If you’ve grown up reading and loving Harry Potter, then it’s probably a safe bet to assume you enjoy reading fantasy novels. But when it comes to quality fantasy fiction, chances are there’s both too much Twlight-inspired YA novels to choose from or you’ve probably read and revised all the mainstream classics and you know the magical lands of Narnia and Middle Earth by heart. Yet there are plenty of gems in this genre, if only you know where to look.
Here is a list of 12 amazing fantasy novels to appeal to all sensibilities.
If you have a love for the circus
1. The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern: Perhaps the best thing about this book is the way it literally sweeps you off your feet to the most enchanting circus of the night. The author quiet deftly paints a tapestry with her words. Set in Victorian London and featuring two rival magicians, this is a riveting tale of love, jealousy and illusions. If you’re looking for something surreal and vivid imagery, this is sure to be a bewitching read.
2. The Gracekeepers by Kirsty Logan: Set in a dystopian waterworld and richly alive with myth and magic, this book tells the story of a circus performer and an exiled woman and how their lives interweave and separate to explore loneliness and isolation in a world that has changed forever. The beautiful, lyrical prose in particular makes for a mesmerizing fairytale-ish ride.
If Arthurian legends are your thing
3. The Once and Future King by T.H. White: Arthurian tales have inspired poets and novelists for centuries and have now become a part of pop culture with countless retellings and adaptations. But T.H.White’s take on it is particularly commendable- not only for the way he represents archetypal figures but also for the way he explores the idea of ‘chivalry’. Packed with adventure and intrigue, this is one Arthurian novel that you must have on your bookshelf.
4. Mists of Avalon by Marion Zimmer Bradley : Another Arthurian story that innovates a lot, Mists of Avalon is an important fantasy novel because of its strong feminist stance. It retells the old legends from the point of view of female characters and follows the journey of Morgan Le Fey, who is traditionally depicted as the mysrerious antagonist of Merlin’s in most stories. In a world of gender inequality and patriarchy, this is a particularly well-written and noteworthy work that deserves to be read by all.
For those who love their heroines
5. Coraline by Neil Gaiman: If you loved Lyra Silvertongue from Philip Pullman’s The Golden Compass and lamented the fact that there weren’t enough women-as-protagonists fantasy novels to read as a child, then Coraline should definitely cheer you up. While it’s not an exact retelling of Alice Through The Looking Glass, there are some distinct Carollian influences and is considerably dark. It features a mischievous child, Coraline who upon moving to a new house, discovers the door to the ‘Other World’ where everything is the same except it is much more satisfying and people have buttons for their eyes. The Other Mother is everything Coraline wanted her own mother to be until she discovers her deadly secret..
6. The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in A Ship Of Her Own Making by Catherynne M. Valente: Another adventure story for kids, this book also comes with delightful illustrations at the beginning of every chapter and tells the story of twelve-year old September who is whisked off to Fairyland by the Green Wind, meets a wyvern and a marid, has some death-defying adventures and manages to save Fairyland from destruction. Although the tale is relavtively somple, the author’s clever narration and exploration of complex themes, make it a thought-provoking and entertaining read.
If you want something short but memorable
7. The Giver by Lois Lowry: Here’s another dystopian fantasy novel on our list and if you’ve read the hugely popular Divergent trilogy by Veronica Roth, you’ll know where some of the ideas come from. Jonas lives in a society that’s seemingly utopian- no grief, no anger, no hunger and no poverty. A world where everybody abides by the rules and accepts whatever roles society has assigned them with until Jonas becomes the ‘Receiver of Memory’ and learns to feel emotions, see colours and hear music. The ambiguous ending is deliberately symbolic and makes the reader important questions about free will.
8. A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness: This is very short but devastatingly beautiful low fantasy tale about a child named Conor whose mother is dying from cancer and is visited by monstrous storytelling yew tree at night. Not only does the book question the conventional idea of a monster, it also forces the reader to rethink the way we view human beings. There are stories within stories in this book, with unexpected twist in the tale endings that blur the line between heroes and villains. A poignant story about grief and growing up, the book affirms that although life is full of contradictions and injustices, it is still beautiful and worth living.
For those who love footnotes
9. The Bartimaeus Sequence by Jonathan Stroud : Hugely funny and full of adventure, think of this as a toned-down Terry Pratchett for kids. The first three books is a trilogy that follow the exploits of a young wizard Nathaniel and the djinn Bartimaeus but the last book is stand-alone novel and set in an earlier era. But the best part of the book is the hilarious footnotes that Bartimaues provides which are often explanations of magic as well as his personal comments and anecdotes. If you want something to delight you, give this a try.
10. Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell by Susanna Clarke: This is more alternate history than high fantasy and explores Romantic and Victorian English society if magic was real and an actual profession for some. Written in a Dickensian serialized format, you can check out the full review of the book hereand if you’re up for a lengthy work of one of a kind fiction, this book is definitely worth your time.
And if you can’t get enough of Harry Potter
11. The Magicians by Lev Grossman: If you feel that no other novel has been able to match the brilliance of Harry Potter, Narnia and Lord of the Rings, then you might want to take a closer look at The Magicians which reads like a pastiche of J.K. Rowling and C.S. Lewis brand of fantasy. The first part of the book is pure Harry Potter stuff for adults where you meet Quentin Coldwater who studies magic at a college of wizardry while the latter part features him and his friends venturing to a Narnia-ish land called Fillory which is under threat. Packed with fantasy and sci-fi allusions, the novel not only utilizes common fantasy tropes but also subverts them and is a must-read if you’re an adult and love your childhood fantasy novels the best.
12. The Earthsea Cycle by Ursula K. Le Guin : If Lord of the Rings-style of high fantasy is your thing and you’ve read Christopher Paolini’s The Inheritance Cycle as a child, then you may find this fantasy series quite enjoyable. With excellent world-building and simple narration, here are stories of young protagonists learning magic and having death-defying adventures and standard good vs evil battles.
So which books have you read and how did you like them? Let us know in the comments, and if your friend is a fantasy lover too, don’t forget to share the list with them!
Wrote this a long while back for Open Road Review, and was published in two parts (Part 1| Part 2). Personally, I feel I should update this list with some rarer and underrated fantasy gems that I feel more people should read/know about. What do you think? Did you like this list? Would you like more book-related content on this blog?
Also, I’m currently open to book reviews. Feel free to contact me or leave a comment below!