious Tale of the Lady Caraboo by Catherine Johnson

This YA book is set in 1819 but I thought a historical romance would fit the bill quite nicely. Set in the area around Bristol it is a fabulous tale of mistaken identity.

The Strangler Vine (Avery & Blake #1) by M.J. Carter

What I like the most about Carter’s books is how she shatters one of the protagonists rosy-tinted view of the British Empire. Slowly, surely. This one is set in India.

Gaslight by Eloise Williams

Eloise Williams writes absolutely enchanting books for young people, without sparing them the grizzly reality of life back then. Older middle-grade, young YA book set in Cardiff in 1899.

The Convictions of John Delahunt by Andrew Hughes

Mystery set in 1840s Dublin based on true events. Victorian Ireland was shaken by the events and I can honestly say, so was I reading this book.

Season: Winter – 10 on a theme

I started sharing these lists of books on themes over on my instagram account, but thought, I share them here as well. After all why not.

I recently asked in my instagram stories what people wanted in terms of themed booklists and seasonal lists was mentioned more than once. So here is the first seasonal list for Winter.

Afropean: Notes from Black Europe by Johny Pitts

I picked this book in the early days of lockdown 1 and I really loved it yet, I remember wishing that I had read it in winter. In fact, I know that I will pick it up after Christmas to re-read, which will be perfect because that when Johny Pitts starts his journey travelling through a wintry Europe exploring what it means to be Black in Europe.

Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead by Olga Tokarczuk,
Antonia Lloyd-Jones (Translator)

The winter descriptions were delicious. I always love fiction set in small communities, I can say that most of my favourite books will be in such a setting. I also love books that are set in border regions, the most surreal of areas really because no matter how much I grow up (and I am getting on a bit now), I shall never be abel to accept that an arbitrary line is a border that people potentially die for or because of (got of on a tangeant here, this is not part of the book…). A bitingly funny novel which made me several times think: should not laugh, but I laughed anyway.

Winter in Sokcho by Elisa Shua Dusapin, Aneesa Higgins

If ever we can travel again, I want to go Sokcho. Do books ever do that to you? Even if a place is not described as that wonderful, just because you loved a novel, you want to go. This was definitely the case here. I loved the atmospheric quietness of this novel, it felt cold in its atmosphere, really suppressing the emotions and feelings of the characters burning with plenty of heat under the surface.

The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden

It’s so funny with hyped books, once the hype dies down they are never mentioned again. This seems to be a bit of the case here. This book is the first in a trilogy and definitely the favourite for me of the three. It’s the kind of winter book, you just want to snuggle up with tea and a blanket and escape to this mythical Russia. If Russian fairytales, winter setting, magic and adventure are your thing, then this may be your book.

The Shipping News by Annie Proulx

Often, when I read a book I really like, I have a slight tendency to rush through it, almost breathless reading it and then in most cases, what will happen is that I immediately pick up the book again and re-read it. More slowly, more deliberate, with utmost attention. And this happened with The Shipping News as well. Whenever faced with that most of annoying question “What is your favourite book?”, I will quite often name this one. Of course, I have many favourite books, bookshelves full of favourite books. But people insist on a one book answer. Set in Newfoundland, we follow Quoyle as he tries to get back on his feet. It’s often very darkly comic, something I appreciate it any book, but it moved me without ever going into the melodramatic or cheesy.

Snow by Orhan Pamuk, Maureen Freely (Translator)

By no means a perfect novel, yet, I think this one is worth it for just the setting alone. I was debating for quite some time if I should include this book or not, but then I decided it needs to be on this list. Because for one, so many people believe that Turkey is this super hot desert-type place. So a wintry book set in Turkey will be an education but also because some of the aspects of this book are so relevant still. This remote Turkish village “beleaguered” by the different factions of the political-religious spectrum could be just as well be today than back then. And the outsider’s perspective coming to this remote village and then being stuck there was just wonderful.

Gorky Park (Arkady Renko #1) by Martin Cruz Smith

I do love mysteries, I cannot lie and I have loved Martin Cruz Smith’s books for decades (although the most recent ones not so much, I guess I am changing), but the early Arkady Renko novels are brilliant in capturing something of that Cold War edge of the 1980ies “last years of Cold War Russia”. Atmospheric and tense.

Smilla’s Sense of Snow by Peter Høeg, Tiina Nunnally (Translator)

In the 1990ies, I was hyper aware of all the literary sensations, a combination of being surrounded by readers, an avid newspaper reader, and hanging out pretty much every Saturday in my local bookshops chatting with booksellers. I care way less now about what’s hot and what’s not. It’s fair to say that this Danish thriller caused a sensation in the 1990ies. There are some things that have probably dated badly, like what we would call now the neurodiversity of the main character, but then again, I have read worse in more recent books. This book may have even kicked off the whole Nordic Noir thing.

Doctor Zhivago by Boris Pasternak, Max Hayward (Translator), Manya Harari (Translator)

I remember watching this as a TV adaptation with my grandmother and getting so bored I fell asleep. So as a late teen I was reluctant to pick this up, but then got “sucked in”. The term is maybe a bit misleading because it suggests a pageturner, which it really is not. It’s a slow pleasure, incredibly tragic, often a bit melodramatic, sometimes so cruel you can hardly breat. A typical Russian classic really that needs no introduction. Don’t be fooled by people saying this is a love story.

The Nine Tailors by Dorothy L. Sayers

Golden Age crime, a genre in itself and quite rightly so. My time with the Golden Age has passed, I spent decades reading them, systematically making my way through the catalogues of the greats, then the forgotten and obscure authors, I have read an awful lot and still not read them all. And for winter settings this one is quite tremendous in the way it starts. Not much has changed on Britain’s roads when it starts to snow, I can tell you that. It’s book 9 in the Lord Peter Wimsey series, so if you are stickler (like me), you need to read the 8 other books first.