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15 Fantasy Novels That Are Grounded in Reality

I don’t read heaps of fantasy novels, but I do enjoy venturing outside my comfort zone and finding a book I absolutely love. The right fantasy novel for me is often grounded in reality, whether it’s a modern setting with fairytale elements, a story inspired by historical events, or a well-researched adaptation of cultural folklore.

Today I’m sharing 15 fantasy novels that are rooted in reality. I’ve read a few of these, but consider this primarily a peek at my TBR list. I’d love to hear your thoughts on the following titles, plus, as always, I’d love to hear your fantasy recommendations in comments.

1. Kindred by Octavia Butler

I waited far too long to read Kindred by Octavia Butler, and I was riveted from the first page. Time travel meets slave narrative in this modern science fiction classic. When Dana, a modern Black woman from 1976, gets transported to the antebellum south in order to save one of her white ancestors, she preserves her own history. But it doesn’t end there. As she keeps getting pulled back to the past, her trips grow more and more dangerous, and Dana must figure out how to survive in a reality far more terrifying than the history books ever suggested. Read More.
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2. My Lady Jane by Cynthia Hand

The Princess Bride meets The Other Boleyn Girl in this quirky spin on the true story of Lady Jane Grey. Sixteen year old King Edward has arranged a marriage for Jane in order to secure his line to the throne. He doesn’t have much interest in ruling, and she doesn’t have much interest in marriage. Duty is the least of their problems because, well…Jane’s betrothed turns into a horse every night. Read More.
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3. The Hazel Wood by Melissa Albert

I loved this so much I included it in the 2018 Summer Reading Guide. This dark fairytale takes place in modern day Manhattan. Alice and her mom have spent 17 years on the run, trying to dodge the persistent bad luck mysteriously connected to an unnerving book of stories penned by Alice’s estranged grandmother. When Alice’s grandmother dies, her mother thinks they’re free—until the day Alice comes home from school to discover Ella has been kidnapped, leaving behind a page torn from her grandmother’s book and a note: Stay away from the Hazel Wood. But Alice has to save her mom, so she enters what she slowly begins to see is her grandmother’s book of stories-come-to-life—and they suddenly look a lot more like horror than fantasy. This seriously twisted and sometimes bloody fairy tale reminds me of The Thirteenth Tale, with a dash of The Matrix. Read More.
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4. A Curse So Dark and Lonely by Brigid Kemmerer

I recommended this one to Keren on episode 193 of What Should I Read Next because of its clever twist on a familiar story. Harper, a modern day 17 year old girl, is going through a terrible time when she gets sucked into a fantasy world. Prince Rhen, heir to the throne of Emberfall, is cursed, turns into a beast, and destroys everything he holds dear (sound familiar?). This Beauty and the Beast retelling is delightfully modern, features a character with cerebral palsy, and straddles reality and fantasy in a refreshing way. Read More.
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5. The Poppy War: A Novel by R. F Kuang

This epic fantasy is rooted in 20th Century Chinese history and mythology. It features Rin, an orphaned peasant girl, who, against all odds, earns a place in an elite military academy. At school, Rin discovers that she possesses incredible powers and studies the mythical art of shamanism. As the Nikara Empire teeters on the brink of war, Rin answers the call to save her people. Kuang has spoken about her choice to write fictional accounts of historical events like the Nanjing Massacre with unflinching detail, not to glorify war, but to show the realities of trauma. (Content warnings for sexual violence, atrocious warcrimes, self-harm). Read More.
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