six historical fantasies to get stuck into this autumn

9 Oct 2022

I've been reading for a long time and only recently have I realised that my favourite genre is Historical Urban Fantasy. If you're unfamiliar with the genre it's generally just a piece of historical fiction with a few fantastical elements thrown in to add some spice. It is the perfect genre for this season as we enter the colder months. These are especially great if you're not a big fantasy reader but want something a little magical. That's why I've created this list with some of my absolute favourites. Some of these also happen to be my favourite novels of all time but I would honestly recommend any of them.

The Invisible Life of Addie Larue

V.E. Schwab

On the eve of a wedding that she doesn't want to go through with, Addie LaRue meets with the mysterious Luc who offers her the freedom she so desperately craves but it comes at a cost. She can live forever but nobody will ever remember her. They can meet her but once they leave the room or close their eyes for too long any memory of her will be gone. Following 300 years of history, Addie finds her story intertwined with many different people none of whom will ever remember her, all the while trying to prove that the bargain she made was not a mistake until one day, in 2014 at a bookshop in Brooklyn, she finally meets someone who can remember her.

This is one of my favourite books of all time and I could confidently recommend it to anyone. I think my copy must have tear-stained pages with how much I cried during this one. While it might seem quite fantastical in concept it's really a book about humanity and actually has a very strong mental health focus which I wasn't expecting when I went into it.

The Diviners Series

Libba Bray

After a party in her home town goes awry, seventeen-year-old Evie O'Neill is sent packing to New York City to live with her weird uncle Will Fitzgerald at his infamous American Museum of Folklore, Superstition and The Occult but she couldn't be more excited because New York is the place to be for underground speakeasies and Follies shows. But there's a darker side, as a series of weird murders have been happening across the city and the killer has a penchant for the occult causing her uncle, and in turn, Evie, to help with the investigation. But Evie harbours a secret of her own, a strange ability to draw memories out of objects and it's something that's only caused her trouble so far but it's New York, it's 1926 and anything could happen.

This wouldn't be a book recommendations post on this blog if I didn't mention The Diviners by Libba Bray. While there is an element of supernatural horror in this book I think the main element is actually the lives of the characters on the periphery of the murders and how they as people who are different, fit into a 1920s American society where eugenics is all the range and there is a relentless pursuit in finding what a true American really is. It's a story full of supernatural horror in the form of murderous ghosts but it's also about how humanity is equally as capable of creating its own horror without supernatural intervention. It's truly my favourite series of all time and I will rave about it until I die.

The Kingdoms

Natasha Pulley

Joe Tournier finds himself in the middle of Gare du Roi station in French-occupied England in 1899 with no memories of any part of his life before that day or how he even ended up in the station. When he receives a postcard addressed to him from a lighthouse in the Scottish Hebrides which was built just six months ago but dated almost 100 years ago. This starts him on a journey to uncover the truth about who sent it to him and maybe find out what happened before he lost his memory. In this time-twisting tale, set between 1779 and 1901, in an alternative land where France won the Napoleonic wars and how it came to be.

This one is maybe more Sci-Fi than fantasy but I'm including it here because I think it still fits the vibe. The Napoleonic Wars is a time period I'm actually not that familiar with so it was interesting to explore it more. The main characters are sure to be problematic faves, who doesn't love a murderous pirate who cares about children?

The Night Circus

Erin Morgenstern

The Night Circus is a mysterious and magical circus that suddenly appears without warning and only opens at night. It is also the backdrop for a battle between two sorcerers. This book is about the circus and its performers and its patrons who follow it everywhere but this is not an ordinary circus and this is not an ordinary story because when there's magic involved, disguised as an illusion, how can it be?

If you love lyrical prose and magic then this is surely the perfect book. It combines a magical setting with the human desire to matter and to create and to be a part of something bigger and to fall in love and to belong. It's ultimately a book about belonging it just happens to have a magical setting but the magic just causes ordinary people to come together and experience something new and exciting and extraordinary. It helps them experience life more and that's what this book does too.

The Book Thief

Markus Zusak

When Leisl Meminger is nine years old, she steals a book, it's the same day her brother died, it's also the same day that she arrives at her new foster family, the Hubermanns. Here she discovers many secrets about the war, learns a lot about herself and maybe steals a few more books along the way. This is a story of growing up, becoming your own person, and learning where you stand set against the bleak backdrop of Nazi Germany.

This one is a classic and a little bit more of a rogue choice because it's not overly fantasy-heavy but it does have a fantastical narrator as it's narrated by death. It just adds a little bit more intrigue to a story that stands alone anyway but knowing that it's narrated by death and that the main character and death have a very close relationship makes you all the more invested. 

Lovely War

Julie Berry

It's 1917 and Hazel, a young pianist meets James at a dance a few days before he's about to be deployed and it's love at first sight. Meanwhile, Harlem ragtime genius Aubrey, a member of the first black regiment of the US army, is excited to be finally getting to fight in the war but when he meets Belgian orphan Collette while stationed in France a new love story starts to blossom. Both of these relationships are doomed to fail but with the watchful eye of Aphrodite and her acquaintances, who knows what will happen! The Greek gods are facing some challenges of their own and use these stories of Hazel and James and Collette and Aubrey to show just how love can burn brightest in a time of war and how in the end, love will always win.

In a similar vein to The Book Thief, this one also has a fantastical narrator in a pantheon of Greek gods spinning a tale about how love and war can coexist and war doesn't always have to mean death and destruction, it can also mean fresh starts and new beginnings. The gods are intricately woven into the fabric of this story, orchestrating little elements. The perspective shifts from Aphrodite to Ares to Hades and back as the tone shifts from joyous and romantic to dark and dangerous. Such a special book that I still think about all the time.

Do you have any other recommendations that fit this vibe, if so I'd love to hear them because I truly can't get enough!

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