To be completely honest, I have never liked history. I had good teachers; the subject just didn’t stick in my brain. But I found myself gravitating to historical fiction with magical twists as a child. And years later, I’ve gotten back into that genre. While history textbooks make me sleepy and itch for something more, these historical fiction novels brought the magic I’d rather read about.
‘My Lady Jane’ by Cynthia Hand, Brodi Ashton, and Jodi Meadows
With the success of Six, I recently got re-interested in English royalty. And that’s how I found this novel by three of my favorite authors. Hand, Ashton, and Meadows retell Jane Grey’s history as conspiracy mingles with magic.
Jane’s cousin, Edward VI, is dying, and he sets to marry Jane off to secure her place as the next in line for the throne. Her betrothed is Gifford, a man who turns into a horse at night. The novel follows her story as it leads to her nine-day reign.
The rest of the trilogy, My Plain Jane and My Calamity Jane, follow other Janes that made a mark on history. The second book follows Jane Eyre as she uncovers dark secrets with Charlotte Brontë. And the third follows Calamity Jane as she embarks to find a cure for a garou bite with Annie Oakley and Frank Butler.
‘The Winter Sea’ by Susanna Kearsley
In The Winter Sea, Carrie McClelland can’t tell if she’s making up her novel as she goes or if she’s remembering things from a past life. She manages to tap into her ancestor’s memory as she writes her story from 1708.
Susanna Kearsley takes the story of James Stewart reclaiming his Scottish crown and turns it into a much more interesting account than we learn about in history class. Kearsley also weaves in time travel in a way we don’t often see – instead of actually going to the time period, the protagonist just witnesses it in the future.
‘Things in Jars’ by Jess Kidd
The best way I can describe this book is female Sherlock Holmes with magic. Things in Jars is a standalone following acclaimed detective Bridie Devine, but it will make you want her to have as many adventures as Sherlock Holmes.
Bridie is hired to find the secret child of Sir Edmund Athelstan Berwick that also has supernatural powers that are very sought-after by despicable people. As Bridie investigates, she meets several colorful characters, from ghosts to giants. And she’ll have to use her past to her advantage despite wanting to leave it alone.
Read More: The Best Retellings of Sherlock Holmes
‘Dread Nation’ by Justina Ireland
What if the Civil War wasn’t thrown off because of Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address? What if it was zombies instead? Dread Nation reimagines an America thrown into constant chaos and war against the undead.
Jane doesn’t remember life without fighting for her life and training at Miss Preston’s School of Combat. But that doesn’t mean she wants the life she’s destined to live. But everything is thrown off course when she returns to Kentucky, and families start disappearing.
‘Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter’ by Seth Grahame Smith
If the title sounds familiar to you, it means you’ve probably seen (or at least heard of) the novel’s movie adaptation. But if I’m being honest, I prefer the book. Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter imagines a Civil War-torn United States if there were also vampires running amok.
After his mother dies because of one, Abraham sets off on the mission to rid the world of vampires. That mission leads him to become President and set slaves free during the Civil War. Even better, it has a sequel following Abraham’s friend Henry Sturges.
‘She Who Became the Sun’ by Shelley Parker-Chan
What if things had been different when the Ming dynasty had a different emperor take over? Described as Mulan mixed with A Song of Achilles, this novel is sure to bring the tears and emotion that I personally look for in books.
Zhu Chongba was fated for greatness. At least, he was until he died. Wanting to survive certain death, his younger sister takes on his identity and joins a monastery. She takes on the prophecy meant for her brother and fights for a better future for China.
‘All That Glitters’ by Gita Trelease
“Let them eat cake!” That’s right, we’re heading to the court of Marie Antoinette and Louis XVI. All That Glitters shows the dark and gritty side of Paris during the reign of these rulers while still allowing glimpses of the political struggle of lower members of the aristocracy.
When Camille’s brother disappears after her magic doesn’t hold up one day, she uses forbidden magic to sneak into the Palace of Versailles. But falling in love wasn’t a part of the plan. And neither was helping start a revolution.
‘In His Majesty’s Service’ by Naomi Novik
I don’t know how I didn’t discover this book until this year, but I’m happy I found it nonetheless. It adds dragons to history – that’s honestly all I want to read about now. Set during the Napoleonic Wars, Novik weaves a tale that will leave you wanting more.
Will Laurence was just serving on a British Navy ship when they captured a French ship carrying a dragon egg. The dragon then bonds with Laurence when the egg hatches. And their partnership will alter history as they train and join the fight for England.
‘The Lost Queen’ by Signe Pike
I know Arthur, Merlin, and the Knights of the Round Table are fictional, but I had to include this novel. The Lost Queen is based in history and follows Languoreth, a queen that history turned its back on to favor her brother, Lailoken.
The Lost Queen follows Languoreth as she is in the center of a war between her husband and her true love. Her brother, a druid known as Myrddin, joins Languoreth in her fight to preserve the Old Way and keep her kingdom alive.
‘The Mists of Avalon’ by Marion Zimmer Bradley
While I’m on the topic of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table, I want to talk about a series following the women in the story. The Mists of Avalon is the first book of the Avalon series that had me captivated for years.
My favorite character was Morgaine, but that might be because she reminds me of so many of my favorite morally grey characters. This novel alone turns the story of King Arthur as we know it and turns it on its head, so we see a different side to the conflict.
‘The Jane Austen Project’ by Kathleen Flynn
If you love any of Jane Austen’s books, you’ve probably wondered what it would have been like to actually know her. That’s where Kathleen Flynn comes in. This might be the next best thing to meeting Jane Austen as Flynn weaves a tale you won’t be able to put down.
In The Jane Austen Project, Rachel and Liam are sent back in time to steal an unpublished novel from Jane Austen. But things aren’t easy when you befriend your subject and fall for your colleague. Will they be able to stick to the mission, or will their feelings get in the way?
‘Romanov’ by Nadine Brandes
If you wanted a book reminiscent of the animated musical Anastasia, I’ve got the perfect book for you. Nadine Brandes took the missing Romanov daughter mystery and put magic into it, but that’s where the Fox and novel’s similarities end.
Instead of dying in the Bolshevik revolution, Anastasia made it out alive with the help of magic. Now, Anastasia has a mission: stop the Bolshevik army with an ancient spell. But there’s a complication: she’s falling in love with a soldier whose job is to take her down.
‘Conjure Women’ by Afia Atakora
There are way too many historical fiction novels that revolve around war – but if authors keep adding magic to it, I’m going to keep reading. In Conjure Women, we get three different stories of Southern women whose lives are intertwined before, during, and after the Civil War.
The first woman we meet is May Belle, the community’s healer and midwife who also happens to be a “conjurer”; her daughter, Rue, takes over the work when May Belle dies. The third woman we follow is Varina, a woman who accuses Rue of cursing her pregnancy.
‘Scribe of Siena’ by Melodie Winawer
Beatrice is a sought-after neurosurgeon who takes a last-minute trip to Tuscany to settle her recently deceased brother’s estate. But as she searches the property, she comes across a painting of her – but it’s from 1347. Then, she finds herself 700 years in the past.
The Scribe of Siena uses magic as the basis for time travel. So while there’s not much magic other than that, I loved this book too much not to include it. Beatrice finds herself wrapped in conspiracy and romance as she races the clock as the Plague rushes for Siena.
‘Outlander’ by Diana Gabaldon
In Outlander, Claire Randall was just on vacation with her husband after a long war when she gets transported back to 1743 Scotland. She’s taken in by James Fraser and finds herself falling in love with him.
There’s not a lot of magic in this series, but I’m counting it because time travel is basically magic in my eyes. Not to mention the books and show got me back into historical fiction. Be prepared to be transported to Scotland as you’ve never seen it before.