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5 Books like The Historian: Questing with Demons

Jo Ward itcherA sense of mystery pervades ‘The Historian’ with its stories within stories framework, making this quite an involved read. It also draws heavily on other myths and stories – so what’s out there that can tick the same boxes? I’ve gone with ‘Labyrinth’, ‘The Shadow of the Wind’, ‘The Book of Lost Things’, ‘The Little Stranger’ and ‘Jonathon Strange and Mr Norrell’.~ Jo Ward

Living in the Past

Combining fantasy and history isn’t always done well. The history can be inaccurate and badly researched or the fantasy can feel out of place. Neither is a problem with ‘The Historian’ which combines a solid sense of history with the escapism of fantasy. This isn’t an easy trick, so who else has managed it? Cast your eye over this list and see what you think.


Books Similar to ‘The Historian’…

‘Labyrinth’ (Kate Mosse, 2005)

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The best place to start when looking for a book like ‘The Historian’ has to be this epic that spans eight centuries. Alice is a volunteer on an archaeological dig, and strays into a cave where she stumbles upon two bodies. There follows a strange out of body experience, followed by an even stranger experience back in the real world when it becomes apparent that she is a target for a group of people who are chasing her for reasons she does not understand.

Intercut with her story is that of Alais, a 17-year-old from Carcassonne living through the persecution of the Cathars. Her father has a secret to protect but it soon falls to Alais to fulfil his task.

As a book which entwines past and presents, secrets and danger, this is ideal for someone who enjoyed ‘The Historian’.

Similarity Match: 80%
The same mixing of past and present, of danger and folklore and myth and fact but more based in historical fact than the fiction of vampires.

‘The Shadow of the Wind’ (Carlos Ruiz Zafon, 2001)

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From 12th century France to Barcelona in 1945Daniel, a young boy mourning his mother, is taken by his father to the Cemetery of Lost Books. He selects a book from among the neglected books kept there, and sets out to find out more about both the book and its author, Julian Carax.

But someone is burning all the books written by Carax and they’re soon after the copy that Daniel has in his possession. Why? As Daniel sets off to find out, his life begins to mirror that of Carax, and the shadows start to engulf him, too.

This is a translation and it does show in places with some awkward sentence constructions, but overall, it whisks you away to a mysterious part of a beautiful city to think about love, hate and death.

Similarity Match: 70%
There isn’t as much myth and folklore in this story, but there is the same sense of mysteries of the past which find their way into the present.

‘The Book of Lost Things’ (John Connolly, 2006)

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The next choice in my list of books like ‘The Historian’ takes us, literally, right into the world of books. 12 year old David has lost his mother. Lonely, he has only the books in his room for company. And the books are talking to him. He takes refuge from the world in his imagination. His father marries again, but David is not happy. And then he hears his mother calling him.

David is drawn into a world of fantasy and nightmare. Someone is after him and his little brother. While avoiding The Crooked Man, David also has a quest – to find his mother.


Similarity Match: 60%
A quest, mixing reality and fantasy, but this is more like a fairy tale for grown ups than ‘The Historian’.


If You Like ‘the Historian’ You Will Also Like…

The precise mix of fantasy and history which graces the pages of ‘The Historian’ is not going to be replicated elsewhere, but novels which evoke a particular atmosphere, or have a particular ‘feel’ to them will interest most people who liked ‘The Historian’. With my last two books similar to ‘The Historian’ I’ve gone for period settings, less mythology, but a distinct sense of ‘the other’. Hope you enjoy these books too.

‘The Little Stranger’ (Sarah Waters, 2009)

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It’s not the choice of subject matter that made me choose this book, more the ‘feel’ of it.

Dr Faraday spent some of his childhood playing in Hundreds Hall, the stately home where his mother was a maid. Now, after World War 2 has finished, he is back as the family doctor. The house, and the family, are decaying. Their way of life is over.

Faraday’s life becomes increasingly tangled with that of the family, and as their mental health slowly unravels things begin to seem mysterious, and sinister.

There’s no links to old stories, but there’s atmosphere abounding, and plenty of haunting mystery.

Dracula doesn’t appear, but something does. What it is will keep you guessing, possibly even after you’ve finished the book.

‘Jonathon Strange and Mr Norrell’ (Susanna Clarke, 2004)

Let’s look at a more historical novel to finish with. It’s 1806 and the Napoleonic Wars are raging. We are not dispensing with fantasy, though – at the heart of this book are two magiciansthe reclusive Mr Norrell and his student, Jonathon Strange.

As the two magicians go into battle against Napolean (using magic of course!), their different styles start to clash. Norrell is a thinker, Strange all about action. This will test their partnership and as Strange journeys towards darker and more destructive magic, he jeopardises what he values most.

It’s a complicated book, especially considering the myriad footnotes, but it immerses you in the period and adds a fantastically dark element.

No vampires, but plenty of magic, rooted firmly in one period rather than travelling across the ages.


Living in the Past

Identifying books like ‘The Historian’ that someone else might also enjoy means pulling apart what it is in ‘The Historian’ that appeals. For me, it’s the historical aspect with the slight injection of fantasy/mythology. So I’ve gone for books which have a similar balance of conjuring up the past and another world.

Did you agree with the selection here, or do you have other ideas? Let us know.

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