Immersive Historical Fantasy Books | riot book
One of my favorite activities is reading genre-mixing books. They’re so exciting because they take a bit of everything and make stories that are undoubtedly the best of two (or more) worlds. Among these mixtures of genres… the genres? I definitely have a favorite – and that’s historical fantasy. This genre can be so immersive that you’ll absolutely believe there were reapers and evil spirits in 19th century Japan – like in The night watchman by Kylie Lee Baker. Or who knows? Maybe there were zombies in the Civil War – like in Justina Ireland nation of terror. So of course today I want to share with you my love of immersive historical fantasy books with this list!
A few things before we begin. First, these will all be books with a historical setting that also include some form of magick, which often overlaps with alternate history as a genre. Second, all of these books have a great way of drawing you into their stories. Their descriptions and world-building make them very immersive historical fantasy books. Third, and most importantly, this list is by no means exhaustive. There are tons of historical fantasy books that are immersive and worth reading!
So without further ado, let’s get into these amazing and immersive historical fantasy books.
mermaid queen by Nghi Vo
Let’s start things off with the amazing mermaid queen, the latest version of Nghi Vo. This is a special historical fantasy because of its unique setting, which is none other than the Golden Age of Hollywood in the 1930s! The story follows Lili Wei, a Chinese-American girl who is dying to become a star. But Hollywood is full of monsters. Including the studios that deal in ancient magic and sacrifice to keep their fame. Despite everything, Luli is ready to do anything to get what she wants. Even if she has to play the role of monster.
ring shout by P. Djèlí Clark
Moving on to alternate history territory, ring shout is a brilliant and complex historical fantasy that reimagines the Ku Klux Klan as demons and The Birth of a Nation as a dark spell. Set in 1915, this novel follows Maryse Boudreaux, a woman with a magic sword who is one of the resistance fighters against the Ku Klux. Maryse will have to travel to other worlds and team up with a Hellfighter (and a sniper) if she wants to stop these demons from unleashing hell on Earth.
Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clarke
This is probably one of the best known historical fantasy books! With its historical language and lush world building, you will definitely be immersed in the story. The footnotes may distract some, but I would say they add to the immersive experience of reading the book. Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell is set in early 1800s England and follows the titular Mr. Norrell and Jonathan Strange. They’re two magicians with very different views on magic, which could tear apart not just their friendship, but the whole world.
Gods of Jade and Shadow by Silvia Moreno-Garcia
Gods of Jade and Shadow is a breathtaking historical fantasy set in 1920s Mexico. The story follows a young woman named Casiopea, who dreams of leaving the family home to make a living for herself. One day, she finds a wooden box in her grandfather’s room. When she opens it, a Mayan god of death named Hun-Kame is released. She makes a deal with him to help him get his throne back. Thus begins his adventure across the country, to the depths of the underworld.
The Philosopher’s Flight by Tom Miller
Historical fantasy is such a fun genre because you can visit so much places and times in world history. Nothing is on the table. This book, for example, takes place in America during the First World War! The Philosopher’s Flight follows a young man named Robert Weekes who wins a scholarship to study empirical philosophy – which is like a mixture of magic and science. It’s a female-dominated branch, and when he arrives at their school, he falls in love with Danielle Hardin, a war hero turned political radical. Soon the two come to the attention of an anti-philosophical group. Their lives are in danger, but so is the very practice of empirical philosophy, and only they can save it and themselves.
golden wolves by Roshani Chokshi
Moving to YA Territory, golden wolves is set in Paris in 1889. The story follows Séverin, a treasure hunter who is offered the opportunity of a lifetime: the Order of Babel has asked him to retrieve an ancient artifact in exchange for his true inheritance. Of course, he accepts and he calls on an engineer, a historian, a dancer and a brother in arms to do the job. Their adventure will take them to the darkest corners of Paris, and what they find there could change the course of history.
The City of Copper by S. A. Chakraborty
This book is also one of the most well-known historical fantasies on this list – and definitely worth reading! The City of Copper is set in early 18th century Cairo, and it’s so intricate and detailed that it even has a glossary in the back. The story follows a trickster named Nahri who doesn’t believe in magic – until she accidentally summons a djinn warrior named Dara. He tells Nahri of his true heritage and promises to take her to Daevabad – the City of Brass. Thus begins Nahri’s entanglement with this magical world, full of dangers and secrets.
Boxers by Gene Luen Yang
Last but not least, a graphic novel! Located in China, 1898 Boxers is a wonderful blend of mythology, magic and historical setting. The story follows a man named Little Bao who is fed up with foreign missionaries and soldiers robbing and bullying Chinese peasants. In his fight against colonialism, Little Bao connects with the Chinese gods and recruits an army of commoners trained in kung fu. Although his campaign is successful, the cost is too high – and this graphic novel shows the violent nature of what is known as the Boxer Rebellion.
If you want to keep reading historical fantasy books, look no further! We also have a handy list with more books. Or maybe dive into our Fantasy/Sci-Fi archives for all things SFF!