The best historical fantasy novels for armchair travel

Why am I passionate about this?

I write fantasy novels, including A College of Magics, River Rats, and When the King Comes Home. With Patricia C. Wrede, I wrote half of the Kate and Cecy series: Sorcery and Cecelia, The Grand Tour, and The Mislaid Magician.


I wrote...

The Glass Magician

By Caroline Stevermer,

Book cover of The Glass Magician

What is my book about?

My most recent historical fantasy novel, The Glass Magician, is set in 1905, in an alternate version of New York City. The protagonist, Thalia Cutler, is a young woman stage magician working in vaudeville. She discovers her family background is not at all what she thought it was. Writing that balances historical research and flights of outright fantasy is a challenge that fascinates me. I love it when writers meet that challenge in ways that astound me. My five armchair travel fantasies all meet that challenge and surpass it.

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of The Angel of the Crows

Caroline Stevermer Why did I love this book?

Airships, angels, and evil-doers in an alternate 1880s London. I love Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes stories. Addison has worked out twists on the original cases that I found even more satisfying. From Watson's arrival in London by air-barque right to the very last page, I was obsessed with this novel. I only wish there were more from Addison set in this intriguing world.

By Katherine Addison,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked The Angel of the Crows as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

This is not the story you think it is. These are not the characters you think they are. This is not the book you are expecting.
London 1888. Angels inhabit every public building, and vampires and werewolves walk the streets with human beings in a well-regulated truce. A utopia, except for one thing: Angels can Fall, and that Fall is like a nuclear bomb in both the physical and metaphysical worlds.
Dr J. H. Doyle returns to London having been wounded in Afghanistan by a Fallen, and finds himself lodging in Baker Street with the enigmatic angel Crow. But living…


Book cover of A Master of Djinn

Caroline Stevermer Why did I love this book?

Agent of the Ministry of Alchemy, Enchantments, and Supernatural Entities, Fatma el-Sha'arawi is the spectacularly well-dressed protagonist tasked with saving the world (again) in an alternate 1912 Cairo. This award-winning novel awed me with its detail and invention. What I loved most was the way the world building relegated the British Empire to relative unimportance. Come to think of it, I loved the Ministry library almost as much.

By P. Djèlí Clark,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked A Master of Djinn as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Included in NPR’s Favorite Sci-Fi And Fantasy Books Of The Past Decade (2011-2021)
A Nebula Award Winner
A Ignyte Award Winner
A Compton Crook Award for Best New Novel Winner
A Locus First Novel Award Winner
A RUSA Reading List: Fantasy Winner
A Hugo Award Finalist
A World Fantasy Award Finalist
A NEIBA Book Award Finalist
A Mythopoeic Award Finalist
A Dragon Award Finalist
A Best of 2021 Pick in SFF for Amazon
A Best of 2021 Pick in SFF for Kobo

Nebula, Locus, and Alex Award-winner P. Djèlí Clark goes full-length for the first time in his dazzling debut…


Book cover of Redwood and Wildfire

Caroline Stevermer Why did I love this book?

As brilliantly written as it is sometimes difficult to read, this fantasy novel set in the early 20th century travels from rural Georgia to Chicago, part of the Great Migration. Hairston says "I wrote Redwood and Wildfire to celebrate folks like my great-aunt and grandfather who faced impossible choices." In so doing, she has told stories history has all but forgotten. I began to read this book because I knew it contained a passage involving a visit to the 1893 Columbian Exposition—The White City—but my favorite parts of this novel involve the show folk and the Black film industry in Chicago. Hairston's characters don't just do magic. They are magic.

By Andrea Hairston,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

At the turn of the 20th century, minstrel shows transform into vaudeville, which slides into moving pictures. Hunkering together in dark theatres, diverse audiences marvel at flickering images. This 'dreaming in public' becomes common culture and part of what transforms immigrants and 'native' born into Americans.

Redwood, an African American woman, and Aidan, a Seminole Irish man, journey from Georgia to Chicago, from haunted swampland to a 'city of the future.' They are gifted performers and hoodoo conjurors, struggling to call up the wondrous world they imagine, not just on stage and screen, but on city streets, in front parlors,…


Book cover of The Masked City

Caroline Stevermer Why did I love this book?

A dragon, a great detective, many fae, and more than one resourceful librarian clash in a Venice so alternate I can't quite pin down the year—during Carnival, of course. This novel is part of the Invisible Library series, which I've loved from the very first book, The Invisible Library. I love Cogman's use of magic—and airships—as she builds whole worlds and as her librarians travel among them. Her plots are ingenious, but it is her marvelously twisty characters that impress me the most. 

By Genevieve Cogman,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Librarian-spy Irene and her apprentice Kai are back in the second in this “dazzling”* book-filled fantasy series from the author of The Invisible Library.
 
The written word is mightier than the sword—most of the time...
 
Working in an alternate version of Victorian London, Librarian-spy Irene has settled into a routine, collecting important fiction for the mysterious Library and blending in nicely with the local culture. But when her apprentice, Kai—a dragon of royal descent—is kidnapped by the Fae, her carefully crafted undercover operation begins to crumble.
 
Kai’s abduction could incite a conflict between the forces of chaos and order that…


Book cover of Black Hearts in Battersea

Caroline Stevermer Why did I love this book?

No airships here, but there is a hot-air balloon, as well as a dark conspiracy afoot. This classic children's book, first published in 1964, introduces Dido Twite, a character so vivid that she took over the series this is part of. Back in the Cretaceous period, when I read this book for the very first time, I didn't notice this nineteenth-century London is not the one Dickens wrote of. Now I revel in the sly details that Aiken gives us.

By Joan Aiken,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Black Hearts in Battersea as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it. This book is for kids age 10.

What is this book about?

'Wait, wait! Save us! What'll we do?'

Simon is determined to become a painter when he grows up so he sets off to London to make his fortune. But the city is plagued by wolves and mysterious disappearances. The Twite household, where Simon is lodging, seems particularly shifty. Before he even gets a chance to open his glistening new paints Simon stumbles right into the centre of a plot to kill the King. And worse than that Simon is kidnapped and sent to sea! Luckily there are two friendly stowaways aboard - the feisty Dido Twite and the spoiled young…


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Conditions are Different After Dark

By Owen W. Knight,

Book cover of Conditions are Different After Dark

Owen W. Knight Author Of The Visitors

New book alert!

Why am I passionate about this?

Author Visionary Compassionate Imaginative Conspiracist Apophenia (or apophenic)

Owen's 3 favorite reads in 2023

What is my book about?

In 1662, a man is wrongly executed for signing the death warrant of Charles I. Awaiting execution, he asks to speak with a priest, to whom he declares a curse on the village that betrayed him. The priest responds with a counter-curse, leaving just one option to nullify it.

Over four centuries later, Faith and James move to the country to start a new life and a family. They discover their village lives under the curse uttered by the hanged man. Could their arrival be connected? They fear their choice of new home is no coincidence. Unexplained events hint at threats or warnings to leave. They become convinced the village remains cursed despite their friends’ denials. Who can they trust, and who are potential enemies?

Conditions are Different After Dark

By Owen W. Knight,

What is this book about?

In 1660, a man is wrongly executed for signing the death warrant of Charles I. While awaiting execution, he asks to speak with a priest, to whom he declares a curse on the village that betrayed him. The priest responds with a counter-curse, leaving just one option to nullify it.
Over four centuries later, Faith and James move to the country to start a new life and a family. They learn that their village lives under the curse uttered by the hanged man. Could their arrival be connected?
Faith and James fear that their choice of a new home is…


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