Back in December, I did a book recommendation post for people new to the genre of historical fiction. This post, as you probably guessed from the title, is a bit of a continuation on this theme: it is book recommendations for those new to the fantasy genre! Which, incidentally, is my favourite genre.
The popularity of TV shows such as Game of Thrones or the Lord of the Rings movies shows that there is a huge appetite for fantasy in the general public, but I think the sheer size of some fantasy books – let’s be honest, as a genre, fantasy loves a BIG book – proves to be an obstacle for some people as they find them intimidating. So, for this reason I have picked some shorter books to begin with. Excellent books that will make you fall in love with the genre, but not epics of size that could put you off before you begin.
So, without rattling on anymore, here they are!
The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien
Bilbo Baggins is a hobbit who enjoys a comfortable, unambitious life, rarely travelling further than the pantry of his hobbit-hole in Bag End. But his contentment is disturbed when the wizard, Gandalf, and a company of thirteen dwarves arrive on his doorstep one day to whisk him away on an unexpected journey `there and back again’. They have a plot to raid the treasure hoard of Smaug the Magnificent, a large and very dangerous dragon…
Middle Earth is the quintessential fantasy world, and J.R.R. Tolkien is the father of the modern fantasy genre, and this book is the perfect gateway into his works. In so many ways, this book is a typical fantasy adventure: a group of adventurers go on a dangerous adventure, journey across the wilds before defeating some terrible monster, the dragon, Smaug, in this case. What makes this book so perfect for new-comers to the gene, however, apart from its light-hearted style, is the fact that the story focuses on Bilbo Baggin’s point of view. Traditionally, we would have followed the most powerful fighter or magician, but by following the very-domesticated hobbit, we gain an instant connection with our protagonist. We aren’t mighty warriors or mages who can kill goblins, defeat dragons or trolls, and neither is Bilbo. The wonder of a fantasy world, and its dangers, are as fresh and new to him as they are to us, and as such we can identify with him more than we ever could with a traditional hero. Aside from all this, I love this book and had better move onto the next one or we will all be here for hours.
The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis
Four adventurous siblings-Peter, Susan, Edmund, and Lucy Pevensie- step through a wardrobe door and into the land of Narnia, a land frozen in eternal winter and enslaved by the power of the White Witch. But when almost all hope is lost, the return of the Great Lion, Aslan, signals a great change . . . and a great sacrifice.
Like The Hobbit, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe is a classic of the genre and, for many people, was where they first discovered fantasy. The book is undoubtably aimed at children, this is evident from its extremely short length and writing style, but don’t let that put you off if you have somehow reached adulthood without reading it. The story is truly fantastical and stuffed galore with adventure, talking animals, magic, a wicked witch and even Father Christmas. After stepping through the wardrobe, the Pevensie children are utterly enchanted by the Narnia and I highly suspect you will be to if you pick this book up.
Harry Potter and the Philosophers Stone by J.K. Rowling
Harry Potter has never even heard of Hogwarts when the letters start dropping on the doormat at number four, Privet Drive. Addressed in green ink on yellowish parchment with a purple seal, they are swiftly confiscated by his grisly aunt and uncle. Then, on Harry’s eleventh birthday, a great beetle-eyed giant of a man called Rubeus Hagrid bursts in with some astonishing news: Harry Potter is a wizard, and he has a place at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. An incredible adventure is about to begin!
You all knew this one would be on here, didn’t you? For a whole generation, this book was the portal into fantasy. Plus, who didn’t dream of getting a Hogwarts letter! Yes, there are better Harry Potter books than this one *cough* Goblet of Fire *cough*, but you have to start with this one. More modern style than my previous two picks, both in style and language, this one might be an easier read than them as well, but that is hardly a bad thing. Plus, the wizarding world is so seamlessly blended into the real world that you really can imagine a whole world of magic, goblins, giants and anything else remotely fantastical hidden away from our muggle eyes. Now, what if you have watched the books and think you don’t need to read the books? Well, don’t be so silly! There is so much rich world-building and writing in this book that you miss out on in the books. Oh, and because you spend longer with a book than a film, you will grow to love the characters even more.
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Okay, so no books on that list will be a surprise to anyone who is into fantasy. With that in mind, here are a few more books you might want to pick up if you liked the ones above.
The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien
Remember that ring that Bilbo found in The Hobbit, turns out it is pretty dangerous. Not just for Bilbo and the Shire, but the whole world! This book is Tolkien’s true epic fantasy adventure across Middle Earth. If you even remotely enjoyed The Hobbit, pick this book up. Well, pick these three books up. Really there are three Lord of the Rings books, but who the hell reads them as separate entities! Oh, and be prepared for quite possibly the greatest friendship of all time!
Uprooted by Naomi Novik
Like fairy-tales but find them a bit too happy and childish? Well then, Uprooted is for you. This book feels like a fairy-tale, but set in a more realistic world where not all princes are good, the most beautiful girl isn’t always the one destined for greatness and the woods are downright creepy! This book is also a stand-alone, a rarity in fantasy, so isn’t a huge commitment.
The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss
Loved the whole magic school element of Harry Potter, but found it a bit childish and wanted something a bit grittier? This is the book for you. Orphaned child? Check. Magical school-like institution? Check. Strong friendships? Check. The book isn’t all the same, but you get the point. The writing in this book is simply gorgeous, almost poetic in many places and really grabs you from the first page. Sure, our main hero, Kvothe, rubs some people up the wrong way, but the rest of the book and its characters are so good that it really makes up for him.
The Grey Bastards by Jonathan French
Want something a bit more rough and tumble from your fantasy? Jonathan French and his Grey Bastards have got you covered. This book was honestly a bit of a surprise for me, but I loved it. Plus, we get half-orc goodies? About time the orcs got some good press! Just be warned, there is a lot of swearing and sexual references in here.
The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden
Remember what I said about dark fairy-tales and Uprooted? Well it all counts here too! This book was quite possibly my best read of 2018, and I’m not going to stop recommending it to everyone now. Quite possibly the best thing about this book is the atmosphere it conjures up. I read this in late spring; it was pretty warm (as warm as it gets in England anyway) and yet this book immediately transported me to a fairy-tale winter filled with magical creatures. Some of whom are very dark and dangerous indeed.
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Ok, so hopefully you enjoyed that and have found some new books to read. If you’re a lover of fantasy already, what books do you think I have missed on this list? I’d love to know so leave a comment below!