Magical realism seamlessly blends together the fantastic with real life. It allows us as readers to dive into a world that is realistic but filled with magic and can often be used to portray deeper meanings of life and culture. Piranesi by Susanna Clark is a novel that invites readers into a world filled with wondrous details and characters who don’t question their reality.
Published in 2020, Piranesi is Susanna Clark’s second novel. Her debut novel, titled Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norell was published in 2004. Piranesi follows the character Piranesi, who lives in the House. This House is composed of a multitude of halls and statues, each completely different and unique. The upper level of the House is filled with clouds, while the lower level consists of the ocean.
Piranesi is a solitary character, who meets with his friend, the Other, twice a week. The pair seek to find the Great and Secret Knowledge. However, upon learning there is the presence of someone else in the house, Piranesi begins to learn perhaps in this peaceful life, nothing was quite as it seemed.
This book takes readers on a journey of mystery and magic. When taking a look at the premise of Piranesi, it can be compared to the well-known fable of the minotaur trapped in the maze. Many magical realism novels allude to fables and other stories while formulating their own unique plot. Curious to learn about more magical realism books like Piranesi? Here are some of the best ones!
Ariadne– Jennifer Saint
This book is a Greek myth retelling that captures the story of Ariadne, Princess of Crete. She is a princess who lives in the luxury and care of her position, but beneath the golden palace she resides in is her brother, the Minotaur.
The Minotaur takes blood sacrifice and it seems this atrocity and more occur under the reign of their father, King Minos. When Theseus, Prince of Athens, comes to slay the Minotaur, it seems Ariadne may have the chance to go against her duty and loyalty to the throne in favor of choosing her own destiny. This story will be magical for all lovers of Greek mythology.
The House in the Cerulean Sea– T.J. Klune
Linus Baker is a solitary man who works as a caseworker at the Department in Charge of Magical Youth. Linus spends his time overseeing the well-being of children placed in government sanctioned orphanages.
One day, Linus is given the assignment to travel to an orphanage where there are six dangerous children, including a gnome, a sprite, and the Antichrist. Not only is Linus in charge of the children and deciding whether they mean no harm, but he also becomes involved in a mystery with their caretaker. This is a story of magic, secrets, and the meaning of family.
Earthlings– Sayaka Murata
This novel portrays the story of Natsuki. Since childhood, Natuski’s best friend has been a plush toy hedgehog named Piyyut. He tells her as a child that he comes from a different planet on a quest to help her save the Earth. Later while on vacation, Natsuki decides she is an alien, which is why she can never seem to fit in.
Natsuki grows up, and we follow her as she deals with her dark childhood, and being an outsider in society. Earthlings has been hailed as one of Sayaka Murata’s most impactful works, besides her other bestselling novel, Convenience Store Woman.
Project Hail Mary– Andy Weir
Ryland Grace is the only survivor of a last-chance mission. Readers join Ryland as he is on a tiny ship traveling through space, with his memory completely wiped. He doesn’t even remember his own name, and his crewmates are all dead.
While hurtling through space, Ryland is left to decipher his memories and solve a mystery that could make the difference between survival and human extinction. This story is filled with thrills, mystery, and speculation, blurring the lines between what is real and what isn’t.
The Golem and the Jinni– Helene Wecker
Blending the fantastic with historical fiction, this novel tells the story of Chava, who is a golem. A golem is a creature made of clay by a disgraced rabbi, who is extremely knowledgeable in the ways of dark magic. She travels to America with her husband, but he dies at sea. When the ship arrives in New York, a rabbi recognizes her kind and takes her in.
Chava then meets Ahmad, who is a jinni. A jinni is a being of fire who is centuries old and trapped in a copper flask. Ahmad exists in human form but he is bound to the wizard who entraps him. Chava and Ahmad meet by chance and start as friends, their friendship evolving into something more captivating. We follow their relationship as it’s challenged, with unimaginable creatures and events unfolding within their story.
The Starless Sea– Erin Morgensten
In this novel, we are introduced to Zachary, a graduate student in Vermont. Zachary’s story kicks off when he discovers a mysterious book filled with fascinating stories of prisoners, key collectors, and other strange figures. In this book, Zachary reads a story about his own childhood.
This ushers him into a magical realm filled with secret clubs, ancient libraries, lost cities, and guardians who sacrifice everything to keep the realm hidden. Along with two new companions, Zachary must solve the mystery of the book, and himself, before it is too late and the realm is destroyed. This is a captivating book many fantasy lovers will enjoy.
The Labyrinth Gate– Kate Elliot
Newlyweds Sanjay and Chryse find themselves in a magical alternate reality after dropping a deck of tarot cards. Desperate to get home, the couple discovers they have to find a treasure tucked away in the labyrinth city known as Pariam.
However, the couple aren’t the only ones after this treasure. In fact, there is one dangerous regent on the hunt for this treasure in order to overthrow the throne. This novel is a great read for the magic, battle scenes, and other fantastic elements.
Ghost Wall– Sarah Moss
In this novel we meet Silvie, a young girl living with her family in the north of England. Silvie and her family live farther away from cities, and their way of life is very old-fashioned, as they use tools and knowledge from the Iron Age to get by. Silvie and her family take an anthropology course that uproots them from their home and into the forests, where they are truly left to fend for themselves away from modernity.
The group decides to build ghost walls in homage to the walls built by ancient Britons to ward off invaders. This decision creates a spiritual connection to the past, and this group finds themselves thrown into a dark and mythic quest with unknown dangers to come. This novel joins reality and the past with magical thread.
The Ten Thousand Doors of January– Alix E. Harrow
Taking place in the early 1900s, this novel tells the story of January Scaller. She’s a ward of Mr. Locke and kept in an enormous mansion filled with treasures and artifacts. One day, January stumbled upon a strange book that is filled with tales of secret doors, adventure, and danger.
As January continues to read this book, she finds a story that includes herself as a character. This book is hailed by many readers as imaginable and filled with magic, engrossing readers with new worlds and realms.
The Changeling– Joy Williams
In this story we meet Pearl, who has escaped from an abusive husband with her son in tow. However, soon Pearl is back on the island where her husband and his family live. The joy of freedom is swiftly broken, and we explore Pearl’s consciousness as well as exploring childhood and motherhood in a magical and sinister light.
This novel has touches of magical realism and folkloric revival that makes it an original and intriguing work for all readers interested in a bit of darker magic elements.
The Invisible Library– Genevieve Cogman
Irene works for the Library, an organization that stores important works of fiction from different realities. She and her assistant are sent to an alternate London to fetch a book. Unfortunately, the book has been stolen. Irene and her assistant must now explore the setting to find this book, a London where magic and supernatural rule.
This story provides readers with magic, mystery, and danger while exploring sinister societies and unpredictable creatures.
The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender- Leslye Walton
Ava Lavender is a normal girl for the most part, except for the fact she was born with the wings of a bird. She goes on a journey to understand how she came to be this way and learn her place in a society that may find her odd. This journey is riddled with strangers who might have more sinister plans for the young girl.
This novel is perfect for readers who are looking for a modern fairy-tale-esque novel with magical prose.
Circe– Madeline Miller
Circe is the daughter of helios, god of the sun. Circe is a strange child that finds comfort in the world of mortals, but she soon discovers she has the power of witchcraft. The powerful Zeus banishes Circe to a deserted island, where she sharpens her powers and deals with beasts and other famous mythological figures, such as the Minotaur, Icarus, Odysseus, and more.
This novel is acclaimed for its powerful female heroine and epic retelling of a classic myth.
Nights at the Circus– Angela Carter
Sophy Fevvers is the star of Colonel Kearney’s circus due to her extraordinary aerialist skills. She is part woman, part swan. Jack Walser is an American journalist who sets out to discover whether the woman is really what she says she is, or if she is a scam artist.
This novel will take readers through a tour of diverse cities, as well as allow them magical visions that blur the edges of reality.
The Snow Child– Eowyn Ivey
Jack and Mabel are a childless couple whose marriage is on the rocks while residing in Alaska. The year is 1920. During the season’s first snowfall, the couple built a child out of snow. The next morning, the child made of snow is gone, but a young, blonde-haired girl who calls herself Faina is running through the trees. Jack and Mabel begin to deeply care for the girl, but the true nature and origins of the girl may change the trajectory of their lives instantly.
Part fairy-tale, this novel is filled with fantastic details that will stick with readers after the last page is turned.
Life After Life– Kate Atkinson
In this novel we follow Ursula Todd, who is born on a cold and snowy night in 1910. Before she can draw her first breath, the girl dies. And then she is born again hours later. Ursula has an infinite amount of lives, but while she is reborn and dying, the world marches on. Is Ursula meant to save the world with her gift? And will she?
This novel is known for its dark comedy and captivating prose filled with strange magical occurrences and a protagonist to root for.
Neverwhere– Neil Gaiman
Richard Mayhew is a young businessman living in London who commits an act of kindness that leads him to end up in a different world. This land, Neverwhere, is an alternate London, one with strange creatures, angels, murderers, and more. Now, Richard must help the young girl who led him here on a dangerous adventure if he hopes to go back to what he knows.
This novel is acclaimed author Neil Gaiman’s first novel. It introduces readers to a familiar world that is still filled with strange beings and magic.
The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue– V. E. Schwab
In France in the year 1714, a young woman agrees to a Faustian bargain for immortality. What she doesn’t know is that she is now cursed to be forgotten by everyone she meets. Addie LaRue is catapulted into a magical journey filled with history and art in the span of 300 years, until one fateful day when she comes across a young man in a bookstore who actually remembers her name.
Filled with elements of the fantastic and a touch of history, this book will dazzle all readers who enjoy fantasy and magical realism.
The Midnight Library– Matt Haig
What if there existed a library that held every possible path your life could take? Nora Seed travels through the Midnight Library and finds herself bombarded with all the realities that could exist in her life, and she is left to decide just what exactly a fulfilling life means to her.
This novel invites readers to think about what makes a life well lived in a unique and imaginative setting.
The Book Eaters– Sunyi Dean
Devon is born into a secret line of people who eat books to retain all of the content inside them. Women are fed fairy tales and cautionary stories, while men are fed tales of adventure and bravery. However, the status quo is interrupted with the birth of Devon’s son, who is born with a different hunger than the book eaters are used to.
This book has been celebrated by many authors of the genre for its whimsy and imaginative details.
Magical realism books allow readers into a familiar world that is still filled with fantastic and imaginative elements. If you enjoyed Piranesi by Susanna Clarke, then the novels above should satisfy your need for a real-world setting teeming with magic and other supernatural elements.
Magical Realism Q&A
What is magical realism?
Magical realism is a Latin-American based style of book that is characterized by the inclusion of magical or fantastic elements in a real world setting.
What are the 4 elements of magical realism?
In magical realism, you can expect authors to mix things up, such as the mundane with fantasy, the ordinary with the extraordinary, dream life with waking life, and even joining reality with unreality.
What are characteristics of magical realism?
While reading a work of magical realism, you may often find these details: social or cultural critique, unique plot structure, fantastic or magic that is never questioned, and a realistic setting.
What inspired magical realism?
Magical realism is said to have originated from Latin American authors who traveled from their home countries to European hubs. They would be inspired by the Surrealist movement that took place in the 1920s.
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