Books about time travel, and novels involving parallel worlds and alternate universes can offer both wonderful fictional escapes and mentally stimulating reading. Whether an avid fiction time traveler or just dipping your toe in the time pond, you will find a great new read in this time travel books list.
Time Travel Book Terminology
The beauty of books about time travel is that each author writes their own rule set. However, there are some underlying norms in this popular science fiction sub-genre.
Time Travel Book Themes
The time travel and parallel universe story frameworks are most often used to explore what-if scenarios (as in the iconic Sliding Doors movie), the concepts of fate, karma, causation and nature versus nurture, along with the related dramatic notions of hindsight and regret. There’s nothing quite like being transported to a parallel fictional world to hammer home all the things that could go wrong for a character, and how good their current ‘real world’ situation actually is!
Time loops offer protagonists opportunities to learn from past mistakes. Alternate universes can shine a spotlight on closed, narrow-minded thinking or behaviour, force characters to walk-a-day in another’s shoes, and/or reconsider detrimental ‘grass is greener’ attitudes. Some time travel books are more meta in the sense that they overtly interrogate the time travel rule set.
33 Best Books On Time Travel, Parallel Worlds & Alternate Universes
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Iconic Romantic Time Travel Books
The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger
One of the best time travel books of all time, this iconic love story is the title that sparked my enduring attraction attraction to the genre. The Time Traveler’s Wife lead characters Henry and Clare are strikingly real despite the very unreal situations they find themselves in. Their struggle to lead normal lives in the face of a force they can neither prevent nor control is intensely moving. A cleverly told heartwarmer and valuable reminder of the fragility of our lives and the virtues of living in the moment. (Full Review | Amazon | Libro.fm)
To Say Nothing of the Dog by Connie Willis
To Say Nothing of the Dog, a hapless yet charming romp through time and space is one of the most intelligent and enjoyable audiobooks I have ever listened to. Protagonist Ned Henry is your quintessential good-hearted underdog finding his way through a maze of Victorian manners, literary debate, domineering women and animal wrangling with absolutely hilarious consequences. And, Connie Willis’ prose oozes intelligence, wit and class. (Full Review | Amazon | Libro.fm)
Outlander by Diana Gabaldon
Outlander, the chunky, at times raunchy, page-turner that began one of the most epic time travel book series’ and decades later its cinematic TV adaptation has gained countless new fans. This story about time travel plays off the Scottish highland pagan folklore (with a time-slip) and a history scarred by warfare. Strong-willed and highly capable, Claire Randall finds herself torn between duty to her conservative British husband (1945) and the passion and impulsiveness of a Scots warrior she initially clashes with in 1743. (Amazon | Libro.fm)
Parallel Universe Romance Novels
The Impossible Us (aka Impossible) by Sarah Lotz
This epistolatory, genre-bending novel shimmers with romantic tension, and must rank as one of the best books with parallel universes I have read. The blistering rapid-fire dialogue, and authentically raw and messy pulsating hearts of Lotz’s lead characters Nick and Bee had me glued to its pages. It is about love in all its mysterious and wonderful forms – the romantic (big tick), but also the love between friends, parents and children, cranky neighbours and animals… even love for a cause and ultimately, for ourselves.(Full Review | Amazon | Libro.fm)
This is How You Lose the Time War by Amal El Mohtar & Max Gladstone
The most ‘poetic’ science fiction I have read. In regards to the time-travelling construct, the nature of the different parallel worlds, warring parties and even the lead characters themselves, readers are constantly being challenged to break out of stereotypical thought patterns and open our minds to new possibilities. Through the exchange of letters, painstakingly composed and hidden where the other will stumble across them years (even millennia) later, they learn the nature and experiences of the other. (Full Review | Amazon)
The Two Lives of Lydia Bird by Josie Silver
A love story about the what-ifs that arise at life’s crossroads. Freddie and Lydia. They’d been together for more than a decade and thought their love was indestructible. But on Lydia’s twenty-eighth birthday, Freddie died in a car accident. Eventually, knowing he would want her to try to live fully even without him, Lydia takes her first tentative steps into the dating world. But then something inexplicable happens that gives her another chance to live her old life with Freddie, in a world parallel to the new one she’s just begun. (Amazon | Libro.fm)
Contemporary Romantic Books About Time Travel
What the Wind Knows by Amy Harmon
Anne Gallagher grew up enchanted by her grandfather’s stories of Ireland. On his death, she travels to his childhood home to spread his ashes. There, overcome with memories of the man she adored and consumed by a history she never knew, she is pulled into another time — the Ireland of 1921, teetering on the edge of war. Adopting a missing woman’s identity, she joins their struggle for independence. Ultimately, she must decide whether she’s willing to let go of the life she knew for a love she never thought she’d find. (Amazon | Libro.fm)
Bonus Read: Ashley Poston’s The Seven Year Slip, is a charming time slip romance novel also.
One Last Stop by Casey McQuiston
In One Last Stop, cynical twenty-three-year-old August believes things like magic and cinematic love stories don’t exist, and the only smart way to go through life is alone. But then, there’s this gorgeous girl on the train. Jane. Dazzling, charming, mysterious. August’s subway crush becomes the best part of her day, but pretty soon, she discovers there’s one big problem: Jane doesn’t just look like an old school punk rocker. She’s literally displaced in time from the 1970s… (Amazon)
The Rose Garden by Susanna Kearsley
After the death of her sister, Eva Ward leaves Hollywood and all its celebrities behind to return to the only place she feels she truly belongs, the old house on the coast of Cornwall, England. She’s seeking comfort in memories of childhood summers, but instead finds mysterious voices and hidden pathways that sweep her not only into the past, but also into the arms of a man who is not of her time who draws her into a world of intrigue, treason, and love. (Amazon)
Related Reading List: 28 Best RomCom Books, Smart & Funny Romance Novels
Time Travelling Drama & Adventure Fiction
Faye, Faraway (aka Space Hopper) by Helen Fisher
Faye is happy with her life, but the loss of her mother as a child weighs on her mind even more now that she is a mother herself. So she is amazed when, in an extraordinary turn of events she finds herself back in her childhood home in the 1970s. Faced with the chance to finally seek answers to her questions – but away from her own family – how much is she willing to give up for another moment with her mother? Emotionally engaging and life affirming. (Full Review | Amazon | Libro.fm)
The Psychology of Time Travel by Kate Mascarenhas
Time travel has largely been a male-dominated zone, and so The Psychology of Time Travel featuring a highly intelligent and strikingly independent female character set is refreshing to say the least. Refreshing also is its exploration, and in large part normalisation of societal diversity, e.g. romantic, socio-economic, cultural. Mascarenhas has also re-written the time-travel rule book. A very clever and highly original take on time-travel fiction. (Full Review | Amazon | Libro.fm)
Here and Now and Then by Mike Chen
I was impressed by the effortless credibility of Mike Chen’s execution of time travel. So many wonderful little details are woven seamlessly into the story fabric — everything from hover cars, food trends and social diversity being the norm. But as impressive as Chen’s deft plotting and world-building is, he never forgets that his characters must remain centre stage. For me, this is a time travel tale a cut above the rest — at times heartrending but ultimately uplifting. A page-turner brimming with heart. (Full Review | Amazon | Libro.fm)
The Book of Lost Fragrances by M J Rose
A sweeping and suspenseful tale of secrets, intrigue, and lovers separated by time, all connected through the mystical qualities of a perfume created in the days of Cleopatra–and lost for 2,000 years. Jac L’Etoile, heir to a French perfume company, moved to America to flee the pain of her past and her mother’s suicide. Fourteen years later she and her brother have inherited the company and it’s financial problems. But when Robbie suddenly goes missing, leaving a dead body in his wake, after hinting at an earth-shattering discovery in the family archives — Jac is plunged into a world she thought she’d left behind. (Full Review | Amazon)
The Future of Another Timeline by Annalee Newitz
A highly original and thought-provoking novel about the lengths we’ll go to make history. In a world that’s just a step away from our own, time travel is possible. But war is brewing – a secret group is trying to destroy women’s rights, and their access to the timeline. If they succeed, only a small elite will have the power to shape the past, present, and future. Our only hope lies with an unlikely group of allies, from riot grrls to suffragettes, their lives separated by centuries, battling for a world where anyone can change the future. A final confrontation is coming. (Amazon | Libro.fm)
The River of No Return by Bee Ridgway
On a battlefield in Spain in 1812, Lord Nicholas Falcott, Marquess of Blackdown, is about to die …. But, the next moment, he inexplicably jumps forward in time, nearly two hundred years – very much alive. Taken under the wing of a mysterious organisation, The Guild, he receives everything he could ever need under the following conditions: He can’t go back. He can’t go home. He must tell no one…. Until a decade later, is forced to confront his nineteenth century past, alongside Julia Percy, who has inherited a closely guarded secret on the death of her enigmatic grandfather the Earl of Dorchester. (Amazon)
Time Loop Fiction
The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle by Stuart Turton
An original high-concept murder mystery described as Gosford Park meets Inception, by way of Agatha Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express. It is meant to be a celebration but it ends in tragedy. As fireworks explode overhead, Evelyn Hardcastle, the young and beautiful daughter of the house, is killed. But Evelyn will not die just once. Until Aiden – one of the guests summoned to Blackheath for the party – can solve her murder, the day will repeat itself, over and over again. Every time ending with the fateful pistol shot. Read my review of The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle >>
The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August by Claire North
A critically acclaimed time loop novels. No matter what he does or the decisions he makes, when death comes, Harry always returns to where he began, a child with all the knowledge of a life he has already lived a dozen times before. Nothing ever changes. But now, as Harry nears the end of his eleventh life, a little girl appears at his bedside. ‘I nearly missed you, Doctor August,’ she says. ‘I need to send a message.’ This is the story of what Harry does next, what he did before, and how he tries to save a past he cannot change and a future he cannot allow. Find out more >>
Life After Life by Kate Atkinson
Global bestseller and TV series… What if you had the chance to live your life again and again, until you finally got it right? Would you eventually be able to save the world from its own inevitable destiny? And would you even want to? This novel follows Ursula Todd as she lives through the turbulent events of the last century again and again. With wit and compassion, the author finds warmth even in life’s bleakest moments. A profound and inventive time loop novel that celebrates the best and worst of ourselves. Find out more >>
Contemporary Parallel World & Alternate Universe Novels
The Eyre Affair by Jasper Fforde
The first title in the author’s Thursday Next Literary Detective Series which achieved an almost cult-status amongst booklovers. Why? The wit, wordplay and satire on display. Time travel is common place and it is possible to travel ‘into a book’, in this alternate world where appreciation of literature is high in the social conscience. And of course, its loveably loyal, flawed and feisty heroine named Thursday Next, a SpecOp-27 (Literary Detective Division of Special Operations) with a genetically flawed dodo as a pet. I found this one a delight. Read my The Eyre Affair review >>
A Wrong Turn at the Office of Unmade Lists by Jane Rawson
One of the more literary books about alternate realities I have read. This 2013 meta-fiction combines a Narnia-like storyline with a dystopian climate future, the latter less fanciful by the day. The fictional ‘climate change disaster’ — floods, fire, drought, energy crises – has led to a drastic widening of the socio-economic divide. Good-natured dry humour and entertaining banter of endearingly flawed characters is the means by which Rawson explores deeper themes — loss and bereavement, resilience and survival. Read my full review >>
The Ten Thousand Doors of January by Alix E Harrow
In a sprawling mansion filled with peculiar treasures, January Scaller is a curiosity herself. As the ward of the wealthy Mr Locke, she feels little different from the artefacts that decorate the halls: carefully maintained, largely ignored and utterly out of place. But her quiet existence is shattered when she stumbles across a strange book. A book that tells a tale of secret doors into new worlds, of love, adventure and danger. Each page reveals more impossible truths, and January discovers a story increasingly entwined with her own. Find out more >>
Time Travel Mystery Thrillers
The Shining Girls by Lauren Beukes
This time travel thriller is not for readers with weak stomachs. Harper Curtis is a serial killer who stepped out of the past, and the stories of his victims are harrowing. Kirby Mazrachi is the girl who was never meant to have a future. Kirby is the last shining girl, one of the bright young women, burning with potential, whose lives Harper is destined to snuff out after he stumbles on a House in Depression-era Chicago that opens on to other times. Read my The Shining Girls review >>
Recursion by Blake Crouch
‘My son has been erased.’ Those are the last words the woman tells Barry Sutton, before she leaps from the Manhattan rooftop. Deeply unnerved, Barry begins to investigate her death, only to learn that this wasn’t an isolated case. All across the country, people are waking up to lives different than the ones they fell asleep to. Are they suffering from False Memory Syndrome, a mysterious, new disease that afflicts people with vivid memories of a life they never lived? Or is something far more sinister behind the fracturing of reality all around him? Find out more >>
Kindred by Octavia E Butler
The Guardian called this title, “The marker you should judge all other time-travelling narratives by”. In 1976, Dana dreams of being a writer. In 1815, she is assumed a slave. When Dana first meets Rufus on a Maryland plantation, he’s drowning. She saves his life – and it will happen again and again. Neither of them understands his power to summon her whenever his life is threatened, nor the significance of the ties that bind them. And each time Dana saves him, the more aware she is that her own life might be over before it’s even begun. Find out more >>
Blackout by Connie Willis
Oxford, England 2060. A trio of time traveling scholars depart for various corners of the Second World War. Their mission is to observe, from a safe vantage point, the day-to-day nature of life during this critical historical moment. As the action ranges from the evacuation of Dunkirk to the manor houses of rural England to the horrors of London during the Blitz, the objective nature of their roles gradually changes. Cut off from the safety net of the future and caught up in the chaos of WWII, they are forced to participate in unexpected ways, in the defining events of the era. Find out more >>
Novels with Timeline Echoes
Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell
The multi-award winning novel that sparked my love of literary fiction, and one of my all-time favourite reads.
Souls cross ages like clouds cross skies . . . Six interlocking lives – one amazing adventure. In a narrative that circles the globe and reaches from the 19th century to a post-apocalyptic future, this story erases the boundaries of time, genre and language to offer an enthralling vision of humanity’s will to power, and where it could lead us. Find out more >>
Sea of Tranquility by Emily St John Mandel
A novel that investigates the idea of parallel worlds and possibilities. This slim epic (272 pages) about art, time travel, love, and plague, takes the reader from Vancouver Island in 1912 to a dark colony on the moon three hundred years later, unfurling a story of humanity across centuries and space. Three people from three different time periods, in a tale that precisely captures the zeitgeist. Find out more >>
The Bone Clocks by David Mitchell
In 1984, teenage runaway Holly Sykes encounters a strange woman who offers a small kindness in exchange for ‘asylum’. Decades will pass before Holly understands exactly what sort of asylum the woman was seeking… This novel follows her life from a scarred adolescence to old age – a life not so far out of the ordinary, yet punctuated by flashes of precognition, visits from people who emerge from thin air and brief lapses in the laws of reality. A metaphysical thriller. Read my The Bone Clocks review >>
This title’s companion novel Slade House more overtly explores alternate/parallel universe concepts.
Classic Time Travel Books & Alternative Universe Literature
The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by C S Lewis
Narnia must surely rate as one of the most well-known parallel universes in fiction. But did you know this childhood favourite is actually the second book in the author’s 7-book Chronicles of Narnia series?
The four Pevensie children are sent to live in a large house in the country, a house with many rooms, which are filled with many things. But one of the rooms is absolutely empty, except for a single piece of furniture: a large wardrobe. It is a wardrobe, the children discover, which has magical properties. Find out more >>
Time and Again by Jack Finney
Time and Again, first published in 1970, tells the story of Simon Morley, an unfulfilled advertising sketch artist in Manhattan who is enlisted by the US Army to take part in a time travelling experiment. While travelling back in time he takes the opportunity to investigate the origins of a mysterious letter in his girlfriend’s possession dated 1882. But then his, and other operatives’ actions during past time periods begin to result in changed outcomes in the present day. Find out more >>
A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle
In this Newberry award-winning classic, three strange figures, Mrs–Who, Whatsit, and Which, send Meg and Charles Wallace, and their friend Calvin O’Keefe, on a mission (via tesseract, a wrinkle in space-time that allows fast travel between distant points) to find their father Mr. Murry, a missing government physicist. While doing so they fight off a dark force and save our universe. Find out more >>
I reviewed the graphic novel by Hope Larson.
Flatland: A Romance of Many Dimensions by Edwin A Abbott
This classic 1884 satirical novella is ostensibly an exploration of dimension theory. It describes the journeys of A. Square and his adventures in Spaceland (three dimensions), Lineland (one dimension) and Pointland (no dimensions). A. Square also entertains thoughts of visiting a land of four dimensions — a revolutionary idea for which he is banished from Spaceland. But satirically, it delves into the role of women in Victorian society, rigid class structures, the influence of organised religion, the suppression of individuality and even euthanasia. Read my Flatland review >>
How many of these books about time travel, parallel worlds and alternate universes have you read?
I will be routinely updating this list. Pin it for later and check back in over time as more great reads in this popular sub-genre are released.