Historical Fantasy Books for Your Book Club

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Erica Ezeifedi, Associate Editor, is a transplant from Nashville, TN that has settled in the North East. In addition to being a writer, she has worked as a victim advocate and in public libraries, where she has focused on creating safe spaces for queer teens, mentorship, and providing test prep instruction free to students. Outside of work, much of her free time is spent looking for her next great read and planning her next snack.

Find her on Twitter at @Erica_Eze_.

There are a few genres that always seem to do well with our audience. I mean, they pretty much all have their moments, but fantasy and historical fiction really have their moments. And I get it. I love both genres, together and separately. There is something I’ve noticed when reading historical fiction, though. Things change so much through the years that even just reading about what people did a few decades ago feels like reading a book set in a fantasy world. A fantasy world that was that much more horrible if you weren’t rich and male, usually.

What’s cool about historical fiction, especially the historical fiction I have listed below, is how each instance of magic can put power in someone’s hands that historically didn’t have it. Poor 16th-century scullions can summon ancient power, and djinn engineering can bring a certain liberty to some countries. But before we get to all that, let’s get into an old favorite.

Nibbles and Sips: Cheddar Bay Biscuits

cheddar bay biscuits

Let’s pour one out (bake one?) for the homie Red Lobster, who held us down with those delicious cheddar bay biscuits. When I tell you, these things are dangerous. Follow Chungah’s recipe here if you want to partake.

cover of What the River Knowscover of What the River Knows

What the River Knows by Isabel Ibañez

From the author of Woven in Moonlight comes a romantasy that’s been compared to The Mummy and Death on the Nile. Inez was born into a life of privilege and old magic in 19th-century Buenos Aires. When her parents die during a trip, they leave her as the sole inheritor of a massive fortune. But with the money also comes a mysterious guardian with ties to Egypt. In search of answers as to what really happened to her parents, she travels to Cairo, where she’s led down a path of mystery, romance, and ancient magic.

cover of Master of Djinn by P. Djèlí Clarkcover of Master of Djinn by P. Djèlí Clark

A Master of Djinn by P. Djèlí Clark

Djinn have returned to an early 1900s Egypt, bringing their magic and engineering with them. Their return is so significant that it elevates Egypt into world power status, to the chagrin of certain European countries. When the members of a secret brotherhood dedicated to the almost mythical man who brought back the djinn, al-Jahiz, are all brutally murdered, the youngest female detective in the Ministry of Alchemy is assigned the case. The streets are saying al-Jahiz, the Master of Djinn, has returned, but Agent Fatma can’t bring herself to believe it. The problem is that a mysterious man saying he’s al-Jahiz can actually control legendary djinn, and it’ll be up to Fatma, the rest of the agency, and all the magical beings she befriends to help her bring peace back to Cairo. Make sure to read the 43-page prequel A Dead Djinn in Cairo before getting into this one (and listen to A Master of Djinn on audio if you can! The performance is *chef’s kiss*).

cover of Babel: An Arcane History by R.F. Kuangcover of Babel: An Arcane History by R.F. Kuang

Babel: An Arcane History by R.F. Kuang

Kuang is the award-winning author of The Poppy War, another banger. In Babel, she turns her talents towards the darkness inherent in Western academia. Robin, who was orphaned by cholera, was brought from China to London by a professor and studied Chinese, Ancient Greek, and Latin. His efforts through the years are so that he can enroll in a prestigious Oxford University program called “Babel.” The program’s location, the Babel tower, serves as the world’s translation center and is the reason Britain is able to maintain power. This power comes as a result of the unique magic system of this world, known as silver-working. With it, meanings lost in translation are manifested with enchanted silver bars. Robin eventually realizes how much his own country — and others — suffer because of this magic and Britain’s use of it and must decide if he wants to serve that power or disrupt it.

cover of The Familiar by Leigh Bardugocover of The Familiar by Leigh Bardugo

The Familiar by Leigh Bardugo

Bardugo’s The Familiar is obviously fantasy, but it’s also set in 16th-century Spain — during the Inquisition — and let me just say that I was born in the right time. Luzia, poor thing, wasn’t. She’s the scullion of one of the poorer houses in town, but when her cruel mistress discovers her talent for small “miracles,” she uses Luzia to try to gain social clout. This clout, unfortunately, comes with the attention of powerful men, who could bring death to Luzia if they find out about her Jewish heritage. The one person who seems to really be on her side — and who, at times, doesn’t really seem like a person — is Guillén Santangel, an apparently immortal familiar who has quite the past.

cover of The Monstrous Misses Mai by Van Hoangcover of The Monstrous Misses Mai by Van Hoang

The Monstrous Misses Mai by Van Hoang

It’s 1959 in L.A., and Cordelia Mai Yin is a first-generation Vietnamese American trying to become a fashion designer. But the city isn’t welcoming, and soon, Cordi finds herself renting a loft in an old building and befriending other women — Audrey, Tessa, and Silly — who seem to be struggling just like her. When a charming friend of the landlord’s promises help in the form of a little magic, they can’t resist. Thing is, one small sacrifice turns into bigger and bigger ones as the women’s wishes become more and more grand. Soon, Cordi realizes she will have to step into her own power if she’s to salvage herself without losing everything.

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