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Mystified by magic? Love to marvel at the magnificence of new realms? Or maybe you love to read about wars fought by strange beings in strange lands… Head off on an adventure with our specially selected fantasy books.
In the house of Helios, god of the sun and mightiest of the Titans, a daughter is born. Circe is a strange child - not powerful and terrible, like her father, nor gorgeous and mercenary like her mother. Scorned and rejected, Circe grows up in the shadows, at home in neither the world of gods or mortals. But Circe has a dark power of her own: witchcraft. When her gift threatens the gods, she is banished to the island of Aiaia where she hones her occult craft, casting spells, gathering strange herbs and taming wild beasts. Yet a woman who stands alone will never be left in peace for long - and among her island's guests is an unexpected visitor: the mortal Odysseus, for whom Circe will risk everything. So Circe sets forth her tale, a vivid, mesmerizing epic of family rivalry, love and loss - the defiant, inextinguishable song of woman burning hot and bright through the darkness of a man's world.
This hard-to-categorise quest story about an inquisitive child – Deon - who embarks on a lifelong mission to find his place in the world, is driven by the author’s desire to share his interest in imaginary realms. As a child, the narrator’s mother asked him “who he wanted to be in future”. Rather than give the expected answer of a superhero, or a fireman or policeman, Deon declares that he will “find a treasure”, but not the usual kind of treasure that’s buried in the depths of the earth or ocean. “I think I want to find a different kind of treasure.” He’s unsure as to what this means, but believes that “I’d come into this world with the word “treasure” deeply coded in me, but as a child I couldn’t have known its meaning.” Throughout his troubled childhood Deon feels “trapped entirely in my own dreamlike identity, filled with mysterious occurrences such as having transmitted, somehow, visions from objects I touched”. Deeply dissatisfied as a working adult, and desperate to “find my place in this world”, Deon decides that he must visit “magical” Glastonbury. Though much otherworldliness spills forth during this pilgrimage (during which he’s informed about chakras and the magic of crystals), the language retains a calmly straightforward tone as Deon’s quest comes to a revelatory climax. One for fans of spiritually-charged fiction.
This lithe and lucidly lyrical debut is a delectable treat for fans of inventive, trope-busting fantasy. Seventeen-year-old Lena is a cryptling, a person “marked out by their various deformities”. In Lena’s case, this is a dark birthmark on her face. She lives in Duke’s Forest, a magic-loathing, sealed-off city situated beneath a deadly storm cloud. And now Lena’s on the run. Accused of being a mage, she’s been sentenced to death and is desperate to flee Duke’s Forest. Meanwhile, on the other side of the barrier Constance wants to get back inside the city she fled before her own magical powers were discovered. The two women meet when Lena manages to escape, and their alternating narratives make for an un-put-down-able reading experience as it emerges that the storm cloud is actually a spell, and that they alone possess the power to quell it. Immersive world building, intriguing characters, unexpected twists – this is a smart and atmospheric debut from an author to watch, and comes recommended for fans of Sarah J Maas and Melinda Salisbury.
At the Medio School for Girls, distinguished young women are trained for one of two roles in their polarized society. Depending on her specialization, a graduate will one day run a husband's household or raise his children. Both paths promise a life of comfort and luxury, far from the frequent political uprisings of the lower class. Daniela Vargas is the school's top student, but her pedigree is a lie. She must keep the truth hidden or be sent back to the fringes of society. And school couldn't prepare her for the difficult choices she must make after graduation, especially when she is asked to spy for a resistance group desperately fighting to bring equality to Medio. Will Dani cling to the privilege her parents fought to win for her, or will she give up everything she's striven for in pursuit of a free Medio - and a chance at a forbidden love?
The Devil’s Apprentice is a YA fantasy novel written from the viewpoint of a 13-year-old boy who finds himself in hell – literally. It’s an adventure story with a twisty mystery to solve, with some innocent early-teen romance and historical references as well. It’s the first book in The Great Devil War series. The book is very well written and well translated from Danish, with plenty of dark humour. It features impressive world building through vivid imagery, and I enjoyed visualising the author’s clever concept of Hell and its occupants. The Devil’s Apprentice reminded me of the Harry Potter series, as the plot is complex enough to satisfy teenagers and adults (of all ages), yet simple enough to entertain pre-teens. It covers some moralistic themes, including good versus evil, knowing right from wrong and that even the most angelic people can have a dark side, so its suitability will depend on a child’s maturity. As expected, the book focuses mainly on death, with a mention of suicide and punishment/redemption in the afterlife. Some adults may disagree with certain concepts, but the book would provide a good starting point for discussions. I’m not surprised The Devil’s Apprentice is a popular series in Denmark and I can see it potentially doing well in the UK too. I found it highly compelling and raced through it. As soon as I finished, I eagerly looked forward to the next one, which is always a sign of an enjoyable read. Victoria Goldman
High-intensity YA fantasy ablaze with magic, conflict and high-stakes hazards. This fiercely-paced fantasy novel centres around fifteen-year-old Phae, whose father is an all-powerful mage, and whose mother is of the Lintari, a band of warrior earth guardians. As such, Phae’s blood had “the potential to make her one of the most powerful beings the old world had ever known”, a fact that sits somewhat uncomfortably with her. She feels “anger at herself, anger at her parents; anger at her mother for not being there; anger at her life. Why couldn’t she just be normal?” Except she isn’t normal, and when her tutor meets an untimely death, Phae feels compelled to leave the Magical Isle to seek safety on the mainland, where much danger and conflict awaits. Throughout, the intensity of Phae’s story journey never lets up and perhaps the impact of some key scenes would benefit from more ebb and flow between the relentlessly high-octane action. Overall, though, this is a gripping read, driven by snappy dialogue and a sense of adventure.
Step into another world, just on the edge of existence, a fairy tale if you will, but somehow sharper, more vivid, and quite startling as it draws on folklore and oh so human qualities and reactions. On a remote island called Neverness exists a village, we hear the story of the villagers, separate, together, living with and alongside a spellbinding natural world. The author Zoe Gilbert was the winner of the 2014 Costa Short Story Award and this is her debut novel. Each chapter is a story in its own right, yet each leads to the next and the next to make one complete tale. This is a book that tested, pushed and pulled me, as it speared my attention and hurled it aloft. I felt, really felt so many emotions, from deep aching sadness, to bounding wonder, through to discovering warm love in unexpected places. Zoe Gilbert has created a place apart, simple, wild, and stunningly beautifully yet be warned, it has a ferocious bite. If you look, really focus straight ahead, then take your thoughts to the corner of your eye and feel there, just behind you, you may just see a glimpse of Neverness. Or you could settle down, and allow Zoe Gilbert to guide you into a breathtaking world. Folk is one of my picks of the month and I have fallen rather deeply in love with it!
What if you weren't the hero? Kihrin grew up on tales of long-lost princes and grand quests - despite being raised in a brothel, making money as a musician and street thief. One day he overreaches by targeting an absent noble's mansion, hunting for jewels. There he witnesses a prince performing a terrifying dark-magic ritual. Kihrin flees, but he's marked by a demon, and his life will never be the same again. That night also leads to him being claimed as a lost son of that prince's royal house. But far from living the dream, Kihrin finds himself practically a prisoner, at the mercy of his new family's power plays and ambitions. He must also discover why his murderous father finds Kihrin more valuable alive than dead. Soon Kihrin attempts to escape his relative's dangerous schemes but finds himself in far deeper waters. He becomes tangled in a plot to kill the Emperor, rob the Imperial Vaults, claim a god-slaying sword and free bound demons to wreak havoc across the land. Kihrin also discovers the old tales lied about many things: dragons, demons, gods, prophecies, true love - and the hero always winning. But maybe Kihrin isn't fated to save the empire. He's destined to
Narrated by BAFTA-winning actor Will Poulter. Kavanagh begins his life patrolling the Wall. If he's lucky, if nothing goes wrong, he only has two years of this, 729 more nights. The best thing that can happen is that he survives and gets off the Wall and never has to spend another day of his life anywhere near it. He longs for this to be over; longs to be somewhere else. He will soon find out what Defenders do and who the Others are. Along with the rest of his squad, he will endure cold and fear day after day, night after night. But somewhere, in the dark cave of his mind, he thinks: wouldn't it be interesting if something did happen, if they came, if you had to fight for your life? John Lanchester's thrilling, hypnotic new novel is about why the young are right to hate the old. It's about a broken world you will recognise as your own-and about what might be found when all is lost.
Oh what a beautiful all-consuming dream of a ride this is. Set in Moscow, a young woman finds herself at the centre of a battle for both humanity and a deep hidden magic. The Winter of the Witch is the third in the ‘Winternight’ trilogy, however, I confess that this was my first experience of the three. I would most definitely recommend starting at the beginning with The Bear and the Nightingale as I’m now desperate to experience the wonder of the rest of the story, though it’s worth noting that it is so good, I immediately felt completely at home. I fell entranced into the tale and within the first few chapters I was so at one with the sense of place and characters, I actually cried at a heart-stopping moment. While the feel of a deep dark fairy tale washes over the listener, Katherine Arden creates a vivid realist bite and also encouraged me to connect as deeply with the more challenging characters as the more loveable ones. The Winter of the Witch is a fascinating, engaging, quite glorious story and I absolutely adored it. Highly recommended.
A charismatic ringmaster leads a heady circus-set quest. This mélange of magic and fantasy with real-world references sees Alain du Maurier, enigmatic ringmaster of the spectacular Cirque De Phantastique, take his troupe on an annual tour to various cities in ten very different worlds, with a large cast of colourful characters presented at different points in time. While this technique allows the author to build deeper backstory, the plot would benefit from less frequent flipping from the present day to various times in the past (this has a somewhat disorienting effect). Overall, the world building is kaleidoscopic, with circus vibrancy strongly evoked throughout, and a swelling sense of urgency as the troupe encounters monstrous perils and enemies.
A haunting, deeply disturbing, original work I have never read anything quite like this book. It is incredibly disturbing, with its central character, Dette Chambers, being fixated on death. She believes that she is cursed and, seemingly, causes the deaths of many others. However, whilst death never really leaves the pages, the book also contains a love story. Dette and a would be author, Zach, meet in a cafe. To put it simply, he forces himself into her life, becomes fascinated with her journal and in doing so the two fall in love. The character of Dette, once so cold and detached from life, must confront her inner demons as the romance develops. In this way, she is able to control her obsessive addiction in regards to death, and be reawakened. One of the most original books that I have read in a long time. It is many things all at the same time: disturbing, dark, sad, but also emotional, passionate and, in a perverse way, uplifting. A story of a developing relationship, bound with almost supernatural elements. A big surprise and well worth a gamble on. Rachel Anderson, A LoveReading Ambassador
Simon Spanton, formerly Associate Publisher of Gollancz, the oldest specialist SF & Fantasy publisher in the UK, joined the editorial team of Lovereading in 2016 with a brief to select and review the very best titles in the fields of Science Fiction, Fantasy and Horror including those he believes may become the stars of tomorrow.
Whether you want to join Jonathan Strange on the magic-haunted streets of London or Jon Snow and the rest of the Night’s Watch on the wall Fantasy is the genre for you. Authors from Joe Abercrombie to Zen Cho have turned the modern fantasy genre into one of the most exciting and imaginative genres around. They’ve brought magic and wonder, heroes, heroines and people like you and me, together in stories that will delight, scare and mystify you. Whether you want the romance and deceit of court, the shadows of a great city’s alleyways, the clear air of a mountain range, the terrors of a bloody field let fantasy take you to new realities.
There are characters for everyone; Scott Lynch’s charming conmen, Liz William’s artful magicians. Fantasy has worlds for all; Ursula le Guin’s Earthsea, George RR Martin’s brutal Westeros, Ben Aaronovitch’s contemporary London, Naomi Novik’s dragon haunted version of our 19th century. And the genre has a style for each and every reader; whether the playful literary trickery of Angela Carter or the imaginative epic adventures of Peter Brett. Somewhere here there is a story for everyone, so follow us and let your imagination run wild.
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