20 Must-Read Genre-Blending Historical Fiction Books
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You got chocolate in my peanut butter: How much fun are genre mashups in books? Spoiler: a lot. The historical novel is so great because it pairs nicely with any genre. You can apply liberal amounts of romance, or mystery, or anything you want, and voilà! You’ve got yourself a historical mashup story. One genre mash-up that seems to be growing a lot these days is the history-SFF mashup. There are a zillion amazing historical fiction novels to choose from, but maybe you’re in the mood for something a little out there. So how about a novel about the Civil War, but Abraham Lincoln fights vampires? Or people traveling back and forth in time, just to shake things up? Or what if Benjamin Franklin was from outer space? (Spoiler: He was.) That’s why I made this list of must-read, genre-blending historical fiction books!
I love writing lists of must-read books because there are truly so many you must read, but this list is comprised of several that I love. They range from the 12th century to the 20th century, and I’ve broken them down into five general categories. But honestly, some of them could fall under more than one. (Also, I wanted to include Perfume: The Story of a Murderer by Patrick Süskind, but I couldn’t decide what category it falls under. It doesn’t move fast enough to be a thriller, though there are a few thrills, and it doesn’t really have much mystery. It could be horror, because it has some upsetting parts, but it’s so slow-moving, but not in a bad way. So I am giving it its own category right here: Historical Fiction with Not Very Good Adaptations, lol.)
History and Mystery
Mistress of the Art of Death by Ariana Franklin
Set in 12th-century medieval Cambridge, England, Adelia is a female forensics expert who is summoned by King Henry II to solve a series of antisemetic murders. Adelia is not who the townspeople expected, but she proves herself more than capable. This is the first in a fun, informative series of five books, with the last being completed by another author after Franklin’s death.
Murder in Old Bombay by Nev March
This award-winning book is based on a true story. Set in colonial India, it’s about Captain Jim Agnihotri, a soldier recovering from his injuries in a military hospital with a bit of a Sherlock Holmes obsession. When he reads about an unusual case involving the deaths of two women, he decides to investigate for himself.
A Curious Beginning by Deanna Raybourn
This is a delightful series about Veronica Speedwell, a brilliant woman living in Victorian England who intends to travel the globe in search of knowledge. When someone attempts to kidnap her, she must get to the bottom of the mystery. But not before there is murder and a little romance, too!
A Study in Scarlet Women by Sherry Thomas
And for the last historical mystery option, I chose a gender bent retelling of Sherlock Holmes! Charlotte Holmes must solve a series of murders that strike London, especially if she wants save the innocent people accused of the crimes: her father and sister.
History and Romance
An Extraordinary Union: The Loyal League by Alyssa Cole
Elle Burns is a former enslaved person who takes on the dangerous mission of spying for the Union to help win the Civil War. In her new position at a house in the South, she meets a handsome Pinkerton spy and sparks fly, but they must first put an end to a dangerous plot.
Destiny’s Embrace (Destiny #1) by Beverly Jenkins
Set in the American West, a ranch owner tries to hide his undeniable feelings and fight the mutual attraction between him and his housekeeper. But when her former love returns, will he speak up before it is too late? If you enjoy this one, Jenkins has many more historical romances!
Nine Rules to Break When Romancing a Rake (Love By Numbers, #1) by Sarah MacLean
Lady Calpurnia Hartwell has always followed the rules, but they haven’t brought her any happiness. So she decides to start breaking them all, by doing things like drinking, smoking, and perhaps most dangerous of all, getting involved with a notorious bad boy.
The Heiress Gets a Duke (The Gilded Age Heiresses, #1) by Harper St. George
And last, but not least, a marriage of convenience story! An heiress who needs a husband is pursued by a duke in need of a fortune. August’s sister, Violet, is the one her parents offer the Duke of Rothschild, but it’s August he wants. But will he get what he wants?
History and Science Fiction
Kindred by Octavia E. Butler
This classic of science fiction is about a young Black woman in the present day is disrupted when she inexplicably travels back in time. There she saves the life of a young man, who turns out to be a relative, and she’ll return many more times to the past, but the danger grows each time.
The Calculating Stars (Lady Astronaut Universe #1) by Mary Robinette Kowal
In this multi-award-winning novel, women pilots and scientists are enlisted to help the space program find a new habitable planet as a meteor heads towards Earth. But if women qualified to help solve the problem, why aren’t they allowed to travel in space too? Elma is determined to be the first woman to do so.
Just One Damned Thing After Another (Chronicles of St. Mary’s Book 1) by Jodi Taylor
Time travel is a great way to get your doses of science fiction and history! The members of the St Mary’s Institute of Historical Research decide that the best way to learn about history is to actually visit it. But traveling back in time without leaving a mark is easier said than done.
Doomsday Book by Connie Willis
More time travel! This book, the recipient of multiple awards, involves a young scientist who is stranded in the 14th century after a mishap back at the 21st century lab. I chose this one because it’s the first book, and it is excellent, but I personally think the second book in this series, To Say Nothing of the Dog, is even better.
History and Fantasy
She Who Became the Sun: Radiant Emperor by Shelley Parker-Chan
This is a fantastical reimagining the Ming Dynasty’s founding emperor. It’s about a young girl who assumes her revered brother’s identity — and destiny — for herself after his death and goes on to fight the Mongols.
The Conductors (A Murder & Magic Novel) by Nicole Glover
Hetty Rhodes and her husband, Benjy, were Conductors on the Underground Railroad, where they helped enslaved people get to freedom. Now that the war is over, they help solve crimes for people the police ignore. But in this version of America, people like Hetty and Benjy, have magical powers to help them out.
The Golem and the Jinni by Helene Wecker
At the turn of the 20th century, a golem, a creature made of clay, and a jinni, an ancient fire being, meet in New York City and strike up a friendship. It’s this strong bond that will help them get through fantastical challenges and danger. (And the long-awaited sequel to this came out last year: The Hidden Palace!)
A Marvellous Light (The Last Binding #1) by Freya Marske
This is a fun fantasy set in Edwardian England! Robin Blyth learns that magic is real when a clerical error assigns him the job of civil service liaison to a hidden magical society. With the help of the handsome Edwin Courcey, a member of the society, Robin must navigate the danger and discover what happened to his predecessor.
History and Horror
Ring Shout by P. Djèlí Clark
This wonderful novella has won a zillion accolades. In the South of early 20th century, Maryse Boudreaux and her friends fight the KKK, but in this version of America, the Ku Kluxes are literal demons straight from hell.
The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova
This book is more mystery and atmosphere than straight out scary-scary. But I included it under horror because being eaten by vampires is scary. In this case, this immersive story involves a young woman who becomes wrapped up in her family’s history, a history that involves the notorious Vlad the Impaler.
Reprieve by James Han Mattson
This is a fantastic new tale of terror. A young woman moves to Nebraska with her mother after her father dies. There she gets a job at a full-contact haunted house, and not long after, a murder occurs. Told through court documents and personal accounts, she and several other characters must tell what they know. (And you might think a book set in 1997 doesn’t qualify as historical fiction, but remember that people born in that year are now old enough to rent cars.)
Mexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno-Garcia
I’ll end it with a Book Riot favorite. Set in Mexico in the 1950s, this is a creepy supernatural tale of an unusual house and a terrifying family history. When Noemí Taboada visits High Place to check on her newly-married cousin, it become immediately apparent that something unusual is going on in the house. But will she live to tell about it?
If you love genre mashups, or are interested in learning about more fun books that like to mix it up, check out 4 Great Mystery and Thriller Books That Blend Genres, 15 Fantasy Mystery Books for Readers Craving a Historical Whodunit, or take a quiz to find out which genre mashup is your next perfect read!