What I'm Reading: Fantasy Edition
Over the course of my 27 years, I have read thousands of books. Thousands. That includes everyone from Dr. Seuss to John Milton to Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. My bookshelf is all over the place. But my one consistent love has always been fantasy novels.
If I was stuck on a desert island and could only bring one genre of book with me, it would be fantasy. Urban fantasy, portal fantasy, YA fantasy; you name it, I'll read it. I rarely meet a book with magic that I don't like. I do, however, have some favorites. Below are my top fantasy reads (though I'm probably missing a bunch).* Send me recs please!
*You may be surprised to notice that Harry Potter doesn't make the list. Everyone knows I love Harry Potter, okay? Just look at my Bustle author page. It's basically nonstop Harry Potter think pieces. I don't think there's a single soul who questions my devotion to Harry Potter. So it seemed pretty redundant to stick the series on this list.
The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman
It's hard to pick a favorite Gaiman. I grew up loving Coraline, I've read Neverwhere and Good Omens and dabbled with American Gods. But for me, the relatively tiny Ocean is the most beautiful and horrifying of his collection. The novel's power rests in its young narrator, a seven-year-old who accidentally unleashes a powerful supernatural entity onto his family. We only know what our protagonist's mind can comprehend; the true terror of the book lies in what's unsaid around the edges, things that are too big and terrible for our child narrator to understand.
A Court of Mist and Fury by Sarah J. Maas
I recommend the Court of Thorns and Roses series to basically everyone I meet, but this second book is my favorite of the trilogy. Not only does it have one of my absolute favorite book crushes (ask me why Rhys is basically the perfect feminist hero), but I love how the story upends the traditional "Beauty and the Beast" tale. And yes, okay, I'm a sucker for a good fantasy love story, especially if it also involves a lot of war and magic. All hail the Night Court.
Every Heart a Doorway by Seanan McGuire
This may be the most beautiful piece of fantasy I have ever read. I do not make this statement lightly. If you really, truly love fantasy novels, you should read this book. The premise of the story is simple: what happens to children who visit other worlds when they are forced to return to this one? What we get is a compelling and heartbreaking look at their eternal search for a way home, regardless of what desperate price they have to pay.
The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern
Every once in a while you finish a book and know, immediately, that it had just become one of your lifelong favorites. This was my feeling the moment I closed The Night Circus a few years ago (and I've probably reread it half a dozen times since). The story of two rival magicians who compete in a magical traveling circus, it's like if Tim Burton and Ray Bradbury's Something Wicked This Way Comes had a more whimsical baby. (And by "whimsical" I mean "still dark, but less child murder-y.")
The Magicians by Lev Grossman
Personally, I think "Harry Potter, but with more drugs and sex" was a brilliant pitch. But the Magicians series is so much more than just an R-rated HP. I loved the entire series (and you should watch the absolutely brilliant TV adaptation for SyFy), but nothing brings me more joy than watching Quentin find out that the magic he wanted to believe in so desperately his entire life was actually real. Sure, that magic had consequences, but just let me live in that moment, okay?
The Language of Thorns by Leigh Bardugo
I can appreciate a good book cover, but I've never been as obsessive about owning gorgeous books the way some fans are. That all changed with The Language of Thorns, which may be the most breathtakingly beautiful book I've ever seen. It's appeal isn't just in the illustrations, however. These diverse, female-centric faerie tales turn classic stories on their heads. You'll never look at "The Little Mermaid" or "Hansel and Gretel" the same way again.
Tithe by Holly Black
I have a soft spot for Holly Black because she's also a TCNJ English alumna. And although I've read a few books in her extensive collection, Tithe remains my favorite. This was one of the first "dark" faerie tales I ever read, and it remains my standard. A human girl from New Jersey (!) finds herself in the middle of a battle for power between the Seelie and the Unseelie Courts. If you're looking to get into Holly Black, Tithe is a good place to start; the characters appear in many of her other novels.
Cruel Beauty by Rosamund Hodge
Another "Beauty and the Beast" retelling, but I can't help it. This time the Beast is a demon wreaking havoc on a small town, and the Beauty is a teenager trained from birth to marry and kill him. Obviously things go a bit awry in the "killing" department, but I fell in love with Hodge's cruel, flawed heroine; she's a far cry from the typical noble and lovesick damsel in distress. If you like this one, Hodge has a number of other faerie tale retellings set in the same or similar worlds.
A Great and Terrible Beauty by Libba Bray
Historical. Magic. Portal. Fiction. The Gemma Doyle Trilogy has basically everything I want. I love the entire trilogy, but I've always had a soft spot for the first book. Our heroine has been sent to boarding school in England after the death of her mother, where she learns about a mysterious group of women who were able to enter into a magical realm on the grounds of the school. Surprise surprise, Gemma and her friends are able to open the same portal, though the land is more dangerous than they anticipated.
Excited to read: The Hazel Wood by Melissa Albert
I don't typically buy books right off the bat; I like to get them from the library and then invest in the ones I really love. But The Hazel Wood was getting amazing reviews (and the author is my old editor at B&N), so I took a chance and ordered it the other day. I'm only about halfway through, but I'm really, really invested in it. Alice is the granddaughter of a famous and mysterious author who writes terrifying faerie tales. However, it's starting to look like her "stories" weren't as fictional as Alice assumed.
Also check out: In Defense of Fantasy