Historical fiction sounds like a stuffy literary genre—wouldn’t readers prefer to cuddle up with a Lee Child thriller starring the imposing Jack Reacher? But Hilary Mantel proved that the machinations of a cunning minister serving King Henry VIII could propel two novels to the top of the bestseller lists and spawn a Broadway show and TV miniseries. Avid readers of Mantel’s two books focusing on Thomas Cromwell, Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies, await the third installment, which may be finished this year. But there are other historical novels to savor. Three recently reviewed by Kirkus explore a forgotten 20th-century radical, a sawmill town in the Pacific Northwest, and a master metallurgist in the New World. Marlene Lee’s No Certain Home traces the colorful life of American  journalist Agnes Smedley, who aided nationalists in India, witnessed a Japanese attack on Singapore, and covered the Red Army in China. “An engaging tale about a remarkable female activist,” our reviewer writes. J.D. Howard’s Sawdust Empire examines Everett, Washington, Myra_coverat the turn of the 20th century, introducing a volatile cast that includes a wealthy mill owner and underpaid laborers. This story about the timber industry “is as impressively rich and textured as the landscape it surveys,” our critic writes. M.L. Stainer’s Joachim’s Magic,which received a Kirkus Star, follows Joachim Gans, a renowned metallurgist, and his young apprentice, Reis Courtney, who join an expedition searching for copper in Virginia. Their adventures include encountering hostile Native Americans, who capture the pair and other colonists. Can Joachim save himself and Reis? Our reviewer calls this “subtle, sensitive” novel “a vivid contribution to its literary genre.”

Myra Forsberg is an Indie editor.