The best books that combine fantasy with “the past” (historical, alternate history or inspired by historical eras)

Why am I passionate about this?

History and legend: The actual past and all the myths and stories that ride along with it. I have an M.A. in history and have always been interested in old folklore and myth. So I write fantasy novels set in the 19th century. The flair is steampunk-ish, the setting strictly historical – except for the fact that magic and mythical creatures exist. Magic is taught in Arcane Lodges, mythical beings can be pretty much anything: vampire, body-snatcher, werewolf, dryad, nymph, etc. My first novel Obsidian Secrets (Das Obsidianherz) won the Deutscher Phantastik Preis. Wings of Stone of the same series won the SERAPH as the "Best Fantasy Novel" at Leipzig Book Fair.

I wrote...

Obsidian Secrets

By Ju Honisch,

Book cover of Obsidian Secrets

What is my book about?

1865: Munich, capital of the Kingdom of Bavaria under King Ludwig II (who built all those famous castles). 

A magical manuscript has been stolen. Assisted by two Royal Bavarian officers and a wizard-scientist, British secret agent Delacroix is sent to find it. However, the promise of destructive power contained in the manuscript draws murderous creatures that, with its help, plan to change reality into their gory vision. Corrisande, a young English lady caught in the cross-current of disasters, must face the worst dangers while being somewhat clumsily courted by members of the team, coveted by abysmal monsters, and hunted by a secret cultist order that has its foundations in the Inquisition. Her survival is at stake. But then, so is that of the entire world.

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of The Silvered

Ju Honisch Why did I love this book?

I love Tanya Huff’s style of writing as much as I like her wonderful ideas.

The heroes and heroines in her novels are so well crafted you almost feel you know them personally, which to my mind is the key to a good read. 

The Silvered has Steampunk elements. It is, however, set in an invented world that shows some resemblance to our 19th century. The book is a thrilling fantasy novel combining Steampunk with magic: I love the combination.

By Tanya Huff,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked The Silvered as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The Empire has declared war on the were-ruled kingdom of Aydori, capturing five women of the Mage-Pack, including the wife of the Pack- leader. With the Pack off defending the border, it falls to Mirian Maylin and Tomas Hagen-she a low-level mage, he younger brother to the Pack- leader-to save them. But with every step into enemy territory, the odds against their survival grow steeper...

Book cover of Black Sheep

Ju Honisch Why did I love this book?

I love all Georgette Heyer’s historical novels (set in the British Regency Period).

They are elegant, stylish, and witty. They are also extremely well-researched as to both manners and language used during that period. They convey a sense of historical reality – a feeling for the era - that historical novels whose authors have been less diligent about their research often lack.

As a historian I admire the precision. As an avid reader I adore the charming stories. Black Sheep is one of my favorites, but I love them all. Heyer’s books very much inspired my own writing, even though both the country and period they are set in are different.

By Georgette Heyer,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Black Sheep as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

He had nothing to recommend him but his smile. Miss Wendover's efforts to detach her niece from a fortune-hunter are complicated by the arrival in Bath of Miss Caverleigh.

Book cover of Soulless

Ju Honisch Why did I love this book?

The heroine is soulless – the book certainly is not.

An admirably determined and courageous young lady holds her own in a steampunk version of 19th century London where werewolves and vampires play an important part in society – and everyone knows they exist.

They simply belong to the Victorian upper class and try to fit their species typical lifestyles into a world somewhere between Charles Dickens and Arthur Conan Doyle. I thoroughly enjoyed the book. Werewolves and vampires: what’s not to like?

By Gail Carriger,

Why should I read it?

7 authors picked Soulless as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Alexia Tarabotti is labouring under a great many social tribulations. First, she has no soul. Second, she's a spinster whose father is both Italian and dead. Third, she was rudely attacked by a vampire, breaking all standards of social etiquette.

Where to go from there? From bad to worse apparently, for Alexia accidentally kills the vampire - and then the appalling Lord Maccon (loud, messy, gorgeous, and werewolf) is sent by Queen Victoria to investigate.

With unexpected vampires appearing and expected vampires disappearing, everyone seems to believe Alexia responsible. Can she figure out what is actually happening to London's high…

Book cover of Lord Darcy

Ju Honisch Why did I love this book?

Set in an alternate history environment in England, the Lord Darcy stories superbly combine the flair of an – albeit non-historical “dark romantic” age with the classic whodunnit framework in a parallel world where magic is possible and can be used to solve crimes.

The archetypal characters of the highly intelligent detective and his brainy sidekick here give the reader a ‘prince-detective’ with a ‘mage-assistant’. The book is not new, but good reads do not go stale.

As a lover of both D. Sayers’ Lord Peter Wimsey detective novels and magic wielded in bygone ages, I fell in love with these stories right away. 

By Randall Garrett,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Welcome to a world where the Plantagenet kings survived, the laws of magic were discovered and the physical sciences never pursued. In the resulting Anglo-French Empire, a detective like Lord Darcy needs more than a keen mind and an observant eye. Luckily, Darcy can call on the aid of Master Sean O'Lochlainn, forensic sorcerer.

This omnibus contains all of the Lord Darcy stories as well as the only Lord Darcy novel, TOO MANY MAGICIANS, and has a new introduction by Michael Dirda.

Book cover of Guards! Guards!

Ju Honisch Why did I love this book?

A friend of mine once said to Terry Pratchett “I worship the ground you write upon”.

Well, so do I. The “Discworld” is an entirely invented world which still bears a resemblance to some of our own historical eras without precisely specifying which one. 

Sir Terry Pratchett manages the almost impossible by being profound and witty at the same time. His books are never ever boring. They are charming, full of wonderful ideas, great characters, and clever and insightful comments.

And of course, there’s magic, there are vampires and werewolves and great villains being pursued by rather ordinary people. Just what I like.

By Terry Pratchett,

Why should I read it?

8 authors picked Guards! Guards! as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

First book of the original and best CITY WATCH series, now reinterpreted in BBC's The Watch

'This is one of Pratchett's best books. Hilarious and highly recommended' The Times

The Discworld is very much like our own - if our own were to consist of a flat planet balanced on the back of four elephants which stand on the back of a giant turtle, that is . . .

'It was the usual Ankh-Morpork mob in times of crisis; half of them were here to complain, a quarter of them were here to watch the other half, and the…

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A School for Unusual Girls

By Kathleen Baldwin,

Book cover of A School for Unusual Girls

Kathleen Baldwin Author Of Sanctuary for Seers: A Stranje House Novel

New book alert!

Why am I passionate about this?

Author Loves God Mother to Many Wilderness Adventurer History Enthusiast

Kathleen's 3 favorite reads in 2023

What is my book about?

A spy school for girls amidst Jane Austen’s high society.

Daughters of the Beau Monde who don’t fit London society’s strict mold are banished to Stranje House, where the headmistress trains these unusually gifted girls to enter the dangerous world of spies in the Napoleonic wars. #1 NYT bestselling author Meg Cabot calls this exciting historical series "completely original and totally engrossing."

A School for Unusual Girls

By Kathleen Baldwin,

What is this book about?

A School for Unusual Girls is the first captivating installment in the Stranje House series for young adults by award-winning author Kathleen Baldwin. #1 New York Times bestselling author Meg Cabot calls this romantic Regency adventure "completely original and totally engrossing."

It's 1814. Napoleon is exiled on Elba. Europe is in shambles. Britain is at war on four fronts. And Stranje House, a School for Unusual Girls, has become one of Regency England's dark little secrets. The daughters of the beau monde who don't fit high society's constrictive mold are banished to Stranje House to be reformed into marriageable young…

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