The best historical books to incorporate magic

Clare Langley-Hawthorne Author Of Consequences of Sin
By Clare Langley-Hawthorne

The Books I Picked & Why

The Toymakers

By Robert Dinsdale

Book cover of The Toymakers

Why this book?

Set in 1917, during an era that I have always been particularly drawn to, The Toymakers is one of those rare books that manages to capture magic in a way that feels both whimsical as well as deeply poignant – it truly reads like a fairy tale for adults set against the tragic backdrop of the First World War. Reading this book was like reading the first Harry Potter book – I was totally captivated and transported back in time to London and the Emporium (a wonderful magical toy shop). This book had me spellbound – both in terms of the enchanting forms of magic employed by the toy-makers as well as the darker aspects of their lives and the secrets uncovered.


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Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell

By Susanna Clarke

Book cover of Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell

Why this book?

At nearly 800 pages, this book can be a daunting proposition but it is well worth the effort, as it seamlessly weaves a magical premise into Regency England and in doing so creates two of the most memorable magicians in literature - Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell. I admit it took me a while to get into the dense prose (and lengthy footnotes!) but I soon found myself totally immersed in the world that had been created. I especially loved the wit and humor that was skillfully incorporated into the story, as well as the sheer ‘Englishness’ of it all, but it is the intricate (and totally believable!) world building in this novel that pushes it to the top of my list.


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The Lie Tree

By Frances Hardinge

Book cover of The Lie Tree

Why this book?

Although strictly speaking this is a children’s book, I absolutely loved it as an adult reader. It explores all my favorite themes – the role of women in society, the conflict between science and religion, the darker elements of humanity – all wrapped up in murder mystery with the wonderful fantastical premise of a tree that feeds on whispered lies and whose fruit (when eaten) imparts the deepest of truths. Honestly, this novel has it all – a windswept island, forbidden truths, hidden secrets, and a deeply flawed main female character battling against societal expectations in the mid-19th Century.


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A Darker Shade of Magic

By V.E. Schwab

Book cover of A Darker Shade of Magic

Why this book?

I confess, I really wanted to recommend the whole Shades of Magic trilogy, but the first book, A Darker Shade of Magic, remains my favorite. Although it falls more squarely in the realm of fantasy, I love how the author creates three parallel Londons and how she uses this device to produce a page-turning novel that feels like both a historical adventure as well as a fantasy. The reader is introduced to three fantastical Londons: White, where magic has been drained; Red, where magic, thrives; and Grey (our boring old world). Oh, and there is a fourth London, Black London, that no one speaks of…It’s worth picking up this book for the world building alone but Victoria Schwab also has a wonderful female protagonist in the wannabe pirate Lila and in the traveler Kell who can pass between these parallel worlds.


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The White Forest

By Adam McOmber

Book cover of The White Forest

Why this book?

Set in Victorian England, this novel is a sinister, gothic tale based on the ability of a young woman to read the souls of man-made objects and the disappearance of a young man drawn to the occult. I loved how this book was grounded in the real Victorian London and yet managed to incorporate gorgeously gothic supernatural elements as well as a love triangle involving well-drawn and believable characters. For me, the writing was what really drew me in and I have to admire anyone who can weave historical and fantastical elements as beautifully as this author. 


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