1. The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern
Nobody knows when it will arrive, or where. Le Cirque des Rêves moves around the world, arriving in new cities without warning, where the mysterious and magical circus awes locals with its seemingly impossible shows and exhibits.
But behind the black and white tents of this amazing circus, a decades-long competition between two young magicians is underway, imbuing the circus with its magic. The magicians are little more than pawns in the game of their mentors who have been training them for this competition their whole lives– a competition where only one magician can be left standing. Cecilia and Marco don’t know the rules to the game, and they don’t know each other, but when the two meet and fall in love they start a chain of events that will change the circus forever and will affect everyone who is touched by the magic of Le Cirque des Rêves.
This is a really beautiful fantasy novel that is focused on the use of magic as more of a performative act than as a weapon or tool (as it is often presented in fantasy novels).
“I prefer to remain unenlightened, to better appreciate the dark.”
2. Alif the Unseen by G. Willow Wilson
Alif is the handle of a young Arab-Indian hacker living in an unspecified military state in the Middle East who uses his prodigious coding skills to protect his clients from state surveillance and tries his best to stay out of trouble himself. But when the young aristocratic woman Alif loves gets engaged to the “Hand of God” — a nickname for the head of state security– his computer is breached and the Hand and his henchmen come after Alif and his friends. While underground, Alif discovers The Thousand and One Days, an ancient book of magic belonging to the jinn. Alif believes that this book may hold the secrets to a new era of coding and technological advancement. Unfortunately, the Hand does too, and he is more determined than ever to find Alif and take the book for himself. Still in hiding and with the Hand hot on his trail, Alif will have to enlist the help of his friends– both human and jinn– to keep this book of immense power out of the hands of the Hand.
I love books that find a new take or perspective on a popular genre– in this case, fantasy drawing from Islamic and Middle Eastern beliefs and mythos. The mixing of magic and technology is handled with mastery, and it is clear that Wilson has a deep understanding of the many rich subjects she draws on: religion, spirituality, philosophy, technology. With its unique perspective and the action-packed, thought-provoking story, Alif the Unseen is truly a must read for all fantasy lovers.
“Languages are different for a reason. You can’t move ideas between them without losing something.”
3. Carry On by Rainbow Rowell
Simon Snow is not your average Chosen One. He has almost no control over his immense magical powers, and is more like to do some serious damage than help matters when he uses them. And as if being a Chosen One who should probably never have been chosen wasn’t bad enough already, his mentor is avoiding him, his girlfriend just broke up with him, and the Insidious Humdrum– the evil magic-eating monster tormenting the magical community– is up to his usual tricks. Simon can barely focus on any of that though, because his roommate and arch-nemesis Baz Pitch is missing and probably up to no good.
This is such a fun fantasy book. It is definitely written for a post-Potter world, but it is entirely accessible to Potterheads and non-Potterheads alike. And make no mistake, this is not Potter fanfiction or some half-baked knockoff. No, this is entirely its own book that explores a new and very interesting magical system (built on the power of words, no less!) and provides a fresh-take on the Chosen One trope. Interestingly, this book starts in Simon Snow’s final year at Watford School of Magicks. To draw an analogy, it would be like dropping into Harry Potter starting with the seventh book– it is clear that a lot of major events have already taken place in Simon’s life, but we are starting toward the end of the story. Rowell makes it work perfectly, though, by giving you just enough detail about the past without taking away from the story at present. I enjoyed this book a lot and would definitely recommend it to anyone who enjoys fantasy and/or YA.
“It’s the good things that hurt when you’re missing them.”
4. Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman
Richard Mayhew is living an entirely ordinary life in London– until he saves the life of a young woman bleeding on the street and he is suddenly thrust into a world of magic and monsters beneath the city streets. London Below is a dangerous place full of forgotten places and people. With the help of Door, the young woman he saves who is searching for answers about the murder of her family; the Marquis de Carabas, a trickster with dubious intentions; and Hunter, a bodyguard who hunts the biggest game imaginable, Richard must learn to survive in this city of shadows if he hopes to ever return to the London that he calls home.
This is a dark, comedic fantasy in the vein that we have come to expect for Gaiman. It is a story with a rich-mythology and a cast of wonderfully creepy characters.
“I already killed you once today, what does it take to teach some people?”
5. The Princess Bride by William Goldman
Never read The Princess Bride? Inconceivable! This fantasy classic (which many of you may recognize from the movie based on it) is a hilarious, action-packed adventure that you will absolutely love– even if there is some kissing.
When Buttercup falls in love with farm boy Westley they expect to spend the rest of their lives together. But Westley is killed on a trip to America, and although Buttercup knows in her heart she will never love another man again, she is forced to marry the Prince– not the one-true-love kind of prince you read about in fairy tales but a truly terrible man who would murder you as soon as look at you. Buttercup thinks her fate is sealed, but when she is kidnapped it begins a chain of events that may actually save her from her terrible fate– assuming she can survive them.
“When I was your age, television was called books.”