Best Historical Fantasy Books | riot book

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I don’t know when I discovered that historical fantasy books were a thing, exactly. But as soon as I fell down this particular rabbit hole, I knew it might be my new favorite genre! I’m happy to say that I can now confirm this, no surprises. What I love about the genre is that it’s still a fantasy book, so of course the stories are full of magic. But knowing that they relate to the story in some way makes them even more fascinating. Given that I fell head over heels in love with the genre, it’s no surprise that I wanted to compile a list of some of the best historical fantasy books!

Now I have divided this list into two sections. The former is full of fantasy books that reinvent history and add magical elements. This means that they are directly inspired by certain historical events to build a story. They reinvent history. The second section is for fantasy books that just have a historical fiction setting. As a final disclaimer, I just want to say that this list is by no means definitive or exhaustive – there are plenty of other historical fantasy books that are just as impressive and unmistakable!

So without further ado, let’s get to nine of the best historical fantasy books.

Fantasy books that reinvent history

The one who became the sun by Shelley Parker Chan

This is honestly one of my favorite releases of 2021! Magic is more understated than some of the other books on this list. At least for now, given that it’s the first of a duology. The one who became the sun reimagines the rise of the Ming dynasty in China. So you can expect plenty of action-packed fight scenes, political intrigue, and a cast of morally gray characters. It follows a girl who was destined for nothingness, while her brother was destined for greatness. So when he, Zhu Chongba, dies, the girl takes his name. With a burning desire for greatness, Zhu learns that she is capable of anything: not just taking her brother’s fate, but making it her own. This is how she finds herself in a monastery – and later, in a rebellion.

Ring Shout book cover

ring shout by P. Djèlí Clark

P. Djèlí Clark really said let’s make the Ku Klux Klan real demons, and I am here for this. It’s the kind of novel that borders on the territories of science fiction and horror – even if it’s still a fantasy. Set in 1915, ring shout ask, what if? What if The Birth of a Nation was a spell? What if DW Griffith was a wizard? Well, then you get demons. But you also get a demon hunter like Maryse Boudreaux. She is a sniper and a member of the resistance fighters. Demon hunting is business as usual for her. But things are heating up and the Klan’s plan to bring about the end of the world is about to come true – and only Maryse can stop them.

Poppy War cover

The poppy war by RF Kuang

Every time people talk about The poppy warthey also tend to talk about historical the context. That’s probably because the war in the book contains scenes straight from history books about the Second Sino-Japanese War — and they’re heartbreaking. The book follows Rin, a southern war orphan who passed the Empire’s toughest test. Thanks to this, she is allowed to study in the most prestigious military academy in the country. For a while, things seem good there. She has a rivalry with a nobleman’s son, which leads her to discover that she is a shaman and can summon the power of long-lost gods. But one day, war breaks out against their neighboring country and Rin’s powers might be the only way to save them.

Dread Nation by Justina Ireland Book Cover

nation of terror by Justina Ireland

The last book in this category also borders on horror – there are zombies in it, after all! nation of terror reinvents civil war and asks, what if the country was plagued by the living dead? The story follows Jane, who is studying to become a attendant. They are trained in weaponry and etiquette. Both to kill zombies and protect the elite. That’s not what Jane wants for her life, and when she returns from the academy, she turns a blind eye to politics. Until several families begin to disappear. Then Jane is forced to fight for her life, trapped in a plot that makes fighting zombies seem like child’s play.

Fantastic books with a historical setting

cover image of Gods of Jade and Shadow by Silvia Moreno-Garcia

Gods of Jade and Shadow by Silvia Moreno-García

This is such a unique book – both because of its setting and because it feels like reading a myth or a fairy tale. Gods of Jade and Shadow is set in 1920s Mexico and follows a young woman named Casiopea Tun. She is almost like a maid in her grandfather’s house, where she is treated rather poorly by her own family members. She dreams of a different life and her wish is granted in the form of a Mayan god of death named Hun-Kame. Casiopea is the one who accidentally frees him and because of that they are bound together. So now she must help him in his quest to reclaim his throne from his traitorous brother. Unless she wants to die.

Cover of Keeper of the Night by Kylie Lee Baker

The night watchman by Kylie Lee Baker

The beauty of this genre is that it can take you to times and places you never thought you’d see in the books. This book, for example, takes you to 1890s London and Japan! The night watchman also has a wonderfully intricate world-building inspired by Japanese folklore. It follows the story of Ren Scarborough, who is half British Reaper and half Japanese Shinigami. She has lived in London for centuries, collecting the souls of the dead. But she doesn’t quite fit into the community because of her other powers. She therefore fled to Japan with her younger brother, seeking acceptance. There she enters the Japanese underworld to serve the goddess of death. To earn her place, Ren is tasked with taking down three Yokai demons. It’s a dangerous mission, one that will reveal how far she’s willing to go for what she wants.

cover shallow waters by Anita Kopacz

Shallow waters by Anita Kopacz

We tend to imagine deities in their own ancient times. But since they live forever, it makes sense to write more “modern” stories with them. Even though these stories are set in the 1800s. This is the case with Shallow waters, a beautiful historical fantasy book that follows an Orisha deity named Yemaya. She’s on a mission to find Obatala, the man who sacrificed his own freedom for hers. He was captured by slavers in Africa and taken to the “New World”. Yemaya won’t rest until she finds him, so she transforms into a woman and follows him across the sea. Her journey won’t be pleasant and she’ll have to face the hatred and racism of the “New World”. But despite everything, Yemaya is a fighter and she will persevere.

Sourcere to the Crown book cover

Crown Sorcerer by Zen Cho

If you like your stories more romantic and with a Regency touch, you can’t miss Crown Sorcerer! Set in Regency era London, the story follows Zacharias Wythe, who is a freed slave and the last royal wizard. He belongs to the Royal Society of Unnatural Philosophers, a group of men who maintain magic in the country. So it’s his job to figure out why England’s magic is fading. Running out of options, he ventures to the edge of Fairyland. But when this adventure puts him in contact with a very powerful witch named Prunella, things change. Now Zacharias is on a path that will change the nature of witchcraft not just in Britain, but around the world.

cover image of The Conductors by Nicole Glover

The conductors by Nicole Glover

Last but not least, another genre-blending book that not only has magic, but also a ton of mystery. The kind you need to solve. The conductors is an exciting read that follows Hetty Rhodes and her husband. She was a conductor on the Underground Railroad – using her magic to help dozens of people cross the North. But that was a while ago, and now that the Civil War is over, she and Benjy live in Philadelphia. Now they are solving mysteries that the authorities refuse to take. Things go awry when they find a friend of theirs dead in an alley. Of course, they decide to investigate, but they don’t know the danger that awaits them. Because this case will bring them face to face with the darkest corners of the city’s elite – as well as their own.

Want to find more amazing and magical books? Dive into our Sci-Fi/Fantasy archives! Or if you want to climb a little longer on this historic peak, we also have a lot more historical fiction for you.

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