Fantastic Five: historical fantasy

If you’d asked me at the start what the hardest Fantastic Five would be to write, subgenres wouldn’t have even crossed my mind. More fool me. Because I can barely define subgenres correctly, let alone accurately assign books to them – and I’m wildly indecisive. So this was trickier than anticipated…

After much wrestling, I decided to focus on historical fantasy. Why? Because the definition is as blurry as my vision without glasses, and it gives me loads of wiggle room, that’s why. It’s also a flavour of fantasy I very much enjoy, although I could say the same of many others.

Historical fantasy may be a version of our past with fantastical elements introduced (Jonathan Strange and Doctor Norrell); or be set in a secondary world that is a recognisable analogue of some place and time in our past (The Lions of Al-Rassan). It may reimagine or retell a particular history (Temeraire), or use it as window dressing to tell its own stories (Sorcerer to the Crown). In other words, it’s one of those fuzzy subgenres that occupies the intersection of several others; which suits me just fine. It only gets fuzzier when you consider all the fantasies that are inspired by periods of history without wanting to be them (Empire of Sand).

Disagree with my definition? That’s okay, I’m almost always wrong about these things. But that’s what I’m using as my guide today – and I’m focusing strictly on books on my TBR rather than books I’ve already read, so I may not even be right about whether they really fit!

A Master of Djinn – P Djèlí Clark

What if European colonialism in Africa had been defeated by djinn? 50 years later, the man who opened the veil between worlds claims to be back – and he’s not happy with the state it’s in. Agent Fatma of the Ministry of Alchemy, Enchantments and Supernatural Entities must stop his dangerous magicks – and figure out whether he really is Al-Jahiz. I loved The Haunting of Tram Car 015, so I’m excited to return to Clark’s steampunk Cairo.

Book cover (Orbit UK): A Master of Djinn - P Djèlí Clark

The Story of Silence – Alex Jennings

Book cover: The Story of Silence - Alex Myers

This is a retelling of a 13th century French romance much concerned with rather modern themes of class, gender and nature vs nurture: the Earl of Cornwall raises his daughter Silence as a boy so that he may inherit – but as Silence grows up they must figure out who they want to be. I assume Jennings will ditch the ‘and they all lived happily married ever after’ ending.

The Book of Perilous Dishes – Doina Rusti

In late 18th century Bucharest, a slave chef cooks up dishes that imbue the eater with sincerity, forgetfulness, foresight or hysterics – and a young woman with unusual powers of her own is determined to get her hands on his cookbook. A sure-fire way to summon me as a reader is to say “cookery as magic” and promise me recipes in the text. Guess what this has?

Book cover: The Book Of Perilous Dishes - Doina Rusti

The Burning God – RF Kuang

Book cover: The Burning God - R F Kuang

RF Kuang’s reimagining of 20th century Chinese history has left me in awe, but I’ve never quite mustered the courage to read the final volume. It’s past time I rejoined Fang Runin and her desperate fight to push back the treacherous Empress and the colonizing Hesperians. I know how this story must end, but I have no idea how it will play out through Kuang’s brilliant fantastical lens.

The Language of Stones – Robert Carter

Of all the unread books on my shelf, this may be the one I’ve sat on the longest – and I’m not sure why. Welcome to a reimagined 15th century, where the mysterious Gwydion and his apprentice seek to quell the rising power of Britain’s standing stones that are stoking men’s urge towards civil war. Arthurian myth meets the prelude to the War of the Roses is a heady pitch; one day I’ll actually read it.

Book cover: The Language of Stones - Robert Carter

What subgenres have my Wyrd and Wonder co-hosts featured this week? Check out the Fantastic Fives from the rest of the team: A Dance With Books | Dear Geek Place | The Book Nook | Jorie Loves A Story

Want to join us in sharing your own fantastic fives? We’d love to see them – check out our weekly topics and share your links in the master schedule. We’ll be sharing our Fantastic Fives each Sunday through May, but you’re welcome to post any day (and tackle the prompts in any order, because that’s the sort of super-relaxed party we like to run).

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