We were not able to discuss the most recent “best-fantasy”-lists over a cup of tea, due to social distancing, but did discuss the concept and agree that we don’t like lists of “best whatever”. We do like lists in general, though. So instead of a “best fantasy books of all-time/2020/whatever”, we offer you a long list of fantasy books or series that touched us, shaped us, or were just damn awesome. And because a simple “Title – Author” list is not enough, we share some thoughts with you WHY we think those books are worth reading.
We know that a lot of you are of a similar mind and don’t care for lists where the first 10 entries are LotR, ASOIAF and Harry Potter. So we decided our list should be ordered by the number of ratings on Goodreads, going up. The least known books (at least in the GR bubble) are first, so give them a try. Just in time for Christmas, wish for them, gift them, or just buy yourself a copy, because you deserve some new books!
The Boy Called Christmas by Matt Haig
TheRightHonorableHarpyEagle: This is the first book in Haig’s Christmas series. Yes, this book is for children, but it will warm your heart, too. It’s an inventive tale about how Father Christmas came to be Father Christmas and how the whole North Pole and Christmas Elves story started. The book is great, the audiobook, read by Stephen Fry, is even better.
Castle in the Stars (GN) by Alex Alice
TheRightHonourableHarpyEagle: In an alternate past, in 1869, the race for space is under full force. In this series of steampunk Graphic Novels Aether is the mystical substance that makes spaceships fly. First to space, then the moon, and even Mars is a possible destination. The mix of aquarell paintings and comic style is very appealing and is what makes this story epic to me.
Seven Kennings by Kevin Hearne
TheLadyDuckOfDoom: Multiple stories woven into one main storyline. The exceptional thing is that there are actual normal persons in these stories! Like, a mother. Or a merchants daughter. People, not an overly powerful farm boy turned chosen one or something.
Once & Future Witches by Alix E. Harrow
Hell’s Library by A.J. Hackwith
TheRightHonorableHarpyEagle: The world-building is fabulous. Just the idea of a library in Hell, where all the unwritten books stay, need to be repaired over time, become restless, their characters becoming corporeal and wandering the aisles of shelves. Perfect. Add the different realms, based on different religions/pantheons.
Full review here.
The Green Bone Saga by Fonda Lee
TheMarquessMagpie: It reads like The Godfather in an Asian inspired fantasy setting. It’s badass, magical and full of political intrigue. What else do you need?
TheLadyDuckOfDoom: What the Marquess said. This was in one of the very first book-subscriptions I had a while back, and it did not disappoint. It is really unique.
Irin Chronicles by Elizabeth Hunter
TheRightHonorableHarpyEagle: This UF series probably falls into the category of paranormal romance. I liked it based on the world-building. There is a war between the fallen angels. Some want to destroy God’s creation, others want to protect it at all cost. Ava has been hearing voices in her head as long as she can remember, they speak in unknown to her languages, but enable her to see people’s intentions. Malachi is an Irin Scribe, one of the fallen angels who want to protect humanity by using magic inscribed to their skin. He has to protect Ava from the Grigory, the other faction of fallen angels. Through their budding relationship Ava finds some answers to her lifelong questions. More questions are answered in the other books of the trilogy.
Beasts of Extraordinary Circumstances by Ruth Emmie Lang
TheRightHonourableHarpyEagle: This story is about the orphaned boy Weylyn Grey, who is special in a very special way. It’s about his live with a pack of wolves, with Mary, with a horned pig named Merlin, and all the people whose lives Weylyn touched and changed. The epistolary style of this book helped tell the story from the POV of the people who met Weylyn. Every narrator added their unique voice to the story that is Weylyn’s life.
Felix Castor Series by Mike Carey
TheRightHonorableHarpyEagle: Another UF series set in London. Felix Castor is an exorcist. He’s friends to a zombie and a succubus. And his tool of trade is a tin whistle. He takes on a seemingly easy job at a museum, and finds himself the target of a manhunt.
Piranesi by Susanne Clarke
This was one of our magical Buddyreads, which all of us enjoyed very much. Read our full review here.
S./ Ship of Theseus by Doug Dorst and J.J. Abrams
TheMarquessMagpie: This is not just a book, it is a multilayered masterpiece. Ship of Theseus is actually the book-within-the-book and it is read and analyzed by two university students sharing their thoughts in the margins. Like, actually in the margins. And on postcards, napkins and other little tidbits scattered as physical objects throughout the book. It is a very unique experience. If you want to dive deeper, there are even some unsolved mysteries in the book that you could solve yourself.
The Founders Series by Robert Jackson Bennet
TheLadyDuckOfDoom: Heists, A fantastic magic system and a sentient object combined by with superb storytelling. Need I say more? Maybe not, but theses books are so damn good, I’ll just write some more words so it has more space on the page.
The Great Library Series by Rachel Caine
TheRightHonorableHarpyEagle: A world in which printed books are so rare they are smuggled and sold on the black market. The son of England’s most infamous book smuggler doesn’t want to join the family business, instead he wants to join the Great Library of Alexandria. The Library that didn’t burn down. The Library that holds all the knowledge of the world and by that controls it. A YA series made up of a mix of dystopian SFF, alternate history and UF.
The Band Series by Nicholas Eames
TheMarquessMagpie: Such a fun romp! It’s like you are reading a book about the wildest roleplaying campaign you and the whackiest of your friends can imagine.
TheLadyDuckOfDoom: Let’s reunite an old, famous rock band — uhm, band of mercenaries in a fantasy world. Send them on a mission even though their best years are long past. It was wild, funny, and plays with fantasy roleplaying clichés. So let’s get the Band back together!
Watchmaker of Filigree Street series by Natasha Pulley
TheRightHonourableHarpyEagle: The Watchmaker of Filigree Street is set in Victorian England and Japan of the late 19th century. This story has vibes of Sherlock Holmes without being a detective story. Young telegraph clerk Thaniel Steepleton has synesthesia. When the pocket watch that he found in his rooms six months ago saves his life, he goes in search of the watchmaker. He finds Keita Mori, a lonely immigrant from Japan with a Lincolnshire accent. Mori is a clairvoyant, which explains the time travel aspects of some parts of the story. Add the sceptic physicist Grace Carrow, who unwittingly interferes in some of Mori and Thaniel’s attempts at changing future events.
The Watchmaker of Filigree Street was followed by The Bedlam Stacks, a book set in a time before the Watchmaker and loosely connected to it, we see a young Keita Mori. Book three of the series is The Lost Future of Pepperharrow, which is about Mori and Thaniel’s adventures in Japan, set a few years after the Watchmaker takes place. The fourth book in the series The Kingdoms will be out in May 2021.
TheLadyDuckOfDoom: I had some trouble with the ending of this book, but otherwise a good read. I really liked the last instalment of this series, The Lost Future of Pepperharrow, much better.
Divine Cities Series by Robert Jackson Bennet
TheMarquessMagpie: No need to look further, if you are in need of stellar world building and captivating characters. This series focuses on a different main character and takes place in a unique city with every book. Really just cleverly done, I need to read more books written by him.
TheLadyDuckOfDoom: TheMarquessMagpie and I read the books in another buddyread, and they are just incredibly done. It catches you with the unique worldbuilding, but captivates with the characters.
Clockwork Century by Cherie Priest
TheLadyDuckOfDoom: There are not many novels out there who focus on a mother and her child – diving in a unique steampunk world deep into their relationship.
The Library at Mount Char by Scott Hawkins
TheMarquessMagpie: This book is so messed up. But, you know, in the good way. At least if you like dark, twisty and bloody madness.
TheLadyDuckOfDoom: This was a mad ride I was not ready for when I read it. I think it was a Buddyread on the Litsy social network. Looking back, I certainly enjoyed it, but at first, I had serious doubts.
The Powder Mage Trilogy by Brian McClellan
TheMarquessMagpie: The Powder Mage books have a really unique magic system based on – you may have guessed it – gunpowder. Which comes in really handy if you overthrow a king and face a war, while gods start walking the earth.
TheLadyDuckOfDoom: Gunpowder fantasy is a rare genre, but this one works and I could not put it down when I started it. There are so many things happening! I still have to read the last book of the Trilogy, though.
Wayward Children by Seanan McGuire
TheMarquessMagpie: Ever felt like you where in the wrong place? Well, who hasn’t? And what if there was a door to a place that is just right for you? Who wouldn’t gladly walk through it? These books are about what happens to those who where found by their doors and entered them, and what happens after they leave again. Heartwarming every time.
TheLadyDuckOfDoom: These novellas are heartbreaking, heartwarming, and a joy to read.
Rivers of London Series by Ben Aaronovitch
TheRightHonorableHarpyEagle: Did you know that the Metropolitan Police London has a special branch? Magician police officers? Well, Peter Grant didn’t know either, until one day he becomes the new head magician’s apprentice. And it’s nothing like Harry Potter.
TheMarquessMagpie: These books are just so much fun. I don’t often read urban fantasy, but enjoyed this series immensely. There’s some catching up to do on the latest titles.
TheLadyDuckOfDoom: I have a panicking fear of drugs, and the books feature a heroin addicted family member – I can’t. I’d have to throw up if I tried, so I only read book 1. That one wasn’t bad, though.
Parasol Protectorate by Gail Carriger
TheLadyDuckOfDoom: Steampunk Urban Fantasy Romance with lots of banter. The banter is fantastic, and the characters are actually adults. If you want a little bit of fantasy romance, read this.
TheMarquessMapie: I’m slowly making my way through the series, and they are fun to pick up from time to time even if you are not much of a romance reader.
Dragonlance Chronicles by Tracy Hickman and Margaret Weis
TheRightHonorableHarpyEagle: The Dragonlance Chronicles were my first conscious dip into the fantasy genre. I loved the stories and I might secretly compare every fantasy novel I read to those stories. The Dragonlance is based on Dungeons&Dragons and due to that was also my first intro into RPGs. It’s still worth a read, trust me.
The Hollows by Kim Harrison
TheLadyDuckOfDoom: When I was 12, everyone at school was reading Twilight. So I read it, my mum read it, we didn’t like it, but mum got into urban fantasy. She discovered this and it soon found the way into my hands. Funny, full of action, friendship and just a tiny bit of sex. In my opinion, a lot less than the cover indicates.
Bartimaeus Trilogy by Jonathan Stroud
TheRightHonorableHarpyEagle: Bartimaeus is the most sarcastic demon sidekick I’ve ever met; or was Nathanael the sidekick to Bartimaeus? I really enjoyed the trilogy and have successfully infected my son with the sarcasm bug.
TheMarquessMagpie: One of my childhood favourites. It taught me that fantasy can be enjoyably funny and that a good sidekick might just make a story at least 75% better.
TheLadyDuckOfDoom: Bartimaeus will always be my childhood hero and one of the books I read countless times. I usually manage to read a book for a second time only after 10 years, when my memory has holes as large enough that I forgot most of the story.
Nicholas Flamel Series by Michael Scott
TheRightHonorableHarpyEagle: You might remember Nicholas Flamel, the famous alchemist who managed to make the Philosopher’s Stone, mentioned in the first Harry Potter book.Well, although this is an Urban Fantasy story about Flamel, it is much more a YA fantasy story about twins helping Flamel, finding their fate, saving the world in between. You know, the usual stuff and then somehow reinvented in an interesting way. An excellent start to a series that includes a lot of historical figures, e.g. Joan of Arc, Billy the Kid, Machiavelli.
Broken Earth Trilogy by N.K. Jemisin
TheRightHonorableHarpyEagle: The trilogy was recommended to me by my lovely co-Sceptres, TheMarquessMagpie and TheLadyDuckOfDoom. The world-building is excellent. And although I see the brilliance in the series, I wasn’t entirely sold on it. See my review.
TheMarquessMagpie: The whole trilogy is extremely impressive. I tried recommending it to friends often enough, but always just ended up squealing “it is just SO CLEVER AND BRILLIANT”. That’s really all I can say. Go read it.
TheLadyDuckOfDoom: There is a reason N. K. Jemisin has won so many awards for this trilogy, and the reason is the sheer imagination, depth and brilliantness that these books have.
Shades of Magic Series by V.E. Schwab
TheRightHonorableHarpyEagle: This series -and let it be noted that I pre-ordered the first book, but I don’t remember where I heard about it- I’ve read several times already; recommended it to friends; introduced my kids to. Different versions of my favourite city? A coat with more than two sides and lots of secret pockets – inspired by the Marquis de Carabas’s coat from Gaiman’s Neverwhere? Dark/blood magic? A strong female character who’s no damsel-in-distress? I was sold! The only thing that is still missing from my shelves is the collector’s edition. ETA: Nope, not even the Collector’s Edition is missing now.
TheMarquessMagpie: Yes to more than one magical London, yes to complex characters, yes to a badass female lead character. I reread this series during the madness that is the year 2020, and it was extremely comforting.
TheLadyDuckOfDoom: I really liked the books, but perhaps not as much as the two birds above. BUT I absolutely recommend them, I have gifted them multiple times, and now that I am thinking about it – its definitely time for a reread!
Realm of the Elderlings by Robin Hobb
TheMarquessMagpie: There are so many animals you tie your heart to, that I would almost consider it emotional manipulation. Just kidding. Robin Hobb has a really detailed style of writing, and if that’s your jam you are rewarded with an epic and mostly character-driven delight of fantasy books.
TheLadyDuckOfDoom: I had so much emotion reading this series. There is so much character development and I grew so attached to the characters I am afraid of reading the last trilogy. Also, YA writers should maybe study this series as a good example
Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller
TheMarquessMagpie: We all know the story of Achilles, but this book adds so much to it. It grabs your heart and doesn’t let go. You will enjoy the well-known parts of the story, but Miller’s new take on it is what you will love. Her second book Circe is equally great.
TheLadyDuckOfDoom: I learned Latin and ancient Greek at school (and I liked it). We even read parts of the Odyssey in the original language. So, knowing a lot of the stories of the classical world, and it just doubled the fun I had when I read Song of Achilles.
The Dresden Files by Jim Butcher
TheLadyDuckOfDoom: Harry Dresden has bad luck and is covered up to his nose in shit. For 17 books now. If you need fast paced action you devour within a day and have no problem with a main character who’s brain stops when he sees a women (I don’t mind. He sometimes is just an idiot), look no further.
Daughter of Smoke and Bone Trilogy by Laini Taylor
TheRightHonorableHarpyEagle: If there is the word “bone” in the title, I am nearly always sold. The blurb was talking about angels and demons, a girl trading teeth, walking through doors into different realms. Add the UK cover (a door, a handprint), the story being set (partly) in Prague, the heroine having an artistic streak and wearing blue hair. Yes, it’s also a romance, but it’s done well.
The Discworld Series by Terry Pratchett
TheRightHonorableHarpyEagle: All of Discworld, but Wyrd Sisters was my first Pratchett – read MacBeth parallel to it in school and kept remembering the funnier version all the time.
TheMarquessMagpie: Reading Discworld novels always calms me down. I started reading them in order of publishing, and while I basically love all of them, the City Watch books may be my favourites.
TheLadyDuckOfDoom: Whenever I start my “just read the Discworld novels” monologue, which will be often considering the BCC Watch Trailer, I say start with Mort. I don’t know why, though. Might just be my inner goth… Who am I kidding, I wear black all day, everyday.
Six of Crows Duology by Leigh Bardugo
TheRightHonorableHarpyEagle: A crew of outcasts. An impossible heist. A revenge plan that has been in the making for years. A fantasy world that is fleshed out nicely. Heroes to root for. Chapters that end in cliffhangers. Multiple POV narration. Only pet peeve: I still have trouble imagining them as teenagers, they feel 10 years older to me.
TheMarquessMagpie: I think TheRightHonorableHarpyEagle covered everything. Fast-paced fun with teenagers that seem a little too clever and experienced for their age, but you will enjoy their story so much that it doesn’t really matter.
TheLadyDuckOfDoom: I love heist stories, and this is no exception. Bardugo’s Grisha Universe really begins to shine here. I was not a fan of the first trilogy, but Six of Crows is much better.
Cosmere Universe by Brandon Sanderson
TheLadyDuckOfDoom: I am a huge Sanderson fan – I love his worldbuilding and his twists of normal fantasy tropes. Mistborn starts many years after the world turned dark because one of the bad guys won. The magic system uses metal in a unique way.
Sandersons Cosmere Universe spans multiple book series, but Mistborn is a fantastic way to start. There are some hints at the bigger picture, but it does not hinder you from enjoying this particular story.
TheRightHonorableHarpyEagle: Imagine yourself falling through the cracks of the big city and landing in a London Below that is familiar, and yet so much different. I recommend the BBC Audioplay with James McAvoy in the leading role.
TheMarquessMagpie: After reading this, who does not long to wander the Floating Market of London Below? It is extremely hard to pick a favourite Gaiman book, but I think in the end this one would win.
TheLadyDuckOfDoom: I was late to the Gaiman-club. Really late. I think my first book was American Gods, which I read about 5 years ago. I have since read a lot more of Gaiman’s books, and I recommend them to everyone who seeks magical, sometimes twisted tales.
Good Omens by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman
TheRightHonorableHarpyEagle: We have Gaiman’s and Pratchett’s geniuses combined here; just like the two MCs, an angel and a demon working together to protect humanity from the Apocalypse, which will take place Saturday next. Add a whole cast of quirky secondary characters,… What are you waiting for?
TheMarquessMagpie: Read it, read it, read it. How could you say no to this cooperation?
TheLadyDuckOfDoom: We have Neil Gaiman, we have Terry Pratchett, and we will still recommend you Good Omens separately. That’s how good it is. If you haven’t, go read it. If you have, is it not time for a re-read?
The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss
TheRightHonorableHarpyEagle: To write something about this book is not easy, it’s just so good. There are so many layers to this story, it will keep you captivated from start to finish. And at the end of book two, you’ll be begging for book three just like everyone else.
TheMarquessMagpie: There is just so much I like about it, I don’t even know where to start. What always impressend me the most, is that Rothfuss keeps you captivated throughout these doorstoppers without needing a lot of action. If someone can make you care for student debts that easily, it says something about the great writing style.
TheLadyDuckOfDoom: It has been some years since I read this, but the Name of the Wind has such beautiful prose. Just give Mr. Rothfuss a break, book 3 will take as long as it needs.