Historical Novels: India

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Ancient, Golden Age and Pre-Colonial India
Mysteries Set in Ancient, Golden Age and Pre-Colonial India
Colonial and Post-Colonial India
Burma and Ceylon


Until recently, most historical novels set in India were written from the perspective of the British colonists of the Raj period. Violent rebellions failed to end British rule, but in 1947, peaceful protests led by Mohandas Gandhi finally won independence. Today, with many talented Indian novelists attracting readers around the world, more novels portray the Indian perspective on colonial rule, as well as earlier centuries when sultans, emperors and maharajas ruled India.

This page also includes novels set in Burma and Ceylon (now Sri Lanka).

Novels written from the perspective of British characters are listed in other pages on this site, depending on the century in which they are set.


Ancient, Golden Age and Pre-Colonial India

Click on the title for more information from Powell's Books or another online source, or if you're outside the U.S., try The Book Depository.


Omair Ahmad, The Storyteller's Tale (2010), about a storyteller in eighteenth-century India who flees Delhi when it is attacked by Afghans and, after being taken in by a woman who is a connoisseur of stories, engages in a storytelling duel with her; not readily available in the U.S.

Stephen Alter, Silk and Steel (1980), set during a period of warfare between Sikhs and Muslims before the time of the Raj.

William E. Barrett, Lady of the Lotus, about the life and spiritual quest of the prince who founded Buddhism, told from his wife's perspective.

Kunal Basu, The Miniaturist, about a gifted but unconventional artist in the sixteenth century court of the Mughal Emperor Akbar.


Widespread opiate addiction in China was a significant
contributing factor to the opium wars.



Paul Carus, Amitabha: A Story of Buddhist Theology (1906), about a Buddhist monk.

Deepak Chopra, Buddha (2007), about Siddhartha, the Indian prince who abandoned a life of luxury to become a spiritual seeker.

Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni, The Palace of Illusions, literary historical fantasy based on the ancient Indian epic, Mahabharat, from the feminist perspective of Princess Panchaali.

Jonathan Fast, Golden Fire, about two princes of the Gupta Dynasty vying for the throne in the fourth century.

Ruchir Gupta, Mistress of the Throne (2014), about Jahanara, the daughter of the Mughal King Shah Jahan, whom he appoints at age seventeen to serve as queen of India after her mother dies; #1 in a planned series.

Hermann Hesse, Siddhartha (1922), about a prince and spiritual seeker who attained enlightenment; based on traditional tales of the Buddha. Review

Thomas Hoover, The Moghul, about an eighteenth century English sea captain's mission to India to break the Portuguese monopoly on trade there.

Eileen Kernaghan, Winter on the Plain of Ghosts: A Novel of the Mohenjo-Daro (2004), about the collapse of an ancient Indus Valley civilization around 2000 B.C.; self-published. Interview with the author at Strange Horizons


Kalki Krishnamurthy, Ponniyin Selvan: The First Floods (originally published in serial form, 1950-1955, in the Tamil language), about the tenth-century Tamil king Rajaraja Chola I, who ruled from 985-1014 in what is now southern India; #1 in the Ponniyin Selvan series.

Kalki Krishnamurthy, Ponniyin Selvan: The Cyclone (originally published in serial form, 1950-1955, in the Tamil language), about the tenth-century Tamil king Rajaraja Chola I, who ruled from 985-1014 in what is now southern India; #2 in the Ponniyin Selvan series.

Kalki Krishnamurthy, Ponniyin Selvan: The Killer Sword (originally published in serial form, 1950-1955, in the Tamil language), about the tenth-century Tamil king Rajaraja Chola I, who ruled from 985-1014 in what is now southern India; #3 in the Ponniyin Selvan series.

Kalki Krishnamurthy, Ponniyin Selvan: The Crown (originally published in serial form, 1950-1955, in the Tamil language), about the tenth-century Tamil king Rajaraja Chola I, who ruled from 985-1014 in what is now southern India; #4 in the Ponniyin Selvan series.

Kalki Krishnamurthy, Ponniyin Selvan: The Pinnacle of Sacrifice (originally published in serial form, 1950-1955, in the Tamil language), about the tenth-century Tamil king Rajaraja Chola I, who ruled from 985-1014 in what is now southern India; #5 in the Ponniyin Selvan series.

Kalki Krishnamurthy, Sivagamiyin Sabadham (1944 in the Tamil language; the title means The Vow of Sivagami), about a man in seventh-century south India whose rescue of a young woman and her father from a mad elephant sets his life on a remarkable course.


Leopold Myers, The Near and the Far (1929), set in the sixteenth century empire of Akbar; #1 in the Root and the Flower trilogy.

Leopold Myers, Prince Jali (1931), set in the sixteenth century empire of Akbar; #2 in the Root and the Flower trilogy.

Leopold Myers, Rajah Amar (1934; also titled The Root and the Flower), set in the sixteenth century empire of Akbar; published in 1934; #3 in the Root and the Flower trilogy.

Leopold Myers, The Pool of Vishnu (1940), set in the sixteenth century empire of Akbar; #4 in the Root and the Flower series.


Salman Rushdie, The Enchantress of Florence, about a blonde stranger who arrives in the Mughal court of Akbar the Great with a story about a lost Mughal princess in Renaissance Florence.


Alex Rutherford, Raiders from the North (2009), about Babur, a descendant of Tamburlane, who inherits a kingdom at age twelve and leads his armies in a quest for empire while he struggles to survive plots against his rule; #1 in the Empire of the Moghul series.

Alex Rutherford, Brothers at War (2010), about Humayun, the second Moghul Emperor, and his struggles to survive his half-brothers' plots against him; #2 in the Empire of the Moghuls series.

Alex Rutherford, Ruler of the World (2011), about Akbar, the third great Moghul Emperor; #3 in the Empire of the Moghul series.

Alex Rutherford, The Tainted Throne (2011), about the decline of the Moghul Empire; #4 in the Empire of the Moghul series.

Alex Rutherford, The Serpent's Tooth (2013), about the plotting of Aurangzeb, the son of Shah Jahan, to take over his father's throne, as Shah Jahan builts the Taj Mahal as his dead wife's tomb; #5 in the Empire of the Moghul series.


Alan Savage, Moghul (1991), about a pair of Englishmen who set off in 1524 in search of the legendary kingdom of Prester John and reach India; Alan Savage is a pen name of author Christopher Nicole.

John Shors, Beneath a Marble Sky, a love story set during the building of the Taj Mahal in 1632.

John Speed, The Temple Dancer (2006), about a slave woman during the last years of the 17th century Mogul Empire.

John Speed, Tiger Claws (2007), about the last years of the 17th century Mogul Empire; sequel to The Temple Dancer.


Indu Sundaresan, The Twentieth Wife, about the future Empress Nur Jahan in the late sixteenth century; #1 in the Twentieth Wife series.

Indu Sundaresan, The Feast of Roses, about the Empress Nur Jahan in the early seventeenth century; #2 in the Twentieth Wife series.

Indu Sundaresan, Shadow Princess (2010), about struggle for power between the two daughters of the Empress Nur Jahan after her death; #3 in the Twentieth Wife series.


Gary Worthington, India Treasures: A Novel of Rajasthan and Northern India Through the Ages (titled The Mangarh Chronicle in India), a series of novellas set in various periods of Indian history from the time of the Buddha on, linked by a story set in the 1970s involving a search for treasure in a fortress; self-published.

Gary Worthington, India Fortunes, a series of novellas set in various periods of Indian history from the time when the Taj Mahal was built into the twentieth century, linked by a story set in the 1970s involving a continuing search for treasure in a fortress; self-published; sequel to India Treasures



Mysteries Set in Ancient, Golden Age and Pre-Colonial India

Click on the title for more information from Powell's Books or another online source, or if you're outside the U.S., try The Book Depository.


Madhulika Liddle, The Englishman's Cameo (2009), about a young nobleman in in Delhi, India's capital who investigates a case a murder in 1656 to help a friend who has been accused of the crime; #1 in the Muzaffar Jang mystery series.

Madhulika Liddle, The Eighth Guest and Other Muzaffar Jang Mysteries (2011), about a young nobleman in in 1656 Delhi who investigates a series of mysteries at the request of his brother-in-law; #2 in the Muzaffar Jang mystery series. Review at the Mumbai Daily News



Colonial and Post-Colonial India

Click on the title for more information from Powell's Books or another online source, or if you're outside the U.S., try The Book Depository.


Thalassa Ali, A Singular Hostage, about an Englishwoman who risks everything to rescue an Indian baby and becomes involved with his family of Muslim mystics; #1 in the Paradise trilogy.

Thalassa Ali, A Beggar at the Gate, an Englishwoman in the Punjab struggles to save the lives of those she loves; #2 in the Paradise trilogy.

Thalassa Ali, Companions of Paradise, an Englishwoman estranged from her Indian husband risks traveling to the city of Kabul to consult a Sufi mystic; #3 in the Paradise trilogy.

Shauna Singh Baldwin, What the Body Remembers, about a village girl who becomes the second wife of a wealthy Sikh twenty-five years her senior during the turbulent years before the Pakistan partition.

Kunal Basu, The Opium Clerk , about an Indian man who finds a job at a Calcutta auction house where he becomes involved in a mysterious business which turns out to be the opium trade.

Sangeeta Bhargava, The World Beyond (2011), about an Indian prince and an Englishwoman who fall in love in 1855 Lucknow just before a mutiny becomes a rebellion against colonial rule.

Pearl S. Buck, Mandala (1970), about a love affair between an Indian man and an American woman during the early years of independence.

M.J. Carter, The Strangler Vine (2014), a mystery about a junior officer in the East India Company and a recluse who investigate the disappearance of the privileged son of an executive in the 1830s; #1 in a planned series.

David Davidar, The House of Blue Mangoes, about three generations of a family who raise mangoes in a coastal village.

J.G. Farrell, The Siege of Krishnapur, about the colonial Britons besieged in the outpost of Krishnapur during the 1857 Indian Mutiny.

E.M. Forster, A Passage to India, about the tragic misunderstandings that result after a British woman visits the Malabar Caves


Amitav Ghosh, Sea of Poppies (2008), about the diverse group of passengers aboard a ship on its way from India to China as the Opium Wars are about to begin; #1 in a planned trilogy.

Amitav Ghosh, River of Smoke (2011), about an Indian opium merchant and his fellow passengers on a ship traveling from India to China; #2 in a planned trilogy.


Katharine Gordon, The Emerald Peacock, historical romance about the love between an Indian prince and a young Irish woman during the 1857 Mutiny; #1 in the Peacock series.

Katharine Gordon, Peacock in Flight, historical romance; #2 in the Peacock series.

Katharine Gordon, In the Shadow of the Peacock, historical romance; #3 in the Peacock series.

Katharine Gordon, The Peacock Ring, historical romance; #4 in the Peacock series.

Katharine Gordon, Peacock in Jeopardy, historical romance; #5 in the Peacock series.

Katharine Gordon, The Peacock Rider, historical romance; #6 in the Peacock series.

Katharine Gordon, The Peacock Fan, historical romance; #7 in the Peacock series.


Linda Holeman, In a Far Country, about the daughter of British missionaries in India who seeks out the son of her mother's ayah when tragedy strikes, but learns he is not the kind of man she thought he was.

Sudhir Kakar, The Seeker (2007), about the friendship between Mahatma Gandhi and the daughter of a British admiral who becomes his adoring disciple.

Ratan Kaul, Wings Of Freedom (2011), about a romance between an Indian college student and the daughter of a British officer in the early years of the independence movement; self-published.

M.M. Kaye, The Far Pavilions (1978), about a boy born in India of English parentage who falls in love with a half-caste Hindu princess. Review

M.M. Kaye, The Shadow of the Moon (1957, revised 1979), about an Anglo-Spanish woman born in India who returns to marry a British government official just before the Sepoy Rebellion.

Hari Kunzru, The Impressionist, about a half-English, half-Indian boy who grows up in luxury near the Taj Mahal until, at fifteen, his true parentage is discovered and he is thrown out to fend for himself.

David Leavitt, The Indian Clerk (2007), about an accounts clerk in India who is a mathematical genius and the Cambridge mathematician who receives his rambling letter in 1913 and takes him seriously; based on the true story of G.H. Hardy and Srinivasa Ramanujan.

Sarita Mandanna, Tiger Hills (2011), about a girl and a boy in late nineteenth-century India whose childhood friendship is complicated when he develops feelings for her as she falls in love with a man who hunts tigers.

Sujata Massey, The Sleeping Dictionary (2013), about a Bengali girl, the only survivor of a wave that destroys her coastal village, who creates a new life for herself in Calcutta, where she uses her gift for languages to fight for independence from the British and for a chance at happiness.


John Masters, Nightrunners of Bengal (1950), about a British officer during the Sepoy Rebellion.

John Masters, The Deceivers (1952), about a British officer who investigates a murderous thuggee cult which worships the goddess Kali.

John Masters, The Lotus and the Wind (1953), about a British officer recruited to serve as a spy in the "Great Game," the rivalry between Britain and Russia for political power along the India-Afghanistan border in the nineteenth century.

John Masters, Bhowani Junction (1954), about the identity crisis of a young Anglo-Indian woman on the eve of British withdrawal from India in 1946-1947.

John Masters, Far, Far the Mountain Peak (1957), about mountaineers in India during World War I.

John Masters, To The Coral Strand (1962), about a former British officer who remains in India after it gains its independence.

John Masters, The Ravi Lancers (1972), about a British officer and an Indian prince serving in an Indian regiment sent to fight in France during World War I.


Elisabeth McNeill, The Lady of Cawnpore (2004), about a woman who witnesses her sister's murder in the aftermath of the Cawnpore massacre and a British woman doctor who, six decades later in 1919, discovers she shares a surprising history with the old woman she meets in the slums of Cawnpore.

Alison McQueen, The Secret Children (2012), about the two daughters of an Englishman who runs a tea plantation in Assam and his Indian mistress.

Gita Mehta, Raj, about a princess who finds herself ill-prepared for the changing times as the British gain control of her country's government.

Christopher Nicole, Queen of Glory (2012), about the widowed and deposed Rani of Jhansi, Lakshmi Bai, as the Indian Mutiny begins in 1857.

Shona Patel, Teatime for the Firefly (2013), about a young woman with an inauspicious horoscope who has, against the odds, married the man she loves and moved with him to the jungles of Assam, a tea-growing area, in 1943.

Lucinda Riley, The Midnight Rose (2014), about a present-day American actress and the woman she resembles, a girl in early twentieth-century India who traveled to England in the 1920s as the companion to a princess.

Salman Rushdie, Midnight's Children, magical realism about two boys born at exactly midnight on the day the country won its independence.

Paul Scott, The Jewel in the Crown, about the events that follow the rape of a young Englishwoman during the last years of the Colonial period; #1 in the Raj Quartet.

Paul Scott, The Day of the Scorpion, about the arrest of the Indian Congress leaders and the unrest during the last years of the Colonial period; #2 in the Raj Quartet.

Paul Scott, The Towers of Silence, about the deteriorating state of British rule during the last years of the Colonial period; #3 in the Raj Quartet

Paul Scott, A Division of the Spoils, about the chaotic British departure; #4 in the Raj Quartet.

Paul Scott, Staying On, about a British couple who remain in India after it gains its independence; sequel to the Raj Quartet.

Carolyn Slaughter, A Black Englishman, about a love affair between an Englishwoman and an Indian doctor in the 1920s.

Indu Sundaresan, The Splendor of Silence, about an American army officer and an Indian woman who fall in love during World War II.

Indu Sundaresan, The Mountain of Light (2013), about the nineteenth-century maharaja Ranjit Singh, owner of the massive Mountain of Light diamond, and his son, who follows the diamond to England after England claims it as a spoil of war.

Manil Suri, The Age of Shiva (2008), about a woman's intense bond with her son amid the turmoil of partition-era India. Review from Willamette Week

Rabindranath Tagore, Gora, about an Irish child taken in by a Hindu family in Bengal and raised as an orthodox Brahmin during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

Nilita Vachani, Homespun (2008), a family saga about a couple who marry as teenagers in the early twentieth century - he committed to Gandhi, she to her wardrobe – and their descendants.

Padma Viswanathan, The Toss of a Lemon (2008), about a woman married in childhood to an astrologer who is drawn to her despite an ominous prediction, and their children.

Richard Zimler, Guardian of the Dawn (2005), about a young man in late sixteenth century Portuguese Goa who is descended from a family of Portuguese Jews, and his quest for revenge after he is betrayed to the Inquisition and tortured.



Burma and Ceylon

Click on the title for more information from Powell's Books or another online source, or if you're outside the U.S., try The Book Depository.


Randy Boyagoda, Beggar’s Feast (2014), about a boy born into poverty in Ceylon in 1899 who apprentices himself to a hustler and becomes rich, travels, and returns to Ceylon in a quest for respect.

Michelle de Kretser, The Hamilton Case, about an Anglicized native of Ceylon during the last years of British colonial rule.

Amitav Ghosh, The Glass Palace, about a Burmese servant boy who takes advantage of an opportunity to create a better life for himself during the British invasion of 1885.

Ananda Guruge, Free at Last in Paradise: A Historical Novel of Sri Lanka, about Ceylon from the mid-nineteenth century to 1948 when it became independent Sri Lanka; self-published.

Rani Manicka, The Rice Mother, a family saga about a Ceylonese woman who marries and moves to Malaya before World War II.

Rani Manicka, The Japanese Lover (2010), about a Ceylonese mail-order bride sent to marry a wealthy Malayan businessman in the years before World War II, who threatens to refuse her because she is not the woman in the photograph her father sent.

Daniel Mason, The Piano Tuner, about a piano tuner dispatched to Burma in 1886 to restore a British official's piano damaged by the steamy climate.

Bryce McBryce, Brat (2006; also titled Wee Charlie's World), a comic novel about a precocious British child in Colonial Ceylon during the last years of the Raj in the 1930s.

Edie Meidav, The Far Field: A Novel of Ceylon, about a New Yorker who goes to Ceylon in 1936 as the days of British colonialism near their end.

George Orwell, Burmese Days, a satirical novel about British imperialism set in a fictional district of Burma before World War II; based on Orwell's own experiences in Burma, so not actually historical fiction.

David Rocklin, The Luminist (2011), about an English woman in Ceylon who defies convention to work as a photographer and forms a forbidden friendship with her fifteen-year-old Tamil servant boy.

Shyam Selvadurai, Cinnamon Gardens, about life among the upper classes in Ceylon during the 1920s.

Leonard Woolf, The Village in the Jungle (1913), about a native hunter and his daughters in colonial Ceylon.


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