It is no secret that I am a bibliophile.
I have loved becoming consumed by stories since I first learned to read, and while I love a variety of genres, the fantasy and sci-fi genre holds a special place in my heart. Fantasy novels capture my attention in ways that no other genre has ever managed. When I tell people that I love reading fantasy, their immediate reaction is something like, “Oh so you like Harry Potter and the Lord of the Rings?” While I certainly do adore both Harry Potter and the Lord of the Rings, the fantasy genre is diverse and complex and far more vast than I think a lot of readers realize. One of my favorite aspects of fantasy is the genre’s ability to grapple with real, complex, human issues in new and interesting ways. Here is a list of four fantasy/sci-fi novels or series that I think embody the complexity and breadth of the genre….
1. The Kingkiller Chronicle by Patrick Rothfuss
This trilogy is one of my favorite series of all time. It consists of The Name of the Wind, The Wise Man’s Fear, and the unpublished third novel. These books not only have some of the most gorgeous and poetic prose I have ever seen in this genre, but also a cast of fascinating characters including an incredibly unreliable narrator. The series follows the main character, Kvothe as he tells the story of his life and how he became a legend. In addition to incredible worldbuilding and an epic magic system, this series addresses important questions of tolerance, power, and racism. The Kingkiller Chronicle is genuinely one of the most gripping and heart wrenching fantasy series I have ever read.
2. The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern
I often find that reading a fantasy book means reading an entire series of books. Indeed, almost all of the books on this list are actually series. However, standalone fantasy novels do exist. The Night Circus is one of the best, I think. This is a wonderful standalone fantasy novel about a mysterious circus that appears only at night, and the secret magical competition that occurs behind the scenes. It is one of the most addicting stories I have read in years, with moments of intense action coupled with a beautiful love story. It is a great read, and does not require the commitment of reading a whole series.
3. Any Brandon Sanderson Book
I realize that this is a broad and vague item in this list. I apologize, but I simply could not decide on a single one of Sanderson’s series to recommend. Sanderson himself actually provides a guide for where to begin reading his published works on his website. Brandon Sanderson is one of the most prolific writers I have ever read, and builds incredibly complex worlds with diverse and unique characters. Each series has its own unique magic system and many of the book series are connected into what will eventually be an overarching story. Reading Sanderson’s books are definitely a commitment, but if you enjoy incredible worldbuilding, and strong and diverse characters these are the books for you.
4. The Broken Earth Trilogy by N.K. Jemisin
I read the first two books in this trilogy over winter break and was completely blown away. The first, The Fifth Season won the 2016 Hugo Award. This series not only has the most unique magic system I have ever encountered, but it also addresses issues of oppression and racism more explicitly than any other fantasy novel I have ever read in my life. The characters are independent, complex, and incredibly diverse. Simply put, The Broken Earth Trilogy is one of the most unique, inspiring and challenging fantasy stories I have ever read. I cannot wait to read the final book when it is published.
It is my hope that this article has encouraged you to approach the fantasy genre with an open mind and to truly appreciate its depth and complexity. These four stories are only the beginning. There are so many more wonderful fantasy stories that are just as complex and compelling as other adult fiction novels. I hope you go read them.
I hope the next book you read moves you as these stories have moved me, and is as magical and inspiring as the magic that can be found within these pages.