books, historical fantasy

(Some of) My Favorite Books: YA Historical Fantasy

Writing about some of my favorite YA historicals got me thinking about my other favorite genre: historical fantasy. There’s something so freeing and fun about a great fantasy romp through, say, an alternate London, where girls wield formidable magical powers and the dead come back to life.

I’ve touched on a few YA historical fantasies in my post on mentor texts, but here I want to tell you about some of the other books that I’ve loved over the years.

The Gemma Doyle trilogy (A Great and Terrible Beauty, Rebel Angels, and The Sweet Far Thing) by Libba Bray

I was obsessed with A Great and Terrible Beauty when it came out. It features practically everything that makes my heart go pitter-patter: Victorian England, a girls’ school, mysterious magical powers, just enough chills, and a healthy dose of feminism. Seriously, my fangirling over this book is what introduced me to the publishing world in the first place. In brief, Gemma Doyle is sent to the exclusive Spence Academy in England after her mother dies mysteriously in 1896 India. As she explores her growing ability to see visions of the future, she and her friends must fight a formidable evil as well as the restrictions of 19th-century high society. Bray’s writing is lush and vivid, a beautiful mesh of history and magic.

The Diviners by Libba Bray

Libba Bray can do no wrong, especially where her historical fantasies come in (see above). The Diviners plunges you into 1920s New York City, where Evie O’Neill has just arrived to live with her uncle Will. When Will is called in to help solve a gruesome murder, Evie realizes that her newfound ability to read objects might help catch the killer. As she explores the heady world of speakeasies and glitzy shows, she attempts to hunt down the killer, but the closer she gets, the darker the danger grows. This is even creepier than the Gemma Doyle trilogy, but the world-building is perhaps even more vivid. The sequel, Lair of Dreams, debuts on August 25th, and I’ve already preordered it. A good excuse to reread The Diviners to refresh my memory…

The Dark Between by Sonia Gensler

It’s 1901, and spiritualism has taken the world by storm. Kate is running from her past as an assistant to a fraudulent medium, and she takes refuge in Summerfield College in Cambridge, England, where she befriends American Asher and Elsie, who lives at Summerfield. When a man’s body is discovered nearby, the three try to get to the bottom of his death, and they’re drawn into the work of scientists attempting to contact the spirit world. This is Gensler’s second historical ghost story (The Revenant takes place in 19th-century western America) and I loved it even more than the first…maybe because it’s set in England. Shivery with chills and buried secrets, this one is a new twist on spiritualism that I hadn’t seen in YA.

In the Shadow of Blackbirds by Cat Winters

As long as we’re talking about ghosts, let me gush about In the Shadow of Blackbirds, which takes place in 1918 California, just as WWI is winding down and the influenza epidemic is felling thousands. Mary Shelley Black is a firm believer in science, but her belief wavers when her first love, who’s fighting in WWI, shows up in a spiritualist photographer’s image. As she tries to learn the truth, she learns more about the costs of war than she bargained for. Winters’ gorgeous writing is complemented by the atmospheric historic photographs that accompany each chapter. This is a book worth savoring, and it’s also one of the few with a chapter ending that made me gasp out loud. But you’ll have to read it to figure out why.

Revolution by Jennifer Donnelly

Donnelly is another writer who, in my eyes, can do no wrong (see A Northern Light, my favorite book of all time). Revolution blends the stories of two girls, one in modern-day Brooklyn, the other in Revolutionary France. Andi, a gifted musician, is struggling with her anger and grief over her brother’s death, and when she’s shipped off to Paris to spend winter break with her father, she’s not expecting to connect with anyone. But then she discovers a diary left by Alexandrine, a performer who lived in France over two hundred years ago, and finds someone who might understand her. And one night in the catacombs of Paris, Andi and Alexandrine’s worlds collide. Revolution explores a heartbreaking story from the French Revolution and perfectly matches it with Andi’s struggles.

And that’s it from me! What are some of your favorites?


3 thoughts on “(Some of) My Favorite Books: YA Historical Fantasy”

  1. Two more books for the list–wahoo! Although technically we could say three because I’ve got the sequel to The Diviners on my ready to go radar too.
    I can always count on you to give a succinct and enticing review of a book I’m bound to enjoy.
    Don’t know if you subscribe to any Goodreads newsletters, but this one came a couple days ago. I found a couple books I’ve not read. Maybe something will catch your fancy, Abby.
    I love seeing lists like these.
    Cheers, Abby!


    1. Yes, I saw it, and I was thrilled to see some of my own childhood favorites on the list! Some I haven’t heard of at all, though, and they’re definitely going on my (ever-growing) to-read pile. Thanks for the reminder!


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