For some readers, fantasy means pure escapism – getting away from the stresses, constraints and issues of the everyday. For others, the opposite can apply – fantastical settings allow us to examine and explore everyday issues with extra clarity. Immerse yourself in the intricate and richly diverse genre of fantasy, and let your imagination soar – here are a few recent favourites to get you started.
Good Omens by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett
Get two fantasy greats for the price of one with Good Omens, which is having a revival thanks to a celebrated TV adaptation (quality assured by Neil Gaiman’s role as showrunner). Good Omens is a story about the Apocalypse – which happens to be coming sooner than what Aziraphale (an angel) and Crowley (a demon) would like. Aziraphale and Crowley have been representing their respective sides on Earth for 6000 years, and have come to enjoy each other’s company (and their lives on Earth). Unhappy with the thought of their cozy lives being upended, Crawley and Aziraphale team up to avert the Apocalypse. Good Omens is a mix of urban fantasy, absurdist humour and political/workplace satire that is as gleeful and relevant today as ever.
The Last Wish: Introducing the Witcher by Andrzej Sapkowski
You may have met Geralt of Rivia through the Netflix series or through the popular video games – both have been lovingly created from the writings of Polish author Andrzej Sapkowski. Discover why Witcher fans are so passionate about this world, with this short story collection that introduces the Continent, its witchers (superhuman monster hunters), monsters, epic sword fights, and magic. Once you know the background, head to The Blood of Elves, the first full-length novel of the series, which is about Geralt and Princess Ciri, whose fates are bound together.
The End of the World is Bigger than Love by Davina Bell
The End of the World is Bigger than Love came out last year, where its dreamy, post-apocalypse setting resonated eerily with the silence of lockdown. Identical twin sisters, Summer and Winter, live alone on an island, trying to survive the aftermath of a monumental environmental disaster. Soon we discover these twin narrators to be unreliable – how, then, do we interpret what’s happening? Reviews (and the string of awards and nominations) have been universally positive. The End of the World is Better than Love is category-defying and unforgettable – it is complex, ambiguous, sometimes confusing, and always rich in language and emotions – a book that invites repeat reading.
Carry On by Rainbow Rowell
So. Much. Fun. Carry On started as a spin-off of Rainbow Rowell’s previous success, Fangirl, but this funny, exuberant and romantic story has gained a life of its own, growing into an action-packed trilogy. Carry On is about Simon Snow, a teen wizard at a magical boarding school, who is known to be the Chosen One, but still struggling to learn to control and understand his powers. Sounds familiar? While Rainbow Rowell states that Carry On is informed by a number of “Chosen One” stories, it has invited passionate debates about its relationship to the Harry Potter universe. I am really looking forward to the third and final book, Any Way the Wind Blows, due for release next month.
Circe by Madeline Miller
Madeline Miller, author of Circe and Song of Achilles, has actively contributed to our current interest in the Greek classics. (Also check out recent retellings by Stephen Fry , Pat Barker and Natalie Haynes.) Circe is a witch-goddess from Greek Mythology, best known to readers through Homer’s Odyssey, where she encounters Odysseus during his long voyage. Here she narrates her life, reinterpreting a number of myths from her perspective. Madeline Miller has fleshed out Circe satisfyingly – with a heart, an independent mind and a sharp tongue. This feminist retelling reclaims Circe from her traditional portrayal as a wicked witch, and reimagines her as a woman doing her best to overcome the odds.
A Brightness Long Ago by Guy Gavriel Kay
Guy Gavriel Kay is a hidden gem of an author. In 30+ years of writing, he has spun tales that are intriguing, immersive and often gutwrenching, creating fantasy worlds based on the histories of ancient China, Arthurian legends, the Byzantine Empire, the Moors, and Mediaeval Europe. A Brightness Long Ago is an epic story of war, destiny, ambition and love, set in a world inspired by Renaissance Italy. Through the reminiscences of Danio, an old and powerful man who rose above his humble origins, we see how chance encounters, and the seemingly unimportant lives and actions of ordinary people, can nonetheless impact upon major historical events. The intricate weaving and interconnectedness of the large cast is pure Guy Gavriel Kay; it also offers a poetic meditation on fate, choice and the power of memory.