14 Historical Fantasy Reads To Get Sucked Into

When it comes to some of my favorite subgenres in fiction, there’s nothing quite like combining two different established styles into the same literary mixing bowl and seeing what comes out of it.

You get some very niche, but unforgettable combinations out of this process. Gothic romance. Sci-fi western. Horror mystery. The list goes on.

14 Historical Fantasy Reads To Get Sucked Into

However, for our money, none of them synchronize in quite the same way as historical fiction and the fantasy genre do.

Something about the rose-tinted lens of history seems to blend well with the otherworldly magic in fantasy tales.

Well, if you’re like us and have a hankering for this hot blend of genres, then you’re in look!

In this book list, you’ll find a phenomenal collection of fantastical tales and settings from across the world and time to satiate your appetite for history, while enjoying your fantasy stories!

What Is Historical Fantasy?

Before we dive into the books in this list, we want to first establish what exactly I mean when I say a book is a ‘historical fantasy’.

And, perhaps more specifically, what it is not.

In the same way that a historical fiction book is a story that is distinctly not the present day, historical fantasy is a work of fiction that is set in a real historical period, only including ‘fantasy elements’.

This can take a lot of different forms, including magic in a medieval Europe country, or the appearance of magical creatures or folklore/mythological characters in a real-world historical setting.

Phoenixes in Ancient Greece, King Arthur in Medieval Scotland, and Dragons in Renaissance Italy.

You know, classic fantasy items, in a place you’d find in a history textbook.

The fact that history is often already a world that feels different from our own is probably one of the reasons that they seem to blend so seamlessly.

What Historical Fantasy Is Not

So, by this logic, does this mean that books like The Chronicles of Narnia are historical fantasy books?

Well, this is where what I mean by ‘historical’ comes into play.

Although many of these classic books might be set in a time that we would now consider historical, many of them were written as contemporary works.

C. S. Lewis wrote The Chronicles of Narnia during the 1940s and 1950s, for example, whereas the Harry Potter series, at least initially, was written around the 1990s.

Contemporary for the time, but is slowly fading into the

It’s for this reason that historical fiction is almost always deliberately set several decades before the time of writing.

This used to mean that most historical fantasy fiction was set pre-20th century (a trend that continues today).

However, as you’ll see in this list, even the early 20th century is finding its way into the pages of historical fiction now.

In short, it’s a combination of the colliding of worlds that you’d find in Urban fantasy, with the added layer of separation that you’d get in historical fiction.

So, with that explanation out of the way, we can get to the part that you’ve clicked here for Your reading suggestions!

The Bear & The Nightingale, By Katherine Arden

The Bear and the Nightingale: A Novel (Winternight Trilogy)

Starting this list with a period that might be familiar, but a location that feels as fresh as it does biting cold, we have The Bear & The Nightingale, by Katherine Arden.

Our main character of this tale, Vasya, loves to hear tales of the forest spirits, good and bad, that live in the frozen wilderness that is their home.

Especially the spirits that protect the lands from dark forces that threaten to bring the frozen, unforgiving cold world into the

However, her new stepmother has forbidden telling tales and practices of these old ‘pagan’ practices.

And as a result, those dark creatures that were once kept at bay, no longer held back by these old magical traditions, are about to tear their way into Vasya’s life.

With both ancient folklore-inspired traditions and mysterious forest spirits, coupled with some classic fairy tale staples, such as evil forest creatures and stepmother figures, there’s an undeniable fairy tale feel to this story, that is grounded in the biting cold of the medieval frozen Russian north.

The Bear & The Nightingale is the first in a trilogy of books that have been dubbed ‘The Winternight Trilogy’.

So if you’re looking for a new series to work your way through in this subgenre, this book and its sequels are a great place to start!


  • The folklore/fairy tale vibe makes for a dark, gripping opening book.


  • This might be the first in a trilogy, but the many loose ends feel a little confusing on a first-time read.

Anticipation, By Melodie Winawer

Anticipation: A Novel

If the cold north of the previous historical fantasy is a little much for you.

Perhaps you’d like to scoot over to the warm coasts of Mediterranean Greece, where nothing unexpected or magical ever happens.

No sir. Nothing magical or unexpected in the slightest.

… Okay, maybe a little magic. As a treat.

Helen, a recently widowed and currently overworked scientist, has been trying to find something, anything, to help her escape both the stresses of her professional life and the pain of her personal life.

So, the suggestion of her son, Alexander, to go to Greece, is more than tempting enough to get them both on a plane over to the Mediterranean.

However, as they find themselves exploring the old city of Mystras, they find a tour guide, Elias, that seems to be hiding more than a few secrets.

As an ancient blood feud that Elias has been running from for centuries (yes, you heard that right) threatens to finally catch up to him, both Helen and Alexander are put in terrible danger.

Anticipation has all the things that you could want from both your historical fiction and your fantastical world.

From magical curses and oaths to blossoming romances, to just the lightest sprinkling of angst from tragedies of the past, this story is a perfect blend of


  • The modern scientific lens of the character’s problems helps set this apart from other fantastical works.


  • Is it really historical fantasy fiction if it’s set in the modern day? We’ll let you be the judge of that.

She Who Became The Sun, By Shelley Parker-Chan

She Who Became the Sun (The Radiant Emperor Duology, 1)

When it comes to historical fantasy and fiction, they have traditionally been a genre that has taken place in and around European settings.

However, in the last few years, the global explosion in popularity of Chinese history, culture, and literature has proven to be a great source of inspiration for both fantasy and historical fiction.

And, in my opinion, at least, She Who Became The Sun might be one of my favorites to come out in recent years!

It’s 1345, and the Mongol invasions have left much of China under the thumb of successive Mongol rulers.

With famines and widespread political instability seemingly seeping into every corner of the land, the news of a son fated to do great things might seem like a sign of change in the wind.

And it is. But not in a way that the family, or the forgotten second daughter, could have ever anticipated.

What follows is a story of great tragedy, loss, and political intrigue, as our heroine does what she can to survive in this new world, including secluding herself in a monastery under her brother’s name.

And, eventually, that survival will turn into a great rebellion across all of China.

Considering that this story takes place in the years leading up to the powerful Ming Dynasty, you have to wonder just how far this rebellion will go.

Sounds like pretty spicy storytelling, right?

If you’re as hooked as I was by this synopsis, then you’ll want to check out this first novel in this epic duology!


  • A phenomenal retelling of a seminal point in Chinese history, mixed with an extra sprinkling of fantastical prophecy and characters.


  • The last section of the book does drag a little.

A Criminal Magic, By Lee Kelly

A Criminal Magic

Remember how we said that historical fantasy has been creeping little by little into the 20th century? Well, this book is a prime example of that shift!

In this world, magic is treated in the same way that beers and liqueurs are, and has been the target of many legislators in early 20th century America.

Until, in 1926, magic was finally outlawed under the 18th amendment.

However, this only drives the practice and use of magic underground, as magic havens are set up for everyday folks to enjoy the mind-bending effects of magic, in the form of ‘sorcerer shine’ mixes.

It’s this new world where our two protagonists, Joan and Alex, find their magical talents as young sorcerers thrown into the criminal underworld, where they find their loyalties and beliefs tested.

Mixing magic and mobsters like a bottle of the strongest moonshine, this book is a must-read for folks who like the combination of 20th-century urban fantasy with their prohibition mobster crime novels (for more fantasy crime, check out our guide to John Connolly).


  • A fun, interesting take on the 20s gangster genre, with a little extra fantasy thrown in.


  • The world building is fun but does leave something to be desired by some. After all, why stop with just drinks for magical effects and mobsters?

Ring Shout, By P. Djèlí Clark

Ring Shout

We’re not leaving the 20th century just yet with our historical fantasy. Because we have another tale that is sure to grip your attention.

Especially if you are into a fantasy story that mixes a little sci-fi and even horror into the mix.

It’s an alternate 1922, once again set around the time of prohibition, and, as will become increasingly clear as you read the story, the revival of the Klu Klux Klan, following the nationwide release of Birth of A Nation in 1915.

In this world, the movie is a product of dark occult magic and has unleashed a wave of demonic evil with it, as more and more people.

Fortunately, there are hunters, like Maryse Boudreaux, Sadie, and Cordie, to help stop this tide of sinister evil that has sprung.

It certainly brings a whole new meaning to the whole ‘wizard’ aspect of the KKK.

The potent historical and political context of this novella might not be to everyone’s tastes.

But if you love your fantastical horrors to be a blend of both the occult and demonic, as well as the much more human horror that has been inflicted by fellow people, then this is a modern historical fantasy story that you won’t be able to put down.


  • A great mix of alternate history mixed with fantastical demon-hunting characters!


  • The subject matter and content are not for everyone.

The Poppy War, By R. F. Kuang

The Poppy War: A Novel (The Poppy War, 1)

Well, those last few historical fantasies might have been hitting a little too close to home for some.

So, let’s cleanse our palette of periods of historical and cultural tension and conflict with… another period of historical and cultural conflict.

Look, it’s a trait that comes with the territory when it comes to historical fantasy.

Pleasant times don’t exactly make for tense, gripping grimdark stories, do they?

And the historical context is necessary to understand why the world of this next book is so dark.

In any case, The Poppy War is a phenomenally written work by R. F. Kuang that is based on what would become one of the bloodiest and most brutal theaters of war in the late 1930s and 40s, the Second Sino-Japanese War.

Our protagonist, Rin, is an orphan from the South who managed to ace one of the hardest tests in the empire, the Keju.

It has helped free her from a life where her decisions were not her own, as well as the fear and pain that often comes with being an impoverished orphan.

However, not only does her new academy discriminate against her for her past, but secrets of her history are revealed to her as the empire’s neighboring country declares war on the Nikara empire

This is a grimdark narrative that takes place amid a violent and chaotic war, so a content warning is probably warranted for those that want to avoid a more brutal and bloody story

However, Kuang has demonstrated incredible tact when writing in this setting, and one that any fan of both historical fiction and grimdark magic can appreciate.


  • The combination of both fantastical world-building mixed with historical events and context is gripping.


  • The grimdark setting may be a little too much for some people. This is not a feel-good book.

Map Of Time, By Felix J. Palma

The Map of Time: A Novel (The Map of Time Trilogy)

Okay, NOW we can break away from the all-too-recent settings of the early 20th century, to instead take a look at a Victorian-era fantasy story that blends early science fiction, and historical thrillers into one story for you to enjoy!

Following three distinct subplots, the stories of this fantastical setting collide into a book that blends many historical periods together under the watchful and scrutinizing eye of H. G. Wells.

Yes, THAT H. G. Wells!

It’s got everything that you could love about historical and urban fantasy stories.

From both literary and historical characters to a gripping mystery centered in the heart of Victorian London, there’s plenty to enjoy about this book.

Oh, did I forget to mention that THE H. G. Wells was the main detective in this story?

Because he is! It’s a weird point to hammer home, I know, but it is a writing decision that we love on author Felix J. Palma’s part.

Weirdly, it’s a perfect fit for a historical author who so much liked to play with the idea of what could be in and beyond our world.


  • A great mix of different time periods and historical characters make this a tough book to put down!


  • While a fun read, it feels a little like some characters or plot points are more references than necessary additions. Fun, but nothing compelling.

The Philosopher’s Flight, By Tom Miller

The Philosopher's Flight: A Novel (The Philosophers Series)

Okay, we’re moving back into the 20th century again for our next piece of historical fantasy, to a time that has gone down in history, both famously and infamously, as one of the most brutal of the 20th century, the Great War.

Robert Weekes, an 18-year-old aspiring flying medic, is a student of empirical philosophy, a field of both science and the arcane that allows people to move the wind, heal the injured or sick, and even fly.

It is also a field that is almost exclusively dominated by women.

Meaning that Robert is going to need to prove himself in both knowledge and spirit if he’s going to make it in this profession, and he wants to someday be a member of the US Sigil Corps’ Rescue and Evacuation department.

As he continues his tumultuous way through Radcliffe’s all women’s college, he starts to fall for a fellow student and political radical Danielle Hardin, a veteran of the Great War.

However, as a plot by anti-philosophical groups unfolds, both Robert, Danielle, and their motley band of unlikely heroes must rise to the occasion to defend their discipline and profession from those that would destroy it.

If the historical period, the touch of YA romance, as well as a novel switching of conventional gender roles, doesn’t interest you, we don’t know what will!


  • A phenomenal YA novel that has plenty of great character interactions and subplots going for it.


  • People looking for historical fantasy set in the great war might not be looking for this particular vibe.

Dread Nation, By Justina Ireland

Dread Nation

Zombies have been everywhere for the last few years, and it doesn’t look like they’re going anywhere from our media anytime soon.

Rather appropriately, nothing seems to phase or get rid of them!

So, if we’re going to be watching and reading about zombies for a little while longer, it might as well be in an interesting and novel way.

Enter: Dread Nation, a historical fantasy book that combines the living dead with the American Civil War period.

Our protagonist, Jane, is training to become an attendant.

Sounds rather boring, until you learn that attendants in this world are tasked with both killing zombies and protecting the societal elite.

It’s not a gig that Jane is all that interested in, it seems. Until several families seem to go missing, in mysterious and unsettling ways.

At this point, Jane starts to wonder if killing undead monsters was the most difficult thing that she’d be forced to face in this story.

There’s plenty to love here, from the novel placement of the undead in Civil War America, how characters have responded to such monstrous creatures, to the deep conspiracy with plenty of twists and turns for you to enjoy!


  • An interesting and fantastical alternate history story, and a slow-burn mystery too.


  • Do zombies really need to be in everything these days?

Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell, By Susanna Clarke

Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell

We’re jumping around the 19th and 20th centuries with this list, aren’t we?

It’s the early 19th century in this book, around the time of the Napoleonic war in Europe.

Britain is trying to find an edge against Napoleon’s empire.

Magic has long since been thought to have left Britain and the rest of the world and is thought forever lost.

That is, until Mr. Norrell, a reclusive scholar, and collector of magical tomes, reveals himself and his vast arcane knowledge, and manages to turn the tide, becoming an instant celebrity at the same time.

Meanwhile, a young sorcerer, the other titular Jonathan Strange, finds tutelage under Mr. Norrell. However, this young, curious boy is drawn to the more powerful and unpredictable magic.

As the relationship between these two powerful mages changes and twists from a student/mentor partnership, into one of an increasingly bitter rivalry, the reader (you and me) are left wondering what, if anything, can be salvaged from this situation, and how it can help win the war against France.

As well as leaving us with plenty of questions. Most importantly, perhaps, is: Who is the Raven King, exactly?


  • The setting of the Napoleonic war is familiar but also refreshing in this subgenre.


  • The main threat doesn’t feel too present throughout the book.

Gods Of Jade & Shadow, By Silvia Mareno-García

Gods of Jade and Shadow

For my next book recommendation, we’re taking a trip that we feel goes underappreciated when it comes to historical and urban fantasy.

Mexico has a rich history of literature and… well, history, to draw on for books in this subgenre.

And one of my favorites is Gods of Jade & Shadow, a tale of both heritage, the potentially steep cost of both success and failure, and even Death.

Yes, you read that right. Not ‘death’ like the act, but ‘Death’. Or, at least, the old Mayan god of death.

It’s the 1920s, the revolutionary period is over, and the jazz age is well underway across the world, especially in 1920s Mexico and UuKumil, in the Yucatán Peninsula.

However, our protagonist, Casiopea Tun, cannot enjoy this, as the death of her father and moving in with her wealthy grandfather have relegated her to being a servant of her wealthier side of the family.

However, her luck seems to change when she accidentally releases Hun-Kamé, the Mayan god of death, who tasks her with joining him on his quest to dethrone his brother.

If she lives, her wildest dreams can be fulfilled. If she fails, the punishment is death.

So, whether good or bad, Casiopea’s life is certainly about to change in a big way!


  • A vibrant world and backdrop for a phenomenal coming-of-age story.


  • Emphasis for writing is arguably more on world building and setting than character work. Still, it was very enjoyable.

Circe, By Madeline Miller


I’m kind of in two minds about this next entry on the list.

On the one hand, it’s a retelling of a classic Greek myth that frames it in a quasi-historical setting, thanks to its real-world locations and histories.

After all, nothing says historical as much as Ancient Greek does for many people!

On the other hand, it’s sort of so far detached, that this almost feels like high fantasy more than anything else.

In the end, I decided, who gives a damn? It’s a great book, with historical characters, so it belongs on this list!

A child of the house of Helios, Circe is a titan, though unlike any other in her house. She doesn’t have the power of her father or the alluring beauty of her mother.

This strange combination causes her to find more comfort in the mortal world than it does with her gods and titans.

However, as her abilities begin to manifest as a means of using witchcraft, her power begins to pose a threat to even the gods of Olympia themselves.

Anyone who has read the Odyssey or even heard of the tale of Odysseus’ crew being turned into pigs will likely have heard of Circe’s work, if not the goddess herself.

But this historical and literary figure is given room to breathe and grow in this intriguing retelling of her story.

There’s the kernel of historical context that we were looking for with this one! It was secretly a Trojan war setting all along!


  • A great reframing of an often overlooked figure in Greek mythology.


  • Greek mythology is an often well-worn topic. Still a phenomenal book, but readers looking for something fresh should look elsewhere.

Shallow Waters, By Anita Kopacz

Shallow Waters: A Novel

As the last entry here showed us, there’s a tendency to view deities, both long gone and still followed, in a sort of far-flung historical context.

Their story is older than history itself, so it only feels natural to put them in a time period that feels just as long ago.

However, in the right hands, a good author can play around with this idea, transplanting the key details of their story into a new context or setting, and making something that truly stands out.

It’s an act that author Anita Kopacz has shown herself to be amazing at, especially in her debut novel Shallow Waters, which follows the tale of an Orïsha named Yemaya, a spirit of nature that is worshiped in the Yoruba people and religion.

This version of the tale is cast into the context of the mid-19th century, taking place on both the African Continent, and in the New World, as Yemaya tries to find Obatala, the man who gave up his freedom for hers, who was taken from his home on the African West coast, and into the New World.

On her journey, Yemaya will be forced to contend with the greatest evils of the age, both mortal and spiritual, as she meets countless figures, both literary and historical, on her journey that will see her realize her full potential.

It’s not an easy journey, for sure. But it is one where many lessons are learned, and certainly makes for a gripping story!


  • A phenomenal fusion of classic Yoruba mythology in a modern historical setting.


  • The initial setting may be a little unfamiliar to some readers.

The Keeper Of Night, By Kylie Lee Baker

The Keeper of Night (The Keeper of Night duology, 1)

The last entry also showed us another aspect that I love about the historical fantasy genre: The possibility of traveling around it.

That sounds obvious when it’s said out loud, but that means that even isolated corners of the world aren’t ever too far away from another corner of history, in ways we do not expect.

For example, the fact that the late 19th century saw not just Victorian Britain, but also the last days of the Wild West, and (if you’re willing to stretch the numbers a little) the last generation of samurai all technically existed within the same 30-year period is kind of mind-blowing, when laid out in front of you!

It’s a fact that Author Kylie Lee Baker uses to full effect in her novel The Keeper of Night, where our protagonist, Ren Scarborough, finds that she is at a crossroads in her life.

Part reaper, part Japanese Shinigami, she has lived in England for centuries but finds that her inability to control her Shinigami abilities puts her at odds with her fellow British reapers.

When she fails to control her Shinigami powers, she flees from Victorian Britain to go to the Japanese underworld.

Where to earn her place, she must fight 3 dangerous yokai demons to be accepted into the court of the Goddess of Death.

Equal parts a globe-trotting adventure as it is a dark historical fantasy, this final book will be a difficult one to put down!


  • The globe-trotting scale of the world is on full display.


  • The world-spanning scope is a double-edged sword. You may not like one location over another.

Final Thoughts

So, as you can see, you’re not starved for choice when it comes to books in this gripping subgenre.

From grim war stories to historical supernatural mysteries, there’s plenty of variety for everyone to enjoy here.

The only question I have for you now, is which of these gripping tales will you read first?

Frequently Asked Questions

Does Science Fiction Count As Fantasy?

Some of the books may have a more science-fiction approach to the fantastical elements, like Anticipation. However, it would probably still be considered fantasy by most people.

How Important Is Accuracy With Historical Fantasy?

That is something you’ll have to decide for yourself. While the history aspect usually helps add context to a book’s themes, we’re already leaving accuracy at the door if there are wizards in World War 1, aren’t we?

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Noah Burton