9 of the Best Jewish Fantasy Books

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Jaime Herndon


Jaime Herndon finished her MFA in nonfiction writing at Columbia, after leaving a life of psychosocial oncology and maternal-child health work. She is a writer, editor, and book reviewer who drinks way too much coffee. She is a new-ish mom, so the coffee comes in extra handy. Twitter: @IvyTarHeelJaime

I have to admit: when I think of science fiction and fantasy, I don’t often think of Jewish themes. At least, I didn’t use to. Which is ironic, because the Hugo awards are named after Hugo Gernsback (nee Gernsbacher), a Jewish immigrant to the U.S who coined the term “science fiction.” Then, of course, there’s the history of comics. But many writers changed their names to sound less Jewish, and rarely wrote explicitly Jewish characters or stories. (You can read more about this here).

But it seems like in recent years, that’s changing. More stories in SFF are containing explicitly Jewish themes and characters (although, yes, this is still a very small percentage of the SFF books). These Jewish fantasy books and sci-fi novels include not just Jewish characters, but Jewish themes, stories inspired by Kabbalistic elements or Jewish folktales/fables, or spiritual elements. Sometimes it feels like religion can lend itself to fantasy themes and stories, and when done well, weaving the two together can be powerful. (I’m also thinking of the Wrinkle in Time quintet and A Master of Djinn).

I’ve put together a list of Jewish fantasy books to explore. This isn’t a comprehensive list, nor is it ranked — it’s just a starting point for these books. I do want to note the predominantly white, Ashkenazi aspect of the list. Jewish books in general, especially in the U.S., tend to have Ashkenazi characters and themes (Central or Eastern European descent), and could benefit from more diversity, both with authors and characters/storylines. This is not a new problem, and in areas like middle grade and YA fiction, more Jewish diversity is starting to appear; hopefully this will continue into other genres.

Jewish Fantasy Books

From Dust A Flame cover

From Dust, A Flame by Rebecca Podos

Hannah, her brother Gabe, and her mother have always been on the move, never quite knowing why. On her 17th birthday, she wakes up transformed with golden eyes and slits for pupils; the next day, another transformation, then another. When her mother leaves, telling them she knows who can help, and doesn’t come back, Hannah and her brother take matters into their own hands. They find a family they’ve never known and a heartbreaking family history tinged with mysticism and magic — magic that may be the answer to Hannah’s problems.

Starglass cover

Starglass by Phoebe North

For 500 years, a group of Jews has been traveling through space on a ship called the Asherah, going from Earth to the planet Zehava to start anew. Terra is almost 16, the age when people pick their marriage partners. Her mother has died, and her father has distanced himself. As they get closer to Zehava, questions mount as to whether the planet is habitable. When Terra witnesses a murder, everything changes. This is a quietly beautiful book, and there’s also a sequel, Starbreak.

The Ghosts of Rose Hill cover

The Ghosts of Rose Hill by R.M. Romero (May 3)

Ilana Lopez is a biracial Jewish Latina who dreams of becoming a violinist. When her strict immigrant parents send her to Prague to stay with her aunt for the summer to see what the life of an artist will give her, she stumbles into a Jewish cemetery, long-forgotten, where she meets the ghost of a boy. But when she meets a man with no shadow who offers promises, she finds herself faced with decisions to make. This novel-in-verse combines magic and reality in a heartbreaking but compelling way.

This Rebel Heart by Katherine Locke book cover

This Rebel Heart by Katherine Locke (April 5)

In 1956 Hungary during the Hungarian Revolution, we are introduced to Csilla. She has survived the Holocaust and is living with her aunt, her only family member who survived the camps. Her parents were murdered years before under false pretenses, but have recently been exonerated. Csilla and her aunt are secretly planning their defection to Israel, and she’s looking forward to starting anew — until things start to fall apart. This is a layered book told from multiple viewpoints, with magical elements to it that draw you in while adding richness to an already fascinating story of a time and setting we don’t often get to read about.

The Way Back cover

The Way Back by Gavriel Savit

Set in Eastern Europe, this Jewish folktale–inspired story is a magical escape. For the Jews of Europe, demons are all over, every day. They also have a land of their own: the Far Country, with transient souls, governed by demonic leaders. When two teens cross paths in a cemetery when the Angel of Death is visiting, they’re transported to the Far Country, where they encounter all sorts of dark spirits and need to figure out a way to make it back alive. It’s an imaginative adventure through a dark fantasy world that you won’t soon forget.

Book cover of The Light of the Midnight Stars by Rena Rossner

The Light of the Midnight Stars by Rena Rossner

Set in Hungary, a Rabbi’s family with three daughters are the descendants of King Solomon. Each has a special kind of magic. But when a dark mist starts spreading across Europe, causing hatred and threatening every Jewish person in its midst, even the sisters cannot stop it. When it arrives, the entire family is changed forever, making choices they never imagined. Rossner’s prose is immersive, creating a vividly layered world with multiple storylines that weave together to create an unforgettable story.

Ballad & Dagger cover

Ballad & Dagger by Daniel José Older (May 3)

Matteo Matisse’s homeland disappeared into the sea 16 years ago. The survivors of San Madrigal’s sinking went to New York. Mateo is now a piano prodigy who lives with his aunts in Brooklyn, trying to get the attention of the local music legend. The night of the Grand Fete, a celebration of the blended culture that created San Madrigal (pirates, Cuban Santeros, and Sephardic Jews), seems to be his chance — until the evil that destroyed their homeland comes back, sparking an ancient battle. Older creates a fantasy that touches on the experience of living in the diaspora, examining history, and how community can provide for us. Magic, myth, history, and adventure are all in this fantastic epic.

Burning Girls and Other Stories cover

Burning Girls and Other Stories by Veronica Schanoes

This short story collection is a fierce and imaginative set of stories about women who don’t quite fit in, blending retellings of fairytales, historical fiction, social commentary, and more. The stories are infused with queer, Jewish feminist themes, and have a variety of topics, like Emma Goldman having tea with the Baba Yaga, the London matchgirls’ strike, and a girl seeking revenge on her father’s killer. This is a collection you don’t want to miss.

cover of The City Beautiful by Aden Polydoros

The City Beautiful by Aden Polydoros

Set in 1893 Chicago, Alter dreams about the time he can afford to bring his mother and sisters to America from Romania. When his best friend Yakov is killed, the latest in a string of murders of Jewish boys, he becomes possessed by Yakov’s dybbuk (a human spirit that wanders until it finds a body of a living person to inhabit). There are days until the dybbuk fully takes over Alter’s body, and he has to find the killer before then. It’s a dark, thrilling story that will keep you up reading.

So there you have it: nine excellent Jewish fantasy books to add to your TBR. If you’re looking for even more fantasy, check out this post on decolonizing sci-fi/fantasy reading, and this post on queer fantasy romances.