I recommend a lot of good historical fiction. However, I have some favorites that I don't feel I can write reviews about on this blog, because they contain sex scenes and I wouldn't want to encourage anyone to read that stuff if they're not already up for it.
In this instance, I'm talking specifically about the works of Phillipa Gregory. Although her earlier works ("Other Boleyn Girl" I'm looking at you) have some definite research flaws, her historical accuracy really is improving with each book. In fact, she recently wrote a non-fiction book on the women of the Wars of the Roses.
But that's besides the point because even when she gets the facts sort of kind of wrong, she still has a gift for getting the characters right. And that's what Historical Fiction does best - characters. Non-Fiction is about the facts, about different suppositions, about remaining as unbiased as possible. Historical Fiction gets to say, okay, I see your facts, I see your suppositions, how would they work in a narrative? If I string them all together, do they make a plausible person? A person we can believe in?
I just finished rereading Gregory's "The Boleyn Inheritance" which I think may be her finest work. Certainly she takes three women whom history usually passes by or only bothers to understand one dimension of, and makes them into living, breathing people. Anna of Cleves, Kathryn Howard, and Jane Rochford. Each women tells her chapter in her own voice, first person present. Normally this would be very hard to pull off, and yet Gregory does it with perfection. Each woman is so distinct, her voice so clearly her, that you almost don't need the chapter headings to identify the current narrator. It is very, very rare that any book has even one character so clearly developed, much less three, and far, far less in historical fiction.
The best part? It's believable I speak as a long-time Tudor Enthusiast, and when I read the voices of these women, their words match up with the facts and pictures I have of them from other sources. And I like them. Okay, I don't like Jane Rochford, but I can stand to read in her voice, and that's saying a lot for one of the most despicable women to come out of that court. I also find Kitty Howard endearing, which again, is a challenge when our clearest picture of her is of a very stupid young woman. And yet we understand her. She isn't smart, but she has her own way of seeing the world and it is entertaining to read until it goes so horribly wrong.
Okay, this has turned into a review. Let me say again. I'm not telling you to go read this unless you're already okay with sex scenes. BUT, if you are, if history interests you, and if you are interested in a finely crafted historical novel (despite the sex scenes, which actually are all of vital historical importance so they're not nearly as gratuitous as they'd be in another setting), by all means, this is one to head the list.