Time-travel is one of those tropes that you either love or absolutely despise. Me, well, I can’t resist a time-travel plot. Seriously, it’s like catnip to me. I love learning about history. I majored in Art History in college, because 1. I love art, and 2. learning about why art was specifically made the way it was, where it was, and by who it was just fascinated me endlessly. So much history can be learned just by looking at the art of the time period. ANYWAY, seeing history through a character’s eyes firsthand just scratches many, many itches for me. Especially when the characters travel really far back in time.
Now this trope can be done awfully, so don’t get me wrong — there are definitely time-travel books out there that I cannot stand. However, I thought I’d put together a little list to show you the ones that I can’t get enough of! These are books where at least one character travels BACK in time, or is pulled FORWARD in time.
TO SAY NOTHING OF THE DOG by CONNIE WILLIS
Connie Willis’ Hugo and Nebula Award-winning Doomsday Book uses time travel for a serious look at how people connect with each other. In this Hugo-winning companion to that novel, she offers a completely different kind of time travel adventure: a delightful romantic comedy that pays hilarious homage to Jerome K. Jerome’s Three Men in a Boat.
When too many jumps back to 1940 leave 21st century Oxford history student Ned Henry exhausted, a relaxing trip to Victorian England seems the perfect solution. But complexities like recalcitrant rowboats, missing cats, and love at first sight make Ned’s holiday anything but restful – to say nothing of the way hideous pieces of Victorian art can jeopardize the entire course of history.
WHAT BOOK DO I START WITH? The Doomsday Book
HOW MANY BOOKS IN THE SERIES? 4, technically, but two of them can be read as standalones. (Blackout and All Clear, however, are a duology and you must read them together!)
CW: Fire, war, animal cruelty, misogyny, classism
WHY DO I LOVE THIS BOOK? Many of Connie Willis’s books feel like they were written specifically for me. The world she sets up in the Oxford Time Travel series is huge, and every time she writes another entry into it, I hurry up and devour the book. I’ve never been disappointed by her time travel books. To Say Nothing of the Dog is the funniest entry into the bunch, and never takes itself seriously. If you like to laugh while you read, well, pick this one up as soon as you can!
JUST ONE DAMNED THING AFTER ANOTHER by JODI TAYLOR
“History is just one damned thing after another.”
Behind the seemingly innocuous façade of St Mary’s, a different kind of historical research is taking place. They don’t do ‘time-travel’ – they ‘investigate major historical events in contemporary time’. Maintaining the appearance of harmless eccentrics is not always within their power – especially given their propensity for causing loud explosions when things get too quiet.
Meet the disaster-magnets of St Mary’s Institute of Historical Research as they ricochet around History. Their aim is to observe and document – to try and find the answers to many of History’s unanswered questions…and not to die in the process. But one wrong move and History will fight back – to the death. And, as they soon discover – it’s not just History they’re fighting.
Follow the catastrophe curve from 11th-century London to World War I, and from the Cretaceous Period to the destruction of the Great Library at Alexandria. For wherever Historians go, chaos is sure to follow in their wake….
WHAT BOOK DO I START WITH? Just One Damned Thing After Another
HOW MANY BOOKS IN THE SERIES? 13, plus numerous novellas and short stories set in the same world
CW: Sexual assault, death, miscarriage, animal cruelty
WHY DO I LOVE THIS BOOK? Jodi Taylor’s massive St. Mary’s series is a phenomenal piece of work. The world-building is insane, and the research that goes into the time-travel side of things must be ridiculous. The characters in these books go back to SO many different time-periods, and see SO many famous times in history, and every single time it feels like you’re right there next to them. Not to mention the characters themselves are fantastic. I do want to note that the first two books in this series are kind of rough (they’re also not that long), but once you hit the third book, it all starts to be smooth sailing!
THE SHADOW OF WHAT WAS LOST by JAMES ISLINGTON
It has been twenty years since the god-like Augurs were overthrown and killed. Now, those who once served them – the Gifted – are spared only because they have accepted the rebellion’s Four Tenets, vastly limiting their own powers.
As a young Gifted, Davian suffers the consequences of a war lost before he was even born. He and his friends are despised beyond their school walls for the magical power they wield: a power that Davian, despite his best efforts, cannot seem to control. Worse, with his final test approaching and the consequences of failure severe, time to overcome his struggles is fast running out.
But when Davian discovers he wields the forbidden power of the Augurs, he unwittingly sets in motion a chain of events that will change his life – and shake the entire world.
WHAT BOOK DO I START WITH? The Shadow of What Was Lost
HOW MANY BOOKS IN THE SERIES? 3
CW: Death, blood, misogyny, sexism, suicidal thoughts
WHY DO I LOVE THIS BOOK? How do I sum up this series without giving anything away? It’s pretty much impossible, so let me just say this — if you like Wheel of Time, you’ll like this series. If you like series that go full-circle, you’ll like this series. If you like tightly-plotted, fantastic worlds, well, again, you’ll like this series. Basically, I need more people to read this one, okay?
11/22/63 by STEPHEN KING
On November 22, 1963, three shots rang out in Dallas, President Kennedy died, and the world changed. What if you could change it back? Stephen King’s heart-stoppingly dramatic new novel is about a man who travels back in time to prevent the JFK assassination—a thousand page tour de force. Following his massively successful novel Under the Dome, King sweeps readers back in time to another moment—a real life moment—when everything went wrong: the JFK assassination. And he introduces readers to a character who has the power to change the course of history.
Jake Epping is a thirty-five-year-old high school English teacher in Lisbon Falls, Maine, who makes extra money teaching adults in the GED program. He receives an essay from one of the students—a gruesome, harrowing first person story about the night 50 years ago when Harry Dunning’s father came home and killed his mother, his sister, and his brother with a hammer. Harry escaped with a smashed leg, as evidenced by his crooked walk. Not much later, Jake’s friend Al, who runs the local diner, divulges a secret: his storeroom is a portal to 1958. He enlists Jake on an insane—and insanely possible—mission to try to prevent the Kennedy assassination.
So begins Jake’s new life as George Amberson and his new world of Elvis and JFK, of big American cars and sock hops, of a troubled loner named Lee Harvey Oswald and a beautiful high school librarian named Sadie Dunhill, who becomes the love of Jake’s life—a life that transgresses all the normal rules of time.
WHAT BOOK DO I START WITH? 11/22/63
HOW MANY BOOKS IN THE SERIES? 1
CW: Murder, death, domestic abuse, sexual content, alcoholism, racism
WHY DO I LOVE THIS BOOK? This is my first (and only) Stephen King novel that I’ve ever read, and damn is it a chonky boi. This story is an insane one — a man discovers a wormhole back to the 60s, and does his best to prevent JFK from getting shot. I won’t spoil anything else, because you need to experience this one for yourself. It really explores the ramifications of time travel, and what it means to change history at all.
SHADOW OF NIGHT by DEBORAH HARKNESS
Picking up from A Discovery of Witches’ cliffhanger ending, Shadow of Night takes Diana and Matthew on a trip through time to Elizabethan London, where they are plunged into a world of spies, magic, and a coterie of Matthew’s old friends, the School of Night. As the search for Ashmole 782 deepens and Diana seeks out a witch to tutor her in magic, the net of Matthew’s past tightens around them, and they embark on a very different—and vastly more dangerous—journey.
WHAT BOOK DO I START WITH? A Discovery of Witches
HOW MANY BOOKS IN THE SERIES? 3, and another novel set in the same universe
CW: Miscarriage, sexual content, blood, pregnancy, torture, antisemitism
WHY DO I LOVE THIS BOOK? This is one of my favorite series ever, so I had to include it in my list. It’s got a BUNCH of my favorite tropes: vampires, witches, mates, time-travel, etc. Eeeeeven if the time-travel really only happens in one book. Harkness is a historian in real life, and she uses her knowledge to write a fantastically detailed Elizabethan England. The romance is something else, too.
Those are my favorite books with one of my favorite tropes — time-travel! And as much as I hate to give her any more attention, I do have to shout out the OG reason why I love the trope so much, and that’s Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. It’s always been my favorite HP book — the plot is a lot tighter than all the other books, and well, Voldemort isn’t in it! Do you have any recommendations for me for books that have time travel in them?