The 2021 HWA Crown Awards shortlists are out! We’re delighted to announce the 18 outstanding books which have gone forward for consideration for this year’s Crown Awards, with six books in each of the three categories: HWA Gold Crown, HWA Non-fiction Crown and HWA Debut Crown.
HWA Gold Crown shortlist 2021
V For Victory by Lissa Evans (Doubleday)
Set in Hampstead as the war drags to an end, but bombs still rain down. Full of rich characters and sharp wit, at times the novel is almost unbearably poignant; at others, one shouts with laughter.
Arrowood and the Thames Corpses by Mick Finlay (HQ)
Dark and gritty, Finlay’s characters prowl the streets of Victorian London in this pacy, gothic, and compelling investigation through the seedy parts of the city.
The Silver Collar by Antonia Hodgson (Hodder & Stoughton)
18th-century London and Thomas Hawkins has a price on his head. Meticulous research, crackling prose and an intricate plot handled with a deft touch.
The Unwanted Dead by Chris Lloyd (Orion)
A tense and gripping mystery which hums with menace and dark humour as well as immersing the reader in the life of occupied Paris.
Daughters of Night by Laura Shepherd-Robinson (Pan Macmillan)
A cracking tale that transports the reader back to the licentious and murky world of prostitutes, pimps and thieves of 18th-century Covent Garden. Pacy, intriguing story, full of characters you’ll love to hate and spot-on research.
The Devil and the Dark Water by Stuart Turton (Bloomsbury)
Holmes and Watson on a 17th-century Dutch East Indiaman, but Holmes is a prisoner and their opponent seems to be the devil. Superb voice, visually wonderful, with dizzying plot twists; outstanding.
“Choosing between the twelve superbly-written novels on the HWA Gold Crown longlist was almost impossible but the six books we agreed on for the shortlist are truly outstanding.” Jean Fullerton, chair of the judging panel, says.
Judges: Jean Fullerton (chair), Kate Atherton, Robin Carter, Toby Clements, Nicola Cornick, Lizzie Lane, Sara O’Keefe, Natasha Onwuemezi, Frances Owen and Elizabeth Hawksley.
HWA Non-Fiction Crown shortlist 2021
Britain at Bay by Alan Allport (Profile Books)
In this impressive revisionist history, Allport elegantly explodes many of the enduring myths perpetuated about Britain at the outset of the Second World War. An important, deftly written corrective to some overly enduring nostalgia.
The Gun, the Ship and the Pen by Linda Colley (Profile Books)
This superbly-conceived and -researched book provides a timely reassessment of the enduring connection between might and right in the creation of nations, citizens and their constitutions. Colley brings great details to her scholarly treatment, keeping the arguments vivid and the pages turning.
The Ravine by Wendy Lower (Head of Zeus)
Inspired by the discovery of an appalling photograph, Lower takes a forensic look at the Holocaust in Ukraine, on the way considering fascinating questions about the ethics of research. The combination of her original conceit and careful but compelling prose provides a powerful new route into this neglected area of Holocaust history.
The Dead are Arising by Les Payne and Tamara Payne (Viking Books)
This compelling biography of Malcolm X is an appropriately ambitious and forceful book. Delivering an outstanding portrait through lucid prose, it deserves and demands to be widely read.
A Stranger in the Shogun’s City by Amy Stanley (Chatto & Windus)
Following her discovery of a remarkable temple archive, Stanley takes her readers on a revelatory journey through 19th-century Japan. This is deeply immersive history, beautifully written and very original.
Ellis Island by Małgorzata Szejnert, translated by Sean Gasper Bye (Scribe)
An almost poetic, deeply evocative social history of the immigrants who passed through Ellis Island en route to the USA, and the officials and officialdom that met them. This timely book about immigrant experience has huge resonance and impact. A fabulous translation too.
“The books on this year’s longlist were all so wonderfully conceived, researched and written, that it was very hard selecting just six for the shortlist. Nevertheless these wonderful titles all stand out for their innovative approaches to their subjects, the richness of their source material, and the lucidity of their prose. I recommend everyone buys at least one copy of each!” Clare Mulley, the judges’ chair, says.
Judges: Clare Mulley (chair), Jessie Childs, Dan Jones, Jagjeet Lally and Luke Pepera.
HWA Debut Crown shortlist 2021
Tsarina by Ellen Alpsten (Bloomsbury)
This is an interesting take on historical fiction: the story of Catherine Alexeyevna, born poor with a lust for power and riches. It shows that shrewdness, smarts and cunning truly are the most deadly weapons at our disposal, whatever the situation.
The Strange Adventures of H by Sarah Burton (Legend Press)
A fascinating memoir describing the adventures and misfortunes of H in 17th-century London. A fabulous romp, with many locations, memorable characters and a story you will love to get lost in.
The Sin Eater by Megan Campisi (Pan Macmillan)
A wonderfully rich story of treason and treachery; of women, of power, and the strange freedom that comes from being an outcast. Dystopian historical fiction, a brilliant story built from facts.
Eight Detectives by Alex Pavesi (Penguin Michael Joseph)
A stand-out debut of a novel that is a brilliant tribute to the golden age of crime fiction. Totally fresh and engaging with an end that will leave you reeling.
The Lost Apothecary by Sarah Penner (Legend Press)
A subversive and exhilarating debut novel of secrets, vengeance and the remarkable ways women can save each other despite the barrier of time. With a storyline dripping with menace, this is one book that will leave you wanting more.
People of Abandoned Character by Clare Whitfield (Head of Zeus)
An interesting and unusual take on Jack the Ripper. With an unreliable narrator, it’s a black comedy of a murder mystery, full of menace and plenty of twists and turns. Set in Victorian London, this is an impressive debut that raises several questions about what makes a person good or bad.
“Once again the HWA Debut Crown has thrilled us with the myriad books that we have had to judge. They have included books set in Russia, 17th-century London and a Dutch colony, a mysterious Golden Age mystery novel, Jack the Ripper and 1932s Glasgow to name a few. Historical fiction continues to supply us with stories that are a joy to read,” Ayo Onatade, chair of the judging panel, says.
Judges: Ayo Onatade (chair), Dan Bassett and Susan Heads.
Imogen Robertson, chair of the HWA, says: “It is great to see historical writing still being treasured and supported in the UK by the whole writing community. We are particularly grateful to all the judges who have chosen this year’s shortlists. It’s an impossible task, and they have read with openness and generosity, then supported the books they love with passion during some fascinating discussions. All the longlists were superb, so many, many congratulations to the authors and publishers of the books which have reached the shortlists. I’m sure lovers of historical writing, fiction and nonfiction will discover new writers and stories through these lists and we’re delighted to share them.”
Good luck to all the shortlisted authors!
And thank you to our hard-working judges, who now have the hardest job yet: choosing just one book in each category to win the HWA Crown Awards in 2021.
The winners will be announced at the HWA Crown Awards celebration on 24 November, 2021.
For even more historical fiction and non-fiction, see this year’s HWA Crown Awards longlists: 36 books by new and established authors covering two milennia of history.
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