The best books that blend fantasy and alternate history

Who am I?

With a graduate degree in Writing Popular Fiction (seriously, someone gave me a degree for writing an urban fantasy book), I know that genres are nothing more than marketing terms that tell bookstores which shelves to put the books on. As an author, combining genres and subverting their topes allows me to stretch their potential and tell fresh stories that might not find an easy home on a single shelf, so it’s also important for me to read and support those making the same attempts. Stories that adhere to strict reader expectations will always find a home, but I’ve always had way more fun exploring the other possibilities.


I wrote...

Steel Victory: Steel Empires 1

By J.L. Gribble, Bradley Sharp (illustrator),

Book cover of Steel Victory: Steel Empires 1

What is my book about?

In most urban fantasy stories, only the chosen few know that the supernatural exists. In the world of Steel Victory, humanity has always known that the supernatural exists, resulting in a setting both familiar and unique in surprising ways. 

One hundred years ago, the vampire Victory retired from a centuries-long mercenary career. She settled in Limani, the independent city-state acting as a neutral zone between the British and Roman colonies on the New Continent. Twenty years ago, Victory adopted a human baby girl, who soon showed signs of magical ability. Today, Victory is a city councilwoman, balancing the human and supernatural populations within Limani. Her daughter Toria is a warrior-mage, balancing life as an apprentice mercenary with college chemistry courses. Tomorrow, the Roman Empire invades.

The books I picked & why

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Kushiel's Dart

By Jacqueline Carey,

Book cover of Kushiel's Dart

Why this book?

Reading this book in the summer between high school and college led my personal writing journey down a significant detour from which I’ve never really returned. It was the first time I encountered a world in which fantasy elements both coexisted with and had enormous impact on familiar places and cultures. Most discussions of this book focus on the romantic and sexual aspects of the plot lines, but none of that would be possible without the tremendous amount of worldbuilding Carey based on an existing historical and religious framework. I’m not sure this would remain one of my favorite books more than 20 years later if Carey had told the same story in a wholly imagined fantasy setting.

Kushiel's Dart

By Jacqueline Carey,

Why should I read it?

5 authors picked Kushiel's Dart as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The lush epic fantasy that inspired a generation with a single precept: Love As Thou Wilt

The first book in the Kushiel's Legacy series is a novel of grandeur, luxuriance, sacrifice, betrayal, and deeply laid conspiracies. A world of cunning poets, deadly courtiers, deposed rulers and a besieged Queen, a warrior-priest, the Prince of Travelers, barbarian warlords, heroic traitors, and a truly Machiavellian villainess...all seen through the unflinching eyes of an unforgettable heroine.

A nation born of angels, vast and intricate and surrounded by danger... a woman born to servitude, unknowingly given access to the secrets of the realm...

Born…


Burn for Me

By Ilona Andrews,

Book cover of Burn for Me

Why this book?

It might look like another romance novel slipped into this list by mistake, but Andrews elevates a typical paranormal romance plot by placing it in an extraordinary open-world urban fantasy setting and emphasizing the main character’s relationship with her family over her love life. Nevada and her loved ones would rather live quiet lives than welcome society’s scrutiny by exposing abilities that are extraordinary even in a world socially ruled by magical dynasties. This book proves explosive magical fights can occur in a world where the response is live-streaming and not an immediate cover-up attempt.

Burn for Me

By Ilona Andrews,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked Burn for Me as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

#1 New York Times bestselling author Ilona Andrews launches a brand-new Hidden Legacy series, in which one woman must place her trust in a seductive, dangerous man who sets off an even more dangerous desire ...Nevada Baylor is faced with the most challenging case of her detective career-a suicide mission to bring in a suspect in a volatile situation. Nevada isn't sure she has the chops. Her quarry is a Prime, the highest rank of magic user, who can set anyone and anything on fire. Then she's kidnapped by Connor "Mad" Rogan-a darkly tempting billionaire with equally devastating powers. Torn…


The Scars That Bind Us: The Magi Accounts I

By Michele Notaro,

Book cover of The Scars That Bind Us: The Magi Accounts I

Why this book?

It seems logical that the few people with magic could openly rule in contemporary human society, which means it’s even more interesting with the opposite is true. I can easily imagine Mags and Cosmo in an entirely different setting and never crossing paths. In this world, however, the non-magical majority have oppressed the smaller populations of magi and shifters, pitting them against each other and giving them few options in life despite their significant personal power. Notaro provides plenty of engrossing story in this book while also giving readers just enough information about how this world came to be to leave me wanting more of the future and past.

The Scars That Bind Us: The Magi Accounts I

By Michele Notaro,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Sometimes the worst scars are the ones you can’t see.

World War III broke out 130 years ago when humans found out that my people—magi—and shifters were real. They’ve been imprisoning and enslaving our two species since. But now humans need our help protecting the world from the strange monsters they let cross the veil between realms.

Eighteen years ago, my world changed. Suddenly I was allowed freedoms I’d never had before, but I was still at the Non-Human Specialties Operations’ beck and call. Which is how I found myself on a team with my best friend, five shifters, and…


Hunter of Demons

By Jordan L. Hawk,

Book cover of Hunter of Demons

Why this book?

If a happy medium between those two extremes exists, you can find it in the series kicked off by this novella. If the government doesn’t demand complete control over magic, you can bet they’re still going to dedicate an agency to it. The stigma in this world against the “paranormally-abled” becomes an allegory for stigma against other minority populations, used to good effect in terms of world-building and character development. The stuffy government agent and the civilian getting caught up in a case together are another well-worn trope, but Hawk excels in breaking stereotypes through the small touches, which is important for intricate storytelling in shorter forms.

Hunter of Demons

By Jordan L. Hawk,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

"The SPECTR series is paranormal romance with bite, for readers who’re looking for something a little extraordinary." - The Novel Approach Reviews

What happens when an exorcist falls in love with a demon he's sworn to destroy?

Caleb Jansen’s life is going from bad to worse. First he’s possessed by an opinionated vampire spirit who drinks the blood of demons, then pursued by a fundamentalist group who want him dead.

His only hope is hotshot federal exorcist John Starkweather…the last man Caleb should be falling for, and the only one he wants in his bed.


Bitter Seeds

By Ian Tregillis,

Book cover of Bitter Seeds

Why this book?

I did my best to put together a list of alternate history books that didn’t feature either the American Civil War or World War 2, but this book was too interesting to leave out (and also, it doesn’t involve the Nazis winning the war in yet another veiled attempt at white supremacism fanfic). It does fit within my list in how Tregillis also flips many of the tropes of the genres explored here, especially regarding the main character’s role within the plot. And lest you think all alternate history stories with a healthy dose of fantasy must feature a romantic element, Tregillis’ unflinching take on the horrors of war (but add magic and make it equally horrifying) should more than make up for it.

Bitter Seeds

By Ian Tregillis,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Raybould Marsh is a British secret agent in the early days of the Second World War, haunted by something strange he saw on a mission during the Spanish Civil War: a German woman with wires going into her head who looked at him as if she knew him. When the Nazis start running missions with people who have unnatural abilities - a woman who can turn invisible, a man who can walk through walls, and the woman Marsh saw in Spain who can use her knowledge of the future to twist the present - Marsh is the man who has…


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