I don’t know about anyone else, but historical fantasy is one of my very favorite sub-genres. I love when authors can play with alternate histories, and imagine how things might be different if there were dragons, or magic. While I prefer when it’s England proper, many authors create English-inspired nations and worlds. I especially love when authors are able to capture the tone of literature from that era, but update it to be fun for the modern reader.
Because, in my opinion, fantasy should be fun in the end.
So for you’re pleasure I’ve created a list of recommendations for historical fantasy based on the different eras of British history.
The Tudor era is one of my favorite time periods to read about, but it’s not often adapted for fantasy. I don’t know why as it’s the perfect era for it. Sword-fighting, knights, dragons, they would fit in well here.
However, the second book of the All Souls Trilogy, titled Shadow of Night, involves time traveling to this very era! We even get to meet some of the giants of the time, including Kit Marlowe and Queen Elizabeth herself. I loved how it really submerged the reader into the culture and time period, and the details were so accurate. I’m also a huge sucker for time travel. While this wasn’t my favorite series (nice vampires again, snooze), I did really enjoy this book, and I think it’s worth reading if for no other reason than some good ol’ Tudor witches.
For those of you Americans reading, the Georgian Era happened alongside of the Colonial Era here in the states. You know, named for King George, the one who will kill your friends and family to remind you of his love? It’s another era that’s not as popular for fantasy novels, perhaps because they tend to cross the pond and use Salem as their backdrop instead.
Sorcerer to the Crown by Zen Cho, however, is fabulously inspired by Georgian England. She really captured the propriety and manner of speaking of the era. She also was able to add in some splendid diversity and feminism, but did so in a way that did not ignore the bigotry of the time period. Again, alternate history is all about what if. WHAT IF a renowned sorcerer just happened to find a young Black boy with an aptitude for magic on his travels and brought him home to study with him? What would happen? How would others respond? Would he buy in to the prejudices of the time or be free-thinking? I also loved the magic system that Cho created for this book, which is related to a parallel fairy-land and familiars. This book is funny, sweet, and has just the right amount of mystery.
Full disclosure, the Regency Era overlaps a bit with the Georgian Era, and I’m not sure I’m quite nailing the time period here. But if you’re a fan of the Regency Era this book will probably appeal to you, even if I’ve misaligned the year slightly.
His Majesty’s Dragon, and indeed the whole Temeraire series, is set against the backdrop of the Napoleonic Wars. I love that this book is true alternate history, re-imagining a world where everything else is the same except that there’s dragons. I’m not usually a huge fan of military books, but in this case I think it’s so plausible that the military would adopt dragons as to make it the only reasonable way to write this book. Many of us are fans of Naomi Novik, but not enough people have read her debut. This is, without a doubt, my favorite novel on this list and easily one of my favorite books of all time. If you haven’t read it yet you MUST.
This is the most popular era in British history for literature in my experience. What is it about Victorian London, in particular, that captures our imaginations? Anyway, as this era has so much fabulous literature written in it I had to suggest two books.
The Lady Trent Memoirs, started off by A Natural History of Dragons is another favorite series of mine. It perfectly blends all of the primness of the early bluestocking movement with the action and adventure of Indiana Jones. While I would have preferred if Brennan had just set the book in England instead of making up her own world, the writing in this book felt so authentic that I just couldn’t put it down. Also, just look at the cover. Honestly, I loved the Natural History (early science) elements even more than the plot and characters of this series. Everything about this book completely captured my imagination, and I would love to read an Encyclopedia written by Lady Trent. She often referenced her intellectual works, and it drove me nuts that I could read them!
Gail Carriger’s Parasol Proctorate series, on the other hand, is set in actual London. Except for the small detail of the werewolves and vampires that are commonplace in polite society. I admit that I haven’t read Soulless yet (it’s been on my tbr for YEARS), I’m told that this has a lot of Sherlock appeal, and that the writing is fun and engaging. But the characters, I hear, are what really makes this book stand out. Plus, who doesn’t enjoy a good Steam Punk vibe? I can’t wait to read this book!
Again, for you Americans reading, the Edwardian Era immediately followed the Victorian Era and is usually considered being from 1900 to the beginning of the first world war. Think Mary Poppins. It’s a less conventional historical era, I think because it gets overshadowed by World War II. But it makes for a whimsical fantasy read!
Witchmark by C.L. Polk is Edwardian-inspired, mostly in terms of technology, fashion, and etiquette. The world is the least similar to England out of any on the list, however. What I loved about this book was the blend of whimsical writing with an action-mystery plot. It’s also one of the few on the list that addresses social issues that aren’t necessarily related to the time period directly. In this case, slavery. Though the issues of discrimination based on arbitrary ideas like class are timeless, obviously. It’s also the only outright LGBT book on the list (maybe not surprising considering historical attitudes), though others have surprising LGBT themes. This book was fun, romantic, and thought-provoking. AND a Nebula nominee. Read it!
Do you love historical fantasy? What are your favorites? Let me know in the comments!