Historical Fantasy Fiction

Fantasy fiction is already a varied genre with magic and surprise at every turn. Combine this with historical fiction and you've got crazy things happening in historical eras you may be familiar with!

Historical Fantasy Fiction Historical Fantasy Fiction

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Contents
Table of contents

    Historical fantasy fiction: meaning

    Historical fantasy fiction is fiction that incorporates both history and fantasy. Works in this genre are set in a particular historical era and there are fantasy elements, such as magic or mythical creatures.

    Historical fantasy fiction: example

    Markus Zusak’s The Book Thief (2005) is a well-known example of historical fantasy fiction. The book is set in Germany during World War II which makes it a work of historical fiction. It also has elements of fantasy.

    The novel details Liesel Meminger’s experiences in Nazi Germany, as her adopted parents are harbouring Max Vandenburg, a Jew who is fleeing persecution from the Nazis. Meminger’s own form of resistance is that she saves banned books from being burned by the Nazis. She also steals some books from the library - these are books that are not in line with Nazi ideology, so they would have been taken away eventually. Meminger is inspired to write her own novel, and when she is working on it in the basement one day, her home and neighbourhood are bombed. She is the only survivor. The fantasy element in the novel is the character of Death. Death is the narrator of the story, he is presented as an actual being who shares his thoughts on different subjects, such as war and the humans he encounters.

    Writing historical fantasy fiction

    Let's look at the key characteristics of historical fantasy fiction that authors incorporate when writing works in this genre.

    Historical setting

    The text is set in a historical period that can be confirmed to have taken place in reality. An example of this could be in the Tudor era in England, or in the era of the Vikings in Northern Europe.

    Fantasy

    Historical fantasy fiction includes fantastical elements. These are features that are part of the world of fantasy, so creatures or ideas that you would typically see in fantasy. Examples of this are magic, the idea of time being able to turn backwards, or unicorns. These are features that aren't present in our reality. They are part of the world of magic. This could include concepts or creatures from folklore and mythology, as these often feature fantastical elements.

    Fiction

    Fiction means something that is not real. Historical fantasy fiction features a plot that did not happen in reality. The characters and themes are created and built by the writer, so they are completely imaginary. However, fiction authors can sometimes take inspiration from the real world too, so some characters could be people who existed in the author’s chosen historical period.

    World-building

    World-building is an essential part of historical fantasy fiction. It is necessary because fantasy is not real, it consists of magic and magical elements. To successfully build a fantasy world, the writer would benefit from creating a set of rules. Think about it - the real world we live in operates on certain rules. If the fictional rules are clearly defined, the fantasy world would feel more realistic.

    Historical fantasy fiction: genre

    Historical fantasy fiction is a subgenre of historical fiction, and it specifies historical fiction that has elements of fantasy to it.

    Historical fiction is a broad genre that describes any sort of fiction that is set in a chosen historical era. For example, All The Light We Cannot See (2014) by Anthony Doerr is a historical fiction novel set in France during the Second World War.

    Fantasy is a genre that describes literary works set in a magical world or a world that has magical elements to it. These magical elements could be found in folklore or mythology, like centaurs in Greek mythology, for instance. A famous example of fantasy fiction is the Harry Potter series (1997-2007) by J. K. Rowling.

    Historical fantasy fiction books

    Now we will take a look at some famous books in the historical fantasy fiction genre.

    Outlander (1991) by Diana Gabaldon

    The first book in the Outlander series (1991-2021) is called Outlander (1991). It is initially set during the Second World War, so this is the historical element of the book. It follows Claire Beauchamp, a nurse who can time travel back to 18th century Scotland. Beauchamp’s background as a nurse is useful in 18th century Scotland, where she eventually gains the respect of the locals when she is able to help in this field. Due to her English accent, she is seen as an outsider to the locals, so an ‘outlander’. Beauchamp meets Jamie Fraser whilst helping him with an injury and the two develop a romantic relationship. The novel details their experiences together and how Beauchamp navigates such a strange and unfamiliar land and era.

    Clockwork Angel (2010) by Cassandra Clare

    Clockwork Angel (2010) is set in the late 19th century in London - this is the historical element of the story. It follows the main character, Tessa Gray, as she is thrown into a world of warlocks and Shadowhunters. The Shadowhunters she encounters are tasked with protecting humans from evil demons, so this is the fantasy element of the story. Cassandra Clare adheres to the rules under which her world operates. One of the rules is that the Shadowhunters are still mortal, so although they can wield mystical weapons and have skills that are exceptional to the average human, they can still be killed like humans.

    Fantasy crime historical fiction

    Fantasy crime historical fiction is a subgenre of historical fantasy fiction. Works of fantasy crime historical fiction include all the features of historical fantasy fiction with the addition of a crime investigation. The crime in the specific historical fantasy world may not be what would be considered a crime in our reality and our modern-day world.

    The Lies of Locke Lamora (2006) by Scott Lynch is an example of a fantasy crime historical fiction. It is set in Camorr - a world that is heavily inspired by medieval Venice. The book follows the adventures of an orphan turned criminal mastermind.

    Historical Fantasy Fiction - Key takeaways

    • Historical fantasy fiction is fiction that incorporates both history and fantasy.
    • Works in this genre are set in a particular historical era with the addition of fantasy elements.
    • To write historical fantasy fiction, you need to consider its key characteristics: a historical setting, fantasy, fiction, and world-building.
    • Historical fantasy fiction is a subgenre of historical fiction, and it specifies historical fiction that has elements of fantasy to it.
    • Examples of historical fantasy fiction books include Outlander (1991) by Diana Gabaldon and Clockwork Angel (2010) by Cassandra Clare.
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    Frequently Asked Questions about Historical Fantasy Fiction

    What is a key characteristic of historical fiction? 

    A key characteristic of historical fiction is that it has a historical setting. It is set in an era in history. 

    How do you write historical fantasy fiction? 

    To write a work of historical fantasy fiction, make sure to include these key characteristics: 

    • a historical setting
    •  elements of fantasy
    •  elements of fiction
    • world-building

    What is the difference between historical fiction and fantasy? 

    Historical fiction and fantasy are two different genres. Historical fiction is set in a specific time period in the past. Fantasy fiction incorporates fantasy elements and it can be set in any era. Historical fantasy fiction is a combination of both genres.

    What's an example of historical fantasy fiction? 

    Markus Zusak’s The Book Thief (2005) is a well-known example of historical fantasy fiction.

    What is historical fantasy fiction?

    Historical fantasy fiction is a subgenre of historical fiction. It is fiction that incorporates both history and fantasy. Works in  this genre are set in a particular historical era and there are fantasy elements, such as magic or mythical creatures. 

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