Twelve Novels that Blend History and Fantasy

This week’s Top Ten Tuesday, hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl, is a “genre freebie”. I decided to write about something that I’ve been reading lately, historical fantasy novels. By this I don’t mean fantasy novels set in the past, I mean books that are primarily historical fiction, focusing on actual history and real places, but with a fantastic twist (whether it’s time travel, mind-reading, body-jumping, reincarnation, or a sentient fig tree). A perfect example of this is the Outlander series, which I would argue is much more history than fantasy. So maybe I really mean “fantastic history”. In each of these books, I loved the way small elements of fantasy, or sometimes really big ones, were used to showcase history in a new way.

  • Outlander series by Diana Gabaldon (especially Dragonfly in Amber): In this series, Claire is magically transported from the mid-1940s to 1700’s Scotland, as the Highlanders fight for independence from the British.
  • Life After Life by Kate Atkinson: In this unique book, Ursula Todd is born in 1910 and dies, again and again.
  • The Golem and the Jinni: This brilliant book begins in 1899 as a golem is transported to New York City, where she meets the jinni.
  • The World That We Knew by Alice Hoffman: Another golem story, this one is set in World War II Germany and France, where a mother creates a golem to protect her child from the Nazis.
  • Doomsday Book by Connie Willis: This book takes you back to the time of the Black Death, visited by a future time travel historian (not surprisingly, things don’t go too well).
  • The Mermaid and Mrs. Hancock by Imogen Hermes Gowar: Do mermaids exist? This book set in 1785 will leave you wondering, though that’s really not what it’s about.
  • Build Your House Around My Body by Violet Kupersmith: Leaning closer to horror, this book explores colonialism in Vietnam over the last century, in a strange story about a young woman who goes missing.
  • The Island of Missing Trees: Set in present day London and 1970s Cyprus, this novel is partly narrated by a fig tree. It’s a fantastic look at a historical conflict and a beautiful story.
  • A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki: Impossible to describe, this novel involves time, quantum physics, and spirituality.
  • This Rebel Heart by Katherine Locke: The fantasy is subtle in this book – a whispering river, a colorless world – about a student uprising in Budapest against the Communist regime.
  • The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue by V.E. Schwab: In this book, Addie LaRue lives the life of an immortal, but with a catch – no one will remember her.
  • A Deadly Fortune by Stacie Murphy: I loved this book about a woman in Gilded Age New York who can talk to spirits and finds herself imprisoned in the Blackwell’s Island insane asylum.

Happy Tuesday – please share any other good examples of this genre, and please visit some of the other blogs participating in Top Ten Tuesday.

  26 comments for “Twelve Novels that Blend History and Fantasy

  1. February 28, 2023 at 7:38 am

    I seem to like this genre, because I’ve enjoyed a number of the books on your list — Life After Lie, Doomsday Book, The Mermaid and Mrs Hancock, A Tale for the Time Being. I’ll have to try the others! I’d add The Monsters We Defy by Leslye Penelope, a story about a Black woman in 1920s Washington DC who can see and communicate with spirits, and Black Water Sister, about a young woman whose move back with her parents to Malaysia brings her into contact with the ghosts of her family’s past and her own inner conflicts.

    • February 28, 2023 at 12:29 pm

      I picked up Monsters We Defy at a holiday book swap in December, I can’t wait to read it! Black Water Sister was another good one, thanks for the suggestion. You might really like Build Your House, it was challenging following the different timelines and characters but a fantastic story! It was on last year’s Women’s Prize longlist.

      • March 1, 2023 at 4:20 am

        Oh good, I’ll give that one priority. I think you will love The Monsters We Defy!

  2. February 28, 2023 at 8:08 am

    I’ve always wondered whether the Outlander series is technically a sci-fi, because time travel is usually a sci-fi trope. And there’s the whole thing about characters accused of witchcraft actually being time travellers. I think it’s a secret sci-fi!

    • February 28, 2023 at 8:16 am

      I didn’t really think about science fiction versus fantasy! I’d call Outlander fantasy while Doomsday Book is science fiction, because in Doomsday, future scientists invent a time travel machine while in Outlander, the time travel happens through magic. I don’t know if that’s exactly the right distinction but that’s how I think of it. Thanks for the comment!

      • February 28, 2023 at 8:29 am

        True, I suppose the stone circle does give the time travel a magical vibe. Outlander is such a hard series to categorise anyway, it seems to have a bit of everything.

  3. February 28, 2023 at 8:59 am

    The Mermaid and Mrs. Hancock sounds interesting.

    My post:

  4. Molly's Book Nook
    February 28, 2023 at 9:07 am

    Oooo, historical fantasy. Another genre I don’t read enough of. I really want to read Outlander because I love the show but it’s sooooo long and intimidating lol Doomsday Book sounds interesting!

    My TTT:

    • February 28, 2023 at 7:42 pm

      Outlander is incredible but definitely long. And I’m glad I read it before the show came out, I don’t know if it would feel the same now. Doomsday Book is fantastic, especially if you like time travel books.

  5. February 28, 2023 at 9:27 am

    I’m curious about The Golem and the Jinni.

    Here is our Top Ten Tuesday.

  6. Gypsi
    February 28, 2023 at 2:02 pm

    I really enjoyed the Mermaid and Mrs. Hancock, too!

  7. February 28, 2023 at 2:40 pm

    The Golem and the Jinni is one of my favorites books, hope to read the sequel soon

    • February 28, 2023 at 7:40 pm

      I was a little nervous to read the sequel, but I loved it. I hope you’ll like it too. That was a tough book to follow up!

  8. February 28, 2023 at 2:53 pm

    Of these I’ve read Life After Life and The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue, I wasn’t a huge fan of Life After Life (though I did enjoy the BBC mini-series) as I found it overly long and slow and somewhat stilted as a story. I did really enjoy Addie LaRue though, I love VE Schwab’s books.
    My TTT:

    • February 28, 2023 at 7:40 pm

      Life After Life is definitely not for everyone, but I do love Kate Atkinson. I’m glad you liked Addie LaRue!

      • March 7, 2023 at 9:05 am

        I’ve heard good stuff about her as an author so I may try something else of hers someday and see if it is more to my taste. Yes Addie LaRue was great!

  9. February 28, 2023 at 3:16 pm

    I’d also recommend Fawkes and Romanov, both by Nadine Brandes! 🙂 My TTT

    • February 28, 2023 at 7:37 pm

      I hadn’t heard of that author but I’m putting those on my TBR, thanks!

  10. February 28, 2023 at 3:51 pm

    These two genres are always fun to read when mixed. Thanks for the recs.

  11. February 28, 2023 at 6:22 pm

    This is a great topic!! I love Outlander, Addie and I have Golem and the Jinni on my TBR! I’m really excited to get to that one!
    My Top Ten!

    • February 28, 2023 at 7:34 pm

      Golem and Jinni is so good! Great fantasy and great historical fiction. Plus there’s a sequel when you’re done. Thanks for visiting!

      • March 1, 2023 at 9:26 am

        Yes!! I’ve got the sequel too, ready to go! Haha. Just need to find the time. 🙂

  12. March 1, 2023 at 10:57 am

    Terrific list! So many here that I love (especially Outlander, but also The World That We Knew and The Golem and the Jinni). Love your topic!

  13. masterspj
    March 1, 2023 at 3:45 pm

    So many interesting books on this list! Thanks for stopping by my blog earlier.

    Pam @ Read! Bake! Create!

  14. March 3, 2023 at 3:01 pm

    Love this category and Outlander and Time After Time are superb examples of the magic of this particular genre blend. You have quite a few titles I don’t know, so I’m going to have to check some of them out. That said, I really need to read The Doomsday Book!

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