Do you enjoy reading fantasy? What about historical fiction? If you’re a fan of both, you might enjoy one of these historical fantasies, books that have fantastic elements but which are based on historical events. Some books are set in a place almost the same as our world, and some are quite different, but all of them are pretty great!
Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clarke: English magic has died out, or so everyone thinks. Those who call themselves magicians are scholars of magic, rather than practitioners. It is a shock for everyone when a gentleman named Gilbert Norrell demonstrates undoubtable magical ability. Eventually he takes a pupil named Jonathan Strange, whose approach is as different from Mr. Norrell’s as night from day. This book tells their story, in effortless and beautiful prose.
His Majesty’s Dragon, and sequels, by Naomi Novik: Best described as Master and Commander with dragons, His Majesty’s Dragon follows the British Navy’s Captain Laurence as he unwillingly becomes a dragon captain. Full of adventure and intrigue, this is a great series!
The Curse of Chalion, and sequels, by Lois McMaster Bujold: Three in a planned five-book series, the Chalion books take place in a world roughly analogous to early Renaissance Spain. There are plenty of courtly intrigues and a few good battles, and even a little bit of romance.
Chime by Franny Billingsley: I know I’ve already said I enjoyed Chime a lot. One of the reasons for that is the fantastic setting, which takes its inspiration from the atmosphere of the English fen country in the early 1900s. That sounds kind of boring, but it’s a great way to look at a changing world, with an added sense of gloomy atmosphere and tension.
Foundling, and sequels, by D.M. Cornish: Probably geared toward younger teens, Cornish tells the story of Rossamünd, a Foundling in the Half-Continent, a world something like Baroque Europe. Cornish spent years inventing this world, and his work shows. He’s also a skilled artist whose drawings add depth and realism to the story.
The Thief, and sequels, by Megan Whalen Turner: This is one of my all-time favorite series, so I take every chance I can to mention it. But really, it’s also a great example of historical fantasy, with a meticulously-detailed world based on Byzantine Greece. With plenty of twists and surprises, plus awesome characters, this is definitely one to check out!
The Vespertine by Saundra Mitchell: A neat book by an Indianapolis author! Set in the high society of Baltimore in 1889, The Vespertine tells the story of a girl who is not what she seems to be. Mitchell nails the voice from the beginning of the book and I totally bought the romance. A nice blend of authentic detail and contemporary drama.
For younger readers:
The Wolves of Willoughby Chase, and sequels, by Joan Aiken: This book is the first in the series of the same name. In an England that never was, wolves are crossing the ice to threaten London. Meanwhile Sylvia must escape from an orphanage with the help of Simon the gooseboy. Madcap fun.
The Cabinet of Wonders, and sequels, by Marie Rutkoski: Set in 17th century Prague, The Cabinet of Wonders and its sequels tell the story of Petra Kronos, daughter of a master metal-worker whose ability to work metal with his mind lands him on the wrong side of the mad Prince of Bohemia. Petra is a fantastic, spunky character, and Rutkoski writes a chilling, thrilling story.
Kat, Incorrigible by Stephanie Burgis: Set in Regency England, this is the story of Kat Stephenson, the youngest of three sisters. While Elissa and Angeline try to be proper young ladies, Kat doesn’t care for polite society, or its decrees that magic is improper. Kat is a great character and her trials and tribulations are at times hilariously funny.