The best historical fantasy books with captivating natural magic

Mary-Jean Harris Author Of Night Of The Immortals
By Mary-Jean Harris

Who am I?

As a fantasy reader and writer, I love to explore magic systems and see how a story can seamlessly be brought to life. The natural, mysterious magic we often see in fantasy creates a sense of whimsy and wonder that takes readers to new worlds. I have two degrees in theoretical physics and a minor in philosophy, something that would seem to naturally lead to science fiction, but it’s also true that understanding magic is related to science. Indeed, the physicist Albert Einstein once said: “The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious.” I hope you find some new books on this list that will sweep you to another world!

I wrote...

Night Of The Immortals

By Mary-Jean Harris,

Book cover of Night Of The Immortals

What is my book about?

In nineteenth-century Bristol, Zacharias discovers a young man from another world named Wyndor, and learns that he comes from a world of starlit beings called Velans. He is searching for a Velan object that can return him to his world, a pearl that a group of spiritual adepts called the Lung Hsieh are also searching for to return to their order in China. Throughout his adventures with Wyndor, Zacharias learns more about the powers inherent in other worlds and dreams, and he comes to make a decision that will change his life forever.

The books I picked & why

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Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell

By Susanna Clarke,

Book cover of Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell

Why this book?

I could praise Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell all day: it is one of my very favourite books! At 782 pages, which includes numerous footnotes, it might seem a daunting task for a reader, but I would have easily enjoyed a novel twice its length. The novel’s style of writing is beautifully detailed and has a wry British humour that is a pleasure to read. The magic is seamlessly woven into the land and culture of England. We don’t learn much about a magic system so much as glimpse touches of magic that are the true basis and history of the world, and this “wild” magic is what is so captivating and keeps the reader curious and eager to learn more.

The Merlin Trilogy

By Mary Stewart,

Book cover of The Merlin Trilogy

Why this book?

Mary Stewart’s Merlin Trilogy (and the companion novel, The Wicked Day) creates an immersive world and is so enjoyable to read. The characters are alive and the words flow across the page like gentle pixie dust lulling you into a world of enchantment. There is no magical system per se but the magic is present in glimpses like sunlight off the surface of a broken mirror, only allowing us to perceive hints of its reflections. Even for those well-versed in Arthurian legends, the unique perspective of Merlin takes us on a new adventure. I loved the elements of philosophy in the story as well, both moral philosophy and metaphysics that relates to our understanding of the world and the natural and magical forces that shape it. 

Wildwood Dancing

By Juliet Marillier,

Book cover of Wildwood Dancing

Why this book?

Wildwood Dancing is a fairytale set in the mysterious forests of Transylvania. We explore the world of Faerie through the eyes of Jena, the second eldest of five sisters who live at the castle Piscul Draculi, a name that already evokes a mystical ambiance. The cover of the book is perfectly suited to the Faerie realm and the adventure Jena embarks on as she discovers this unknown world and herself. Although I also love a concrete magic system with spells and formulaic magic, the mystery of the magic in the Other Kingdom brings the story to life as we venture with the characters into the unknown on a beautiful and vivid journey.

The Crown's Game

By Evelyn Skye,

Book cover of The Crown's Game

Why this book?

The Crown’s Game is a beautiful novel set in Imperial Russia, with two protagonists who possess markedly different magical abilities: Vika, whose powers are natural and arising from within herself and the land, and Nikolai, an enchanter who has learned his skills through difficult studies. It is a beautiful and enchanting read, with thoughtful prose and unforgettable characters. With a heart-wrenching love triangle and a magical contest between these two enchanters, it is a story that’s hard to put down (and fortunately, there is a sequel that is just as captivating!).

The Rose Demon: A Terrifying Tale of Medieval England

By Paul Doherty,

Book cover of The Rose Demon: A Terrifying Tale of Medieval England

Why this book?

This is a darker read than the others on my list, but it’s such an excellent book that it deserves a place here. The story follows Matthias through the trials of his life with a breathtaking plot across different cultures and times. We see a battle involved in the War of the Roses, James III's court in Edinburgh, Scotland, Isabella and Ferdinand recapturing Granada from the Moors, and even Christopher Columbus, all of whom are truly real characters we can relate to. The magic involved is that of the Rose Demon which, like natural magic, is caught in glimpses and naturally woven into the tale. Though sometimes shocking when there is demonic possession, The Rose Demon is a beautiful read that should not be passed over!

5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in magicians, love triangle, and King Arthur?

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And, 3 books we think you will enjoy!

We think you will like The Other Merlin, The Name of the Wind, and An Unkindness of Magicians if you like this list.