10 Magical Realism Books Like Piranesi

Magical Realism

Piranesi by Susanna Clarke is a magical realism and sci-fi fantasy book. The main character is Piranesi, who is oddly childlike but also entirely scholarly and quite analytical thinking individual who inhabits a haunted house. He spends his days going from room to room, documenting what he finds, trying to figure out what everything means.

According to him, the entire world and the world to him is this house has a handful of people in it, and he’s interested in finding other people. He regularly sees another person and refers to him because he is alive. Some of the quirky humor is that President John Strange and Mr. Norrell are present throughout Piranesi.

So, the plot, the characters, and the situation are quite different from Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell. It’s again a much shorter yet dark vibe and humor of Susanna Clarke that was present in Jonathan Strange. Books like “Piranesi” have intricate plots and layered storytelling that demand mental acuity. These books stimulate your intellectual faculties, encouraging you to solve mysteries, unravel complex narratives, or even reconsider philosophical questions.

10 Books Like Piranesi (Magical Realism)

Piranesi is the mystery of a character. Who is Peronist? You follow one main character and slowly piece together the why and wherefore of the house he inhabits. It’s all the mystery of why and what he is here. So, it is quite adventurous while trying to figure that out. I will recommend 10 fantasy and magical books similar to Piranesi. They explore themes like isolation, the search for identity, and the complexities of human psychology, offering readers a chance for introspection. Let’s begin!

1. Once Upon a River

Like Piranesi, this is a historical novel set in the late Victorian era with gothic and faintly magical elements. It is set in the town of Radtke, which is a real place. It’s located about 20 miles outside Oxford, on the River Thames, on a cold winter’s night in The Swan’s tavern. It is known locally for the great storytelling that goes on inside it.

By the looks of him, a badly injured man bursts into the place. He’s carrying a dead child in his arms, so there’s been some accident, but no one in the tavern knows who he is. Nor can they fully comprehend how this child, clearly dead on arrival, suddenly returns to life. Questions arise. Who are these strangers? What happened to them?

As we grow closer to the answers to some of these questions, we get a slow trickle of introductions to the huge cast of characters who make up the story. There’s the woman who runs the Swan Tavern first and foremost, alongside her sickly yet gifted storyteller of a husband. They have a troupe of daughters between them but only one sweet son who cannot tell a story like his father at all.

There’s also a doctor with a lingering desire to be a mother. Although she firmly believes the time to have done so is in her past. We also meet a widowed housekeeper who is deathly afraid of the water yet mysteriously chooses to reside in a shack next to the river.

There’s also a farmer strong of both hands and character, whose wife has an all-seeing eye that can peer directly into your soul. They have a huge family, but their oldest son, who is now alone, is constantly getting into trouble. Lastly, a couple is still grieving their kidnapped toddler, gone two years now without a trace.

They are individuals in the way and come together in the face of the mystery of the strangers that came into the swan on the winter solstice night. Eventually, three competing identities come to be assigned to this little girl who was once dead and now alive.

The story takes place over a calendar year, so we begin at the start of winter and close on the final day of winter of the following year, which ties in nicely with the recurring theme of the life cycle. In this book, the River Thames is a huge symbol of this.

Author: Diane Setterfield
Average Rating: 4.4/5
Category: Gothic Horror Fiction, Fairytale Fantasy
Available: Audiobook | Paperback | Hardcover | Kindle | Audio CD

2. The Magician King

This is the second book in The Magicians trilogy. It is an adult fantasy novel with a trigger warning for sexual assault in this book as Piranesi. When we talk about world-building, we get to see many more places within this magical world.

There are a lot of elements of jumping between worlds. Lev Grossman messes with your expectations and knows that you’re coming to it with all these expectations. He even references many of these series and ensures he’s pinging you to different things.

The character element is so good, but simultaneously, you still see the same characters that they were at the beginning, and they remain true to themselves. These characters are very flawed, normal human beings, and the things that happen to them in their decisions are things that would happen if magic were real.

Author: Lev Grossman
Average Rating: 4.5/5
Category: Contemporary Fantasy
Available: Audiobook | Paperback | Hardcover | Kindle | Audio CD

3. The Familiars

This book is all about Fleetwood, which is such a bizarre name. She is married to a man named Richard. The whole thing is about female struggles, and Fleetwood is pregnant. On the other side, we have this Pendle witch trial going on, in which Roger, Richard, and Fleetwood’s friend.

Their friend is spearheading and wants to be in the king’s good graces. He is trooping down all of the women and ensuring they’re all locked up for being witches because they may have done something or had a pet, which maybe was familiar. It is an animal, which is the devil.

It’s the devil taking the form of an animal, and it follows witches around, and they communicate with their animal. Fleetwood can’t bring a child to full birth. She always has miscarriages full birth where she has miscarriages, and she needs a midwife to help her. She finds a midwife through bizarre circumstances in the forest, and her midwife then moves in with her. However, she seems to have some weird connection to the women also involved in the Pendle witch trials.

In the meantime, Alice, the midwife, has suspicions about Richard, and Fleetwood simultaneously finds this letter. It shows that Richard, her husband, who she thought was a doting husband, loved her. The doctor tells Richard that she is not going to live through childbirth. You find that Fleetwood is trying to struggle against all of the males in her life. You must read this book after Piranesi.

Author: Stacey Halls
Average Rating: 4.2/5
Category: Occult Horror Fiction
Available: Audiobook | Paperback | Hardcover | Kindle | Audio CD

4. The City of Brass

This is the first book in an adult fantasy trilogy, and this takes place in 18th-century Cairo, starting and following one of our main characters, Nahri. She can detect illness in people and has been a healer for a while. One day, she does with ritual, and she starts speaking a language that she heard as a child, but she hasn’t heard since and ends up summoning an ancient djinn warrior and getting carried off into the djinn politics. They go to Dave Abad, the central city where all the djinn is, and everything goes there.

The world-building is atmospheric, magical, and deeply political, similar to Piranesi. The magic is very otherworldly, ethereal, and visual in many ways because many have this magic that is like something you can see. There are two main characters that we follow.

One is Nahri, and the second one is Ali. He is one of the djinns in Debarred. He is the second son of the king, a family that overthrew the original rulers of that city. So there’s a lot of political turmoil, and he is very involved in the political uprising of the Shafik, who is like a half-human, half-djinn people. They’re mixed-race people because they are part human, part djinn.

Author: S. A. Chakraborty
Average Rating: 4.6/5
Category: Historical Fantasy
Available: Audiobook | Paperback | Hardcover | Kindle | MP3 CD

5. Nevernight

This adult fantasy story follows our main character, Mia Corvere. Although the world is unique and dark at the story’s root, the main setup is that the main character is out for revenge. Something terrible happens to the main characters, and now they want to attain the power it takes to take out the person who did these horrible things to them. The world-building delivered what it means and what it entails.

How the story is told plays a role in delivering some world-building aspects. There are footnotes where a narrator breaks the fourth wall and speaks to you directly. Often, they are talking to you in these footnotes about random things in their world and particular random things. Those elements are not quite always super pertinent to the story like Piranesi. Jay Kristoff describes something in the similes and metaphors he uses in his interesting means of comparing things.

Author: Jay Kristoff
Average Rating: 4.6/5
Category: Action & Adventure Fantasy
Available: Audiobook | Paperback | Hardcover | Kindle | Audio CD

6. House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski

This novel is as much an exploration of space as a dissection of the human psyche. It’s a book within a book within a book, dealing with a mysterious house that defies the laws of physics. Much like “Piranesi,” “House of Leaves” concerns itself with a labyrinthine structure. However, Danielewski’s labyrinth is not only the shifting, never-ending hallways of the mysterious house but also the text, filled with footnotes, mirror writing, and multicolored text.

The book draws you into multiple narratives, including the story of a family who discovers that their house is larger on the inside than it appears on the outside and the story of a man reading about them. The layers of storytelling echo the endless rooms and corridors of the house, resulting in a psychologically intense and intellectually challenging read.

7. The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman

This modern fairy tale features a man returning to his childhood home and recalling events that defy reality. Like “Piranesi,” Gaiman’s story is one of memory and discovery, where the protagonist revisits a past filled with supernatural elements and profound lessons.

Although not a labyrinth in the literal sense, the narrative takes us through the complicated maze of childhood fears and adult regrets. The emotional core is strong, and Gaiman’s typical mix of the fantastical and the every day makes it a compelling read.

8. Annihilation by Jeff VanderMeer

The first book in the Southern Reach Trilogy, “Annihilation,” tells the story of a mysterious area known as Area X and the expeditions sent to explore it. Much like the House in “Piranesi,” Area X is an enigmatic, constantly changing landscape. VanderMeer’s story, told from the viewpoint of the Biologist on the 12th expedition, is eerie and unsettling. The prose is introspective, capturing its characters’ emotional and psychological depths as they grapple with the incomprehensible.

9. If on a Winter’s night a traveler by Italo Calvino

This is a postmodern masterpiece about stories written in the second person, where “you,” the reader, are a character. Calvino’s book is an intricate tapestry of narratives, much like the labyrinthine world of “Piranesi.” It starts with one story that abruptly ends, leading you to another story, and so on. Along the way, you meet other readers and discover their stories. The book explores storytelling itself, and like “Piranesi,” it’s about the tale and how it’s told.

10. The Magus by John Fowles

This novel revolves around an Englishman, Nicholas Urfe, who takes a teaching position on a Greek island and finds himself embroiled in psychological and philosophical games. Like “Piranesi,” this book covers deeply the themes of isolation, the mysteries of human psychology, and the complexities of knowledge.

The island setting becomes a labyrinth of mystifying meets and challenges for Nicholas. He’s drawn deeper into the life of a mysterious man named Conchis. The narrative is filled with intellectual and philosophical inquiries, making it a challenging but rewarding read.

Each book offers something that a fan of “Piranesi” will appreciate, whether it’s the labyrinthine structure, the intellectual rigor, or the thematic focus on memory, identity, and the human psyche.

More Magical Fantasy Books:

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Magical Books Like A Court Of Mist And Fury

Magical YA Fantasy Romance Books

Pauline Jackson

I like to talk about popular books. My book review inspires you to read and save time. Also, I summarize the book and give you the best lessons or ideas that can change your life. As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.

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