The best books that mix magic and mystery with history

Sean Gibson Author Of The Camelot Shadow: A Novel
By Sean Gibson

Who am I?

I made the mistake of reading Dracula as an eight-year-old (thanks, Mom and Dad, for paying attention to what I brought home from school book fairs). Beyond disrupting my sleep pattern, there were two significant consequences to this decision: 1) I became enthralled with the intersection of historical detail, mystery, and magic, an enchantment that continues to this day; and 2) I ultimately majored in English literature, with a concentration in Victorian literature. To my professors’ chagrin, I put that education to use in concocting my own historically-based magical mysteries (sorry, Dr. Steinitz). But hey—I’ve always got good recommendations in this milieu.


I wrote...

The Camelot Shadow: A Novel

By Sean Gibson,

Book cover of The Camelot Shadow: A Novel

What is my book about?

Lord Alfred Fitzwilliam spends his days caring for his terminally ill wife and losing himself in the dusty tomes that fill his library—until he receives a visit from a man representing a clandestine organization backed by Queen Victoria herself. The group seeks his aid in finding an Arthurian artifact that, legend holds, can cure its bearer of any disease. 

Following arcane clues from the gas-lit streets of London to the wilds of Scotland and deep into ancient catacombs in Italy, Alfred becomes enmeshed in a web of hidden agendas, secret societies, and ancient enchantments. Filled with unexpected twists, The Camelot Shadow will leave readers wrestling with an impossible question: what do you do with an object that could save the world…or destroy it?

The books I picked & why

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The Once and Future Witches

By Alix E. Harrow,

Book cover of The Once and Future Witches

Why this book?

Witches speaks eloquently, fiercely, and passionately to anyone who is seething with quiet and desperate fury, feeling lost and powerless in a world controlled by self-absorbed men who wield their corrupt version of “truth” like a weapon. It’s not just a story…it’s a paean, a prophecy, a polemic. It doesn’t tell a tale; it tattoos it on your soul. It’s about the absolute and terrifying joy of trust and faith, the unrelenting ferocity of love, and the implacable will anyone who’s ever been dismissed can wield when given even the faintest spark of inspiration and hope. Oh, and it also has witches and magic and history and mystery and heartache and wit and laughter and suspense and pain and healing, if you dig those sorts of things.

The Once and Future Witches

By Alix E. Harrow,

Why should I read it?

4 authors picked The Once and Future Witches as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

THE NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER

'Glorious . . . a tale that will sweep you away' Yangsze Choo, New York Times bestselling author of The Night Tiger

'A gorgeous and thrilling paean to the ferocious power of women' Laini Taylor, New York Times bestselling author of Strange the Dreamer

In 1893, there's no such thing as witches. There used to be, in the wild, dark days before the burnings began, but now witching is nothing but tidy charms and nursery rhymes. If the modern woman wants any measure of power, she must find it at the ballot box.

But when…


A Declaration of the Rights of Magicians: A Novel

By H. G. Parry,

Book cover of A Declaration of the Rights of Magicians: A Novel

Why this book?

You can reasonably infer that a book whose title nods toward a touchstone of the French Revolution and a landmark civil rights document will provide a treasure trove of historical references. It does indeed, but it’s history as accoutrement, with characterization at the forefront even as the mystery deepens in the background and the inexorable pull of monumental events inextricably entwines the fates of our heroes and villains. Declaration is ultimately about the flawed individuals who drive, and then become caught up in, sweeping change. Also, vampires. And necromancers. Not to mention weather mages, slaves in revolt, legendary politicians, religious converts, and the undeniable pleasure of being held in the thrall of an author who reveres the power of stories and words and excels at putting them to good use.

A Declaration of the Rights of Magicians: A Novel

By H. G. Parry,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked A Declaration of the Rights of Magicians as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

'A rich, sprawling epic full of history and magic.' Alix E. Harrow, Hugo award-winning author

A sweeping tale of revolution and wonder in a world not quite like our own, A Declaration of the Rights of Magicians is a genre-defying story of magic, war, and the struggle for freedom.

It is the Age of Enlightenment -- of new and magical political movements, from the necromancer Robespierre calling for revolution in France to the weather mage Toussaint L'Ouverture leading the slaves of Haiti in their fight for freedom, to the bold new Prime Minister William Pitt weighing the legalization of magic…


Babel

By R. F. Kuang,

Book cover of Babel

Why this book?

Kuang is a brilliant scholar, and the depth of research that went into Babel lives and breathes on every single page. But she never lets historical detail derail the story. Babel is a masterclass in worldbuilding, where magic-infused silver sits naturally and authentically against the backdrop of 1830s Oxford…and where magic’s ability to leverage the power of what might otherwise be lost in translation is as real and transformative as the deleterious consequences of imperialism. 

Babel

By R. F. Kuang,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

THE #2 SUNDAY TIMES AND #1 NYT BESTSELLER

'One for Philip Pullman fans'
THE TIMES

'An ingenious fantasy about empire'
GUARDIAN

'Fans of THE SECRET HISTORY, this one is an automatic buy'
GLAMOUR

'Ambitious, sweeping and epic'
EVENING STANDARD

Traduttore, traditore: An act of translation is always an act of betrayal.

Oxford, 1836.

The city of dreaming spires.

It is the centre of all knowledge and progress in the world.

And at its centre is Babel, the Royal Institute of Translation. The tower from which all the power of the Empire flows.

Orphaned in Canton and brought to England by…


The Peculiarities

By David Liss,

Book cover of The Peculiarities

Why this book?

The Peculiarities offers a delightful and occasionally droll mix of alternate history, mystery, the arcane, and Victorian atmosphere. Liss, who writes killer historical fiction, has been spreading his tendrils into more fantastic fare of late and he’s got a real gift for it. The characters he develops over the course of this fantastical tale are so endearing that I took my time down the homestretch of this book because I didn’t want it to come to an end; I wanted to keep hanging out with them…even the notorious—and in Liss’s hands, occasionally rakish—Aleister Crowley. 

The Peculiarities

By David Liss,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

A Buzzfeed Best Book of the Month

From popular historical fiction author David Liss (A Conspiracy of Paper) comes the tale of a clueless young man embroiled in a deadly supernatural mystery in Victorian London. Rooted in strange conspiracies and secret societies, this absurdist comedic romp combines strange bedfellows with murderous creatures, resulting in an unexpectedly delightful consequences.

“Intricate plotting, exquisite pacing, crackling suspense, and fascinating historical rabbit hole revelations.”
—Shelf Awareness

Thomas’s problems are more serious than those of a typical young Victorian gentleman. His elder brother may be sabotaging the family’s bank. His childhood friend has died under…


The Revenant of Thraxton Hall: The Paranormal Casebooks of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

By Vaughn Entwistle,

Book cover of The Revenant of Thraxton Hall: The Paranormal Casebooks of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

Why this book?

While Sherlock Holmes famously debunked anything that had even a vague whiff of the supernatural (looking at you, Hound of the Baskervilles), the same can’t be said for his creator. Entwistle offers a brilliantly imaginative take on what might have happened if Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and Oscar Wilde teamed up to solve mysteries in a world where the supernatural was very, very real. Atmospheric touches ranging from fog-shrouded, gaslit streets to mysterious moors are the perfect complement to witty dialogue, and Entwistle manages to weave in a fair bit of historical detail despite the rip-roaring pace of the story. 

The Revenant of Thraxton Hall: The Paranormal Casebooks of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

By Vaughn Entwistle,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

The Paranormal Casebooks of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle read like a volatile cocktail of Sherlock Holmes-meets-the-X-Files with a dash of steam punk and a whiff of London fog. Conan Doyle assumes the mantle of his fictional consulting detective and recruits a redoubtable Watson in the Irish playwright Oscar Wilde, who brings to the sleuthing duo a razor-keen mind, an effervescent wit, and an outrageous sense of fashion. Together, two of the greatest minds in Victorian England solve bizarre murders, unravel diabolical plots and unearth long-buried mysteries—each with a paranormal twist.“My murder will take place in a darkened séance room—shot twice…


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Interested in witches, Arthur Conan Doyle, and the French Revolution?

7,000+ authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about witches, Arthur Conan Doyle, and the French Revolution.

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