Category Archives: Fantasy

Our Six Favourite Fantasy Novels

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.

Goodreads Choice Awards Winners

Do you use Goodreads?  Goodreads is popular book recommendations and cataloguing website. It’s a great place to find book reviews and recommendations, and you can also use it to keep track of books you have read, owned, or want to read.
Goodreads also runs the annual Goodreads Choice Awards, one of the biggest popularly-voted book prizes around.  There are 20 different categories, and winners are chosen in November each year.  For your reading inspiration, here’s a selection of the winners from last year:

The Testaments by Margaret Atwood (Winner for Fiction)

Margaret Atwood was inspired to write this sequel to The Handmaid’s Tale when its TV adaptation resonated so strongly with audiences around the world. The Testaments is set 15 years after the events in Handmaid’s Tale, and is ostensibly the story of how Aunt Lydia – the highest ranking female oppressor in Gilead – joined the Establishment. In doing so, Margaret Atwood has created a tense and riveting novel that challenges us to question the truth and value of testimony. Besides the Goodreads Choice Award for Fiction, The Testaments was also a joint-winner of last year’s Booker Prize.

The Silent Patient by Alex Michaelides (Winner for Mystery and thriller)

The Silent Patient of the title is Alicia, a famous painter married to Gabriel, an in-demand fashion photographer.  Alicia adores Gabriel, and their lives seem perfect, until the day she shoots him and then stops speaking.  Six years later, Theo Faber, a criminal psychotherapist, seeks out Alicia because he is fascinated by Alicia’s crime.  He is determined to make her talk, and thus unravel the mystery surrounding her case.  Alex Michaelides has cleverly built a modern psychological thriller around the ancient Greek tragedy of Alcestis, and his own extensive knowledge of psychotherapy.  In tight, uncluttered prose, he slowly peels back the layers of Alicia’s past, skilfully building tension until the novel’s shocking denouement.

Ninth House by Leigh Bardugo (Winner for Fantasy)

Leigh Bardugo, beloved YA author of the Grishaverse, has extended her range with Ninth House, her first adult fiction book. She brings her immersive world-building into an urban fantasy setting, creating an alternate-Yale that marries the mystique of normal-life social privilege and traditions, with mysterious secret societies that practise powerful magic.  Ninth House skilfully weaves together many elements, including noir, criminal procedural thriller, fish-out-of-water otherness, and personal growth, into a grungy, sinister and alluring story. Compulsively readable.

Red, White & Royal Blue by Casey McQuiston (Winner for Romance, and best Debut Novel)

Casey McQuiston won both the Best Debut and Best Romance awards for her funny, upbeat romantic comedy, Red White & Royal Blue. Set in an alternate reality, it applies the classic enemies-to-lovers trope to a secret romance between the Prince of Wales and the First Son of the United States.  Full of pop cultural references and a sweet optimism, its popularity exploded by word-of-mouth. Red White & Royal Blue is a great example of queer rom-coms that is adding fresh, diverse fun to the Romance genre.  You can catch Casey McQuiston at this year’s Melbourne Writers Festival Online, later in August.

Dear Girls: Intimate Tales, Untold Secrets and Advice for Living Your Best Life by Ali Wong (Winner for Humour)

Dear Girls is structured as a set of letters to Ali Wong’s daughters, but is definitely not for kids!  Her writing is a direct extension of her raunchy, uncompromising comedy shows, and if you’re already familiar with her work, you’ll be hearing this book in her voice.  Ali Wong uses her sharp, self-deprecating humour to tell wide-ranging, intimate stories about her life, from her sexual experimentation, failed gigs, drug experiences, her heartbreaking miscarriage and the impact of her father’s death.  Dear Girls is also surprisingly inspirational – time and again, Ali Wong turns failure and vulnerability into personal strength and motivation for betterment.

Girl, Stop Apologizing: a Shame-free Plan for Embracing and Achieving your Goals by Rachel Hollis (Winner for Non-fiction)

There’s something about Rachel Hollis’ pithy, down-to-earth, just-between-us-girls voice that is both quote-worthy and has the urgency of a siren.  She is inspirational yet totally relatable – a successful working mom of four who tells it like it is, is full of positivity and isn’t afraid to be vulnerable or to admit failure. Girl, Stop Apologizing is her clarion call to women to stop apologising for their desires, hopes, and dreams, and instead to go after them with passion and confidence. She argues that women are brought up to prioritise the needs of other people, and provide useful strategies to help change this mindset and start prioritising and investing in ourselves.

Exploring Young Adult books of the Inky Awards.

Founded in 2007, the Inky Awards celebrate the increasingly popular Young Adult (YA) genre. Each year, Australia’s young adults are given the opportunity to vote for their favourite YA release of the year. The awards are divided into two categories: the Gold Inky is for Australian fiction and the Silver Inky is for International fiction. Unfortunately, due to the global pandemic the awards will not run this year so we are going to dive a little deeper into the 2019 Gold Award shortlist and its winner. 

After the Lights Go Out by Lili Wilkinson

This is a gripping tale that was super popular. Seventeen-year-old Pru Palmer lives with her twin sisters, Grace and Blythe, and their father, Rick, on the outskirts of an isolated mining community. The Palmers are doomsday preppers. They have a bunker filled with non-perishable food and a year’s worth of water. One day while Rick is at the mine, the power goes out. At the Palmer’s house, and in the town. All communication is cut. No one knows why. It doesn’t take long for everything to unravel. In town, supplies run out and people get desperate. The sisters decide to keep their bunker a secret. The world is different; the rules are different. Survival is everything, and family comes first.

Hive by A.J. Betts

This one is for all of the science fiction lovers. Hayley tends to her bees and follows the rules in the only world she has ever known. Until she witnesses the impossible: a drip from the ceiling. A drip? It doesn’t make sense. Yet she hears it, catches it. Tastes it. Curiosity is a hook. What starts as a drip leads to a lie, a death, a boy, a beast, and too many awful questions.

You can find Rogue, the sequel to Hive, here.

Ice Wolves by Amie Kaufman

This story is a heart-pounding adventure with magical inventions about finding one’s place in a sharply divided world. 

Everyone in Vallen knows that ice wolves and scorch dragons are sworn enemies who live deeply separate lives.

So when twelve-year-old orphan Anders takes one elemental form and his twin sister, Rayna, takes another, he has to question whether they are even related. Still, whether or not they’re family, Anders knows that Rayna is his best and only true friend. She’s nothing like the brutal, cruel dragons who claimed her as one of their own and stole her away.

In order to rescue her, Anders will have to enlist at the foreboding Ulfar Academy, a school for young wolves that values loyalty to the pack above all else. But for Anders, loyalty is more complicated than blind obedience, and friendship is the most powerful shape-shifting force of all.

You can find the whole Elementals series on Booko.

The Art of Taxidermy by Sharon Kernot

Lottie collects dead creatures and lovingly cares for them, hoping to preserve them, to save them from disintegration. Her father understands; Lottie has a scientific mind, he thinks. Her aunt wants it to stop, and she goes to cruel lengths to make sure it does. And her mother? Lottie’s mother died long ago. And Lottie is searching for a way to be close to her. The Art of Taxidermy is a heartbreaking verse novel exploring love and death, grief and beauty, and the ways we try to make sense of it all.

Whisper by Lynette Noni

Whisper won the Gold Inky Award in 2019. 

Lengard is a secret government facility for extraordinary people, they told me. It’s for people just like you. I believed them. That was my mistake. There isn’t anyone else in the world like me. I’m different. I’m an anomaly. I’m a monster. For two years, six months, fourteen days, eleven hours and sixteen minutes, Subject Six-Eight-Four, Jane Doe, has been locked away and experimented on, without uttering a single word. Life at Lengard follows a strict, torturous routine that has never changed. Until now. When Jane is assigned a new and unexpectedly kind evaluator, her resolve begins to crack, despite her best efforts. As she uncovers the truth about Lengard’s mysterious program, Jane discovers that her own secret is at the heart of a sinister plot and one wrong move, one wrong word, could change the world.

Jane Doe’s story finishes in the sequel, Weapon.

White Night by Ellie Marney

In Bo Mitchell’s country town, a ‘White Night’ light-show event has the potential to raise vital funds to save the skate park. And out of town, a girl from a secretive off-the-grid community called Garden of Eden has the potential to change the way Bo sees the world. But are there too many secrets in Eden? As Bo is drawn away from his friends and towards Rory, he gradually comes to believe that Eden may not be utopia after all, and that their group leader’s goal to go off the grid may be more permanent – and more dangerous – than anyone could have predicted.

Enjoy!