December is a magical time of year. There’s a chill in the air, a pine tree in the living room, and an endless number of holiday treats to nibble on. But you know what’s been missing the last few years? A DOWNTON ABBEY Christmas special on PBS.
Fortunately, this year gave us the DOWNTON ABBEY movie, which just came out on DVD. But if, like me, you’ve already seen it and are still wishing for the intrigue, the romance, the complicated class dynamics, and the gorgeous evening gowns that Downton once added to your life, these historical fiction reads should do the trick.
THE SUMMER BEFORE THE WAR
By Helen Simonson
Historical fiction is a go-to genre for me, and this novel is one of my absolute favorites of the past few years. It features the tiny coastal town of Rye England in the summer of 1914, where a single, well-educated Beatrice Nash moves following the death of her father. There she develops a close friendship with society matron Agatha Kent and her two adult nephews, Hugh and Daniel. It’s funny, poignant, as clever as the Dowager Countess herself, and delightfully written.
By Kate Alcott
Aspiring seamstress Tess gets the opportunity of a lifetime when she’s hired as a lady’s maid by celebrated designer Lady Lucile Duff Gordon. With Lady Gordon, she sets off across the Atlantic in the famously doomed Titanic (where James and Patrick Crawley died, setting off the events of the Downton Abbey series). The Dressmakers offers a fascinating look into class relations, the well-known story of the Titanic’s sinking, and the largely forgotten social and political uproar that followed.
By Julian Fellowes
Belgravia takes place many years before Downton – as it’s set first in 1815 and then in the 1840s – but it’s chock full of the love triangles, intrigue, and sharp, witty dialogue you’d expect from Julian Fellowes, the creator of Downton Abbey. Fellowes has a masterful understanding of the time setting, making this one of the most believable (and delightfully gossipy) pieces of historical fiction I’ve ever read. Even better, the audiobook narration by Juliet Stevenson is absolutely excellent.
By Ian McEwan
Aristocratic Cecilila Tallis and working class Robbie Turner are on the brink of romance when a misunderstanding and lie by Cecilia’s sister Briony tears everything apart. Set upon the brink of World War II, this novel takes place a generation after Downton Abbey, but they share a story of star-crossed lovers, class snobbery, high drama and the leveling effects of war.
THE HIRED GIRL
By Laura Amy Schlitz
If you always preferred the downstairs half of Downton’s plots, I recommend this young adult novel. It features a naïve but plucky main character, Joan, who runs away from her abusive home in the country to Baltimore, where she gets work as a cook and cleaning girl to a wealthy Jewish family. Joan’s character has echoes of Anne Shirley, Cassandra Mortmain, and Downton’s own Daisy.
Given all the great historical fiction novels out there, this list was hard to narrow down! What novels would you recommend for Downton Abbey fans? Still can't get enough of the Downton-esque? Try these true stories and period dramas.