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Best WW1 Historical Fiction

Reading novels about WW1 can teach us all the ways women were essential to the war efforts around the world. Many American women volunteered despite not having the right to vote until after World War I ended.

From spies and nurses to couriers and even the first female members of the US Navy, these brave women paved the way for victory in the war while advancing rights for women. Other books on the list highlight what it was like on the homefront, especially when soldiers returned with new mental and physical challenges.

Three angled book covers of WWI historical fiction books


WW1 historical fiction has gained popularity in recent years, and we’re excited to share our list of highly-rated WWI fiction book recommendations for you. 

Historical Fiction Novels About WW1

Hidden Letters book cover

Book Summary

Landscape architect Isaac is working at a beautiful estate in Cornwall, but he knows he’ll soon be called away to what seems to be the inevitable world war. Cordelia is the daughter of the estate, and despite her mother’s concerns that it is unladylike to play in the dirt, she’s drawn to the garden as her escape. Isaac secretly teaches Cordelia how to tend the gardens so the house will still be able to produce food while the men are at war.

Although the connection between Isaac and Cordelia is clear, their love is forbidden as they are from different classes, and Isaac is an employee of the estate. However, when he’s called off to fight, he doesn’t forget her and begins sending letters. When the letters stop, Cordelia is determined to find out what happened.

The Book Girls Say…

This book blends a traditional narrative style with an epistolary format, and readers especially enjoy the sections written as letters.

The Bookbinder book cover

Book Summary

Twin sisters Peggy and Maude work in Oxford’s university press book bindery. While Maude is very content spending her days folding the pages of books with her fellow bindery girls, Peggy dreams of more. As Peggy works, she wishes she was instead across Walton Street at Oxford’s Somerville College, where female students have a huge library at their fingertips.

When Oxford is filled with Belgian war refugees, the sister’s lives are impacted in surprising ways. Peggy becomes more determined to find a career that uses her intellect instead of her hands. But, the responsibility that comes with falling in love with a Belgian soldier may hold her back.

The Book Girls Say…

This book has an alternate title of “The Bookbinder of Jericho” outside of the US.

Also Featured on These Book Lists:

Books Set in the 1900s and 1910s

All Quiet on the Western Front book cover

Book Summary

Considered by many the greatest war novel of all time, this classic book tells of the experience of a young German soldier who enlists in WWI. He starts youthful and enthusiastic but soon experiences the horror and disillusionment of life in the trenches.

The Book Girls Say…

This classic is not for the faint of heart because it is quite graphic, but our readers also describe it as beautifully written.

Kindle Unlimited as of: 01/17/2024
Summer Before the War

Book Summary

This novel features an interesting cast of characters in the coastal town of Rye, England. Medical student Hugh visits his aunt Agatha and her husband, who works in the Foreign Office. He isn’t too worried about the building tension over the Balkans. The summer is too beautiful for them to be concerned.

Mix in the new, attractive Latin teacher Beatrice, who is mourning the loss of her father (and his financial support). While everyone is distracted with their own problems and the summer creeps closer to fall, they have no idea how much their lives are about to change.

The Book Girls Say…

This novel from the author of Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand was a 2016 nominee for Best Historical Fiction. This book is a great pick if you love slow-burning character studies but not the best choice if you prefer a quick, plot-driven read.

Band of Sisters book cover

Book Summary

Based on a true story, Band of Sisters teaches us about the Smith College Relief Unit. Smith College alumna Betsy spoke to a group of graduates looking for volunteers to assist French civilians in areas decimated by Germany. Kate isn’t interested, but when another woman drops out, her best friend Emmeline convinces Kate to join her on the trip.

Four months later, eighteen Smithies set out with money, supplies, and good intentions. However, everything is so much worse than they expected when they arrive in France. Their chateau is in ruins, and the villages are in desperate need of food, water, and safe shelter.

While the women bring hope to the region, the barriers they face are huge and include continued shelling by the Germans, French bureaucracy, and the threat of ousting by the British army. They’ll have to pull together if they want to make a difference.

The Book Girls Say…

The author discovered a memoir written by one of the girls during their trip to France and used that, along with letters other girls sent home at the time to recreate their war efforts in this novel. The audiobook is narrated by the fabulous Julia Whelan, and listeners say she does a fabulous job capturing the character of the Smith College women.

Call of the Wrens book cover

Book Summary

During the war, the Women’s Royal Navy Service, the “Wrens,” served as couriers, delivering carrier pigeons to the front lines on motorcycles. This historical fiction tells the story of Marion, a penniless orphan whose service with the Wrens gave her a feeling of purpose.

Nineteen years later, in 1936, society girl Evelyn has overcome a disability and found her passion in automobile racing. As England enters World War II, she hopes to use her skills as a rider to assist the war effort. Her parents are not happy and threaten to cut her off if she doesn’t marry the man they have chosen and “act like a lady.”

Meanwhile, a fellow Wren comes to Marion and asks her to return to service in the new war, which is not a welcome request.

Fall of Giants Book Cover

Book Summary

This epic story of love, hatred, war, and revolution begins in 1911 on the Coronation Day of King George V. The timeline continues up to and through the major events of WW1.

The complex plot of this nearly 1,000-page epic includes many intertwined characters, including a Welsh coal-mining family, the aristocratic coal-mine owners, a spy at the German Embassy in London, an ambitious young aide to U.S. President Woodrow Wilson, and two orphaned Russian brothers. Book two in the series, Winter of the World, picks right up with the same families and follows them through WW2.

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Books that Span Multiple Continents

Canary Girls book cover

Book Summary

As British men left to fight in WWI, women stepped up to work in the arsenals, making weapons for the military. Thousands of former housewives, shop girls, cooks, and maids became “munitionettes” and worked grueling shifts with little protective gear.

April is 19 years old and was a housemaid before hearing about the higher wages she could earn at Thornshire Arsenal near London. Lucy is married to an Olympic gold medalist & star forward of the Tottenham Hotspur football team. She joins Thornshire to do her part in shortening the war. When her coworkers learn she is a footballer’s wife, they invite her to join the arsenal ladies’ football club, the Thornshire Canaries.

When the women begin having unexplained health problems, including yellowing skin, the boss’s wife, Helen, becomes their biggest advocate. Helen suspects the chemicals are to blame for the health issues and became a staunch advocate for the workers who became known as “canary girls.”

The Book Girls Say…

If you love stories based on what women were doing for the war effort and also enjoy sports, this is a great option based on the true story of the “canary girls” and the Munitionettes Cup.

Porcelain Moon book cover

Book Summary

Pauline is a young Chinese woman staying at her uncle’s home in Paris, but she flees the city in order to avoid the marriage that has been arranged for her back in Shanghai. She’ll need the help of her cousin, who is working as a translator for the Chinese Labour Corps in the French countryside. He’s one of the 40,000 Chinese workers who were brought to Europe as non-combatant labor during the Great War.

In a nearby town, Camille is planning an escape from her abusive marriage. When she offers Pauline a room, the two women become friends. But soon, Pauline uncovers a secret that Camille has been hiding. With danger closing in, the two women must make a terrible decision that will bind them together forever.

Woman at the Front book cover

Book Summary

Eleanor graduates near the top of her medical school class and dreams of going overseas to help those wounded in the war. Her parents, including her physician father, feel this is far too dangerous, and instead insist that she marry and assume a proper place in society.

But when an unexpected twist sends Eleanor to the battlefield of France as the private doctor to a British man, she sees the opportunity to finally prove herself. Despite her skills, she faces commanders who question her skills, countless injured soldiers, and efforts by her family to force her to return home.

Alice Network book cover

Book Girls’ Readers Rate This Book

100% Would Recommend to a Friend

Book Summary

Two women—a female spy recruited to the real-life Alice Network in France during WWI and an unconventional American socialite searching for her cousin in 1947—are brought together in a mesmerizing story of courage and redemption.

The Book Girls Say…

Angela and Melissa both rated this book 4 out of 5 stars. Angela found the story of the WWI Alice Network fascinating and enjoyed the writing style that intertwined the stories of the two women. Unlike many other stories told from two perspectives in two different time periods, Angela liked that the two female protagonists were together in the later time period, forming a unique relationship, which added another layer to the story.

Half in Shadow book cover

Book Summary

During the day, Josephine is forced to serve German officers at the Hotel Métropole in Belgium. However, at night, she’s part of the resistance with her brothers. They help Allied soldiers and civilians cross into Holland.

She meets Arthur, an English soldier trapped behind the German-occupied lines who finds a new purpose in helping the resistance mission. Franz, a remorseful German soldier, is also a surprising source of protection. While the two men are from opposite sides, they both test her heart and loyalty. 

Kindle Unlimited as of: 01/17/2024
War Librarian book cover

Book Summary

This dual-timeline book features two ground-breaking women. In 1918, Emmaline signed up as one of the volunteer librarians on the frontlines in France. As she participates in a secret book club for censored books, a romance blooms. However, this leads to events that cause her to find the courage she needs to survive.

In 1976, Kathleen has been accepted to the first co-ed class at the US Naval Academy. But not everyone is welcoming to the women, and the Navy hasn’t prepared for them very well. After a tragedy, Kathleen becomes a target and must learn to trust others to make it through the Academy safely.

Girls on the Line book cover

Book Summary

As WWI rages in Europe, twenty-four-year-old Ruby Wagner, the jewel in a prominent Philadelphia family, prepares for her upcoming society wedding to a man her family chose for her.

When her beloved older brother is killed in combat, Ruby follows her heart and answers the Army Signal Corps’ call for women telephone operators to help overseas. She becomes one of the trailblazing “Hello Girls” deployed to war-torn France.

The Book Girls Say…

This book is very well-researched and provides a fascinating look at the often unknown history of the role of women in WWI. You’ll fall in love with Ruby and find yourself invested in her personal story, which includes just the right amount of romance.

Kindle Unlimited as of: 01/17/2024
Mercy Road book cover

Book Summary

After a house fire kills her father, Arlene needs a way to support her mother and younger brothers. Jobs are scarce, but then Arlene finds a scary solution. The American Women’s Hospital needs ambulance drivers in war-torn France.

Day and night, Arlene and her all-female team assist wounded civilians and soldiers. While in France, she encounters a childhood friend, Jimmy, along with Felix, a charismatic Army captain with a secret. However, exposing Felix’s secret could risk her family’s future.

Kindle Unlimited as of: 01/17/2024
Bluebird book cover

Book Girls’ Readers Rate This Book

100% Would Recommend to a Friend

Book Summary

Detroit museum curator Cassie loves solving mysteries from the past, especially when the stories involve the Detroit River rumrunners from the Prohibition days. When a home renovation uncovers a cache of Bailey Brothers Best whisky, she hopes it’s the missing piece she needs to understand the truth about the bootleggers.

In 1918, Corporal Jeremiah Bailey was wounded as part of his job planting mines under enemy trenches. As he recovers at a Belgium hospital, he’s cared for by nurse Adele, one of the Canadian “Bluebirds.” The connection between Jerry and Adele is strong as they’re from a similar area along the Detroit River. But when Jerry is sent back to the front, he’s not sure he’ll ever see Adele again.

When Jerry and Adele unexpectedly cross paths after the war, they have a chance for a fresh start, but both carry baggage from what they saw overseas. Prohibition is in full swing, bringing them both opportunity and the threat of destroying everything they’ve worked for.

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Books Set in the 1900s and 1910s

Switchboard Soldiers book cover

Book Girls’ Readers Rate This Book

95% Would Recommend to a Friend

Book Summary

When General John Pershing arrived in France to establish American forces in Europe, he quickly identified the lack of communication with soldiers in the field as a significant barrier to success. Although women were not allowed to enlist at the time, the Army Signal Corps needed to recruit experienced telephone operators.

More than 7600 women responded to the call, like Grace, a Barnard grad, Marie, the French aspiring opera singer, and Valerie, the young telephone operator from LA hoping to do her part. When the women arrived, they could connect a call in ten seconds compared to the sixty seconds it took the men they replaced.

The job was dangerous and included time near the front lines. This historical fiction novel shows the essential role the brave women of the US Army Signal Corps played in WW1.

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Best WW1 Historical Fiction

Girls in Navy Blue book cover

Book Summary

In 1918, the US Navy allowed women to join as yeomanettes for the first time. Ten thousand women answered the call with various motivations. For Majory, she wanted to prove her patriotism toward the US as a German-American. Blanche was a suffragette and wanted to prove that women are equal. But Viv, the shy preacher’s daughter, joined in an attempt to escape the police. The trio finds friendship and sisterhood as yeomanettes, but when Viv’s dark past catches up to her, they find themselves in chaos.

In 1968, Peggy inherits a beach cottage from her estranged aunt, Blanche. Shortly after, she receives mysterious postcards dating from 1918 during Blanche’s service. As Peggy digs into her aunt’s past, it begins to collide with the present.

Kew Gardens Girls book cover

Book Summary

Inspired by real events, this novel tells the story of the women who kept the Royal Botanic Gardens alive in London amidst a war. Ivy & Louisa enlist as gardeners to replace men who have gone to fight, but not everyone is ready for women to work at Kew. However, under their care, the gardens flourish and become a place of solace.

The Book Girls Say…

This light read also has storylines of women’s equality and the suffragettes. It’s perfect if you’re looking for a comparatively pleasant book that still gives a peak into the war years in England. However, some reviewers were disappointed the gardens aren’t described in more detail, and others wished for a bit more conflict. If you enjoy the book, there is a highly-rated sequel called The Kew Garden Girls at War.

Girl from Paris book cover

Book Summary

Vianne has spent the war sewing military uniforms in Paris. With the war’s end in sight, she’s dreaming of the day she can begin sewing beautiful dresses instead. Just as it looks like peace is finally within reach, German bombs begin to fall. As Vianne runs through the streets of Paris, she sees the spires of the old church burst into flames – then she remembers that her mother and sister were inside.

With nothing left for her in Paris but sad memories, she gives up her dream of becoming a fashion designer and decides to set sail for NwoYC. There, she spends her days working as a seamstress for wealthy Upper East Side women and her evenings dancing the Charleston at downtown clubs. She even meets a handsome man, and she begins to feel safe again.

But when news of a terrible accident compels Vianne to return to Paris, she discovers a secret that changes everything she thought she knew.

Kindle Unlimited as of: 01/17/2024
Lost Roses book cover

Book Summary

While this book is listed as Lilac Girls #2, this novel is actually set a generation earlier and features Caroline’s mother, Eliza. Like Lilac Girls, the story is also inspired by true events.

Eliza met Sofya years ago during a summer in Paris, and they have become close confidantes. While the world is on the brink of war, journalists in New York aren’t taking the threat seriously because the threat has been present for so long. Not understanding the danger, Eliza plans to travel to St. Petersburg with Sofya, who is a cousin of the Romanovs. But when Austria declares war on Serbia and Russia’s dynasty begins to fall, Eliza escapes back to the US while Sofya and her family flee to their country estate.

From her side of the world, Eliza works to help Russian families find safety, but when Sofya’s letters stop coming, Eliza fears the worst for her friend.

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Books Set in Eastern Europe & Russia

Tides of Honour book cover

Book Summary

Danny Barker is a young soldier from the Canadian province of Nova Scotia. When he heads into battle in war-torn France during WW1, he has no idea what the future holds for him. In the French countryside, he finds the love of his life and then loses his leg in the Battle of the Somme.

Danny and Audrey return to his home in Halifax, but Danny cannot leave the conflict behind. As the young couple struggles to put together a new life, they must face not only their own internal demons, but also a catastrophe that will soon rip apart everything they think they know about themselves and each other.

Sisters of the Great War book cover

Book Summary

Coming of age in Maryland in 1914, sisters Ruth and Elise Duncan are eager to escape the roles prescribed for them by society and their family. Together, the sisters decide to volunteer for the war effort in Europe. Ruth – who dreams of becoming a doctor one day – is stationed as a nurse at a hospital in Belgium. Elise – an accomplished mechanic – becomes a driver for the all-female Ambulance Corps.

Despite the terrible circumstances, the sisters cherish the independence granted to so few women of the era. But they will soon learn that their greatest challenges are still to come.

Victory Garden book cover

Book Summary

Twenty-one-year-old Emily’s parents have been keeping her close to home ever since her brother, Freddie, was killed in the war. While her parents just want to keep her safe, Emily is longing to find a purpose and a way to honor her brother. When she meets a young Australian pilot who is recuperating at a hospital near her home, she falls in love and accepts his proposal.

When he is sent back to the front lines, Emily volunteers as a “land girl,” and is assigned to tend to the grounds of a neglected Devonshire estate. It is here that she discovers the journals of a medicine woman who dedicated her life to her herbal garden. Soon, Emily learns that her fiance has died in the war and that she is with child. Inspired by the journals, Emily comes to learn the healing power of herbs, but the journals will also bring her to the brink of disaster.

Kindle Unlimited as of: 01/17/2024
Last Chrismtas in Paris book cover

Book Summary

Spanning four Christmases from 1914-1918, you’ll meet Evie, her brother Will, and his best friend Thomas. The boys are soon facing the front lines of World War 1, while Evie tries to help the effort from home. The compelling novel is told in epistolary form (through letters).

The Book Girls Say…

Melissa read this one after seeing it recommended over and over. She LOVED it as a book and was so enthralled that she read right through the time she was supposed to put up her Christmas tree.

BUT, keep in mind that it’s set in Europe during WW1, which was not a jolly time. While there are many Christmas mentions, there’s no mistaking that the book is set in wartime, which also comes with a lot of misery.

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Book Club Books for Christmas

Additional Reading About the 1910s

If you’re interested in reading more about this time period, we have a separate list of books set in the 1910s as part of our Decades Challenge. However, you don’t need to be a part of the challenge to enjoy the wide range of books on the list.

More Historical Fiction Book Recommendations

If you’re looking for historical fiction set in other eras, check out the additional book lists below.

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Angela & Melissa

The Book Girls are best friends who jointly read over 200 books per year. We started Book Girls' Guide in 2019 to help others de-stress and find joy through the power of a great book. We do in-depth research on thousands of novels and non-fiction titles each year to provide curated book lists covering a variety of genres.

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