Welcome to the 5×5 post series—five posts that explore five books in five different genres. Over half of the 80 books I’ve read this year have been fantasy, so we’ll start there. I’m going to skip over some of my favorite series such as Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings because most people already know about them. These are books you might not know about, but that you should definitely read.
The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern
This is one of my all-time favorite fantasy novels, and I’m not alone. It has attracted a cult following, and one of the top Google searches related to the book is questions about when a movie will come out. The setting is a steampunk world in the 19th century, and the plot involves a decade-long magic duel between two magicians in a circus. The book is lengthy, but worth it. Morgenstern takes her time to weave the story and build both plot tension and a sense of the world’s reality. The result is magical—pun intended.
The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman
All Neil Gaiman’s novels are worth reading, but this one is extra special. What I love about this book is that the reader doesn’t get all the details. In most fantasy novels, the author gives you information about the world they’ve built as you read. By the end of the book, you have a pretty good idea of the world’s mechanics. Not with this book. Gaiman’s main character is a young boy who glimpses the fantasy world, but because he’s a child, he doesn’t question the mechanics as adults would. The result is an air of mystery that surrounds the fantasy. This book is also host to a number of themes that are worth pondering, including sacrifice, humility, and redemption.
Thursday Next series by Jasper Fforde
This series is a must read for all literature lovers and English majors. Imagine a world in which literature—not movies, music or sports—forms the basis of pop culture. This has all sorts of wonderful ramifications. A special division of the police must keep criminals from selling fake first editions of rare classics. Instead of ComicCon, the John Donne society meets at convention centers with hundreds of men dressed in powdered wigs and buckled shoes. And then, if one detective discovers she can enter books and interact with the characters? You get the picture. The series starts with The Eyre Affair, but my favorite installment is actually the third book, The Well of Lost Plots.
The Princess Bride by William Goldman
Everyone knows and loves the movie, but not everyone knows about the book, which, like most book/movie combos, is better. Goldman wrote both the book (1973) and the screenplay (1987). As a result, the movie is very close to the book, and while I was reading certain scenes, I could see the movie play out in my head. But there are still aspects of the book that didn’t translate into film. The book is “really” an abridged translation of a longer work on the history of Florin, but Goldman just translates “the good parts.” He also includes commentary and anecdotes about his own life that make the book even more entertaining.
Mistborn series by Brandon Sanderson
This wouldn’t be a good fantasy recommendation list without at least one epic fantasy series. The Mistborn trilogy has all the classic elements of good fantasy: world building with a well-developed magic system, a strong main character who discovers her powers and her destiny, a full-scale war, and a bit of romance. The books are fast reads because they’re both compelling and well written. And, if you like this series (sorry, I just can’t help myself), you should also check out The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss.