The best books on the fantastic of magical realism

Brian Fence Author Of Librarian
By Brian Fence

Who am I?

“Reality is malleable,” my mentor told me. As a boy I had always wished it so: I grew up in a pine forest with naught but deer with which to convene; friendship came in the form of books. I was—and still am to this dayan introvert by nature, so there was nothing more desirable than escaping some jibes and jabs from older siblings, or more serious issues like my parents’ drinking problems and my own struggle with depression. That’s when I found practical magic.

I wrote...


By Brian Fence,

Book cover of Librarian

What is my book about?

Lenna Faircloth was content enough to be junior librarian at one of the grandest libraries on the Continent, so long as at the end of the day she can enjoy a glass of wine and some decent shut-eye. Reticent and unconcerned with trivial matters, Lenna is startled the day her childhood friend, Gilbert, appears at her door, asking her to help smuggle stolen goods across national borders. Librarian is the first part of a young woman's journey set in an alternate, sparsely-populated world. When unfortunate circumstances leave a bizarre, out-of-place artifact of immense power in the sole custody of Lenna, she is forced to question her own wants, the source of her withdrawal from others, and the curious nature of the Continent's magic.

The books I picked & why

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Fire and Hemlock

By Diana Wynne Jones,

Book cover of Fire and Hemlock

Why this book?

Diana Wynne Jones was a wonderful woman who always responded to my questions in a tidy hand, delighting a little boy who had made himself an author pen-pal. When a twelve-year-old Brian begged for a copy of her Fire and Hemlockmy library suffered a flood and its copy, lost—the best she could procure for the out-of-print book was a solitary copy she possessed… in Japanese. Our correspondence lasted several letters, topics ranging the gamut from life in England, the University of Oxford, and writing in general. It’s a retelling of the Scottish ballad, “Tam Lin,” and stars a strong female protagonist and an elegant take on magical realism. 

Howl's Moving Castle

By Diana Wynne Jones,

Book cover of Howl's Moving Castle

Why this book?

Jones’ work embodies practical magic, something I strive to achieve with every word I write. The novel is the story of Sophie, who is cursed by a witch, and learns that she has some magic of her own. She talks to flowers and they bloom, and she can do amazing things with curtains. I read this at twelve, and still read it every year. Pics to prove upon request.

Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell

By Susanna Clarke,

Book cover of Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell

Why this book?

In my opinion, there’s never been a more fantastic description of ‘practical magic’ as in Clarke’s novel. It’s an alternate history of Great Britain where gentlemen rediscover faerie magic but use it in the most conventional ways. There is also a great bout of madness and an obsession with pineapples that makes the book all the more charming. Clarke’s footnotes alone could be a book in of itself. 

The Book of Three

By Lloyd Alexander,

Book cover of The Book of Three

Why this book?

The subtlety of Alexander’s magic cannot be denied in the first novel of his series, The Chronicles of Prydain. Be it Eilonwy’s bauble or a portent-telling porcine, Alexander is a master at magic with the deftest of touches. And who can resist Gurgi’s munchings and crunchings or an oracular pig? The series as a whole is wonderful, but The Book of Three is truly a piece of art with its sentimental characters and use of the arcane.

The Night Circus

By Erin Morgenstern,

Book cover of The Night Circus

Why this book?

Morgenstein sets herself apart with her use of practical magic to showcase the beauty of the circus, of the pantomime. Two magicians—unbeknownst to each other—compete to enhance the circus through practical magic, only to fall in love outside of it. It’s a gloriously written homage to the use of the arcane arts in subtle ways.

5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in magicians, magical realism, and good and evil?

5,887 authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about magicians, magical realism, and good and evil.

Magicians Explore 24 books about magicians
Magical Realism Explore 98 books about magical realism
Good And Evil Explore 68 books about good and evil

And, 3 books we think you will enjoy!

We think you will like Into the Wild, The Lord of the Rings, and The Coming of the Fairies if you like this list.