Recommended historical fantasy / alternate history books

An image depicting the  fantasy sub-genre category

Historical fantasy takes a period of history from this world's past and introduces fantasy elements to it. Alternate history or alternative history is a genre of fiction consisting of stories that are set in worlds in which history has diverged from the actual history of the world.

Tigana by Guy Gavriel Kay
Tigana cover image
Rating 9.7/10

Set in a beleaguered land caught in a web of tyranny, Tigana is the deeply moving story of a people struggling to be free. A people so cursed by the dark sorceries of the tyrant King Brandin that even the very name of their once beautiful land cannot be spoken or remembered.

But not everyone has forgotten. A handful of men and women, driven by love, hope and pride, set in motion the dangerous quest for freedom and bring back to the world the lost brightness of an obliterated name: Tigana.

"Tigana is so perfect I don’t think I could bear it if Kay wrote a sequel" Interzone

"I was 19 and fresh out of Fionavar when I snatched this book off the shelf. I was totally swept away by the grand scope of the adventure that the young singer Devin d’Asoli found himself in. How could any young person not become the character themselves to live the life of adventure?" Fantasy Book Review

Read 9 reader reviews (89% positive)

Amazon.co.uk logo
Amazon.com logo
Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell by Susanna Clarke
Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell cover image
Rating 9.7/10

Two magicians shall appear in England. The first shall fear me; the second shall long to behold me The year is 1806. England is beleaguered by the long war with Napoleon, and centuries have passed since practical magicians faded into the nation's past. But scholars of this glorious history discover that one remains: the reclusive Mr Norrell whose displays of magic send a thrill through the country. Proceeding to London, he raises a beautiful woman from the dead and summons an army of ghostly ships to terrify the French. Yet the cautious, fussy Norrell is challenged by the emergence of another magician: the brilliant novice Jonathan Strange. Young, handsome and daring, Strange is the very opposite of Norrell. So begins a dangerous battle between these two great men which overwhelms the one between England and France. And their own obsessions and secret dabblings with the dark arts are going to cause more trouble than they can imagine.

"An elegant and witty historical fantasy which deserves to be judged on its own (considerable) merit." Sunday Telegraph

"A genuinely original story, beautifully told." Fantasy Book Review

Read 23 reader reviews (52% positive)

Amazon.co.uk logo
Amazon.com logo
A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens
A Christmas Carol cover image
Rating 9.6/10

A Christmas Carol was published in December 1843, at a time when medieval Christmas traditions were in steady decline. Indeed, Dickens’s heart-warming tale has been seen as a major turning point; the popularity of its lamp-lit setting and its diverse characters – from the wonderfully wicked Scrooge to the crippled but optimistic Tiny Tim – helped ensure that family unity and ‘goodwill to all men’ once more became the appropriate sentiments of the Christmas season. Dickens used the poverty-stricken Cratchit family’s dependence on hard-hearted Scrooge to highlight the Victorian working class’s daily struggle against the indifference of the greedy.

"The book’s importance was cemented at Christmas 1852, when Dickens undertook public readings of it before both educated and working-class audiences. The success of these events led to public readings becoming a major part of his later career, usually featuring A Christmas Carol. The novella’s short length and strong moral message have ensured that it has become one of Dickens most well-know classics." Fantasy Book Review

Read 3 reader reviews (100% positive)

Amazon.co.uk logo
Amazon.com logo
The Once And Future King by TH White
The Once And Future King cover image
Rating 9.5/10

TH White's The Once and Future King is a serious work, delightful and witty, yet very sombre overall. The volume published as The Once and Future King is actually four works separately composed over about 20 years. The first, The Sword in the Stone, concerns the lost childhood of Arthur, future king of England, and his education by Merlyn. The second, The Queen of Air and Darkness, tells the story of adolescent sons of Orkney and their mother, Morgause. The third, The Ill-Made Knight, takes up the story of Sir Lancelot and his uneasy relation- ship with Queen Guenever and with Arthur. The fourth, The Candle in the Wind, concerns the end of the Round Table and Arthur's death.

"Magnificent and tragic, and irresistible mixture of gaiety and pathos" The Sunday Times

"This ambitious work will long remain a memorial to an author who is at once civilized, learned, witty and humane" Times Literary Supplement

Read 1 reader reviews (100% positive)

Amazon.co.uk logo
Amazon.com logo
The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde
The Picture of Dorian Gray cover image
Rating 9.5/10

Handsome Dorian Gray has found the secret of eternal youth. As those around him age, Gray remains young and beautiful. Knowing his actions have no consequences he lives a wild life of pleasure, breaking heart after heart – including that of a young actress called Sybil Vane. Gray treats her so badly that she kills herself. But Gray has another secret – in his attic he hides a portrait of himself. While his own body remains fit and healthy, the image in the portrait becomes older and more disfigured with each debauched act he commits. When the portraits creator, Basil Hallward, discovers the horrific truth, Gray kills him in a fit of rage. While Hallward may no longer be a concern, Gray’s own life may be in danger from Sybil’s brother, James Vane, who still blames him for his sister’s suicide and begins vengefully stalking the young pleasure-seeker. Terrified that his life is spiralling out of control, Gray vows to give up his wanton ways, and especially not to mistreat his latest conquest, innocent Hetty Merton. As his behaviour improves Gray expects the painting to begin returning to its original state – so is horrified to find it even more grotesque. Can Gray find any way out of his nightmare?

"A key example of Gothic horror fiction, The Picture of Dorian Gray is Oscar Wilde’s only novel and a classic of modern literature. It was originally published in a shorter version in Lippinscott’s Monthly Magazine, an American literary journal, in 1890, then revised and published in book form in 1891. Upon publication, its portrayal of moral decadence and its strong homoerotic undertones caused controversy and ensured that the book was poorly received by readers at the time." Fantasy Book Review

The Picture of Dorian Gray is available as a free ebook

Read 2 reader reviews (100% positive)

Amazon.co.uk logo
Amazon.com logo
Animal Farm by George Orwell
Animal Farm cover image
Rating 9.5/10

Animal Farm is set in a farmyard where the animals decide to seize the farmer's land and create a co-operative that reaps the benefits of their combined labours. However, some animals see a bigger share of the rewards than others, and the animals start to question their supposed utopia. Little by little, the rules begin to mysteriously change, and the pigs seem to gain power little by little, making the animals question what society they were striving for in the first place and whether their new-found freedom is as liberating as they might have hoped.

"Animal Farm by George Orwell was first published in 1945 and will be celebrating its seventieth birthday next year. It is still a keen area of debate whether it remains relevant for readers of this generation - I certainly believe it is, and the fact that it is still studied as part of the United Kingdom’s English Literature curriculum would add further credence to this opinion. I re-read the novella last night and found its themes and messages just as powerful, moving and relevant as they must have been seven decades ago." Floresiensis, Fantasy Book Review

Read 4 reader reviews (50% positive)

Amazon.co.uk logo
Amazon.com logo
Dracula by Bram Stoker
Dracula cover image
Rating 9.5/10

When Jonathan Harker visits Transylvania to help Count Dracula with the purchase of a London house, he makes horrifying discoveries about his client and his castle. Soon afterwards, a number of disturbing incidents unfold in England: an unmanned ship is wrecked at Whitby; strange puncture marks appear on a young woman's neck; and the inmate of a lunatic asylum raves about the imminent arrival of his 'Master'.

"In the ensuing battle of wits between the sinister Count Dracula and a determined group of adversaries, Bram Stoker created a masterpiece of the horror genre. Dracula has been attributed to many literary genres including vampire literature, horror fiction, the gothic novel and invasion literature. Structurally it is an epistolary novel, that is, told as a series of diary entries and letters. Literary critics have examined many themes in the novel, such as the role of women in Victorian culture, conventional and conservative sexuality, immigration, colonialism, postcolonialism and folklore. Although Stoker did not invent the vampire, the novel's influence on the popularity of vampires has been singularly responsible for many theatrical and film interpretations throughout the 20th and 21st centuries." Fantasy Book Review

Read 1 reader reviews (100% positive)

Amazon.co.uk logo
Amazon.com logo
The Stress of Her Regard by Tim Powers
The Stress of Her Regard cover image
Rating 9.5/10

When Michael Crawford discovers his bride brutally murdered in their wedding bed, he is forced to flee not only to prove his innocence, but to avoid the deadly embrace of a vampire who has claimed him as her true bridegroom. Joining forces with Byron, Keats, and Shelley in a desperate journey that criss-crosses Europe, Crawford desperately seeks his freedom from this vengeful lover who haunts his dreams and will not rest until she destroys all that he cherishes. Told in the guise of a secret history, this long-awaited tale of passion and terror is finally back in print after over 20 years.

"This is an excellent novel and fully deserves the plaudits it already has, and it should enjoy new fans and a wider readership this second time around." Fantasy Book Review

Read 1 reader reviews (100% positive)

Amazon.co.uk logo
Amazon.com logo
The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov
The Master and Margarita cover image
Rating 9.5/10

Considered one of the finest creations of Russian literature in the 20th century, The Master and Margarita is an amazing work of fantasy, a love story, a biting satire on Soviet life, and a lot more. Mikhail Bulgakov's last book and crowning achievement, it has been written in secrecy, burned and restored, and banned for decades. Its author, who worked on it until his final days, never saw it in print. English-speaking audiences may fully enjoy Bulgakov's masterpiece.

"The book shows how easy it is to become greedy and cynical, to be unable to see what is happening around you... and if you see it not being able to believe it. The citizens of Moscow are a contrast between what they see and what they want, with Margarita, who in her own way, is a pure soul." Fantasy Book Review

Read 1 reader reviews (100% positive)

Amazon.co.uk logo
Amazon.com logo
Ack-Ack Macaque by Gareth L Powell
Ack-Ack Macaque cover image
Rating 9.5/10

In 1944, as waves of German ninjas parachute into Kent, Britain’s best hopes for victory lie with a Spitfire pilot codenamed ‘Ack-Ack Macaque’. The trouble is, Ack-Ack Macaque is a cynical, one-eyed, cigar-chomping monkey, and he’s starting to doubt everything, including his own existence. A century later, in a world where France and Great Britain merged in the late 1950s and nuclear-powered Zeppelins encircle the globe, ex-journalist Victoria Valois finds herself drawn into a deadly game of cat and mouse with the man who butchered her husband and stole her electronic soul. Meanwhile, in Paris, after taking part in an illegal break-in at a research laboratory, the heir to the British throne goes on the run. And all the while, the doomsday clock ticks towards Armageddon.

"Ack-Ack Macaque shows just what is possible by combining new idea and creating a unique world and a set of characters, a monkey, who would have guessed! Gareth L. Powell will be an author to look out for." Jasper de Joode, Fantasy Book Review

Amazon.co.uk logo
Amazon.com logo

View all historical fantasy reviews

Recommended reads by sub-genre

Select a sub-genre below to see which books which highly recommend.