The best historical books to incorporate magic

Who am I?

As a history buff I am also fascinated by folklore and magic, and how it has influenced society during various time periods. I love discovering writers who seamlessly manage to present a parallel magical universe grounded in actual history or who manage to incorporate fantastical or magical elements into a historical novel. Over the last few years I’ve been increasingly drawn to exploring the philosophical, magical, and spiritual underpinnings of society as part of my historical research. Although my own published works to date have been straight historical fiction, my current work in progress is definitely veering into the speculative, alternative history realm. 


I wrote...

Consequences of Sin

By Clare Langley-Hawthorne,

Book cover of Consequences of Sin

What is my book about?

Ursula Marlow, the star of this richly detailed, beautifully paced, deeply romantic mystery, is a strong female heroine with whom fans of Dorothy Sayers, Sarah Waters, Anne Perry, and Jacqueline Winspear's Maisie Dobbs series will instantly fall in love. An Oxford graduate active in the battle for women's suffrage, Ursula is not your typical Edwardian heiress. Her once-charmed life takes a frightening turn when a fellow suffragette and friend is accused of murder. As Ursula digs deeper to discover the truth and clear her friend's tarnished name, she is drawn into a mystery that raises troubling questions about her own father's connection to the murder victim.

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of The Toymakers

Clare Langley-Hawthorne Why did I love 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.

By Robert Dinsdale,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Toymakers as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Do you remember when you believed in magic?

An enchanting, magical novel set in a mysterious toyshop - perfect for fans of Erin Morgenstern's The Night Circus and Stephanie Garber's Caraval by way of Jessie Burton's The Miniaturist

It is 1917, and while war wages across Europe, in the heart of London, there is a place of hope and enchantment.

The Emporium sells toys that capture the imagination of children and adults alike: patchwork dogs that seem alive, toy boxes that are bigger on the inside, soldiers that can fight battles of their own. Into this family business comes young…


Book cover of Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell

Clare Langley-Hawthorne Why did I love 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.

By Susanna Clarke,

Why should I read it?

21 authors picked Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Two magicians shall appear in England. The first shall fear me; the second shall long to behold me The year is 1806. England is beleaguered by the long war with Napoleon, and centuries have passed since practical magicians faded into the nation's past. But scholars of this glorious history discover that one remains: the reclusive Mr Norrell whose displays of magic send a thrill through the country. Proceeding to London, he raises a beautiful woman from the dead and summons an army of ghostly ships to terrify the French. Yet the cautious, fussy Norrell is challenged by the emergence of…


Book cover of The Lie Tree

Clare Langley-Hawthorne Why did I love 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.

By Frances Hardinge,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked The Lie Tree as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it. This book is for kids age 12, 13, 14, and 15.

What is this book about?

Faith Sunderly leads a double life. To most people, she is reliable, dull, trustworthy-a proper young lady who knows her place as inferior to men-but inside, Faith is full of questions and curiosity, and she cannot resist a mystery: an unattended envelope, an unlocked door. She also knows secrets no one suspects her of knowing. For one, she knows that her family moved to the close-knit island of Vane because her famous scientist father was fleeing a reputation-destroying scandal. And when her father is discovered dead shortly thereafter, she knows that he was murdered.

In pursuit of justice and revenge,…


Book cover of A Darker Shade of Magic

Clare Langley-Hawthorne Why did I love 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.

By V. E. Schwab,

Why should I read it?

12 authors picked A Darker Shade of Magic as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A stunning collector's edition of the acclaimed novel from the #1 New York Times bestselling author V.E. Schwab.

With an exclusive metallic ink cover, this edition will feature:

* End papers of London
* Fan art
* A glossary of Arnesian and Antari terms
* An interview between author and editor
* Original (never before seen!) tales from within the Shades of Magic world

Kell is one of the last Antari-magicians with a rare, coveted ability to travel between parallel Londons. There is Red London, where life and magic are revered, Grey London, without magic and ruled by mad King…


Book cover of The White Forest

Clare Langley-Hawthorne Why did I love 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. 

By Adam McOmber,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The White Forest as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

In this hauntingly original debut novel about a young woman whose peculiar abilities help her infiltrate a mysterious secret society, Adam McOmber uses fantastical twists and dark turns to create a fast-paced, unforgettable story.

Young Jane Silverlake lives with her father in a crumbling family estate on the edge of Hampstead Heath. Jane has a secret—an unexplainable gift that allows her to see the souls of man-made objects—and this talent isolates her from the outside world. Her greatest joy is wandering the wild heath with her neighbors, Madeline and Nathan. But as the friends come of age, their idyll is…


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The Vixen Amber Halloway

By Carol LaHines,

Book cover of The Vixen Amber Halloway

Carol LaHines Author Of Distant Flickers: Stories of Identity & Loss

New book alert!

Who am I?

The anthology form unites diverse voices around a common theme—in the case of Distant Flickers, identity and loss. The stories in the anthology explore intense personal relationships—of mother and child, old lovers, etc. Some of the stories are in the moment and some recounted with the perspective of time, some are fable-like, some formal, and others more colloquial. Reading them the reader is struck by the variety of approaches a writer might take to a subject. The device of the contributor’s notes enables the reader to see the story behind the story and how life informs art—life furnishing the raw material or day residue of the story.  

Carol's book list on themed anthologies

What is my book about?

Ophelia, a professor of Dante, is stricken when she discovers that her husband Andy has been cheating on her with a winsome colleague. What follows is Ophelia’s figurative descent into hell as she obsessively tracks her subjects, performs surveillance in her beat-up Volvo, and moves into the property next door to Amber’s, which has gone into foreclosure.

She spies on the lovers, growing more and more estranged from reality. Andy’s betrayal reawakens the earlier trauma of abandonment by her mother at the age of eight. When Andy and Amber become engaged, Ophelia snaps. The story is a jailhouse confessional, a dark comedy, an oeuvre of women’s rage, a suspenseful revenge fantasy, and a moving portrait of one woman’s psychological breakdown.

The Vixen Amber Halloway

By Carol LaHines,

What is this book about?

Ophelia, a professor of Dante, is stricken when she discovers that her husband Andy has been cheating on her with a winsome colleague. What follows is Ophelia's figurative descent into hell as she obsessively tracks her subjects, performs surveillance in her beat-up Volvo, and moves into the property next door to Amber's, which has gone into foreclosure. She spies on the lovers, growing more and more estranged from reality. Andy's betrayal reawakens the earlier trauma of abandonment by her mother at the age of eight. When Andy and Amber become engaged, Ophelia snaps. The story is a jailhouse confessional, a…


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