One of my absolute favorite things is reading genre-blending books. They’re so exciting because they take a bit of everything and make stories that are undoubtedly the best of both (or more) worlds. Among those genre-blending… genres? I definitely have a favorite — and that is historical fantasy. This genre can be so immersive that you’ll absolutely believe that there were reapers and evil spirits in 19th century Japan — like in The Keeper of Night by Kylie Lee Baker. Or who knows? Maybe there were zombies during the Civil War — like in Justina Ireland’s Dread Nation. So of course, today I want to share my love of immersive historical fantasy books with you with this list!
A couple of things before we get started. First, these are all going to be books with a historical setting that also include some form of magic, which often intersects with alternate history as a genre. Secondly, all of these books have a great way of sucking you into their stories. Their descriptions and worldbuilding make for some very immersive historical fantasy books. Thirdly, and most importantly, this list is by no means comprehensive. There are tons of historical fantasy books out there that are immersive and well-worth reading!
So without further ado, let’s get into these amazing and immersive historical fantasy books.
Siren Queen by Nghi Vo
Let’s kick things off with the amazing Siren Queen, the latest release from Nghi Vo. This is a special historical fantasy because of its unique setting, which is none other than the 1930s golden age of Hollywood! The story follows Lili Wei, a Chinese American girl who’s dying to become a star. But Hollywood is full of monsters. Including the studios who deal in ancient magic and sacrifices to keep their fame. Despite it all, Luli is willing to do whatever it takes 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 intricate historical fantasy that reimagines the Ku Klux Klan as demons and The Birth of a Nation as a dark spell. Set in 1915, this novella follows Maryse Boudreaux, a woman with a magical sword who is part of the resistance fighters against the Ku Kluxes. Maryse will have to journey to other worlds and team up with a Hellfighter (and a sharpshooter) if she wants to stop those demons from unleashing hell on Earth.
Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell by Susanna Clarke
This is probably one of the best-known historical fantasy books! With its historical language and lush worldbuilding, you’ll certainly be immersed in the story. The footnotes maybe distracting to some, but I’d argue they add to the immersive experience of reading the book. Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell is set in the early 1800s England, and it follows the titular Mr Norrell and Jonathan Strange. They’re two magicians with wildly different views on magic, which could tear apart not only their friendship but the whole world.
Gods of Jade and Shadow by Silvia Moreno-Garcia
Gods of Jade and Shadow is a stunning historical fantasy set in 1920s Mexico. The story follows a young woman named Casiopea, who dreams of leaving her family home behind in order to make a life for herself. One day, she finds a wooden box inside her grandfather’s room. When she opens it, a Mayan god of the death named Hun-Kamé is set free. She strikes a deal with him to help him recover his throne. So her adventure across the country, all the way to the depths of the underworld, begins.
The Philosopher’s Flight by Tom Miller
Historical fantasy is such a fun genre because you get to visit so many places and times in world history. Nothing is off the table. This book, for example, is set in America during WWI! The Philosopher’s Flight follows a young man named Robert Weekes who wins a scholarship to study empirical philosophy — which is like a mix of magic and science. This is a branch dominated by women, and when he arrives at their school he falls hard for Danielle Hardin, a war hero turned political radical. Soon, both attract 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.
The Gilded Wolves by Roshani Chokshi
Moving into YA territory, The Gilded Wolves is set in Paris 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 upon an engineer, a historian, a dancer, and a brother in arms to get the job done. Their adventure will lead them to the darkest corners of Paris, and what they find there might change the course of history.
The City of Brass by S.A. Chakraborty
This book is also one of the more well-known historical fantasies on this list — and it is absolutely worth reading! The City of Brass is set in early 18th century Cairo, and it’s so intricate and detailed it even has a glossary in the back. The story follows a conwoman named Nahri who doesn’t believe in magic — until she accidentally summons a djinn warrior named Dara. He tells Nahri of her true heritage, and promises to take her to Daevabad — the City of Brass. Thus begins Nahri’s entanglement with this magical world, one that is full of dangers and secrets.
Boxers by Gene Luen Yang
Last but not least, a graphic novel! Set in China, 1898 Boxers is a wonderful mix of mythology, magic, and a historical setting. The story follows a man named Little Bao who has had enough of foreign missionaries and soldiers who rob and bully Chinese peasants. In his fight against colonialism, Little Bao connects with the Chinese gods and recruits an army of commoners trained in kung fu. While 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.