If you’re recently obsessed with Netflix’s fantasy series Shadow and Bone, your reading list should be stocked with more Slavic fantasy—and we’ve got plenty of recommendations for you!
Unlike many fantasy epics, which often draw on Western European history for inspiration, history, and aesthetics, Shadow and Bone (based on the Grishaverse novels by Leigh Bardugo) takes its inspiration from imperial and Industrial Revolution-era Russia.
If that kind of Slavic influence has you intrigued, then you’ll be thrilled to know there’s a whole subgenre of gorgeous, enthralling Slavic fantasy novels out there! We’re recommending some of our favorites below. Plus, several of these titles are written by authors whose own histories and backgrounds come from the cultures they’re writing about, lending an extra layer of authenticity and detail to the richly-imagined worlds on the page.
The Second Bell
Try this intriguing fantasy novel from Gabriela Houston, based on Polish folklore. When her daughter is born with two hearts, instead of leaving her child to die as a demon, as their community dictates, Miriat makes the choice to run away and save her daughter’s life. As her daughter becomes an adult, the bond between the two women is tested and the truth of the girl’s powers threatens everything and everyone.
The Master and Margarita: 50th-Anniversary Edition (Penguin Classics Deluxe Edition)
Fans of Russian fantasy already know Mikhail Bulgakov’s masterpiece, but for the rest of us, the classic fantasy might be brand-new. It’s a two-pronged story, one in Soviet-era Moscow, one in ancient Jerusalem, in which the devil himself leaves the shadows and slinks into Moscow, bringing chaos and magic in his wake.
Vita Nostra: A Novel
Sergey & Marina Dyachenko’s beloved novel, translated from the original Russian, is a dark fantasy in the “dark magical academia” mold. A young woman is chosen to attend a strange magical academy, where the lessons seem deliberately impossible and the students are motivated by threats to their families—and yet, there’s immense power to be gained, for those who can.
The Wolf and the Woodsman: A Novel
Ava Reid takes her inspiration from Hungarian and Jewish history and mythology for this fantasy set in a pagan village where one girl is shunned and betrayed for not having powers. When the caravan taking her away is attacked, only Évike and a disguised prince survive, and they agree to work together to try to stay alive and save the kingdom from his cruel brother’s violent plot. Release Date: June 8.
Primeval and Other Times
How about a Polish fantasy from a Nobel Prize winner? Olga Tokarczuk’s work of Slavic magical realism follows the intertwined lives of inhabitants of a magical village, Primeval, where strange beings dwell and archangels watch over the population, all tied inextricably to the devastating real-life history of twentieth-century Poland.
The Bear and the Nightingale: A Novel (Winternight Trilogy Book 1)
A more recent bestseller is Katherine Arden’s bestselling novel, the first in a series. In a small Russian village, Vasya grows up on tales of fairy tales and demons, but when her father remarries, her new stepmother insists on trying to rid the town of their pagan ways. Instead, the village is weakened and left vulnerable to the creeping terrors of the forest, which only Vasya may be able to stop.
Blood of Elves (The Witcher, 3)
Andrzej Sapkowski’s novel is the book that inspired Netflix’s other hit Slavic-inspired fantasy show, The Witcher. Geralt, a powerful Witcher, has been waiting for the arrival of a prophesied child. As he becomes the child’s guardian, war looms among the fantastical factions of their world, and he and the girl must go on the run to save themselves and, eventually, their world.
Don't Call the Wolf
Based on a Polish fairy tale, this book by Aleksandra Ross is a fantasy about a shape-shifting queen protecting her land and a soldier seeking answers about his lost brother. As a war between humans and monsters rages, the two team up to find the answers they need and to slay the great dragon that threatens the whole world.
Naomi Novik’s fantasy novels weave together fairytales we all recognize with folklore and tropes from Slavic history and lore. In this one, a dark, corrupted forest is kept at bay by a mysterious magician, who asks one price of the villagers he protects: Every decade, a young woman given to him as an assistant. When Agnieszka’s best friend seems likely to be the next chosen, she despairs—but the magician’s choice falls on Agnieszka instead.
The Night Watch (Watch, Book 1)
In the modern-day Moscow of Sergei Lukyanenko’s novel, an ancient secret society of supernatural beings are divided between loyalty to the Dark or the Light. Both sides maintain a delicate truce, and the Night Watch is a team of Light magicians tasked with keeping an eye on the Dark. Among all this, one Night Watch magician and an unaffiliated young woman realize their fates are tied together, and the battle between Light and Dark is closer than they think.
The Secret History of Moscow
Ekaterina Sedia creates a Russian magical-realist tale set in (or, more accurately, beneath) Moscow of the 1990s, in an underworld where fairytales and myth become real. When Galina’s sister is transformed and flies away, she joins forces with a young policeman to investigate similar disappearances, uncovering the secrets of this strange underground world and its role in Russian history.
The Crown's Game (Crown's Game, 1)
Mix some YA fantasy tropes plus an alternate history of tsarist Russian and you get Evelyn Skye’s novel. When the tsar seeks a powerful magician to stave off invaders, two teenagers with very different but equally rare abilities are forced to compete against each other. The winner will work at the tsar’s side; the loser will lose not just the job, but their life—something that becomes more terrifying the more the two magicians grow to know each other.