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Historical Fantasy Books to Keep You Learning and Entertained

Engage your mind and your imagination with this list of historical fantasy books for both young adults and adults. Some people think that you can’t learn while reading fantasy books, but I disagree! Historical fantasy books–books that are rooted in a real, historical time and place–are a great way to learn about time periods and sometimes real events while still getting a full dose of dragons, monsters, magic, or other fantastical elements that we fantasy nerds love!

If you’re participating in our 2024 Fantasy/Sci-Fi Reading Challenge (and it’s never too late to join!), March’s theme is to read a historical fantasy book.

Young Adult Historical Fantasy Books

The Magician’s Daughter by H.G. Parry

Journey to England in 1912 where magic has all but disappeared from the world. Biddy grew up on an island off the coast of Ireland with her magician guardian. When he goes missing, Biddy ventures to the mainland of England to find him and restore magic to the world.

The Kingdom of Back by Marie Lu

This YA fantasy standalone follows the true historical characters, Wolfgang Mozart, and his sister, Nannerl as the former rises to fame and Nannerl seeks to make her own dreams come true. You can learn about both a well-known historical figure as well as his lesser-known sister all while escaping to The Kingdom of Back.

Gods of Jade and Shadow by Silvia Moreno-Garcia

Dance to music in the jazz age in Mexico while also learning about the Mayan gods in this cross between divine and historical fantasy. Casiopea, a Cinderella-type character, finds herself in the presence of the Mayan god of death who needs her help returning to his kingdom. Legends mingle beautifully with history in this story.

The City of Brass by S.A. Chakraborty

Travel further back in time to 18th century Cairo where a con woman with strange magical abilities accidentally summons a djinn warrior. This is not the Egypt you’ve heard about! Instead, this one teems with mythical beasts and magical cities.

Romanov by Nadine Brandes

What really happened to Anastasia Romanov and her family in Russia? Find out in this novel! Granted, the events in this story aren’t factual, but they are a delightfully imaginative take with plenty of magical twists. This novel is a great way to get your feet wet in historical fantasy while still holding on to the tropes we fantasy enthusiasts love.

Fawkes by Nadine Brandes

Learn about the little-known Gunpowder Plot in England that occurred in 17th century England while also enjoying stone plagues and color magic. The main character, Thomas, is made up, but his father, Guy Fawkes, is a real historical character, and besides the obvious fantastical things in the story, most of the events are true!

What the River Knows by Isabel Ibanez

On the other side of the world, in 19th century Buenos Aires, Inez Olivera inherits a fortune and a mysterious guardian when her parents die. Most of the book is set in Egypt, where Inez must unearth secrets of her parents’ deaths with ancient magic before becoming a pawn. This one has it all–a historical setting, a sprinkling of magic, secrets and mysteries, and powerful magic.

These Violent Delights by Chloe Gong

A retelling of Romeo and Juliet set in 20th century Shanghai. So not only do you get the flapper vibes unique to Asia, but you also have the thrilling gang rivalry and forbidden romance of Shakespeare’s famous play. A must-read if you long for a fantasy twist to some older stories.

Adult Historical Fantasy Books

His Majesty’s Dragon by Naomi Novik

Napoleon and those who fought him had dragons, right? Maybe not, but why not read about warriors riding the fierce creatures while fighting the historical Napoleonic Wars between France and Britain? This is the kind of history you wish they would teach at school… (Craving more dragon books? Never fear! Check out this list of dragon books that every fantasy lover should read).

The Golem and the Jinni by Helene Wecker

More jinns/jinnis! This one however, appears, oddly, in New York City in 1899. And the golem is a creature made of clay. Their interactions are, of course, unique and unforgettable as much as they and their setting is. Layered with richness like a dark chocolate cake, you’ll be lingering over this book for days after you finish perusing the last page.

The Poppy War by R.F. Kuang

Inspired by the Opium Wars and 19th Century colonialism in China, this grimdark fantasy follows Rin as she miraculously passes an extremely difficult test to enter an elite military school. This book is heavy as it touches on elements like drugs, war, and losing your humanity, so enter the pages knowing what you’re getting yourself into!

The Once and Future Witches by Alix E. Harrow

This is the Salem Witch Trials like you never learned them at school. Real witches whose only power now comes from voting. But earning a ballot is harder than you might think, even for a witch! A story of the importance and power of women and family.

Lovely War by Julie Berry

Who knew that a war could be… romantic? That’s what happens when Aphrodite–the goddess of love–is running the show! Aphrodite and other Greek gods tell the stories of two couples during WWI from their unique perspectives. I learned so much from this book! I had never known or thought about African American regiments fighting or what that experience would be like for them, as well as what musicians do during wartime.

The Monsters We Defy by Leslye Penelope

In the summer of 1925, along Washington, DC’s “Black Broadway”, a malevolent entity has begun preying on Negro residents. On a quest given by the spirits to steal a magic ring, Clara meets a supernaturally enhanced jazz player who’s also determined to grab the ring. If you want to learn more about the Harlem Renaissance with a dash of folk beliefs thrown in, this is a must-read!

Babel by R.F. Kuang

Another book by Kuang, but this one takes place in 1828 London, not an alternate Asia, though there are similarities to The Poppy War. Orphan Robin Swift enrolls in Oxford University’s prestigious Royal Institute of Translation—also known as Babel. At first Robin idolizes the school, but then he realizes that serving Babel means betraying his motherland of China. An interesting look at imperialism from inside a powerful institution that uses the magic of silver working to colonize.

The Last Heir to Blackwood Library by Hester Fox

A gothic tale of a newly inherited abbey and library during World War I in England. Mysteries and secrets abound about the library’s previous owners, and the current owner, Ivy, will need to uncover them before her own story disappears forever. A good book to read on a wet, stormy day!

The Warm Hands of Ghosts by Katherine Arden

This historical fantasy book is hot off the press, having released February 2024. During the Great War, a combat nurse searches for her brother while a British soldier finds himself trapped with a wounded enemy German soldier. Shadows of ghosts weave between the two tales, and the barrier between the dead and living isn’t as solid as one might think. A face-to-face look at the realities of war and death.

The Fox Wife by Yangsze Choo

Folklore and history mingle in this story that takes place in Northeastern China. A slow-paced, character-driven novel in which a woman searches for the man responsible for the death of her daughter and if or how fox spirits could be involved.

What historical fantasy books do you want to read, or what would you recommend that you’ve already read? Is there a historical time that interests you more than another?

This Post Has 4 Comments

  1. Such a great selection, Babel is on my shortlist for the category, so is A Restless Truth by Freya Marske, Emily Wilde’s Map of the Other Worlds by Heather Fawcett and A Master of Djinn by P Dijeli Clark

    1. Rachel Greco

      I haven’t heard of A Restless Truth or A Master of Djinn. What are those about?

  2. Emma Fox

    I love reading (and writing) historical fantasy, so this post was a fun one to read! I’ve read both ROMANOV and THE KINGDOM OF BACK, but the others are new to me. Thanks for the recommendations!

    1. Rachel Greco

      I’m glad you enjoyed reading the post! Yes, most I haven’t read, but I hope to sooner rather than later! They all look great.

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