If you are into history, chances are you have always asked yourself – what if things were different? What if the story went in another direction? Historical fiction can make it real then. While based on historical facts, the fiction part is what makes these books so interesting and appealing to the genre fans. Furthermore, alternate history books are not to be overlooked either, as they share the exact same vision.

If you have already gone through the best sellers of the genre, here is your opportunity to explore something new. Go through the best historical fiction or alternate history books for 2020 and 2021 and discover a new world of historical adventure, whether you are after a classic one off book or a long term series.

What Are the Top Historical Fiction Or Alternate History Books?

The Book Thief, by Markus Zusak

Through the eyes of Liesel Meminger, a young foster girl living near Munich, we witness the harsh realities of war. Liesel's journey from a life of poverty to discovering the profound impact of books, which she daringly steals, is deeply moving. Her ability to read, nurtured by her accordion-playing foster father, becomes a beacon of hope.

Liesel's sharing of these stolen books with her neighbors during bombing raids and with a Jewish man concealed in their basement, beautifully illustrates the profound connection and solace that literature can provide in the darkest times.

Zusak's skillful storytelling, already acclaimed in his work ‘I Am the Messenger', shines brightly in this enduring tale that celebrates the human spirit and the enduring power of stories.

All the Light We Cannot See, by Anthony Doerr

Marie-Laure, a blind girl living in Paris with her locksmith father, is forced to flee to Saint-Malo with him during the Nazi occupation, carrying a potentially valuable jewel from the museum where her father works.

Simultaneously, in Germany, Werner, an orphan fascinated by radios, hones his skills in electronics, leading him to a harsh Hitler Youth academy and a mission to track the Resistance.

His journey takes him through the brutalities of war and eventually to Saint-Malo, where his path intersects with Marie-Laure's, culminating in a convergence of their stories.

The Mirror And The Light, by Hilary Mantel

The Mirror And The Light is part of a trilogy. It comes after Wolf Hall from 2009 and Bring Up The Bodies from 2012. While reading the previous chapters would help, it is not really necessary. The trilogy follows the rise and fall of Thomas Cromwell and this last book covers the last years of his life. Known as a minister in the court of King Henry VIII, he ended up executed in 1540.

The book covers the last four years of his life. Anne Boleyn died in 1536 and Thomas Cromwell took over. He became a royal favor in no time, but he soon ended up losing his popularity for a plethora of reasons. The history makes it pretty obvious – he was killed in 1540. Most facts are real, but there is also a bit of fiction here and there.

The Lions Of Fifth Avenue, by Fiona Davis

There is a bit of truth in this book, but there is much more fiction. It is 1913 and Laura Lyons has a great life – she lives with her husband and their two children in a beautiful apartment within the New York Public Library. She wants more though, so she goes to school and discovers a new world, as well as a group of women who want as many rights as men. Her life takes an unusual turn though…

The story goes further up in 1993. Sadie Donovan is Laura's granddaughter and seems to have a similar lifestyle. She works at the New York Public Library, but valuable manuscripts and books start disappearing. She teams up with a detective to save her career, as well as the institution she loves so much.

The Mercies, by Kiran Millwood Hargrave

The action in The Mercies is inspired by two events – the storm of Vardø and the witch trials from 1621. The action takes place in Finnmark, Norway, in 1617. Men gone fishing are killed in a storm, so women are left by themselves trying to find a way to survive.

Three years later, Absalom Comet and his wife Ursa come from Scotland and settle there. He used to burn witches, so he finds this female settlement a little sketchy. Meanwhile, his wife discovers female independence and falls in love with it. What is about to happen will threaten the very existence of Vardø.

Hamnet, by Maggie O'Farrell

Hamnet brings in a pretty interesting insight into William Shakespeare's life. It does not push the reader into the writer's life though. Instead, it follows Hamnet's story. Hamnet was William Shakespeare's only son. He died when he was 11 years old only – mostly because his father abandoned him in order to build his career in London. It happened in 1596.

This book is based on the few facts known about Hamnet, so it brings in an unusual story about love, sacrifice, adventure and drama. At the end of the day, Shakespeare's Hamlet is relatively based on his son. There is a bit of history in this book, but most of it is fiction and tries to help the reader understand Hamnet's point of view during those years.

We Came Here To Shine, by Susie Orman Schnall

The story follows two ambitious women who want to discover their true potential during the New York World's Fair in 1939. Vivi is a star – she looks gorgeous and she draws attention straight away. Max is a journalist. Both are trying to build up their way and gain some control of a world that seems to be run by men. Some say this story is about friendship, while others claim it is about challenges women have to face.

At some point, their friendship and careers are put in jeopardy. Ambition and hard work do not seem to pull it off. The two must end up helping each other in order to succeed, but also to show some persistence in a world where their actions are limited. Will they manage to make this event the most meaningful thing in their lives?

Fast Girls, by Elise Hooper

This is one of the most meaningful historical fiction books of the year and it explores the less known world of female athletes. The story covers the women's Olympic team at the summer games from Berlin – 1936. There are three different stories that blend together in a beautiful way and they spread over a few years and specific events.

Betty Robinson is rated a golden girl in the USA after the 1928 Olympics, but a nearly fatal airplane crash almost ends her career. Louise Stokes lives just outside Boston – one of the few black girls in the area who tries to overcome limitations. Helen Stephens lives in Missouri and has always had a hard life. The three will have to find a way to compete at the Nazi sponsored Olympics from 1936 as their country gets ready for war.

Cartier's Hope, by M. J. Rose

New York was pretty rough in 1910. There was a major discrepancy between the mansions on the Fifth Avenue and the poor communities from the Lower East Side. There is drama everywhere, but female reporters still have to report about lifestyle and fashion only.

Vera Garland is different though. When the world renowned Hope Diamond is purchased, she starts investigating the new owner and his wealth. She is joined by a local jeweler and things go in a completely unexpected direction.

The Lost Diary Of Venice, by Margaux DeRoux

A rare manuscript from the 16th century lands on Rose's desk. It belongs to William, a failed painter. As she looks at the manuscript, she discovers a different document under the text – a palimpsest. What she looks at is William's ancestor's diary, one of Venice's best rated painters. He was so popular that he was asked to paint a portrait of a powerful admiral's best looking courtesan.

The journal and the mystery around it bring in a story of political issues, secrets, forbidden love affairs and so on – many of them inspired from real life events. As the two explore this manuscript, they start enjoying a love story of their own. The book will introduce you to the beautiful and exquisite Italian background from Renaissance times.

Final Thoughts on the best Historical Fiction Or Alternate History Books

Bottom line, these are some of the best historical fiction or alternate history books for 2020 and 2021. The list could be longer, but these specific titles do stand out in the crowd. While there is lots of action involved, many of the events are inspired from history and could give you an interesting perspective of what would have happened if things were different back then.

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