Historical Fantasy: 3 brief reviews

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Fantasy is all about creativity and originality—building unique worlds where anything goes. Historical Fiction is about fidelity and plausibility—recreating a very real world, one with strict boundaries of barbed timelines to keep out anachronisms. Some of my favorite stories are the ones that sneak the former past the rigid security of the latter, creating something called Historical Fantasy. It’s a place where skilled authors meld the established with the eldritch. My own Historical Fantasy prints in the Fall of 2014, but if you can’t wait that long, try one of these 3 gems from the past 3 years:

The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern (2011).
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Morgenstern writes the way a practiced magician performs. Set at the turn of the century, The Night Circus follows two very different illusionists and the remarkable venue in which they demonstrate their skills. The chronological order of the story is very deliberately shuffled, never tipping its hand, always revealing just the right details to entice its audience further into the mysterious plot. It has action, but it never stoops to ham-fisted spectacles. It has romance, but it is neither a tactless bodice-ripper nor a teen fluff story. It is a book which celebrates theatricality and craftsmanship as much as it demonstrates them. Suspenseful and magical, and positively worth the read.

The Diviners by Libba Bray (2012).
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If F. Scott Fitzgerald and Stan Lee themselves had come together to create a period piece about an unlikely cast of superheroes, they could not have done a finer job than Libba Bray. The characters are unique and the stage is an engrossing 1920’s era America. The Diviners‘ greatest strength is its worst character, the masterfully wicked Whistling John. Bray keeps this occult villain shrouded in secrets, revealing him inch by inch as the story unfolds. Her storytelling is frighteningly effective, and it has been a long time since I’ve read a creepier antagonist. Biggest downside, Bray clearly intended this as the introduction to a series (she plans to write 4 in the set). This means loose ends left and right and slow character growth, which can be frustrating knowing it will be years before the final chapter is printed. If you can take the anticipation, definitely worth jumping in as an early fan.

The Golem and the Jinni by Helene Wecker (2013).
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It’s common for writers to use a banal character’s point of view to help the audience become awed by the supernatural. The beauty of Wecker’s novel is that she uses her supernatural figures to explore the everyday with just as much awe and wonder. Set again at the turn of the century, The Golem and the Jinni (or Djinni in the UK version), is engaging and endearing, all the while exploring serious concepts of social expectations & free will. Her characters grow and evolve, and the world around them is at once gritty and grand, marvelous and miserable. The novel is a must-read.

In addition to being historical fantasy, all three works boast strong, independent female leads, engaging supporting casts, and suspenseful plots. With 2013 coming to a close, I’m more excited than ever for my chance to join these amazing authors on the bookshelves.

Any paranormal period pieces you just couldn’t put down?

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3 Comments

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3 responses to “Historical Fantasy: 3 brief reviews

  1. I don’t know if you’d call it “period”, but it had that feel… Neil Gaiman’s “The Graveyard Book.” Couldn’t put it down, then had to read it twice to see if I missed anything in the first late-night binge. Little boy lead character, mentored by graveyard ghosts… big sort of coming-of-age experirence, nasty villains…. goosebump territory for sure. Not sure how much else I can include without giving things away, plus some of the plot is delicate and ambigous enough that you might interpret it differently.

    • _The Graveyard Book_ is marvelous! It’s also part of the reason I signed with Elise Howard as my editor (She was Gaiman’s editor on that one while she was with Harper Collins). If you haven’t read it yet, his _Ocean at the End of the Lane_ is also amazing.

  2. Oonagh

    These aren’t historical, but they are alternate timeline and uncommon magic/paranormal! – The Bartimaeus Trilogy, Lockwood and Co. Series – the first is about a hilarious Djinni who is enslaved by a young magician( not your average kid wizard, cause he’s not actually the protagonist in the story- first book is harder to read because of it but he really develops and you get a pretty awesome girl (mostly) peotagonist in the second book) – second series is about kids whose jobs are to fight ghosts. The characters are awesome, it also takes place in London, and it has it’s creepy moments for being in middle-grade

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