“The circus arrives without warning.”First line in The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern
We’ve made it to the post I just had to make for this year’s Wyrd and Wonder: My favorite Historical Fantasy books! Such a list will be expanding constantly, of course, but these are my favorites at the moment. So settle in because I’m going to tell you exactly why you need to read them.
Winternight Trilogy by Katherine Arden
Let’s get the obvious one out the way first. It’s very difficult for me to write a post without mentioning this series as it is my favorite of all-time, so of course, it also belongs on this list.
Winternight Trilogy is set in medieval Russia, and we follow Vasya and her family as they try to make their way in a political landscape shaped by the introduction of Christianity. We especially see Vasya as she struggles to fit into the expectations society has for her as she would much rather spend her time talking to the mythological creatures that she is one of the few who is able to see. These creatures are threatened by Christianity as the people of Russia slowly lose faith in them, and that’s not good because they’re kind of important.
Winternight Trilogy is an atmospheric story about family, love and self-discovery that not only provides a look into Russian history and culture but also gives you the best kind of love story and the most loyal animal companion. Just read it.
The Song of Achilles and Circe by Madeline Miller
These two books take place in the same “universe”, and I like them for a lot of the same reasons so they get to share a spot on this list. One of the reasons I love them both is Madeline Miller. She writes the kind of characters that force their way into your heart and then refuse to leave. They are compelling and their struggles are real, making them easy characters to root for.
Obviously, these books are also for all the Greek mythology fans out there, but they do take a more character-focused approach than other Greek mythology stories, which I really love. They are slow and a lot of the time is spent inside the minds of the main characters as they contemplate events happening around them. It gives the books a beautiful and atmospheric vibe that makes me desperate for a new book by this author.
Also, if you’re unsure whether Madeline Miller’s writing is for you, I can recommend her (very) short story, Galatea, to test it out.
Burn by Patrick Ness
Set in the small town of Frome, Washington, this standalone from Patrick Ness mixes all kinds of fun stuff in an alternate version of 1957. There are dragons (!!), cults, prophecies, an assassin you might actually root for, and in the midst of it all, you find Sarah and her father just trying to make ends meet on their farm. By hiring a dragon, obviously.
This story has so many twists and turns that a synopsis could never do it justice without spoiling anything. However, it’s a very diverse book as Sarah is biracial and another POV character is gay, but Sarah’s story especially delves into the racism of the 1950s and her struggles with being biracial. And since this is a book by Patrick Ness, the characters are expertly written with multiple layers and complicated emotions.
The Binding by Bridget Collins
The Binding is a bit different from the others as both the historical and the fantasy elements in there aren’t that prevalent. But they’re there so I’m including the book here.
It’s not completely clear where the story takes place other than it is reminiscent of 19th century England, and you don’t really need to know more as we follow a small cast of characters. We primarily spend the time with Emmett who at the beginning of the book sees his life turned upside down because of something that happened before we’re introduced to him. Something that makes him unable to continue handling his chores on his family’s farm. That is the book’s mystery, and I’d recommend not knowing any more than that before going into it. I’d even say you should skip the synopsis if you can.
With this book Collins manages to tell a beautiful story where books and identity are central themes, so I highly recommend it if you’re into atmospheric books about books.
The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern
This book feels like a dream. And that is despite its synopsis introducing us to a “fierce competition” within its pages. It is not the kind of fierce competition most fantasy readers will think of, but rather a competition in the beauty of life and art. Two young magicians are trained for most of their life and pitted against each other in a duel set in the traveling venue of The Night Circus.
This book manages atmospherics to a tee. Morgenstern introduces us to her imaginary and magical Night Circus in such a way that might make you cry because you can’t actually visit this wonderful place.
Would you read any of these or do they already have a spot among your favorites? Am I missing your favorite Historical Fantasy book? Please share in the comments!