History is the fabric from which our modern lives are spun, so it’s no surprise that many modern authors have a fascination with the events of bygone times. A historical novel can transport readers from their own time and place to somewhere completely different, yet a great writer can use the unfamiliar to illuminate truths about humanity that hold across time. In the realm of historical fantasy, history mixes with the magical and supernatural, creating some of the most memorable books you’re likely to find. If you’re interested in diving into a great historical fantasy book, here are some of our favorites!
by Rena Rossner
Sisters Liba and Laya live a peaceful, idyllic life in a village surrounded by miles of forest, insulated from the concerns and dangers of the outside world. Although there is word of trouble for other Jews that reaches their quiet community, the sisters can't fathom a reality in which such trouble would ever come to their home. However, when their parents leave to visit the girls' dying grandfather, a series of events is kicked off that threatens to upend everything the sisters think they know about their world. Liba's discovery of her family's magical secrets, a band of strangers arriving in town who entice Laya, and a litany of other dangers all come to boil in this gripping, lyrical novel. The Sisters of the Winter Wood combines fantasy, a historical setting, magic, and poetry into one brilliant package.
by Pete Hamill
New York in the 18th century was a major center of activity in the American colonies, so starting a historical novel in such a setting is immediately compelling to fans of historical fantasy. Author Pete Hamill takes this setting and expands it across time with Forever, a story of a man who arrives in the fledgling city in the year 1740, and who will remain alive indefinitely so long as he does not leave the island of Manhattan. The story of Cormac O'Connor, the conditionally immortal New Yorker, runs parallel to the growth and strife of the city itself, as he watches New York grow from a small settlement into one of the largest cities in the world. Here, Hamill spins a yarn of New York's fraught relationships with race, class, and violence, yet never abandons the hopeful ideals on which the city still thrives.
by Dan Simmons
After the Battle at Little Bighorn, as General Custer lies dying, his ghost enters the body of a young Sioux warrior named Paha Sapa. Black Hills is among the most affecting and pulse-pounding works by Dan Simmons, marrying western, thriller, and historical fantasy into one dazzling tome. Through Paha Sapa, Simmons depicts various chapters from the young warrior's life, as well as visions from General Custer and Sioux chief Crazy Horse. These visions of the past and future culminate in a nail-biting plot involving dynamite and the dedication of Thomas Jefferson's face on Mount Rushmore. Black Hills is nothing short of an explosive historical novel.
by K. J. Parker
After four decades of warfare and hardship, the neighboring kingdoms of Scheria and Permia have come to a tenuous truce that might finally bring some order of peace to their land. As negotiations progress, the kingdoms agree to resolve their differences through a different kind of competition: fencing. A team of skilled Scherian fencers are assembled to participate in the games in Permia, but tensions for the preceding forty years of war have not completely dissipated. The team of unlikely companions must navigate the perils of their task, knowing the fate of the two kingdoms rests on the tips of their blades. In Sharps, K.J. Parker creates an imagined world rich with its own history. This is a fantasy book with a unique premise, likeable cast of characters, and detailed world.
by Jo Graham
Black Ships, the first installment in Jo Graham's Numinous Worlds series of historical fantasy books, begins in the midst of one of the most seminal events in Greek mythology: the fall of the city of Troy during the Trojan War. In the novel, Graham perfectly captures the feeling of chaos that would accompany the fall of the empire's largest city, and uses this as the backdrop for hero Gull's journey. Gull is an oracle, descended from Trojan slaves and chosen at a young age to commune with the dead on behalf of nobility. However, when an exiled Trojan prince arrives, Gull decides to join the last of her people on their exodus from the warzone. This is the beginning of a grand adventure that spans the many locales of early human history, from Greece to Ancient Egypt.
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D.R. Baker is a writer and musician based in New York City. Their work has appeared at Book Riot, Submittable, HowlRound, and others.