7 Books About Magic Coming Back

Recapture your sense of wonder with novels about mundane worlds that suddenly become fantastical

Photo by Mervyn Chan

We often associate magical stories with childhood—maybe because of fairy tales, maybe because so many of us grew up on Harry Potter, but stories about wizards and dragons are often seen as immature. Personally, I got more realistic and skeptical in my reading choices as I got older; the spell-casting sorcerers of my youth felt less accessible, and fantasy became a genre that seemed best enjoyed by, and therefore belonging to, the wide eyes and untainted minds of younger readers. That is, until one of the last English classes of my college career: High Fantasy. This class had me shaking hands with talking bears, watching magical duals, and witnessing resurrections. The world I thought I had aged out of had welcomed me back, and it’s one I continue to visit. 

In these seven fantasy novels, the whole world has experienced this depressing maturity, losing access to magic—until it comes trickling or roaring back. If you, too, have cut fantasy out of your life, these books about the reawakening of magic are a great way to let it back in. 

Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clarke 

It is 1806, England is in the midst of the Napoleonic Wars, and a prophecy has just emerged predicting the resurgence of magic. Enter Gilbert Norrell and Jonathan Strange, two magicians, who, in their quest to reintroduce the practice of magic, will guide the course of English history. 

City of Stairs by  Robert Jackson Bennett

Governed by magic-wielding gods called Divinities, Bulikov was once a flourishing city that conquered its way to prominence. When the people of Saypur kill these all-powerful beings, Bulikov falls to ruin. Generations later, Ashara Komayd investigates the untimely death of a Saypur professor and, in the process, unearths a dark secrets about the once almighty city, its thought-to-be-extinct rulers, and the events that brought it tumbling from power. 

American Gods by Neil Gaiman 

Recently released from prison, Shadow Moon is on his way to wife’s funeral in Indiana when the mysterious Mr. Wednesday enlists his help on an unspecified mission. Before he knows it, Shadow in involved in a supernatural war. One on side are the Old Gods, mythological deities who traveled to America with their immigrant worshippers; on the other are the New Gods, idols built from technology and pop culture. The Old Gods have mostly laid low, and the New Gods are mostly not recognized for what they are, but as they move towards their final confrontation it’s impossible to ignore that the gods are once again abroad.

Once Upon a River by Diane Setterfield 

At the Swan, an inn along the River Thames, two strangers have appeared: one is a man, bruised and bloodied; the other, cradled in the arms of her maimed companion, a little girl who seems, at first, to be dead. The guests at the inn rush to aid these mysterious newcomers, and then get to work trying to figure out their story. Have they suffered a series of surprising but explicable accidents, or is this evidence of the folklore everyone at the Swan half-believes?

Alif the Unseen by G. Willow Wilson

Alif is an Arabian-Indian hacker who provides services to groups that want to avoid government detection. When his beloved chooses another man, he creates a program to track her online activity and attracts the attention of the oppressive government he worked tirelessly to undermine. While on the run—alongside a collection of memorable characters and magical creatures—Alif uncovers an ancient texts whose mystical secrets could unleash a new era of information technology.

Ariel by Steven R. Boyett

Sunday, 4:31 in the afternoon. In Boyett’s Ariel, that was the moment when everything changed. All modern technology stopped functioning, almost all people vanished, and supernatural creatures filled the streets. Pete Garey, seemingly the only human left after the Change, wanders alone, doing what he can to survive, when he encounters a wounded unicorn. 

Indigo Springs by A.M. Dellamonica 

While mourning the death of her father, Astrid Lethewood begins to live in his house and discovers that he was more than the drunkard the town of Indigo Springs thought him to be. In reality, he has been practicing magic with the help of vitagua, a mysterious blue liquid that streams into his home. As Astrid attempts to harness the magic she has unknowingly inherited, she is also forced to confront the dark secrets hidden in her sleepy hometown. 

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