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Epic, action-packed historical fiction like Shōgun

By Kobo • April 02, 2024Recommended Reading

Stories of human drama at a historical scale

If you’ve been swept up into the intrigue and action of the TV series Shōgun and you’re looking for more stories of human drama set in moments of historical upheaval, there’s plenty to read. Whether you stick with the novels of James Clavell to read deeper into the trials of Lord Yoshii Toranaga or break out to other parts of the world and other points in history, these books are worth a look.

Shōgun: Part I by James Clavell

Published in 1975 after 3 years of research and over a decade into screenwriter James Clavell’s second act as a novelist, Shōgun is set at the start of the historical timeline covered by what’s come to be known as The Asian Saga. Just as the story couldn’t be told on-screen in a single movie-length treatment, the novel is a two-part affair.

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King Rat by James Clavell

Though it’s now read as the 4th book in The Asian Saga, King Rat was screenwriter James Clavell’s first novel, which he started during the Writers Guild strike of 1960. It’s a story adapted from Clavell’s own WWII experience as a prisoner of war in a Japanese camp in Singapore. British airman Peter Marlowe befriends an American corporal who’s spent his time in captivity to build a successful business in illegal trade. Meanwhile a British officer overseeing the camp wishes to maintain order and legality, focusing his contempt on the “King” corporal and anyone who seems to be allied with him.

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Musashi: An Epic Novel of the Samurai Era by Eiji Yoshikawa

Miyamoto Musashi was a real samurai whose legendary adventures in the early 1600s are fictionalized in this fast-moving action-packed novel that’s gained legions of fans in the 90 years since it was first published.

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The Pillars of the Earth: Kingsbridge – Book 1 by Ken Follett

Ken Follett’s The Pillars of the Earth stood for decades as one of those books that gets passed around between readers who often have little more in common than the love of a good (long) yarn. Ken Follett had been (and would continue as) a successful writer of thrillers when he turned his talents to this work of historical fiction set in medieval England around the building of a cathedral. Follett hadn’t intended this tale of star-crossed lovers Tom and Aliena to spark a series and for 18 years it appeared to be a one-off: but 18 years later, 3 more books followed in (relatively) rapid succession.

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The Lonesome Dove Chronicles by Larry McMurtry

Newly-recruited Gus and Call stand to learn a lot about being Texas Rangers over the 4 books in this series—if they don’t die of heatstroke, drowning, or a hostile encounter with either the local indigenous population or a troop of bored and reckless soldiers.

This omnibus volume arranges the books in the chronology of their story, but readers are also free to dive in starting with Lonesome Dove, the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel that re-launched Larry McMurtry’s career and joined Cormac McCarthy’s Blood Meridian in re-introducing the western as a literary genre.

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Image: FX

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