Genre: Fantasy Historicals

FANTASY FICTION ARC 2014-2015 Historical, Romantic, and Sagas.  PRIMARY APPEAL: We had nine people respond. All nine had world-building (frame) as an element (8 in the #1 position). Eight listed character as one of the three appeal factors; and seven had storyline. Several people mentioned pacing (the thrill factor0, and Atmosphere or Tone. Several of us had magical or mystical elements which I would designate in the World-Building category.

1.WORLD-BUILDING (FRAME) needs: “to transport the reader to another world despite being fantasy is nonetheless believable;” “logical/consistent magic or physics of the world;” “creating a believable, new world as a setting/character in the story;” and “’Impossible World’ Building…the safe presentation of problems and solutions beyond our ordinary worlds.”

2.CHARACTERS need: “Without good characters, the best setting in the world won’t involve and sustain the reader;”…”I don’t believe this is any different than any other story, but in Fantasy where the characters may not be human, reader empathy/understanding is more important to the experience than it might me reading a mystery or general fiction.”

3.STORYLINE:  Several of us want “the Quest” to drive the story and “to hang created world and good characters.” While “discovering and learning how to handle the unusual phenomena becomes part of the growth of the character,” but “the Quest” should “be more than the world and the cool stuff in it/happening to it; the protagonist (2) must have a larger reason for interacting with the world or a reason for changing themselves in their world.” In other words, I think the storyline has to real within the context of the world but also should stand by itself as a compelling plot line. Often magical and mythical beasts and their dilemmas are metaphorical and the story universal.

The pacing, tone, and literary quality of the writing may vary for individual readers.

Thank you to Jessica Atherton; Eileen Barrett; Michelle Deschene; Diane Giarusso; Louise Goldstein, Nanci Milone Hill; Jan Resnick;  and Jim Riordan.

November 25, 2014

Benchmark: Naomi Novik’s His Majesty’s Dragon

Read one more title in the Historical Fantasy genre—your choice.

Appeal to be read for November meeting: Focus on all the appeal factors, but really think about setting and tone.

Brannen, Jennifer. “All About Fantasy for Teens,” NoveList. EBSCO. 2012 (9/12/14)
Buker, Derek M. The Science Fiction and Fantasy Readers’ Advisory: The Librarian’s Guide to Cyborgs, Aliens and Sorcerers. ALA, 2002. P.111-117, 141-144.
Herald, Diana Tixier. Fluent in Fantasy: A Guide to Reading Interests. LU, 2009. P.2-5.
Johnson, Sarah L. Historical Fiction: A Guide to the Genre. LU, 2006. P.651-52.
Saricks, Joyce. G. “Getting Up to Speed in Fantasy Fiction,” NoveList. EBSCO. 2013 (9/12/14)
—.The Readers’s Advisory Guide to Genre Fiction. 2nd ed. ALA, 2009,p.265-289.

Please post choice Graphic Novels & 2nd Historical Fantasy choices on this RA RT Blog under Submit 2nd Title Info.


Brackston, Paula. The Witch’s Daughter. 17th c. England

Bull, Emma. Territory, US West. YA

Douglas, Sara. The Nameless Day: #1 Crucible trilogy. 14th c. Europe

Jackson, D.B. Thieftaker: #1Thieftaker Chronicles. Revolutionary War

Kay, Guy Gavriel. Under Heaven. Tang dynasty China

Lackey, Mercedes. Home from the Sea: #8 Elemental Masters. 20th c. Wales

Lindskold, Jane. The Buried Pyramid. Egypt

Lyle, Anne. The Alchemist of Souls. Elizabethan England

Llywelyn, Morgan. The Horse Goddess. Celtic

Marillier, Juliet. Daughter of the Forest:#1 Sevenwaters Trilogy. 9thc. Ireland

Mosse, Kate. The Winter Ghosts. 1920s France

Nicholas, Douglas. Something Red. 13th c. England

Powers, Tim. Drawing of the Dark. 16thc.

Rawn, Melanie. The Diviner. 7th c. Middle East.

Riley, Judith Merkle. The Master of All Desires. 16thc. France. Catherine de Médicis,

Sidorova, J.M. The Age of Ice. 18th c. Russia

Tarr, Judith. Devil’s Bargain. Crusades.

November 25, 2014, Northeastern Readers’ Advisory Round Table; Billerica, MA
From Eileen, Reading.

Fantasy Historical Benchmark: His Majesty’s Dragon by Naomi Novik
This is a fantasy book with historical elements. The setting is very much like a Patrick O’Brian book – Napoleonic wars, strong navel element. HMD characters have detailed dialog that shows a lot of affection. The main character most found to be very likable. There was a strong sense of a code of honor – strong morals. The secondary characters were important in that they helped show alternative points of view and gave additional information. It brought a modern view to the story that woman were allowed to be aviators because a dragon wanted a woman pilot. The author used historical event, but did not feel bound to actual facts. The author used humor.
Readalikes: Patrick O’Brian, Robin Hobb, Marie Breenan

Second Titles

Nanci: The Witch’s Daughter, Winter Witch, Midnight Witch by Paula Brackston. The Witch’s Daughter is set during the plague in England. Winter Witch has a Nordic setting and Midnight Witch is set in turn of the century Paris. The historical context is well done: the historical detail is important but not overpowering. Could almost compare it to The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane by Katherine Howe. Evenly paced, great story, literary writing, magic described beautifully and period details equally well described. [Leane’s note: I also read the first in Brackston’s book and would also add that the author does a nice job with pace as well, keeping the reader’s interest well by using flashbacks and present time well.]

Louise: The Alchemist of Souls by Anne Lyle
Set during Elizabethan England. It is delightful with magical creatures called skrayling, a bawdy theatre troupe, whores, pubs, and comfort in knowing it is all going to work out. The setting is a big character and there are lots of gay casual relationships happening. It is witty and simply delightful.

Lisa: Winter Ghosts by Kate Mosse
Historically set in the French Pyrenees in 1928 between wars. The main character has an accident in the mountains in a snow storm. He wanders down in a valley into a remote village that seems to be back in time. There is this question of whether it is a dream or is it real – it is almost paranormal. A ghost visits him to try and solve a genocide that happened in the past.

Winter Ghosts by Kate Mosse. Pre-Spanish civil war, steeped in Arthurian legends; reminded her of Pan’s Labyrinth.

Michelle: Thieftaker by D.B. Jackson (This is the 1st book in The Thieftaker Chronicles series) Set in Colonial Times in 1765 Boston society. Ethan is hired by a wealthy merchant to find a broach lost by his daughter. There are many events from Boston history with familiar names peppered throughout the novel. Author has a keen eye for detail and reader can instantly visualize what Ethan is seeing. The majority of women are respected. The magic is with rules and it has a color: it is blood-driven magic.

Thieftaker by D.B. Jackson. Said setting is a huge appeal as it becomes a character. Nanci comment that she did not like that Ethan’s past is alluded to but never explained. [Leane’s note: I read this as well, and concur with both reporters. I think this would a possible readalike for Jim Bishop’s Harry Dresden series especially for someone who likes the Colonial time frame and setting. As Nanci notes, the allusions to Ethan’s past could be frustrating but they could also be tantalizing for those who want new discoveries in the rest of the series. Different readers!]

Jim: Babayaga: A Novel of Witches in Paris by Toby Barlow
Babayaga is a mythical character from Russian folklore. Set in 1959 Paris it revolves around witches that have been around for 4 centuries. The witches have over the centuries migrated from Russia to Paris, following armies and bringing either good or bad luck. Only two witches end up in Paris. The book begins with Zoya, one of the witches, killing her lover in a brutal way. The other main character is Will. He becomes the target of Zoya’s love interested. The characters are well drawn, but complicated. A lot of the stories are told in flashbacks. The setting Paris is one of the nicest things, the author does a really good job describing the underbelly of 1959 Paris.

Under Heaven by Guy Gavriel Kay
The reimagined Tang Dynasty period, an alternate history. The Shen Tai, second son of a general serving Emperor Kitai, ends up living in a hut and burying the bones of the dead. The magic is the ghosts of the dead, more paranormal. The story is lush and the tone thoughtful. It is steady paced and tends more toward historical fiction than magical. The story is about Shen Tai’s life and his siblings and his father’s death. There is a lot about the silk road. It reminded her of Ghost Bride by Yangsze Choo.

Jan: Horse Goddess by Morgan Llywelyn
This is a good example of mythology. It is set in 800 B.C. in the Celtic era in an eastern alpine region. This is a very settled area, but horseman (the Sea of Grass people) comes to the region with weapons. They are a very violent society. It is about different cultures coming together and how they interact. The main character Epona, communicates with animals and has special abilities. To avoid living a regimented life as a priestess, and to avoid Kunnunos, the village Druid priest, she runs away with the horseman. She develops a relationship with the leader of the horsemen who respects her and she becomes the horse goddess with her sensitivity to animals. Some read alikes are The Clan of the Cave Bear series by Jean Auel and The Moon and Sun [?Author]

Eileen: Son of the Shadows (Sevenwater Trilogy book 2) by Juliet Marillier This series is based on mythology. Book 2 picks up where Daughter of the Forest, book 1, ended. In book 1 Sorcha, seventh child and only daughter of Lord Colum, is sent on an epic journey to free her six brothers who were turned into swans by her evil stepmother Oonagh. Although Sorcha broke the spell, some brother did not emerge from the transformation into a swan. Now in book 2 it is now up to Sorcha’s daughter Liadan to continue the quest and save the Sevenwaters clan. The magic is in fairies and sorcery, visions and healings. Set in Ireland where magic just might be possible. The author writes beautifully with rich details and a likeable main character.

Second Titles

Laura Bernheim

Shadow and Bone – Bardugo, Leigh
Appeal Factors: Pacing: hard to put down; lots of dialogue
Characterizations: strong female character in Alina; entourage of secondary characters, strong friendship from Mal and Genya, mysterious Darkling
Story Line: strong relationship between two main characters (likened to Katniss and Peeta on Amazon review);
world building (Grisha, the Shadow Fold, Ravka); open ending for obvious set up for a sequel or series
Setting: fantasy world mimicking Russia and medieval Europe
Detail: cinematic writing; harrowing descriptions of the shadow fold and the Volcra
Tone: mysterious; fantasy; creepy
Language: Descriptive sentences; words based in Russian (as well as some other European languages)

In an unspecified time or place, but which resembles Eastern Europe anywhere from the early part of the second millennium to the 17th century, orphan Alina is convinced that she is ordinary, and only wishes to stay with her childhood friend, Mal. She soon realizes that she’s not so ordinary as she becomes a student of the Darkling and learns to fight the monsters in the mysterious (and dark) Fold. This is the first of a series and is published as a YA novel.

Readalikes: The Hunger Game series Set in a fantasy world (well, dystopia, really). Powerful girl who must resist her government and deal with feelings for a childhood friend. Becomes symbol for resistance. Secrets of the Fire Sea by Stephen Hunt Song of the Lioness by Tamora Pierce

Jim Riordan

Babayaga – Toby Barlow
Appeal Factors: Setting – mostly Paris, but also the French countryside and Russia, complex characters, mix of drama and humor, fast pace.

Barlow’s Babayaga is set in 1959 Paris. A Russian émigré witch (aka Babayaga) called Zoya kills her erstwhile lover with a rather gruesome spell when he makes an offhand comment about her not aging. This murder sets off a series of events that ends up with Elga another witch trying to kill Zoya. Will is a hapless American ad exec working in Paris and is about to lose his job when he accidentally stumbles into a secret CIA plot. These two plot threads are slowly drawn together and Will not so accidentally meets and falls in love with Zoya.

The book is a very clever mixture of history and fantasy. The reader is not beaten over the head with either historical people or events. Similarly the magic element of the story doesn’t just appear fully formed but is drawn out from a shamanistic tradition. The story is fast paced with an action and character driven plot. Interspersed in this action are flash backs to the past lives of the witches and how they came to Paris. An interesting aspect of the flashbacks is the reader never really knows what time they happen in so even when you know the back story of the witches you never know how old they are. Several witch ghosts even appear as a bit of a Greek chorus and sing “witch songs” between chapters.

The speed of the story would make it a good choice for someone who doesn’t have the patience for epic high fantasy. Readers who are in love with Paris will enjoy the world of the story and people interested in folkways will find the witches fascinating. History readers might enjoy the story for it’s very subtle historical references that essentially let them play “Find the History” as they read.

 Nanci Milone Hill

The Witch’s Daughter – Paula Brackston
Appeal Factors: Engaging characters, setting as character, attention to detail, cinematic writing

The story goes back and forth in time, from 1628 to the present day. The reader follows the long life of Bess Hawksmith whose mother was hanged as a witch during the plague. She apprentices herself to a Warlock who then hunts her across time. Now, in present day England, her solitary life is interrupted by a young teen named Tegan, who she begins to teach the ways of the hedge witch. She will need Tegan’s help if she is to escape the evil Gideon Masters once and for all.

I truly loved this story. The details and setting lent legitimacy to the tale and drew me in. The pacing was even, though often suspenseful. I would recommend it to anyone who enjoyed The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane by Katherine Howe.

Christine Sharbrough

Under Heaven – Guy Gavriel Kay
Appeal Factors: exotic locale, no magic or non-human characters, intrigue of Tang Dynasty palace politics and government

Set in 8th century China when the Tang Dynasty ruled, it tells the story of Shen Tai, the second son of a Chinese General. At the time the book opens, Shen Tai is in his mourning year (which ends up being two years) living in a hut on the former battlefield of one of his father’s greatest victories. He has tasked himself with burying the bones of the dead to put their ghosts to rest. His work attracts the attention of the royal palace and soon he is drawn into the intrigue and politics of the Tang era.

With lush details and a steady pace, this story brings the reader back to the cultural highpoint of the Tang Dynasty. Kay weaves many historical figures of the time throughout the story lending it an air of authenticity.

Michelle Deschene

Thieftaker – D. B. Jackson
Appeal Factors: Setting; Character; Worldbuilding; Pacing

In Boston in 1765, Thieftaker Ethan Kaille recovers missing and stolen objects for a fee. You might think his ability to cast spells would be a boon in his chosen profession, but Boston society takes one look at a conjurer and whispers witch, and Ethan isn’t so far removed from the hysteria to count on being safe from persecution. In this first novel of the series, Ethan is hired by a wealthy merchant to find a brooch his daughter wore the night she was murdered. Of course it’s not that simple, and Ethan quickly runs afoul of Boston’s other, more prominent and ruthless Thieftaker, as well as a stronger conjurer who wants Ethan to leave well enough alone.

Jackson does not stint on historical detail: Grenville’s Stamp Act is the rabble-rousing backdrop of the novel, and there are countless mentions of events that took place prior to 1765, for example the Great Fire of 1711, a blaze that destroyed the Old Meeting House and the area surrounding the Cornhill Market, and also the witch trials. Familiar names, like Revere and Ebenezer Mackintosh, are peppered throughout the novel, while Samuel Adams makes an appearance.

In terms of fantasy elements, one of our handouts defined historical fantasy as a battle between good and evil, with those roles defined by the cultures or religions of the historical period that serves the story. In Thieftaker, good and evil have several representations:

  • The church in opposition to conjurers, or witches, as they’re viewed in the eyes of ministers/congregations
  • Citizens in opposition to government
  • Poor working classes in opposition to wealthy merchants

And one more, conjurer pitted against conjurer, a battle that exposes the problematic nature of maintaining a black and white mindset. One of the biggest themes of the novel is that there’s really nothing in the world that can or should be viewed as wholly, inherently good or wholly, inherently evil.

The setting works in the novel’s favor, especially for those of us living in or around Boston, but Jackson’s keen eye for transporting detail has a cinematic quality, which should make readers unfamiliar with the city still feel like they’re walking along the wharves, for instance, or sitting in the home of one of Boston’s affluent families. Across the board, from hero to foil, Jackson’s characters are certainly interesting if not all engaging. Based on their personalities, similar world view and how they react in dangerous situations, Ethan is Harry Dresden in a waistcoat and stockings. If you have a Jim Butcher fan in need of something to read between Dresden Files books, keep Thieftaker in mind. I’m also pleased to note that the women in the novel are strong in different ways, and respected by Ethan, even when they challenge him or do him outright harm. The only red flag that I would throw on the field, and this is based on a personal do-not-like, is a dog being killed (I saw it coming and had to skip several pages).

Jan Resnick

The Horse Goddess – Morgan Llywelyn
Appeal Factors: pace – leisurely; story – world-building; language/style – descriptive, engaging; tone – atmospheric, romantic; frame – Austrian Alps and Steppes of the Ukraine, 800 BC

Newly initiated to womanhood, Epona rebels against the expectations of her tribe, the Kelti. The Kelti have the skills of a master ironworker and the wealth of the salt mountain. Raised as the daughter of the Chief, upon his death and the growing awareness that she may have powers as a drui or gutuiter (druid, sorcerer) and possibly a powerful one, she escapes the enforced isolation and restrictions of such a role by running away with horsemen from far to the east. Her life with Kazhak is a conflict of cultures: the sense of place and permanence of the Kelti and the transience of the nomadic wild horsemen of the Sea of Grass.

When they return to Kazhak’s people, Epona is isolated by her differences. She has proven her skills and sensitivity to the horses and is accorded privileges not usually allowed a woman. Kazhak’s tribe and Kazhak’s position in it is also in transition, his father Kolaxais, Prince of Horses, is ill and separated from his people by power hungry shamans.

Epona and Kazhak develop an affection for one another and respect some of the unique parts of their individual values. The reader explores the similarity and differences with them. Suspense develops as their roles in the world conflict with the expectations of their surroundings.

The fantasy elements are minor. Kelti drui Kernunnos is powerful and frightening. He has abused and terrified Epona’s mother and does not take Epona’s defection well. In the shape of a silver wolf, he pursues her and attacks and terrifies those around her. Keeping her and her powers costs Kazhak and his people dearly. The strong sense of place and societal detail will appeal to historical fiction readers; the uncanny atmosphere surrounding the intimidating silver wolf may provide a bridge to fantasy and possibly horror.

  • Similar authors/titles: Llywelyn explores Celtic history in many of her novels; Jean Auel; Mary Mackey – The Fires of Spring; Kathleen O’Neal Gear – People of the Wolf; Joan Wolf – Daughter of the Red Deer; Steven Barnes – Great Sky Woman; Harry Harrison – The Hammer and the Cross

The Somnambulist – Barnes, Jonathan
Appeal Factors: fast; unreliable narrator, colorful quirky characters; language – engaging; story – intricately plotted; tone – noir, suspenseful; Frame – London, 1880’s.

On page 2 the narrator informs the reader that he will lie, and then he sets off to tell an intricate story. The tale is set in Victorian London shortly after the death of Queen Victoria. Illusionist Edward Moon is often called to assist the police with extreme or unusual cases. This time it is two separate murders, or are they suicides? The search leads not to a killer but to a conspiracy. The Church of the Summer Kingdom has been thriving in plain sight (although several levels below ground) and now the congregants are ready to make their move – raze London and all its inhabitants to the ground in order to establish a Pantisocracy as envisioned by Samuel Taylor Coleridge. Odd creatures, strange occurrences, and the presence of the silent Somnambulist create an atmosphere where the impossible happens. A first novel

  • Similar authors or stories: Louis Bayard, D.E. Meredith, Caleb Carr, Felix Palma, Philip Kerr, Erin Morgenstern – Night Circus.

Something Red – Douglas Nicholas
Appeal Factors: Fast; Characterizations – Warrior women, Wizards/Witches/Paranormal; Story – Character-driven; Language – descriptive, lyrical, richly detailed; Tone – atmospheric, menacing; Frame – 13th Century Britain

Travelling the forests of thirteenth century Britain, Molly’s small troupe realizes they are being hunted by something evil. They cannot run; they can only stand and fight.

  • Similar authors/titles: Molly Gloss – Wild Life; Philip Freeman – St. Brigid’s Bones; Amber Benson – Ghost of Albion; Roberta Gellis – By Slanderous Tongues; Susanna Clarke – Dr. Strange and Mr. Norrell; Naomi Novik; Mercedes Lackey – The Gates of Sleep; Paula Brackston – The Midnight Witch

Louise Goldstein

The Alchemist of Souls – Anne Lyle
Appeal Factors: Elizabethan London, strong sense of place, colorful, dramatic, witty, bawdy, gay characters, girl dressed as boy, plot twists and turns, Shakespearean

A witty, dramatic, sweeping tale of Elizabethan London, this novel features a magical creature called “skraylings”. They have unusual markings and an amazing ability to be reborn into a dead human’s body as a new baby. The plot includes romance, swordmanship, theatre, danger, plot twists and turns. All in all, this novel is great fun and most entertaining. Cinematic in style as well. One really gets the sense that they were there. An interesting scene with Queen Elizabeth herself….I immediately doffed my hat. You will too once you have read this entertaining novel!

Eileen Barrett

Son of the Shadows – Juliet Marillier
Appeal Factors: Beautifully written with likeable characters and good plot development. A richly detailed story with fantasy, magic, adventure and romance.

Son of the Shadows by Juliet Marillier is the second novel in the Sevenwaters Trilogy. Based on Celtic myths this book continues the saga of the Sevenwaters Clan. In the first book, Daughter of the Forest, Sorcha the seventh child and only daughter of Lord Colum set out on a quest to break the evil spell that her stepmother cast on her six brothers, resulting in them turning into swans. In Son of the Shadows, it is Sorcha’s youngest daughter, Liadan, a gifted healer and seer, whose story is told. When her older sister, Niamh, is sent away in an arranged marriage, Liadan accompanies her. On the way home Liadan is kidnapped by a notorious outlaw, the Painted Man. Liadan is a courageous heroine, and her journey and the choices she makes will determine the destiny of the Sevenwaters Clan.

Leane Ellis

The Quick – Lauren Owen
Appeal Factors: Frame/Tone/Storyline

I also read D.B. Jackson’s Thieftaker & Paula Brackston’s The Witch’s Daughter which others reviewed so I felt I should add something no one else commented on.

Lauren Owen’s The Quick (2014) Audio read by Simon Slater Historical Fantasy/Horror

This debut was atmospheric, inventive, and for the most part, a very compelling read. In this novel which begins in a decaying estate in Yorkshire, a young man and his sister grow up in isolation. He goes to Oxford and remains in London to become a poet, but instead falls into forbidden love, suffers tragic loss, and becomes a vampire. Multiple characters people this world: an heroic American, aristocratic villains, street urchins, vampire hunters including a tightrope walker turned avenger, and a menacing doctor who thrives on scientific experimentation. Charlotte, the young man’s sister allowed this reader to find an anchor character to empathize with and root for in a motley cast of characters who sometime frighten and repel more than attract and invite sympathy. The author manages to inject fresh ideas regarding the undead in this intricately plotted historical set in Victorian England. It will appeal to Gothic lovers, as well as fantasy, horror and historical readers. Sometimes this leisurely paced novel is too slow when the author spends too much time on characters who do not seem to matter, or details that detract from the narrative flow. But for the most part, twists and turns abound when least expected (turning expectations upside down), and there is lots of action including chase and battle scenes to keep the pages turning. The writing is complex, fresh, and inventive as well as wonderfully macabre. Some of the violence may be a bit too graphic for some but is descriptive rather than gratuitous. This debut was a coming-of-age novel, a homosexual love story, and a true tale of horror. Read masterfully by Simon Slater—it was a great listen, and even though it is 15 discs and over 500 pages it was a quicker read due to the exemplary writing. A coworker who read the book agrees.

Readalikes are David Morrell’s Murder is a Fine Art for the era and tone, for some readers of Erin Morgenstern’s The Night Circus (not as magical but great world-building and gothic atmosphere), and those who liked Elizabeth Kostova’s The Historian for the same appeal of Frame, tone and intriguing inventive undead storyline.