Sunday, March 15, 2015

spotlight on: fantasy


There is something that I've been wanting to bring to These Stardust Words for quite some time, and that is a spotlight series. every month, I want to take a different facet of the bookish lifestyle and highlight it. Be it genre, covers, shipping, writing styles, etc, every month there will be a different theme under our spotlight! 

For March, I want to spotlight a genre, and specifically fantasy. Usually I can manage one or two fantasy books a month before I feel myself slumping and have to go for a more contemporary feeling, but lately I have been tearing through some truly amazing fantasy, one after the other. 

Though I know fantasy is an acquired taste for some, I truly believe that there is a fantasy book or series out there for everyone. So in an attempt to lead those who are less fantastically-inclined in their reading choices to some magical worlds, I've included middle grade, young adult and adult selections. In the adult section, there are some picks for perhaps the more adventurous souls. 

Middle-Grade Fantasy 

I know it seems like a bit of a no-brainer to have Harry Potter on a list of fantasy recommendations, but I felt so strange leaving him off that I just wanted to put this series out there first. If you haven't read Harry Potter yet, I need you to close out of this blog post and go directly to book one. They're amazingly fun and thrilling, for all ages. 
Another immensely popular series, this is one that I've been reading almost as long as Harry Potter. It involves mythology and is probably one of the funniest series I have ever read. It is also very character driven, which I think is a feat, that Riordan has created such three-dimensional characters in the context of middle grade.

I remember my fourth-grade teacher reading The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe aloud to us, and from then on I was absolutely in love with Narnia and all it had to offer. These books are pure magic, and they often feature regular children escaping from their normal lives to become something extraordinary, which, as a child, was the greatest thing in the world to me. 

This always has been, and remains to this day, one of my favorite books in existence. It has all the qualities I look for in a fantasy novel, and really any novel: a princess, princes in disguise, magic, and communication with various animals. It is a beautiful story about a girl who finds herself when she loses everything, and involves talking to birds. 

5. Inkworld – Cornelia Funke 
When I first read this series in middle school, they were the first books that me and my friends all got together and fangirled over. We loved Meggie and Mo, Farid and Dustfinger and the magical world that they come from and go to. Being able to read myself into a story would be the ultimate dream superpower, and that is just what happens in this series.

6. Ella Enchanted – Gail Carson Levine
This was required reading for me in grade school, and I have since read pretty much everything by Gail Carson Levine. Ella Enchanted was the one that started it all though, and it is your pretty typical fantasy world, one of kings and queen, fairies and magic spells. But it is about so much more than that, and it's really short, so it would be a perfect quick read for anyone.
7. Bridge to Terabithia – Katherine Paterson 
To this day, one of the most emotional reads I've ever had. I got so pulled into the magical world of Terabithia, I was so sad when I had to leave it. These are some of the most beloved characters in the canon of children's literature, and the world that they create is truly remarkable. This is also quite a short book, but a wonderful read.

8. The Land of Stories – Chris Colfer
To be perfectly honest, the way I found out about these books were through some very smart 11 year olds. I was babysitting and talking about books with these two little girls, and they asked me if I had ever heard of the Land of Stories. I promptly devoured all three books in the space of two days, and I eagerly await the release of book four. These books involve a world, much like the TV show Once Upon a Time, where all fairytales coexist, and they are so magically and cleverly wrought, I could read them again and again.
9. Inheritance Cycle – Christopher Paolini
I simply adore Eragon and Eldest. Brisingr and Inheritence I could honestly take or leave, and often I do forget that Inheritence exists, but the first two books in this series are especially brilliant pieces of work. Especially considering Christopher Paolini was only 15 when he wrote Eragon. I love everything having to do with dragons, and these books were the things that got me started on that obsession.

10. The School for Good and Evil  – Soman Chainani
This is one of the most interesting fantasy worlds that I've read. The story is much darker than the synopsis makes it out to be, which is why I'm so excited for the third book to be released this summer. Basically, this world is split in two- good and evil. The children each go to their respective schools to learn how to be good or evil. But what happens when the schools make a mistake?
Young-Adult (specifically High) Fantasy

One of my current favorites, this series is so kickass, I don't even know if I have the words to describe it. The protagonist was featured as my number one badass book heroine in this post, and she truly is one-of-a-kind amazing. These books take place in a dangerous high fantasy world where assassins, evil kings and secrets rule. It's so completely brilliant, I recommend it to everyone. 

In this high fantasy world, children who are born with two different colored eyes are graced with different powers. For the protagonist, her grace just so happens to be killing people. People want to posses her, use her, point her as a weapon, but what she wants is to help her people. Two companion novels follow in the same world.

Though the first installment of this trilogy mostly takes place in present-day Prague, the next two books highly involve a fantasy world called Eretz. These books take a little bit of time to get into, but the stories are so rich and the plot twists and unforeseen. I love this trilogy so much, so its definitely worth the struggle that the first half of book one requires. 

A harsh world torn apart by an insidious darkness, people with magical abilities, and orphans. Sounds like the perfect formula for a fantasy if you ask me. Parts of these books were inspired by Russian Mythology as well, as you can see from the covers. I love mythology, and even though this is a totally separate world, and the myths are so subtly introduced, I loved them. These books are, in a word, epic. 

I honestly did not expect much from these little books, but man I actually really loved them. Twin sisters, princess, separated from birth, one ignorant of her true identity. An opal mask and political subterfuge. Also, cute boys. Though these books may not be as intense as your average fantasy, they are so enjoyable, and perfect for people who want to make the leap into fantasy but are intimidated and don't know where to start. 

I've actually just finished this one, as it is a relatively new release, and I've been telling everyone I know about it. It's a Game of Thrones meets Hunger Games meets X-Men thrill ride that kept me holding my breath until the last page. It is so action-packed, so nerve-wracking, and also manages to be beautifully written as well.

I love a good fairy tale retelling, and this is one of my favorites. I love the story of the twelve dancing princesses, and Heather Dixon makes it fresh and infinitely more interesting in her imaginative retelling. She expanded it without having it feel contrived or boring, and she inserted new characters that are easy to root for. 

I like this world because it doesn't feel like your run-of-the-mill High Fantasy world. It still has kings and queens and all the elements of one, but it takes place in the jungle and the people are racially diverse and Sara B Larson does not shy away from tough subjects, like forced prostitution and conscription. I love the world in this trilogy, and the stories are not very long, but for what they lack in length they make up for in excitement. 

9. Cruel Beauty – Rosamund Hodge
This is another fairy tale retelling, but utterly different from Entwined. This book combines a high-fantasy setting with elements of ancient Roman culture, as well as retelling the story of Beauty and the Beast. The world and story are both so interesting, complex, and utterly different from anything that I have read before. 

One of the few Asian-inspired books that I've read or even seen, The Dragon King Chronicles are another trilogy made up of short, exciting books. The protagonist is the only woman in the king's army, and she is a demon slayer and the young prince's personal bodyguard. Everything that happens from there is just icing on the cake. 

☆☆ apparently being a YA fantasy author guarantees you a beautiful cover ☆☆

Adult Fantasy

1. A Song of Ice and Fire – George R.R. Martin
This very well known series is the inspiration for the wildly popular Game of Thrones TV show, taking its name from the first book. There are five books so far in this series, with at least two more planned. This is one of the most epic and complex fantasy worlds that I've ever read, and the books are so dense that though I have all five of them, I have only gotten through the first one. They take work to get through, but are so worth it.
2. Kingkiller Chronicle – Patrick Rothfuss
Another fantasy series that has super long installments is the Kingkiller Chronicle. Though there are only 2 books and a novella out right now, this is one of the most popular fantasy series today. It blurs the lines a little between young adult and adult, for I have seen it classified both ways, but when I bought it, it was in the adult fantasy section. Wizards and mystery and intricate details abound in this wonderful series.

3. A Darker Shade of Magic – V.E. Schwab
I just finished this book last week, so the feelings are really fresh. I have a full review with all of my feelings up here. V.E. Schwab creates a fantastical world that blends reality with fantasy, the mundane with the magical, and it works so perfectly. Alternate dimensions, cross dressing pirates and an unspeakable evil make for a terribly fun read.

4. Stardust – Neil Gaiman
Neil Gaiman does a fantastic job of creating worlds that are steeped in magical realism. Stardust is my favorite book of his, as it involves a village that borders on the faerie world, a boy in love with an impossible girl, and a fallen star. This book isn't very long, and it has wonderful prose, steeped in magic. Highly recommended for everyone, actually, not just adults or young adults. (plus I adore this paperback cover)

5. Lord of the Rings – J.R.R Tolkien
Of course, you cannot have a fantasy list without including the father of all fantasy. Lord of the Rings is one of the most beloved and indeed, one of the best, fantasy worlds and series ever written. If you haven't tried it, do so. If you have tried it and couldn't get through the first part of the Fellowship of the Ring, I'd suggest going the audiobook route, because these books are worth the time.

6. The Princess Bride – William Goldman
This book is just pure fun. It can be idiotic and lovely and deep and sarcastic all at the same time, and I adore Goldman's style in telling this beloved tale. In a classic damsel in distress story, it would be easy to be cliché, but this book never falls into that trap. It is gloriously fun for everyone.

7. The Wicked Years – Jeffery MaGuire
Being an adoring fan of the Broadway musical by the same name, I was pleasantly surprised when I found out that it was based on a book, and better yet, a series. I bought the first book in the Wicked Years, and was surprised by how dark it was. I haven't gotten around to reading the other installments in this series, but I hope to one day.

That concludes my list! I haven't read that many adult fantasy books, which is why there are only seven on that portion of the list, but I hope that this was a sufficient first step into the world of fantasy.

What are some of your favorite fantasy books/series that were not included on this list? (or maybe were)


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