There’s something about the rich worldbuilding of historical novels and fantasy that make the genres the perfect complement to each other. And both fantasy novels and historical novels have suffered from similar disingenuous reasoning around their lack of diversity: that the inclusion of, say, people of color or queer people isn’t historically accurate, and that they don’t have a place in the canon of fantasy worlds.
But people of color, queer people, disabled people, people of marginalized religious identities—all are an important part of our history, and all belong in our fantasy novels, too. Here are seven wonderful historical fantasies that don’t center on straight, cis, able-bodied white people.
Flame in the Mist, by Renée Ahdieh
You like Arya Stark and Sansa Stark? Great. Hybrid them together, add magic, and hurl them into feudal Japan, and you get Flame in the Mist‘s Mariko. The daughter of a prominent samurai, she knows her duties—at least until somebody tries to murder her as on her way to the capital for an arranged marriage she doesn’t want. The only person left alive in her traveling caravan, Mariko decides not to continue on to the imperial city, but to pose as a boy and join the Black Clan, the group hired to kill her. She’s determined to find out who’s behind the attempt on her life—even if, for the first time, she’s part of a group that appreciates her intellect and abilities.
Dread Nation, by Justina Ireland
Justina Ireland’s new book is so that they played the book trailer before select screenings of Black Panther. Yes, really. Dread Nation takes place in a historical America not unlike our own—but one in which the Civil War is derailed when zombies rise from the battlefields of Gettysburg. Genteel white folk certainly can’t fight zombies, so the the new Native and Negro Education Act forces girls like Jane McKeene to train in the art of zombie killing—even though that’s not the life she wants. A dissection and examination of our country’s history combined with fascinating worldbuilding make this novel a must-read for both history buffs and zombie fans alike.
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The Girl From Everywhere, by Heidi Heilig
The Girl from Everywhere is time travel done right. Do you want adventure? A time traveling pirate ship? A little bit of romance? Mythological places? Stakes that could actually undo the main character’s entire life? Then you want to read about Nix, who agrees to help her dad find the map that could take them back to 1868 Honolulu, the time and place Nix was born…and her mother died. Her father wants nothing more than to save his love’s life — even if it risks Nix disappearing from existence.
The Girl With the Red Balloon, by Katherine Locke
Another time travel book that gets it right? The Girl With The Red Balloon! This 2018 Sydney Taylor Award Honor Book follows Ellie as, with the aid of a red balloon, she falls back through time to 1988 East Berlin. There, a secret group helps people escape over the Wall with the help of balloons and magic—balloons that are not supposed to travel through time. There’s a different magic at play, one that could change history and stop Ellie from returning home, and if she and her new friends don’t stop it, everything the group works for could crumble.
Timekeeper, by Tara Sim
In Sim’s alt take on Victorian England, every town is controlled by a clock that regulate the local flow of time. Mechanics help ensure time runs smoothly, keeping clocks ticking forward at a steady rate—and Danny, the youngest clock mechanic in England, is determined to figure out how to fix a broken clock after a devastating explosion traps his father in a time-stuck town. But everything becomes more complicated after Danny meets the compellingly strange apprentice who works at the Colton Tower clock, which could hold the solution to fixing time and saving his dad.
The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue by Mackenzi Lee
Lee’s unforgettable narrator, Monty, a hilarious, defiantly dissolute son of a lord, has voice that oozes off of every page in this incredibly fun historical romp across Europe. Monty, his sister, and his best friend, Percy—who he is definitely not in love with—set off on a Grand Tour of the continent before they’re separated forever. But when the trio falls face-first into a scandal involving a mysterious group and a strange magical object, they’re forced off of their chosen path and sent scampering across the countryside to keep themselves safe.
Iron Cast, by Destiny Soria
You know that book your best friend keeps talking about and foisting on every person you come into contact with? For me, Iron Cast is that book. This alternate history, set in Boston in 1919, highlights friendship and magic. Heiress Corinne and biracial immigrants’ daughter Ada are best friends and fellow hemopaths, folks whose blood gives them illusion magic. But when their boss at the nightclub they both perform at convinces them to con the wealthy, Ada lands in prison, Corinne must bust her out, and soon they find themselves on the run from the police.