For May’s book recommendations, we’ve decided to go for something a bit different. We’ve asked our contributors to write about:
Fantasy novels that you couldn’t stop thinking about
So we hope you’ll enjoy this list of recommendations and find something that you’ve never read before and find it equally unputdownable.
If you love dragons, Temeraire by Naomi Novik might be for you.
Set in an alternative history, dragons decide wars, and alongside a navy, dragons dominate the sky. It’s the Napoleonic Wars and its outcomes will be decided by air battles, by huge dragons fighting in the sky. This is fantasy at its swashbuckling best.
Naomi Novik’s alternative universe is deeply imaginative and completely mesmerising. These books are intricately researched and reading it makes you want it to be all real: I could imagine myself as part of this strange air force. It just makes so much sense to have dragons used in this way and Novik is a genius in presenting them and making the reader appreciate them as real, heart-felt characters.
The first book in the series is wonderful with plenty of action and fantastic characters who continue to grow through the series. This master stroke from Naomi Novik is enchanting and intelligent and her scope and ideas are wonderful to think about, with characters that will stay in your heart for a long time.
When I was asked to recommend one of my favourite fantasy novels, one jumped straight to mind. It’s a story about magicians, war and a darker evil. It’s the beginning of a magnificent trilogy crafted by Raymond E. Feist and it’s name is simply – Magician.
It’s the first chapter of the Riftwar Saga and since reading, it has stuck in my mind for ever more. It introduces us to Pug an orphan boy who is taken in and apprenticed to a master magician. It takes us through his childhood to a time when the peace is shattered when alien invaders attack the lands…. and Pugs destiny is sealed when he accidentally finds a rift to the Aliens’ world. It’s a bold story, which unveils two beautiful worlds to explore. With characters you fall in love with and a tale that unfolds at a steady pace – making it more and more difficult to put the book down. It’s a real page turner and one that I heartily recommend it.
The first fantasy book that really sucked me in was probably Terry Pratchett’s Interesting Times, but I already talked about Discworld last month. Instead, let’s go with the first fantasy book that really really, really sucked me in: Philip Pullman’s Northern Lights.
Ostensibly for kids, but absolutely not just for kids, this book creates a world at once familiar and entirely alien. It seems to be set in 19th Century England except that, on the very first page, we learn that every person alive has a sentient, talking spirit-animal. A “dæmon”.
These dæmons are a part of your soul that exists outside your body – and isn’t that the most ridiculous and wonderful idea you’ve ever heard?! It was this that hooked me and captured my imagination. In a lesser book it probably would have been the entire focus of the story, but here it’s just one small facet of this world, along with the witches and the airships and the giant armoured polar-bears.
The story is both epic and personal, wringing every possible emotion out of you and leaving you exhausted. But, in the end, it’s the world that sticks with you and keeps you coming back. It’s so engrossing – so transportive – that you actually find it weird when there are characters with souls inside their bodies.
The book is actually the first of a trilogy, called His Dark Materials. And while The Subtle Knife isn’t quite so transportive and The Amber Spyglass goes a little off the rails, this world – these worlds – that Pullman creates are so imaginative and unique that they remain some of my favourite books of all time. Northern Lights didn’t just suck me in – it swallowed me whole.
Editor’s note: (For our US readers) in case you don’t know, Northern Lights is published as The Golden Compass in the US.
While the Harry Potter novels by Rowling were some of the first fantasy novels I ever read, they weren’t the first to seriously make me think and keep coming back to the themes and issues raised in them. That honour goes to Robin Hobb (which is one of the pen names of Margaret Astrid Lindholm Ogden) and her Farseer Trilogy, the first book of which, Assassin’s Apprentice, is one of the novels that helped get me through my GCSEs.
Assassin’s Apprentice introduces us to Fitz, a royal bastard whose father is the King-in-Waiting to the throne of the Six Duchies. The acknowledgement of his existence leads to his father stepping away from the line of succession and Fitz becomes a divisive figure at court. In this first novel, Hobb explores how Fitz handles being thrust into the limelight and the loneliness it brings him along with the opportunities that it provides.
It’s one of those epic fantasy novels that doesn’t need to go into too much depth about its surroundings to make you feel like you’re really there, instead Hobb focuses on the people that inhabit this world of hers and the impact of their relationships on it and each other. Underpinning this all are two types of magic, the Skill and the Wit – the first seen as a power of nobility and a refined thing, the other a curse of folk who wish to live like beasts. And while the magical elements are important, they’re not thrust in your face all the time, they compliment the story, as Fitz struggles with handling both.
Certainly, it’s a series about acceptance and finding your place in the world, which makes it a great series for teenagers (if you don’t mind them reading about sex) and adults a like. The challenges faced by Fitz are both familiar and fantastical at the same time.