Jewish mythology is as expansive as it is storied, with a long history containing a vast range of mythological creatures and elements. From recognizable figures like the Angel of Death and the demon Ashmedai to lesser-known demons called Ruchin and the Tzavua, a beast whose coat is said to have 365 colors, Jewish mythology is rich with stories waiting to be told.
Recently, there’s been an uptick in Jewish representation in the fantasy genre. Where once I sat down to write the Jewish fantasy I wanted to see on the shelves, now my bookcases are full of new favorites, from stories exploring Jewish life in Eastern Europe to fantastical worlds that only just resemble our own.
Each of these recent additions explores Jewish mythology in fresh and exciting ways, which made narrowing down a short list difficult. Without further ado, here are three fantasy books featuring Jewish mythology that should definitely be on your shelves, and two upcoming releases that I can’t wait to get my hands on!
From Dust, A Flame by Rebecca Podos
Golems are one of Judaism’s most recognizable creatures of mythology. Crafted from clay and water, these beings are brought to life by ritual and the spoken word—a reoccurring theme in Jewish mysticism, which teaches that language can shape creation (more on this in my next recommendation!). They feature frequently in the role of protector in Jewish stories, representative of a people often faced with persecution, but have been reimagined in modern fiction in countless ways, such as in From Dust, A Flame.
On Hannah’s seventeenth birthday, she wakes up with golden eyes, the first of many inexplicable mutations to come. When her mother disappears after promising to find someone who can break her newfound curse, Hannah sets out with her brother, Gabe, to find answers of their own. Their journey introduces them to estranged family, generational secrets, and an incomplete golem that Hannah and Gabe bring to life. But as her family’s past catches up to her, Hannah must unearth all their secrets if she’s to have any chance of breaking her curse and saving the people she loves.
This book is wrought with themes of intergenerational trauma, complex family dynamics, and the power of stories, all layered within a magical tale of golems, demons, and curses.
The Wolf and the Woodsman by Ava Reid
One of the more unique facets of Jewish mysticism (and as an author, one I find the most fascinating) is the idea that language can shape creation. The concept suggests that God created the world using the Hebrew alphabet, a notion that lends itself well to unique magic systems, such as one of those found in The Wolf and the Woodsman.
As the only woman without magic and an outcast due to her Yehuli blood, Évike is betrayed by her village and sent with the Holy Order of Woodsmen as the king’s blood sacrifice. But when the Woodsmen are slain by monsters, leaving Évike alone with their cold captain, Gaspar, so begins an adventure through dangerous woods, frozen lands, and the capital in which her father lives. There she learns a new type of magic—the power of language, an ability Évike will need to protect what matters to her.
This book is perfect for fans of Naomi Novik’s Spinning Silver and Katherine Arden’s Winternight trilogy, both of which contain the same rich storytelling and folklore feel of The Wolf and the Woodsman.
The Ghosts of Rose Hill by RM Romero
There are many types of spirits in Jewish mythology, from the friendly Ibbur that possesses its typically willing host in order to complete a task to the more dangerous dybbuk, an evil spirit that takes over a host. Whatever their nature, their presence and interaction with the human realm is a recurring theme in Jewish stories, and well explored in The Ghosts of Rose Hill.
Ilana longs to become a violinist but struggles with her parents’ wishes that she would choose a more practical career. When they send her to stay with her aunt in Prague to experience exactly how an artist lives, she stumbles across a forgotten Jewish cemetery and the ghost of a friendly boy named Benjamin. While Illana restores Benjamin’s grave, he introduces her to the spirits and wonders of Prague, where she captures the attention of Rudolph Wassermann, who offers her magic in exchange for her music—a gift that does not come without strings.
Told in verse, this story is at once as haunting as it is healing. Full to the brim with atmosphere, it deftly explores heavy topics of finding oneself, the impacts of war, and the ways that history seeps into the present.
When the Angels Left the Old Country by Sacha Lamb
Like many things in Jewish mythology, the existence of demons—or Sheydim—has countless explanations, from the belief that they’re fallen angels to the possibility that they’re simply souls without bodies. They range from the mazzikim, said to cause minor transgressions or disruptions, to the famous name of demons like Ashmedai, who features in When the Angels Left the Old Country. Recently released, it’s the first of two books I can’t wait to read!
When a young emigrant from their Shtetl goes missing, Uriel the Angel and Little Ash (short for Ashmedai), set out in search of her. As they journey to America, they help the humans they encounter best they can, but their path is paved with obstacles in a new and unknown land full of crime and corruption.
This book sounds like a transformative journey with a foundation in Jewish storytelling.
The Night Owls by AR Vishny (2024)
Estries are a lesser-known creature from Jewish mythology, but most closely resemble the well-known vampire. In contrast, Estries are strictly female, and thought to be able to transform into birds or various other animals. As suggested by the title of the second book I’m eagerly anticipating, the main characters of The Night Owls are Estries capable of changing into owls.
Not much has been shared about this upcoming fantasy, save that it follows two girls who break an oath never to fall in love when they descend into Manhattan’s monstrous underworld to save a girl.
Kalyn Josephson works as a technical writer in the tech industry, which leaves room for too many bad puns about technically being a writer. She grew up in San Luis Obispo, California, and graduated from Santa Clara University with degrees in Biology and Creative Writing. Currently, she lives in the Bay Area with two black cats (who are more like a tiny dragon and an ever tinier owl). She is the author of the Storm Crow duology as well as the middle-grade series, Ravenfall.