Whether you’re reading an alternate World War II story full of psychic soldiers or exploring speakeasies where magic is slung as fast as the drinks, something fantastic happens when you blend historical fiction with other genres.
These mind-blowing books take elements of history and toss in magic, horror, mystery, and science fiction, sometimes pulling a little from multiple genres (I’m looking at you, Libba Bray’s The Diviners) to make for wonderfully unique and clever reads that are hard to classify, but impossible to put down.
Sekret, by Lindsay Smith
I’ve talked up Smith’s duology on here before (make sure you pick up Skandal too!), as it’s probably my favorite genre-bending alternative history. In it, we’re taken back to the Cold War, and while the rest of the world thinks mankind is simply stewing in fear over nuclear weapons and the threat of war, the reality is far more interesting: Psychic. Soldiers. The KGB wants Yulia, a teen with special psychic gifts she uses to survive the landscape of Communist Russia, but she’d rather not get scooped up and forced to fight. However, with a powerful American psychic soldier hot on her trail, she might not have a choice. It’s packed with political intrigue, romance, and serious suspense, set against a brilliantly researched backdrop.
The Diviners, by Libba Bray
There’s so much to love in this hefty, beautiful book. It’s set in mid-1920s New York City, an exciting era of speakeasies, dance halls, marvelous outfits, and a nightlife promising thrills and danger. Oh, and also there’s magic. See, in Bray’s series, we meet Evie O’Neill, a small-town girl who can’t wait to explore the exciting landscape of New York City…only she’s stuck living with her eccentric uncle, who’s obsessed with all things occult. Which concerns her, because she’s gifted with the sort of strange abilities he’s crazy about. And as much as she wants to hide her secret from him and the rest of the world, she’s going to have to use them to help catch a serial killer plaguing the city streets. Make sure you pick up sequel Lair of Dreams, which just came out last year.
Ivory and Bone, by Julie Eshbaugh
Let’s go really far back in time with this pick. I’m talking all the way back, to the dawn of man. In Eshbaugh’s debut, we’re taken to the prehistoric era, to a world where hunting and gathering are really all there is to life. It’s a time when the landscape and the creatures that roam it are unforgiving and dangerous. And, as it turns out, so are the people. Prehistoric clans vs. Prehistoric clans, set in a magnificently imagined world. The plot is set up a bit like Pride and Prejudice, with one of the principals possessing a dark history and dangerous rival. As romance and tensions mount, war starts to brew on the horizon.
Jackaby, by William Ritter
Set in the 1890s, with hints of Sherlock and Doctor Who smattered throughout, Ritter’s paranormal detective series is as mysterious and thrilling as it is dark and haunting. When Abigail Rook moves to the town of New Fiddleham in New England, she lands a job with an investigator who can see paranormal creatures. And thanks to her ability to notice what other detectives tend to miss, they end up becoming the perfect team…just as a serial killer is on the loose. The serial killer might not be human, and it’s up to Abigail and Jackaby to figure it all out. And hey, the third book in Ritter’s series comes out this month! Keep an eye out for Ghostly Echoes.
Traitor Angels, by Anne Blankman
Oh, this is an amazing book. In Blankman’s latest, readers get to adventure along with Elizabeth Milton. Last name sound familiar? It should. She’s the daughter of John Milton of Paradise Lost fame, and in Traitor Angels, she wrestles with figuring out her place in the constantly shifting landscape of England’s kings and queens. Well, with that and trying to figure out the hidden messages her father left in Paradise Lost. See, her dad has been working with her to transcribe his poem, but also teaching her foreign languages and sword play. And when he’s finally arrested and taken away, she’ll have to use everything he taught her to figure out the secret in the book, and figure out how to save her father—and, potentially, save the kingdom.
Hardcover $16.19 | $17.99
Walk on Earth a Stranger, by Rae Carson
Everyone knows the story of the California Gold Rush, an era of American history when people literally rushed across the country to claim the gold that was seemingly just bubbling up out of the land. And sure, a lot of people got rich. But even more suffered or even died along the way. And in Carson’s Walk on Earth a Stranger, we see a really unique experience on that trail, through the eyes of a young girl who can sense the presence of gold, whether it’s hidden in the earth or floating in the water. And in an era of desperation and greed, that kind of power isn’t the something people are going to let slip through their fingers. It’s a novel of the frontier, heartbreak, and staggering loss, and you’ll find yourself eagerly awaiting the sequel, Like a River Glorious, out next month.
Blood and Salt, by Kim Liggett
While on the surface Liggett’s debut might seem like just a YA horror novel, it’s steeped in history. It’s a Romeo & Juliet–style tale set in a Children of the Corn setting, with a teenager swept up in an ancient battle started centuries ago. See, while Ash Larkin rushes to save her mother and protect her brother from a cult hidden in the cornfields of Kansas, one that’s trapped in another era, the stakes are higher than she can possibly imagine. Because behind all of it is an ancient curse tied to Francisco Vázquez de Coronado, a conquistador who made his way through Mexico up into Kansas. I won’t dish the particulars here, because that weaves into spoiler territory, but the unique blend of horror and history make this a really clever title.