What is historical fantasy?

The answer is simple. Fantasy that occurs in real, or near to real, places in the past.

For example, Libba Bray’s A Great and Terrible Beauty is set in India and England in the 1890s. Her characters live out their story in several places including London, the fictional Spence Academy for Young Ladies, and the enchanted realms, a world of dangerous magic. Bray has managed to combine a real world historical setting and examples of its social mores–society balls and boarding schools–with an original fantasy world that only few can visit.

Another illustration of historical fantasy is Patricia C. Wrede and Caroline Stevermer’s Sorcery & Cecelia OR The Enchanted Chocolate Pot. This witty story takes places in Regency England, a period of about 40 years from the late 1790s to the late 1830s with a distinct fashion, society, and culture. Instead of a secret magical world, Sorcery & Cecelia includes magic as a part of everyday life in 1817. There are wizards and witches and a Royal College of Wizards, characters who use charm-bags and snuff boxes that carry protective spells, and, of course, an enchanted chocolate pot.

Many fantasy novels have a historic feel to them, but may not be set in a real place in real time. Stories like The Thief by Megan Whalen Turner and many fairy tales come to mind. In the coming months, I’ll be reviewing books that fall into that category, plus straight fantasy when I get the chance.

What are some of your favorite historical fantasy novels?


3 Responses to What is historical fantasy?

  1. Jennifer says:

    You know that I love The Thief and especially The Queen and King of Atyolia (the second two in the series). I’m lacking in my Historical Fantasy reading though!

  2. Joni says:

    Historical fantasies always make me think a little of the Society for Creative Anachronism, aka SCA. Basically their idea is to have the fun parts of, say, the middle ages — jousting, fun clothes, sword fights, jesters, troubadours — without all the unpleasant parts. And with better plumbing. I think that’s why so much historical fantasy is set in a world not unlike our own past — it’s a chance to do the “back when” parts over with some better stuff we wish had been there, like magic and good winning (more often) over evil.

  3. Tricia says:

    I agree, Joni. It’s definitely fun to add the “stuff we wish had been there.” The better plumbing is a must. 😀

    Do you have any new historical fantasies in the works?

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