Historical fiction has a way of illuminating the tough and dark moments of the past and spinning them into a wild and thrilling adventure. While we may not always realize it, many of these historical tales of love, resistance, and growth are rooted in folklore and mystical tales—providing a magical twist to the captivating time periods we continually revisit in literature. These ten novels combine two of my favorite genres, historical fiction and magical realism, to illustrate past truths in imaginative and awe-inspiring ways. If you, too, love reading brilliant historical fiction and mystical tales, these books should definitely hold a place on your shelf.
Bridie Devine, a no-nonsense pipe-smoking detective is called upon by Sir Edmund Berwick to uncover the mystery of his missing daughter, Christabel. But there’s a twist: Christabel is reported to have supernatural water-yielding powers. Against the backdrop of Victorian London, Bridie sets off on a miraculous adventure to find the missing child, accompanied by her seven-foot-tall housemaid and a tattoo-covered ghost. Along the way, spectacles of her past are dug up, but these insightful clues may just be the missing pieces she needs to find Christabel.
In this “miraculous and thrilling” (Diane Setterfield, #1 New York Times bestselling author) mystery for fans of The Essex Serpent and The Book of Speculation, Victorian London comes to life as an intrepid female sleuth wades through a murky world of collectors and criminals to recover a remarkable child.
Bridie Devine—flame-haired, pipe-smoking detective extraordinaire—is confronted with the most baffling puzzle yet: the kidnapping of Christabel Berwick, secret daughter of Sir Edmund Athelstan Berwick, and a peculiar child whose reputed supernatural powers have captured the unwanted attention of collectors in this age of discovery.
Winding her way through the sooty streets of Victorian London, Bridie won’t rest until she finds the young girl, even if it means unearthing secrets about her past that she’d rather keep buried. Luckily, her search is aided by an enchanting cast of characters, including a seven-foot-tall housemaid; a melancholic, tattoo-covered ghost; and an avuncular apothecary. But secrets abound in this foggy underworld where nothing is quite what it seems.
Blending darkness and light, Things in Jars is a stunning, “richly woven tapestry of fantasy, folklore, and history” (Booklist, starred review) that explores what it means to be human in inhumane times.
Prepare to be sucked into the thrill and sparkle of the Jazz Age Roaring Twenties. This dazzling tale about love and sisterhood follows Jo, the eldest sister of 12, who has found purpose for her tribe of siblings in dancing. Together they slip out of the confines of their father’s Manhattan town house and into the clubs and speakeasys they dance in. Until one night Jo comes face-to-face with someone from her past. Now, in addition to navigating the struggle of raising her 11 younger siblings and fending off her controlling father, she must also worry about herself.
This dazzling story of love, sisterhood, and freedom reimagines the fairy tale of the Twelve Dancing Princesses as Jazz Age flappers who escape their father’s Manhattan town house each night to dance in the city’s underground speakeasies. If you loved Rules of Civility or The Paris Wife, be sure to tuck this bewitching novel into your beach bag.
Beginning in Berlin in 1941, this novel follows Hanni Kohn’s decision to send her daughter Lea away before the Nazis have a chance to harm her. To protect Lea, Hanni asks her rabbi’s daughter, Ettie, to create a mystical golem that will accompany Lea on her journey to France. Once mother and daughter are separated, a compelling story of resilience unfolds. Perseverance and strength are put to the test as the women of this story struggle to survive. But above all else, the power of a mother’s love and protection remain true.
NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER * LONGLISTED FOR THE ANDREW CARNEGIE MEDAL
On the brink of World War II, with the Nazis tightening their grip on Berlin, a mother’s act of courage and love offers her daughter a chance of survival.
“[A] hymn to the power of resistance, perseverance, and enduring love in dark times…gravely beautiful…Hoffman the storyteller continues to dazzle.” —THE NEW YORK TIMES BOOK REVIEW
At the time when the world changed, Hanni Kohn knows she must send her twelve-year-old daughter away to save her from the Nazi regime. Her desperation leads her to Ettie, the daughter of a rabbi whose years spent eavesdropping on her father enables her to create a mystical Jewish creature, a rare and unusual golem, who is sworn to protect Hanni’s daughter, Lea. Once Ava is brought to life, she and Lea and Ettie become eternally entwined, their paths fated to cross, their fortunes linked.
What does it mean to lose your mother? How much can one person sacrifice for love? In a world where evil can be found at every turn, we meet remarkable characters that take us on a stunning journey of loss and resistance, the fantastical and the mortal, in a place where all roads lead past the Angel of Death and love is never-ending.
Irene Beltrán and Francisco Lea are an inseparable journalist team. Determined to challenge the stigma of female journalists, Irene has become a force to be reckoned with. So when an assignment leads the pair to uncover an unspeakable crime, they are determined to make the truth known. In a nation overrun by terror and violence, Irene and Francisco risk everything for justice. Despite Irene’s engagement to an army captain, love is certainly in the cards for this pair, and their binding passion is undeniable.
For fans of “Jane the Virgin”
With love triangles, crime lords, and baby mama drama, “Jane the Virgin” is a fount of jaw-dropping twists and turns—and Isabel Allende’s OF LOVE AND SHADOWS is the perfect companion read. Irene, a journalist, and her partner, Francisco, are an unshakeable team on the brink of uncovering an unspeakable crime—and they will risk everything for justice and, ultimately, embrace the passion that binds them.
May, a 14-year-old Sin Eater, has been assigned a role where she will be forced to hear the dying confessions of others for the remainder of her life. As these confessions are spoken, May must eat ritual foods that symbolize people’s sins, and thereby shoulder their transgressions to grant their souls access to heaven. Navigating this dangerous and cruel world that May hardly understands, she finds a deer heart on the coffin of a royal governess who did not confess to the sin it represents. After her elder Sin Eater refuses to eat the heart, she is taken to prison, tortured, and killed. To avenge her death, May must find out who placed the deer heart on the coffin and why.
“A riveting depiction of hard-won female empowerment that weaves together meticulous research, unsolved murder—and an unforgettable young heroine.” —The Washington Post
The Handmaid’s Tale meets Alice in Wonderland in this gripping and imaginative historical novel about a shunned orphan girl in 16th-century England who is ensnared in a deadly royal plot and must turn her subjugation into her power.
The Sin Eater walks among us, unseen, unheard
Sins of our flesh become sins of Hers
Following Her to the grave, unseen, unheard
The Sin Eater Walks Among Us.
For the crime of stealing bread, fourteen-year-old May receives a life sentence: she must become a Sin Eater—a shunned woman, brutally marked, whose fate is to hear the final confessions of the dying, eat ritual foods symbolizing their sins as a funeral rite, and thereby shoulder their transgressions to grant their souls access to heaven.
Orphaned and friendless, apprenticed to an older Sin Eater who cannot speak to her, May must make her way in a dangerous and cruel world she barely understands. When a deer heart appears on the coffin of a royal governess who did not confess to the dreadful sin it represents, the older Sin Eater refuses to eat it. She is taken to prison, tortured, and killed. To avenge her death, May must find out who placed the deer heart on the coffin and why.
“A keenly researched feminist arc of unexpected abundance, reckoning, intellect, and ferocious survival” (Maria Dahvana Headley, author of The Mere Wife) Sin Eater is “a dark, rich story replete with humor, unforgettable characters, and arcane mysteries. It casts a spell on your heart and mind until the final page” (Jennie Melamed, author of Gather the Daughters).
This novel, set in the aftermath of the Civil War, is told in two timelines a decade apart, separating the characters’ experiences into “slaverytime” and “freedomtime.” CONJURE WOMEN tells the story of three women: Miss May Belle, a healing woman and midwife; her daughter Rue; and their master's daughter Varina. When a newborn that Rue delivers is rumored to be cursed, the townspeople are alight with fear and are wary of any threat to their newly won freedom. This rich story, beautifully blended with magical realism, confronts the complex legacy of our country.
Set in 1700s UK, this novel follows Jonah Hancock as he discovers a dead mermaid and quickly develops plans to profit from it. During his travels of showcasing this discovery, Jonah falls in love with a courtesan. But unbeknownst to Jonah, mermaids have powers—even after they're dead—and these powers are threatening both Jonah’s relationship and his life.
This beautiful piece of Mexican fiction follows a mysterious child with the power to change a family’s history in a country on the verge of revolution. Simonopio was found disfigured and covered in a blanket of bees—a sign of the devil. Despite the fearful warnings, landowners Francisco and Beatriz Morales adopt the baby. As he grows, Simonopio discovers he has a rare power. Every time he closes his eyes, he can see visions of the future. Followed by his protective swarm of bees during the Mexican Revolution, Simonopio discovers his life purpose is completely divine.
Chava is a golem created from clay by a rabbi with intentions of making her a wife to a man who has died at sea. Ahmad, a jinni, was created by fire in the Syrian desert and trapped in an old copper flask until being released in New York City. As Yiddish and Middle Eastern literature intertwine, a mystical connection forms between Ahmad and Chava. While this story reads as a magical tale of romance, it also brilliantly touches on meaningful philosophical questions to bring the immigrant experience to light through folklore.
A chance meeting between two mythical beings leads to an unlikely friendship and journey through cultures in New York City at the start of the twentieth century. Helene Wecker’s debut novel is an imaginative mixture of Yiddish and Middle Eastern literature, crafting an imaginative and remarkable story.
As Barcelona slowly heals in the aftermath of the Spanish Civil War, Daniel, an antique book dealer’s son, discovers a mysterious book titled The Shadow of the Wind, by one Julián Carax. Captivated by this magical read, Daniel sets out to find the author’s other works. But in his curious quest, he unintentionally opens a door into one of Barcelona’s darkest secrets—an epic story of murder, madness, and doomed love.
As Barcelona slowly heals in the aftermath of the Spanish Civil War, Daniel, an antiquarian book dealer’s son, finds solace in what he finds in the “Cemetery of Forgotten Books”: a mysterious book entitled The Shadow of the Wind, by one Julián Carax. But when he sets out to find the author’s other works, his seemingly innocent quest opens a door into one of Barcelona’s darkest secrets—an epic story of murder, madness, and doomed love.
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