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7 Mythic Novels Best Read by the Campfire

October 28 2022
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I love mythology and folklore from across history, and I love when authors find fresh ways to explore myths and breathe new life into them. A mix of historical fiction, folklore, and fantasy, these seven novels harken back to tales told around campfires, on the fields of ancient battles, or over soup pots bubbling on hearths. 

The White Hare
by Jane Johnson

Magical and mystical, THE WHITE HARE follows three generations of women as they move into a strange, remote home in the White Valley during the 1950s. Magda hopes to turn this abandoned house into a party venue for the rich and famous while her daughter, Mila, just wants to rebuild her life in peace after enduring a scandal in London. Mila hopes to make a home for her own daughter, Janey, a child with a magical stuffed rabbit and a wild imagination. But legend says there is another magical creature, a white hare, roaming the woods. As the three settle into their new lives, they must confront the secrets of the White Valley and their painful pasts. Perhaps I was especially partial to this story having grown up with my own magical stuffed rabbit, but Johnson creates a beautiful and haunting historical fiction piece with unique mythical elements for anyone to enjoy.

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The White Hare
Jane Johnson

For fans of Alice Hoffman and Kate Morton, The White Hare is a spellbinding novel about mothers and daughters finding a new home for themselves, the secrets they try to bury, and the local legends that may change their lives.

In the far west of Cornwall lies the White Valley, which cuts deeply through bluebell woods down to the sea at White Cove. The valley has a long and bloody history, laced with folklore, and in it sits a house above the beach that has lain neglected since the war. It comes with a reputation and a strange atmosphere, which is why mother and daughter Magdalena and Mila manage to acquire it so cheaply in the fateful summer of 1954.

Magda has grand plans to restore the house to its former glory as a venue for glittering parties, where the rich and celebrated gathered for cocktails and for bracing walks along the coast. Her grown daughter, Mila, just wants to escape the scandal in her past and make a safe and happy home for her little girl, Janey, a solitary, precocious child blessed with a vivid imagination, much of which she pours into stories about her magical plush toy, Rabbit.

But Janey’s rabbit isn’t the only magical being around. Legend has it that an enchanted white hare may be seen running through the woods. Is it an ill omen or a blessing? As Mila, her mother, and her young daughter adjust to life in this mysterious place, they will have to reckon with their own pasts and with the secrets that have been haunting the White Valley for decades.

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River Woman, River Demon
by Jennifer Givhan

RIVER WOMAN, RIVER DEMON is a unique and riveting paranormal thriller that you will not be able to put down once you start reading it. Givhan combines folk magic, culture, and mystery with her impressive prose to create a story about finding your voice and your power. Despite her growing career as a Mexican artist, Eva Santos Moon has reached an extremely low point in her life. She is suffering from blackouts and creative blocks and feels disconnected from her magical brujería roots. And then her husband, her rock, is taken into custody for the murder of a mutual friend found dead on their property. As the investigation unfolds and another death from her childhood comes to light, Eva herself becomes a suspect. Since she has blackouts, Eva doesn’t know who to trust. Did she kill two people? Only the dead can tell the truth, and now they’re coming after her. Eva will have to dig deep into her magick to protect her family and confront the truth.

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River Woman, River Demon
Jennifer Givhan

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MENTIONED IN:

7 Mythic Novels Best Read by the Campfire

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Thistlefoot
by GennaRose Nethercott

A beautiful refashioning of the Baba Yaga myth from Slavic folklore into a modern masterpiece. Bellatine and Isaac are estranged siblings filled with resentment for each other. They are suddenly reunited over a mysterious inheritance. But the inheritance is not money—instead, they receive a sentient house with chicken legs named Thistlefoot from their ancestral home in Russia. Isaac and Bellatine are thrown into a magical world of violence and secrets that has been part of their family for generations because Thistlefoot did not arrive alone. A sinister being known as Longshadow Man has followed the house to America, thus leading the siblings on a trek across the country leaving destruction in his wake until everything collides. Nethercott’s prose is powerful as she weaves Jewish mythology and history into a fulfilling yet heartbreaking and cathartic novel.

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Thistlefoot
GennaRose Nethercott

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Dark Earth
by Rebecca Stott

This is a haunting and historical fantasy novel set in post–Roman Britain during the Dark Ages. Two sisters, Isla and Blue, must find their magic if they are ever to win against the patriarchal society that seeks to destroy them. In the ruins of the Ghost City, Londinium, the girls live with their father in exile after he was accused of using dark magic to craft his swords. So the warlord Osric keeps a careful eye on the smith and forces him to make weapons only for him. When their father suddenly dies, the sisters flee the camp to escape enslavement. They take refuge in a secret community of rebel women, but as the ruins begin to crumble the girls quickly realize that they will have to stop running if they are to survive. Powerful, lyrical, and well-researched, DARK EARTH is a wonderful character-driven piece about the bonds of sisterhood and women who make a place for themselves.

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Dark Earth
Rebecca Stott

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The Mountain of Light
by Indu Sundaresan

A historical fiction read detailing the legend of the Kohinoor diamond as it changed hands through love and conquest and adventures of mythical proportions. Set mostly in India, Persia, and Afghanistan, THE MOUNTAIN OF LIGHT will take you on a fabulous journey through incredible landscapes while detailing the tumultuous drama that has surrounded this legendary 164-karat diamond up until Queen Victoria makes a play to claim the diamond for her imperial crown. Sundaresan covers so much ground and so many characters, touching on love and loss and a changing world as the diamond itself creates a central tether across the page.

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The Mountain of Light
Indu Sundaresan

From the internationally bestselling author of The Twentieth Wife, a novel based on the tumultuous history of a legendary 186-carat diamond—originating in India—and the men and women who possessed it.

As empires rose and fell and mighty kings jostled for power, its glittering radiance never dimmed. It is the “Mountain of Light”—the Kohinoor diamond—and its facets reflect a sweeping story of love, adventure, conquest, and betrayal. Its origins are the stuff of myth, but for centuries this spectacular gem changes hands from one ruler to another in India, Persia, and Afghanistan. In 1850, the ancient stone is sent halfway around the world where it will play a pivotal role in the intertwined destinies of a boy-king of India and a young queen of England—a queen who claims the Mountain of Light and India itself for her own burgeoning empire, the most brilliant jewels in her imperial crown.

The Mountain of Light is a magnificent story of loss and recovery, sweeping change and enduring truth, wrapped around the glowing heart of one of the world’s most famous diamonds.

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Prayers the Devil Answers
by Sharyn McCrumb

There is an old Halloween tradition called a dumb supper, in which girls prepare dinner completely backward and completely wrong in the hope of summoning the spirits of their future husbands. But legend also has it that any interruption or mistake in this preparation can curse the girl at fault; so when a young woman is murdered by her husband, everyone blames the ill-fated “dumb supper” from years prior. But now, in 1936, Ellie’s own husband has died, leaving her and her two boys destitute. To survive she pleads to be allowed to finish out her husband’s term as sheriff, a job that usually involves mostly paperwork. However, Ellie is also now responsible for executing convicted criminals, specifically her friend’s murderous husband. Ellie fights for her place against societal expectations and must find reason in a town rife with superstition. The superstitions behind a dumb supper were relatively new to me but definitely fascinating, and Sharyn McCrumb creates intriguing characters in this intensely atmospheric historical fiction piece.

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Prayers the Devil Answers
Sharyn McCrumb

In Depression-era Appalachia, a desperate sheriff’s widow takes on her late husband’s job and discovers that a prayer the devil answers comes at a terrible price.

The year is 1936 and society provides no safety net for newly widowed Ellie Robbins, a woman in a small mountain town who suddenly has to support her family on her own. She’s not trained to be a teacher or a nurse, the only respectable careers for a woman. So in order to care for her children, Ellie takes the only job available: that of her late husband, the sheriff.

Ellie has long proven that she can handle herself, and her role as sheriff is largely symbolic. Yet the wariness of her male subordinates and the townspeople is palpable. Soon, as dark secrets come to light, Ellie is forced to grapple with the tenuous ties she shares with a convicted killer and the small-town superstitions that have plagued her for years.

When a condemned killer is sentenced to death for his crime, her opportunity to do so presents itself in a way she never expected. There’s one task that only a sheriff can carry out: the execution of a convicted prisoner.

Atmospheric and suspenseful, Prayers the Devil Answers is rich with the same masterful attention to historical detail and captivating folklore that you cherished in McCrumb’s renowned Ballad novels. Her luscious writing brings her unforgettable characters to life with the “pure poetry” (The New York Times Book Review) that defines her astounding novels. Prayers the Devil Answers is a mesmerizing depiction of one woman’s tenacity and strength in even the most harrowing of circumstances.

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The Lost Queen
by Signe Pike

I adore the way that Signe Pike combines mythology and history, and I also love Merlin legends. However, THE LOST QUEEN takes a new approach, focusing on the forgotten sister and sixth-century queen, Languoreth. Her rule was fraught with bloodshed and tension between Christianity and pagan beliefs. With war comes Maelgwn, a soldier who Languoreth immediately falls for. But she is already betrothed to Rhydderch, the High King’s son, who supports the new religion. As queen, she must fight for the Old Ways and her kingdom. This is a truly magical historical fiction book about a powerful early Scottish queen. 

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The Lost Queen
Signe Pike

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Photo credit: iStock / Mikhail Blavatskiy

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