I’m a little late this morning with today’s post. Health stuff. ‘Nuff said, am I right? Nothing to worry about! Just enough that it put me off schedule. Today’s topic is standalone fantasy. I think some of what holds people back from trying fantasy is the intimidating series, each installment a massive murder weapon waiting to happen. The good news is I can recommend some very manageable books that stand completely on their own for first timers.
The Eyes of the Dragon by Stephen King. Of course, I have to trot out my favorite author here. This book does tie in with some other works of his (like The Stand and The Dark Tower Series), but those aren’t necessary reads to enjoy this. It’s a compact fantasy tale that has a fairy tale tone to it that… most people don’t even know exists. Stephen King wrote a dark fairy tale? He sure did, and it’s great.
The Sorcerer of the Wildeeps by Kai Ashante Wilson. This was a recent read for me, and you’ll see more about it in my wrap-up at the end of the month, but it’s instantly one I feel I can recommend. There is a second book set in the same world, but it apparently takes place in that world’s past with totally different characters. This book is a novella about a man nicknamed Sorcerer who travels with a band of mercenaries, the captain of said band being his lover, and finds he must hunt a mythical creature that lurks in the jungle they’re passing through. Good world-building and absolutely beautiful writing. Especially recommended for the unique perspective that we see so little of in genre fiction.
The Last Unicorn by Peter S. Beagle. Everyone’s heard of the movie, but have you read the book? It’s a lighthearted romp with a unicorn, a magician, and an evil to be slain. It has a wonderful sense of whimsy and humor both, and they merge so well. This was one that I read in a day without intending to. That’s how readable this is. It demands you keep going and sink into this beautiful world.
The Gospel of Loki by Joanna M. Harris. Well, what do you know? Of course I’m managing to mention this one again. It’s so fun, as you’d expect a story from Loki’s perspective to be. It has a built-in mythology to pull from, so it manages to stay true to that while also offering up a fresh retelling. Like all of these I’ve mentioned, it’s compulsively readable. I especially feel this is a good gateway for newer fantasy readers, because it’s light but still manages wonderful world-building.
Cyrion by Tanith Lee. This is a sword and sorcery adventure told in the form of connected short stories. Connected mainly because they all star the clever, witty, sword-wielding Cyrion. This is more in the vein of heroic fantasy, and it easily holds your attention, since the stories (told as legends about the main character) keep shifting and moving on to the next thing. Meaning it’s paced really well. Cyrion himself is also a delight to read about. He always manages to find a way out of any scrape, all while quipping sarcastically.
The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern. Chances are you’ve read this. Or at least heard of it. It was a booktube darling when it first came out, and it is fanciful, whimsical, and wonderful. It’s not big on world-building or even character at times. But it’s huge on tone and aesthetic. If you’re in search of something that makes you feel like you’ve fallen into a magical setting, this is for you. The way she describes the circus, you can practically smell it. Which is maybe a warning that this book will make you hungry. So many descriptions of delicious food.
Imajica by Clive Barker. This last one is pushing it a little. Because it is HUGE. But! It’s just one book. One crazy journey of a book that will take you to other dimensions full of danger and horror and wonder alike. With some of the most intense character development you’ll see in an urban/portal fantasy. When I think about this book, I’m still staggered by where we start and where we end up. I say “we”, because you feel as though you’ve walked every step with these characters. Definitely worth checking out.
That’s my list! I could list more, but these all feel like good places to start. If you have any recommendations of your own, feel free to leave them in the comments. Happy geeking!
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