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Ten Acclaimed Historical Fantasy Novels You Need to Read

Tuesday, September 2nd, 2014 | Posted by John ONeill

The Girls at the Kingfisher Club Genevieve Valentine-smallIf there’s something we’re consistently good at here at Black Gate, it’s jumping on a trend late. What can I tell you? We’re too busy reading to be hip. On laundry day, I still wear bell bottoms.

But there are some trends so obvious that even we notice. Social media? It’s starting to catch on — take our word for it. Superhero movies? They’re going to be popular. Believe it.

Most recently, I’ve noticed that the emerging trend in fantasy — the one attracting the hottest writers in the field — seems to be historical fantasy. Mary Robinette Kowal, Genevieve Valentine, Patty Templeton, Catherynne Valente, and many others have penned some really terrific historical fantasies recently… and more are arriving every week.

Not convinced? Have a look at the following list of 10 recent, and highly acclaimed, historical fantasy novels, written by a Who’s Who of emerging fantasy writers.

If you’re like most readers, you’ll find more than a few you haven’t read. Do yourself a favor and check out one or two that sound interesting.

Trust us; you’ll be glad you did.

1. The Girls at the Kingfisher Club by Genevieve Valentine

The fairytale of the Twelve Dancing Princesses , set in Jazz Age Manhattan.

2. The Ghost Bride by Yangsze Choo

An 1890’s Malaysian ghost story, filled with Chinese folklore and romantic intrigue.

3. A Book of Tongues by Gemma Files
A Book of Tongues Gemma Files-small

An 1800’s weird western, packed with outlaws, Pinktertons, and magicians.

4. Moonshine by Alaya Dawn Johnson

A Jazz Age New York vampire tale.

5. Shades of Milk and Honey by Mary Robinette Kowal

A Regency era society story… with magic. First in the popular Glamourist Histories series.

6. Delia’s Shadow by Jamie Lee Moyer

A San Francisco ghost story, set shortly after the 1906 quake.

7. Moses: The Chronicles of Harriet Tubman (Books 1 & 2) by Balogun Ojetade

African-American abolitionist Harriet Tubman’s life as a soldier, spy, and monster hunter.

8. The Madman’s Daughter by Megan Shepherd

Life in the 1800’s, as seen through the eyes of Dr. Moreau’s daughter.

There is no Lovely End-small9. There Is No Lovely End by Patty Templeton

A beautifully written 1800’s Victorian ghost story.

10. Deathless by Catherynne Valente

Russian folklore reimagined with an early 1900’s Russian Revolution backdrop.

For this list, we’ve purposely avoided Steampunk, Arthurian, Greco-Roman, and other forms of “historical fantasy” that are more strongly associated with a different sub-genre. Here, we are primarily interested in the pure historical fantasy.

We’ve also limited our list to titles released in the last few years. No angry letters that we somehow missed Bridge of Birds or Outlander, please.

Still, I’m sure we’ve overlooked one or two (or ten). That’s what the Comments section is for. Did we somehow neglect your favorite recent historical fantasy novel? Give us what for in the Comments.

Don’t hold back — this is your chance to get a plum assignment as a Black Gate blogger. We’re too lazy to hold auditions (or fact-check, or even check spelling, for that matter). This is how we do it.

For more top-notch new fantasy, check our recent New Treasures listings.

14 Comments »

  1. I do think that the bounds of this historical fantasy are a bit limiting.

    And no love for Elizabeth Bear’s Promethean Age, or Marie Brennan’s Onyx Court novels? :)

    Comment by Princejvstin - September 2, 2014 10:20 am

  2. Hi Princejvstin,

    Thanks for the comment!

    > And no love for Elizabeth Bear’s Promethean Age

    Promethean Age is a terrific series, and we’re huge fans Elizabeth Bear. But BLOOD AND IRON, the first novel in the series, came out way back in 2006. Most of the books in the list above are from the last 1-3 years.

    > or Marie Brennan’s Onyx Court novels?

    Same issue. MIDNIGHT NEVER COME, the first of the Onyx Court novels, was released over six years ago (2008).

    Mind you, a list of the best Historical Fantasy of the last decade or so (or even the best Historical Fantasy of the 21st Century) is not a bad idea…

    Comment by John ONeill - September 2, 2014 11:50 am

  3. Hmmm, earlier today this said it was posted by Patty herself; now we know how the sausage gets made. It does read better now without the obviousness of Ms. Templeton referring to herself in the third person. 😉

    There are some favorites on the list—Genevieve Valentine and Catherynne Valente—and thanks for letting me know about books of theirs I wasn’t aware of. Ms. Kowal is another favorite, of course, but I’ve pretty much had that book since the date of publication.

    And not having read Ms. Templeton before, except for her postings here, I’ve now purchased the Kindle version of “There Is No Lovely End”. The title itself is evocative, reminiscent of King’s “Full Dark, No Stars”, but I read the first few pages on the Amazon website, and they immediately pulled me in.

    Comment by Allen Snyder - September 2, 2014 12:24 pm

  4. Sheesh! Give a guy a chance, will ya? I just started “Pavane” based upon the recent recommendation here. Now you’re throwing a whole list at me.

    :-)

    Comment by Ty Johnston - September 2, 2014 12:28 pm

  5. > Hmmm, earlier today this said it was posted by Patty herself; now we know how the sausage gets made. It
    > does read better now without the obviousness of Ms. Templeton referring to herself in the third person. 😉

    Allen,

    My fault! I logged in as Patty last night to upload a high-res copy of her book cover. For some reason my new laptop didn’t log me out before I posted the article. That must have given the article an interesting spin, having it under her byline (forgive me, Patty!)

    > There are some favorites on the list — Genevieve Valentine and Catherynne Valente — and thanks
    > for letting me know about books of theirs I wasn’t aware of.

    Genevieve’s book in particular is receiving a lot of mainstream attention, as is Yangsze Choo’s The Ghost Bride. Some of the others we’ve never mentioned before, so it’s good to give them a little air time.

    > Ms. Kowal is another favorite, of course, but I’ve pretty much had that book since the date of publication.

    Mary’s been popular with our readers for years… no surprise.

    Comment by John ONeill - September 2, 2014 12:43 pm

  6. > I just started “Pavane” based upon the recent recommendation here. Now you’re throwing a whole list at me.

    Try to keep up, Ty. :)

    Comment by John ONeill - September 2, 2014 12:46 pm

  7. No Tim Powers novels? What’s this site coming to? 😉

    Really, though, Anubis Gates, The Stress of Her Regard, and On Stranger Tides are all terrific books.

    Comment by Fletcher Vredenburgh - September 2, 2014 2:26 pm

  8. All great novels… and all over 20 years old.

    We’re looking for recent stuff, Fletcher. Those are too old to even make our alternate list of Top Historical Fantasy of the 21st Century!

    Comment by John ONeill - September 2, 2014 2:37 pm

  9. You know, I’m interested in fantasy and history, but I’ve only read work by one writer on this list. And it’s not like I’m not reading historical fantasy, either. Looking over the last three years, I’ve written here about ‘really good recent historical fantasy’ including Matthew Flaming’s The Kingdom of Ohio, Mary Gentle’s The Black Opera, Joyce Carol Oates’ The Accursed, Brian Catling’s The Vorrh, and Erin Morgenstern’s The Night Circus (I guess you could argue some of those are steampunk or dieselpunk, maybe, though where one draws the line is a bit tricky). Then there’s stuff I haven’t written about here, like Peter Ackroyd’s Three Brothers (arguably fantasy, set in the 60s) and Greer Gilman’s Cry Murder! in a Small Voice. Plus there’s always Naomi Novik’s Temeraire series. And of course that guy Howard Andrew Jones with his Chronicles of Sword and Sand; I loved the first, but being lazy have yet to track down the second (maybe this crosses over into another sub-genre, but again, where to draw the line?).

    Anyway, my point is, I think you’re on to something with this talk of a trend.

    Comment by Matthew David Surridge - September 2, 2014 4:42 pm

  10. Only one male writer. If I were a blogger, I’d try to make a point about the resonances among romance novels, urban fantasy, and historical fantasy — all genres (or ghettos, depending on your pov) dominated by women — but it’s probably not true, either generally or with reference to these specific books.

    Oh, well.

    Comment by Tulkinghorn - September 2, 2014 6:13 pm

  11. For this list, we’ve purposely avoided Steampunk, Arthurian, Greco-Roman, and other forms of “historical fantasy” that are more strongly associated with a different sub-genre. Here, we are primarily interested in the pure historical fantasy.

    Can I just put in a request for these top 10 lists? Slowly chipping away at my own Ancient Roman historical fantasy… 2/3 of the first draft went in the circular file, so hopefully I’m getting good “wheat” and cutting bad “chaff”…

    Comment by thehessiangoeshome - September 2, 2014 7:04 pm

  12. I’d read The Girls at the Kingfisher Club just for the lips on the cover… Seriously, I would, assuming someone provided me with a copy :)

    Comment by Scott Taylor - September 2, 2014 9:43 pm

  13. […] Gate suggests some prime historical fantasy for your reading pleasure.  Make sure you read the comments for some suggestions of books in the […]

    Pingback by Sunday Links, September 21, 2014 | Like Fire - September 21, 2014 8:57 pm

  14. […] Gemma Files has won both the International Horror Guild Award and the Black Quill Award; she’s also been nominated for the Lambda, Stoker and Shirley Jackson Awards. She’s the author of the weird western A Book of Tongues, which Patty Templeton lists as one of the 10 Acclaimed Historical Fantasy Novels You Need to Read. […]

    Pingback by Black Gate » Blog Archive » Embrace the Odd: The Fantasy Catalog of ChiZine Publications - December 21, 2014 7:10 pm


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