Friday, June 12, 2020

Historical Fantasy Faves

So, as many of you may have noticed if you follow the book world, historical fantasy — that is, fantasy set in an actual historical setting and time period rather than a completely separate world — has been growing in popularity these last several years. And I, for one, am loving it. Much like fantasy mystery, it's a fabulous blend of my favorite genre and a genre I used to be really into — plus, y'know, I really do love history in general. And the fact that it adds some variety to the fantasy booksphere is just icing on the cake. Anyway, historical and historical-adjacent fantasy (or whatever you'd call books like Ranger's Apprentice that are basically an alternate version of Earth with some name changes) has been on my mind a bit lately, and I thought I'd share some of my favorites in the genre.

Historical Fantasy Faves!

  1. The Lost Plot (and the other Invisible Library books) by Genevieve Cogman. Is anyone surprised this is the first book on the list? Hopefully not; my love for the Invisible Library books is probably old news to most everyone reading this. (Unless, of course, you're new here. In which case: this series is one of my favorite things in the world, and if you love fantasy, mystery, dragons, fae, mysteries, and magical libraries, you NEED to read it ASAP. Trust me. It's awesome.) Technically all the books in the series would qualify, but The Lost Plot is the one that feels most distinctly like historical fantasy as opposed to steampunk, as it's based in Jazz Age New York City. It's also one of my favorite books in the series, so . . . yeah. It's great.

  2. The Jackaby books by William Ritter. These also should be no surprise to anyone reading this; while I haven't talked about Jackaby in a bit, it's another one of my favorites — the series I obsessed over until it ended and the Invisible Library books released. It's set in 1892 in an ambiguous New England state (I've always assumed it's in Massachusetts, for some reason) and features a fabulous intersection of mystery and fantastical beings and ideas, and it's just a lot of fun. I need to reread it, really.

  3. The Wrath and the Dawn duology by Renee Ahdieh. Moving away from American history, we've got this exquisite tale set in ancient Persia. This one might technically be historical-adjacent rather than straight historical, but it's close enough, and I can't recall the details with enough confidence to say for sure. Anyway. It's beautiful, it's a fairy tale retelling (specifically the story of Shahrazad from the Thousand and One Nights), it's twisty, and it has an excellent balance of fantasy and history and tension and political stuff and all sorts of good things.

  4. Fawkes by Nadine Brandes. Granted, it took me forever to get around to reading this book. But once I did, it was great! It's set in 17th century England and focuses on the culmination of Guy Fawkes' Gunpowder Plot. The magic system is kind of odd and confusing, but the book as a whole is great, and there's an excellent balance of the fantastical and magical. (Also, family-based plotlines. Storms yes.)

  5. The City Beyond the Glass by Suzannah Rowntree. I actually wanted to put Death Be Not Proud here, which is a murder mystery retelling of Snow White set in Jazz Age New Zealand, but then I realized Death was straight historical, not historical fantasy. But The City Beyond the Glass is my second-favorite of Suzannah Rowntree's books; it's a Twelve Dancing Princesses retelling set in Venice, and it's beautifully dark and tense and so forth. Not my favorite-favorite Twelve Dancing Princesses retelling, but still very good and just as creepy as such a story generally ought to be. (And, to be honest, most of Rowntree's books could probably fit this list; I just haven't read as many of them as I want to yet.

I'll finish up by mentioning two runners-up that didn't quite make the list. One is Bryan Davis's latest book, Let the Ghosts Speak, a fantasy-ish murder mystery set in 1900s France. It's twisty and atmospheric and really quite excellent, but because the fantasy elements are odd, it didn't quite fit. The other is an older series: Brian Jacques's Flying Dutchman books. The fantasy element of these is more low-key and basically just shows up in the fact of Ben and Ned's existence, but they're still good books. Masterpieces of literature? No. But still good stories.

How do you feel about historical fantasy? Are there any books in this genre that you love that you'd like to recommend? Please tell me in the comments!
Thanks for reading!
-Sarah (Leilani Sunblade)


  1. I've moved The Invisible Library further up my TBR. Sounds like just the sort of book I need right now. I tried the first Jackaby book many years ago. Still not quite sure what I think of it, though.
    (I think my own list of Favourite Historical Fantasy is made up mostly of Rowntree books)

    1. It's so good, believe me. And yeah, that's fair. (Rowntree is very good! I need to read more of her books!)


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