Of all the genres I love to read, fantasy is my favorite in which to get lost. When it comes to a great fantasy novel, I could spend the entire day reading and not even have noticed that the day is gone. The fantasy genre captivates me more than others because I love the idea that there are entire worlds running parallel or even entwined with our human world, or the books catapult you to a distant time and place. I get very attached to characters, so I like to read series more often than stand-alone fiction. I get so attached that, quite often, it’s as though I can fall in love, have my heart broken, weep for loss and rejoice for victories right along with them.
Now we all know and — most of us — love the most popular fantasy series out there. The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter, The Twilight Saga and The Hunger Games franchise are all top of the heap for many reasons — but there are many unsung, yet still successful, series that I think you’ll enjoy that will expand your horizons from the conventional popular fantasy of today.
Five fantasy series you have to read to believe
- The All Souls Trilogy by Deborah Harkness. “It starts with a discovery of witches.” I personally haven’t even finished this trilogy yet, but A Discovery of Witches (book one of the series) has just about all of my favorite elements. The romantic relationship between Matthew, a vampire, and Diane, a witch, is more matured than the ones from other more popular franchises of supernatural romances. Diane is far from your stock character of a witch, and she is a deeply sensitive and intellectual person. Top that off with castles, orders of knights, magical manuscripts, ancient spells, romance and danger, mystery and secrets and modern science colliding with the supernatural. While the series starts in our own time with the subculture of the creatures coexisting with us humans, it also has the element of taking the reader back in time when Diane and Matthew “time walk.” This series has it all.
- The October Daye series by Seanan McGuire. This is another series that I have just begun, but when I have my hands on one of the books, I can barely put it down! There are emotional twists and high-octane danger around every corner, and it is a classic play on life or death choices based on loyalty, duty and greater good. McGuire takes creativity to a whole new level with the world of Faerie existing right under our human noses both among us and parallel to us — in iconic San Francisco no less. October, Toby for short, is a heroine I can get behind. Her wry narrative and cool style is relatable and makes the whole fantasy that much more believable. She is jaded and scarred, and still deeply sensitive at heart, showing it’s not all pixie dust and rainbows just because you have magical powers. After reading the books in this series, you may fleetingly wonder if any of your neighbors have pointy ears to hide.
- House of Night series by P.C. Cast and Kristin Cast. Although it can be said that the success of this series is due in large part to overwhelming popularity of vampire romance in pop culture in recent years, and although it is geared towards teens and young adults, I really was entertained. Again, I love the idea of an entire subculture living amongst us. Something I found unique to this series was the combination of the romanticized vampires with well-researched occult lore, even including Native American legend. One unique idea the Cast girls included was the lacy, intricate “tattoos” that would decal the skin of the magic-casting vampires as a mark of their power. It’s an easy to read series that will still keep you guessing what could possibly happen next.
- The Inheritance Cycle by Christopher Paolini. Not to be confused with the Inheritance Trilogy (which I haven’t read yet, but plan to), this is an epic tale of dragon riders and elven magic. If you like Lord of the Rings, this is one series you definitely don’t want to miss! It is fully enrapturing, taking you back to a time long ago and far away infinitely more magical — before modern innovation created distance between us and our fairy tales. It’s packed with adventurous quests, castles, dungeons, powerful spells, epic battles and, of course, the grand dragons and their riders. One thing that I really love about Paolini’s characters is how he brings out the complexity of their emotions better than some. A “damsel in distress” isn’t just a mere damsel in distress in this series, and I think you’ll agree he has a very detailed development of each character.
- The Dark Angel series by Keri Arthur. This is another series I have only just begun, recommended to me by a very reliable fantasy buff, who happens to be one of my best friends. Arthur’s creatures are incredibly creative and they have their own genealogies that are complex and wild. This series is best for the fantasy fan who is tired of the downplay of adult themes in many popular series and is ready for a mature one. There are plenty of sexy and alluring elements that are more subtle or absent in similarly themed fantasy novels, but never anything that comes off as trashy fanfiction. Yet again, this series has supernaturals living right among us humans, thriving in the modern age and nevertheless keeping close to their ancient origins. For me, the way Arthur brings this world to life is reminiscent of Constantine. There is good versus evil, personal sacrifice in the name of justice for the innocent and supernatural beings that usher and watch over the souls of those that have passed away. It’s easy to get good and wrapped up in this series, and I appreciate the fact that Arthur makes her character, Risa, so relatable as a woman.
There’s a series for everyone
It can be so liberating to get lost in a good book. With the weather getting colder, it’s the perfect time to curl up and find one you enjoy! Whether you’re into stories about heroes and dragons, fairies and magic from nature, or witchcraft or vampires and other creatures that go bump in the night, there are so many underrated series out there to explore. Just when you think you know everything to know about your classic fantasy themes and stock characters, a new take comes along that can take you on a whole new ride, and it will give you that first-time feeling of when you stepped into a fantasy land.
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