One of my favorite features of fantasy is the genre’s many subcategories: high fantasy, low fantasy, urban fantasy, magical realism, etc. Fantasy can essentially branch out into every other major literary genre too, such as historical fiction. What better way to lose yourself in a fictional world than in one filled with magic, set in a different time period or alternate history?
Historical fantasies bring together two of the strongest, most beloved genres together, therefore creating the potential to introduce readers to immense worlds, unique plotlines, and dynamic characters who’ll keep your attention fixated on the story.
This week’s list of recommendations in my series A Thousand Lives names seven historical fantasy books that will surely cause you to wish you could time travel and experience one (or hopefully all) of these fictional worlds!
1. My Lady Jane (The Lady Janies #1) by Cynthia Hand, Brodi Ashton, and Jodi Meadows
Sixteen-year-old Edward is the King of England. However, he’s dying and rather than dream about who’ll be his first kiss, he has to worry about who’ll inherit the throne.
Lady Jane Grey is Edward’s cousin. She prefers books over romance. Edward decides to marry Jane off to Gifford (aka G) to “secure the line of succession.” However, there is something quite strange about G.
G is a horse, called an Eðian (pronounced eth-y-un). Every day at dawn he turns into a horse, then changes back into a human at nightfall. Waking up with mouthfuls of hay is obviously not exactly dignified and noble.
Edward, Jane, and G soon find themselves tangled in a dangerous political conspiracy. In order to save the kingdom, the three will have to “do some conspiring of their own.”
This fast-paced, hilarious, and gripping read will leave you begging for more! Luckily, this stellar trio of authors have two other books in the “Janie” series and have just published a new title (My Contrary Mary) for an upcoming trilogy!
2. THESE VIOLENT DELIGHTS BY CHLOE GONG
This Romeo and Juliet reimagining takes place in 1926 Shanghai. And that’s just one of the twists Chloe Gong takes on this version of Shakespeare’s most famous love story.
The Scarlet Gang and the White Flowers have been feuding for years. Eighteen-year-old former flapper Juliette Cai is now the presumed heir to the Scarlet Gang, “a network of criminals far above the law.” Their struggle for power is brought on by the White Flowers and the gang’s heir Roma Montagov, Juliette’s “first love and “first betrayal.”
Soon, the Scarlet Gang and White Flower blood feud is not the only parasite plaguing the residents of Shanghai. Both sides suffer losses from a contagion, a madness that literally leaves the afflicted scratching their skin to the bone. The increasing number of deaths mean Juliette and Roma must set aside their family feuds and personal feelings to work together in hopes of saving their city and their families.
If you’re looking for a suspenseful, creepy novel with action around every corner, then These Violent Delights is the perfect option for your TBR! Even better, its sequel Our Violent Ends comes out this fall!
3. Fevre Dream by George R.R. Martin
The best-selling author of the A Song of Ice and Fire series momentarily set his incredible world of Westeros aside and ventured to 1850s Alabama to bring readers a chilling vampire novel.
Abner Marsh becomes suspicious when he receives an offer to form a partnership with a rich aristocrat. His feelings are validated when he meets the pale, fierce Joshua York. The man is unbothered by the fact that all but one of Marsh’s fleet was wiped out by the frigid 1857 winter; he also doesn’t care that “he won’t earn back his investment in a decade.” York has his own reasons for wanting to travel down the Mississippi, reasons he refuses to disclose with Marsh.
While Marsh wanted to refuse York’s offer, he was swayed by the chance for riches, a new boat, and the opportunity to change history. York’s piercing gaze didn’t make it any easier to say no either. Marsh doesn’t realize the true extent of his acceptance until the Fevre Dream sets sail and embarks on a nightmarish and sinister journey, joined with a vampire resolved to bind his race with humankind.
Martin brings new twists and takes on the classic vampire stories we all know and love with Fevre Dream. His exceptional prose and insight on humanity is reflected within the pages of this stunning novel. Not only will you feel transported back in time, you’ll also feel the excitement, terror, and suspense along with the novel’s main characters.
4. The Strange Case of the Alchemist’s Daughter by Theodora Goss
Mary Jekyll is broke, lonesome, and parentless; she often wonders about her father’s strange past. She suspects that her father’s murderer and former friend, Edward Hyde, may be close by. Mary also realizes that providing helpful information that results in his capture means the promise of an award which would fix her financial problems.
Mary’s hunt leads her to Diana Hyde, Edward’s daughter. Not long after, she’ll acquire the assistance of the famous crime-solving duo Sherlock Holmes and Dr. John Watson in her search for Edward Hyde. She’ll also befriend more women who suffered at the hands of experimentation including Beatrice Rappaccini, Catherin Moreau, and Justine Frankenstein. The nightmares from all their pasts come to the surface when they discover a hidden society of dangerous scientists, immoral and power hungry. These monsters must now rise up to the challenge to prevail over the monstrous.
If you love Gothic literature, crossovers of popular fictional works, and strong female characters then this is the story for you! If you enjoy this read, check out the other two books in the trilogy!
5. Outlander by Diana Gabaldon
It’s 1945 and Claire Beauchamp Randall, former British combat nurse, is reunited with her husband Frank in the Scottish Highlands. When she walks through a “standing stone,” she is transported to 1743 Scotland and becomes an Sassenach, an “outlander.”
Soon Claire meets a man named Jack Randall, who just happens to be her husband’s “six-times-great-grandfather.” The man turns out to be a pervert, and while trying to escape him, Claire runs into a gang of Highland Scots who, for various reasons, are also trying to elude Black Jack Randall.
To avoid being returned to Black Jack, Claire must marry one of the Scottish clansmen. While trying to find her way back 1945 and Frank, Claire ends up falling in love with her new husband Jamie Frasier. The adventure and love story continue from there over the course of eight other books, with the latest one releasing this year!
Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander series has been categorized as historical fiction, romance, fantasy, mystery, and even science fiction. No matter your literary tastes, I’m sure you’ll be captivated by at least one aspect of the Outlander books, if not more!
6. Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clarke
English magicians were once esteemed for their talents and knowledge; they even had fairies as their servants to answer to their every request. Now, it’s the dawn of the nineteenth century and they’ve lost their capabilities of performing magic; instead all they can do is write about it. The fairies have also faded from history. In Yorkshire’s Hurtfew Library, a collection of England’s lost, forgotten books exists thanks to the rich hermit-like man Mr. Norrell. After he brings a woman back to life from the dead, he soon finds himself assisting the English government against Napoleon Bonaparte.
Everything changes when another magician appears. Jonathan Strange’s handsome, charismatic, and loquacious qualities are exactly the opposite of Mr. Norrell’s. Norrell accepts Strange as his student, but the men quickly realize they hold starkly different ideas of what English magic should be. Norrell favors control, while Strange is too easily tempted by the dangers of magic. He becomes intrigued by the legendary figure the Raven King, “a child taken by fairies who became king of both England and Faerie, and the most legendary magician of all.” Strange’s heedlessness will eventually lead to the chance that he’ll lose not only his partnership with Norrell, but also everything he cherishes.
Susanna Clarke excels as a storyteller with this stunning historical fantasy. She will draw you into this alternate history and make you feel as if you are actually present with Norrell and Strange. Although the novel is very long at over 1000+ pages, you’ll constantly be kept in suspense and remain entertained by Clarke’s literary craft.
7. The Watchmaker of Filigree Street by Natasha Pulley
London. 1833. Thaniel Steepleton returns home one evening and finds a strange gold pocket watch resting on his pillow. Six months later, the watch saves his life by luring him away from a blast that desolates Scotland Yard. Thaniel decides to seek out the watch’s maker, an amiable but lonely Japanese immigrant named Keita Mori. Although Mori seems harmless, strange events soon suggest he’s hiding a few secrets. When an Oxford physicist named Grace Carrow interferes, Thaniel’s loyalty is split in two between the opposing forces.
A perfect blend of imagination and reality, historical fiction, and fantasy, The Watchmaker of Filigree Street transports readers back in time to Victorian London, a Japan suffering from war, and “beyond.” The fantastical elements of Pulley’s novel seem to transcend out of the book’s physical pages. The characters are raw, complex, and unforgettable. This book is a great option to read on both drizzly, cool evenings with a cup of tea and also in the summer sunshine under a shady tree. The book’s sequel was released last year.
Looking for more fantasy recommendations? Check out my other lists!