Lists: Historical Fantasy

Historical fiction.  To be honest, this is usually the genre of fiction that’s a hard sell to kids.  I was one of them.  That’s not to say there’s no good historical fiction, or that kids don’t have historical fiction they love to read.   But usually I find it difficult to convince kids that a historical novel is not going to simply be a history lesson in disguise.  However, there’s an interesting genre blend that I wanted to bring up.  Historical Fantasy.

Now, like any subgenre heading, the definition of this can get muddy.  But I’m going to narrow it for the sake of this list to mean the following:  books that take place in a recognizable historical setting with fantasy elements such as magic or fantastic creatures but stick closely to our actual historical timeline.  These historical fantasy books also fall under the label of “hidden fantasy”.  Hidden fantasy books are where magic or magical creatures mostly keep hidden from the “real” world–and most of the world is unaware of it or doesn’t believe in it. Contemporary fantasy books like Percy Jackson series and Harry Potter series fit this definition of hidden fantasy, but from a contemporary time frame..  These stories in general stay closer to  actual history.  We’ll deal with alternate history  historical fantasy another time.


Please note: Not the final cover art!

How To Catch A Bogle by Catherine Jinks (HMH, Expected Publication September 2013)

 Ten-year-old Birdie McAdam is an apprentice bogler living in Victorian London.   Being a bogler’s apprentice is dangerous work, since bogles are dark and dangerous creatures that love to eat children.  With her youth and golden voice, Birdie plays bait to lure bogles into a trap that her master has set.  Strong-willed Birdie is up to the challenge, however. After all, when the orphans and street thieves of London go mysteriously missing, someone’s got to put a stop to it!  A delightful fantasy-adventure set in Victorian England (which seems to be a popular time period as of late.)  Expected publication date is September 2013.  Look for a full review of this next week!


The Apothecary by Maile Meloy (G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 2011)

 An unusual 20th century historical.  Set in 1952 London, this Cold War fantasy adventure kicks off when American born Janie and her new friend Benjamin become tangled up in the intrigue that involves Benjamin’s father.  With the help of a book that contains fantastical  potions, these youngsters  must help the apothecary cause while keeping the book out of the hands of their enemies!    This is a rare bird indeed with a well researched setting and time frame.  The author really did their homework to get the details of the time correct and provide the story with  historical grounding.


Splendors and Glooms by Laura Amy Schlitz (Candlewick, 2012)

This 2012 Newbery Honor book is an atmospheric tale set  Victorian England.  With nefarious puppet-masters, plucky orphans, cursed jewels and enchanted children, there’s plenty to make this gothic story a delicious read for the right audience.  When poor little rich girl Clara Wintermute is kidnapped and bespelled by an unscrupulous puppet master, it’s up to his two apprentices to find a way to rescue her, and save themselves from all the magical dangers that await!  Purely bewitching storytelling, this story fits it’s historical time frame like a kid glove.


The Storm in the Barn by Matt Phelan (Candlewick, 2009)

  Yes I’ve included a graphic novel on here.  I thought it worth mentioning this lovely work of graphic fiction for this list.  In 1937, Kansas our young protagonist not only deals with his everyday growing up challenges, but the trials and struggles of dealing with the Dust Bowl.  Then Jack Clark discovers that deep in the shadows of an old barn, there is a strange creature . . . one connected to the rain.  With the tensions rising and the need so great, Jack will have to find his courage  to become the hero of this story.  Winner of the Scott O’Dell Award in 2010,  this work is something I love to point out to adults when they tell me graphics are all superheroes and silliness.  A great historical fantasy with the midwest US as it’s backdrop.


Theodosia and the Serpents of Chaos by R. L. LaFevers, illustrated by Yoko Tanaka (Houghton Mifflin, 2007)

Back to late Victorian London for one more book!  Or rather, series.   Theodosia Throckmorton is a girl with a special gift for spotting magic, and has made a habit of dealing with the nasty curses and dark magic she’s found on artifacts that have wound up in the museum run  by her father.  Stubborn, defiant and determined, Theo is  anxious to make some archaeological stories all her own and has no interest in the typical “womanly” pursuits.  Of course discovering an ancient artifacts of  power brings her to the attention of a dark and deadly secret society: The Serpents of Chaos.  These characters want nothing more than to plunge all of Europe into war and chaos.  It’s up to Theodosia to put a stop to it!  Other books in this series include: Theodosia and the Staff of Osiris(2008), Theodosia and the Eyes of Horus (2010), and Theodosia and the Last Pharoah(2011).


The Wizard Children of Finn by Mary Tannen (Knopf Books, 1981)

Here’s an old one for you.  I read this years ago.  Two children travel back to the time of the legendary Finn McCool, and wind up acting as his poet and bard through his adventures.  This one is a bit tricky in that it has the characters meeting a folk hero of Ireland a living through Irish mythology.  It still falls into the historical fantasy realm, however.  Since these events happened so long ago in time, the idea is that magic existed then in a way it does not in modern times.  Tannen’s book was followed up by The Lost Legend of Finn(Knopf Books, 1982).


Ben and Me by Robert Lawson (c1923)

If you’ve never encountered the works of Robert Lawson in your reading, he’s worth a look–especially for his charming and vividly imagined  animal fantasy stories.  Perhaps one of the best of these is this one about one of our famous founding fathers and his friendship with a very clever mouse.  Still in print today despite its age, it’s a great  little historical fantasy about early US history and Benjamin Franklin.    In the same vein, Lawson’s   Paul Revere and I (1953), looks at revolutionary war history through the eyes of Paul Revere’s horse,  Scheherazade.  An interesting tidbit about Lawson, he’s the first and, I think, only person to be given both the Caldecott Medal (They Were Strong and Good, 1941) and the Newbery Medal (Rabbit Hill, 1945).

So . . . only seven for this list, and I can’t think of any other titles right now.  Can you?  Please comment and share!


About Stephanie Whelan

I'm a children's librarian with a life-long love of all things science fiction and fantasy.

Posted on May 13, 2013, in General Posts, Lists and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 6 Comments.

  1. What about Stephanie Burgis’ Kat series? She does a very nice job of setting them in a a realistic Regency England aside from some people being able to do magic. And they have such cute covers. 🙂

    • Good thought! I’m going to do a list of alternate history fantasy at some point soon and I’ll include the Kat series on the list there. They are very cute covers and I’ve been enjoying the series.

  2. I love historical fantasy! I’m looking forward to How to Catch a Bogle lots.

  1. Pingback: Lists: Alternate History Fantasy | Views From the Tesseract

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