SF/F Genre Glossary

What is Historical Fantasy?

This is a continuation of the Science Fiction / Fantasy Genre Glossary Project posts. For the complete genre index click here.

Consumation of Empire
The Consummation of Empire by Thomas Cole

What is Historical Fantasy?

A subgenre of fantasy that incorporates elements of real world history. It usually either features a secondary world setting that closely mirrors a specific period in time and place in real world history, or an alternate history of this world where magic or mythical creatures exist.

Literary Examples:

  • Under Heaven by Guy Gavriel Kay (Tang Dynasty China)
  • Temeraire series by Naomi Novik (Napoleonic Wars)
  • Soldier of the Mist by Gene Wolf (Ancient Greece)

The history of our world is so rich that there are an endless stories to plunder. Truth is sometimes stranger than fiction. Do you draw from history in your writing?

16 Comments

  1. I enjoy historical fantasy and enjoy pulling tidbits from history into my pieces. I tend to find history that leaves mysteries and consider how those mysteries arose. The last two short story drafts I finished were both somewhat historical fantasies (although neither make it explicit) one is set in a china-like world that takes their concept of Feng huang and makes it into a real creature (although I stretch the myth somewhat) and a new-world piece that looks at what happened to a mutineered captain after he was supposedly captured by natives.

    1. T.S. Bazelli Author

      I remember the Feng Huang from one of your blog posts, and I did enjoy the historical feel to it, how you blended in the mythology. It’s one of my favorite subgenres of fantasy because it is so rich.

  2. Dude, historical fantasy sounds awesome.

    I don’t tend to put too much history in my stories — unless you count fictional characters’ histories… 😛 — but I have enjoyed many books that do, and I think it had an incredible layer of richness.

  3. I definitely mine both history and mythology for ideas and inspiration. But I’m as likely as not to throw different bits of historical fact together with other historical facts and mythology from different periods together in the same setting. In other words, eliciting a specific historical period has usually not been a major concern for me, so much as just having a kick-butt setting.

    1. T.S. Bazelli Author

      I think that’s how a lot of fantasy writers build their worlds – bits and pieces from here or there. The historical facts (like the proper naming of weaponry or armor) help to make the fantastic believable. Hurray to kick-butt settings! I could do with one less tavern scene. hehe…and now we are back to cliche. At least if it’s a tavern scene, I’d ask for a floating tavern… run by teetotaler pirates… on an airship powered by lightning! ;D

  4. The book I just published is a modern-day alternate world that veered off because of wizards appearing in the 1500s. It’s not the focus of the story though, but rather the setting.

  5. I like historical fantasy, but I also like fantasy that takes place in a historical setting very like our own world but really not (I’m thinking The Left Hand of God by Paul Hoffman or some such). The latter have a strange tendency to be dark and gloomy, though…

    I think I mainly avoid writing historic fantasy because I’m not a fan of research… ah well. I do have one that might qualify…it takes place during Richard Lionheart’s reign (and no, I will NOT mention Robin Hood, because he’s NOT history…oops ok so I did mention him sorry).

    1. Ahh the research. Yes there can be a lot involved. There’s the pressure to get things right, though perhaps you get a little more leeway if it is a fantasy rather than straight up historical fiction.

  6. I have yet to read this. I have a general dislike for history, because school made it the most boring subject EVER. Even though that was years ago, the memories stick and I just don’t enjoy historical fiction, especially that contains realism and less apocalyptic damage.

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