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Prehistoric Fantasy Books

Prehistoric Fantasy is a specific type of Historical Fantasy that takes places in prehistoric times and depicts the lives of the people living in that era. The stories may be set in Europe with Neanderthals or in North America with prehistoric Native Americans—the ancestors of humans. The sub-genre is a bit loose with the time period, but generally covers people living in caves with fire, rudimentary language, basic tools and weapons. It can also cover periods that are pre-roman.

This is the era of so-called "cave men" and readers will encounter early humans as well as prehistoric creatures—sabre-tooth tigers, wooly mammoths, mastodons. Not so much dragons and unicorns, though. Prehistoric Fantasy is a sub-genre rich with historical fact, but made more alive with the additions of fantasy and imagination. Historical Fantasy is built on research, recorded history. But, prehistory, a time when language was still rudimentary and writing hadn't been developed, does not have recordings. Archeology and anthropology have provided us with lots of information about the early days of humans—a basis which serves as a great jumping off point for a fantastical tale.

Other Features of Prehistoric Fantasy

  • Level of Magic

Low. Generally speaking, magic does not have a role in Prehistoric Fantasy stories. When there is magic it is often more of a spiritual energy than the kinds of magic present in High Fantasies.

  • Level of Grand Ideas/Social Implications

Moderate-High. This sub-genre makes great and interesting ventures into anthropology, much of which is imagined. The stories are often a blend of real scientific evidence and the author's own creativity. In addition, it's not uncommon for writers to develop cultures and legends for early humans. Common questions prehistoric fantasy addresses: Where did we come from? What was it like to live in a cave? How did early humans interact with the environment?

  • Level of Characterization

Variable. Coming of age stories are fairly common in this sub-genre. Coming of age stories present interesting plots that challenge characters and help shape their identities, which means readers get to know the characters in a meaningful and personal way. Alternatively, there are stories that utilize more stereotypical characters: brutish cave man, submissive cave woman, stoic hunter, etc.

  • Level of Plot Complexity

High. Prehistoric fantasies tend to be adventurous stories. Stories about great and perilous journeys are common. Stories about the discovery and settling of new areas. Stories fraught with the emotion and drama of survival.

  • Level of Violence 

Variable. There is some violence, specifically in regards to hunting game. There is sometimes violence between competing tribes or groups. However, the fighting is done with prehistoric weapons, like spears.

Related Fantasy Subgenres

Historical Fantasy. Prehistoric Fantasy is a specific type of Historical Fantasy.


Speculative Fiction. Prehistoric Fantasy speculates about what life was like in prehistoric times.


Low-Fantasy. Prehistoric Fantasy takes places, at least most of the time, in a rational and real world that has the same physical laws as our own. There are few traditional elements of fantasy in prehistoric fantasy stories.


Popular Prehistoric Fantasy Books Books

By Jean M. Auel. This series of books is almost an alternate history story taking place in the Upper Paleolithic era and focuses on a period of co-existence between Cro-Magnons and Neanderthals in Europe. It is a story of travel, discovery, romance, and includes invention and cultural complexities.

By Kathleen O'Neal Gear and W. Michael Gear. This series takes place in prehistoric North America and follows prehistoric Native Americans across a frozen pathway to a new destiny.

By Meredith Ann Pierce. This is a tale of an unusual romance: a woman loves a shape-shifter.

By Michelle Paver. Six thousand years ago evil stalked the land—so begins this story of a boy and his wolf companion.

By Kim Stanley Robinson. This is the coming of age story of a shaman in prehistoric Europe.Stephen Baxter, Behemoth. This trilogy delves into the SF side of this sub-genre, including Mars as a setting. It is the story of mammoths—their struggles, their legends, their survival.

By William Sarabande. This is the second book in the First American series and follows the life of a man who leads his people across the tundra for a mammoth hunt. The group encounters a magician with destructive intentions.

By Peter Dickinson. This is a YA series of four novels that take place in prehistoric Africa and features young children and orphans as characters.

By Sherryl Jordan. YA novel. For the first three years of her life a girl is raised by wolves, but then she is adopted by a Chieftain and his wife, who develops a psychic bond with the wolf-pack's leader.

By Bernard Cornwell. An imaginative reconstruction of the rebuilding of Stonehenge.