Ten Fantasy/Sci-Fi Books/Series to Feed Your Love of Reading
Or: Some girl in library school tries to tell you what to read.
As a student of library science, you might think that I go around recommending books to people nearly constantly. I really, really don’t. So many library workers would say that love of reading drew them to work in and/or study about libraries. In fact, it was not my love of reading that drew me to study library science, but my love of a good story with well-written characters.
Reading is only one way that a person can enjoy the contents of a library. Good stories and characters also exist in movies, music, television, and gaming. The funny thing is that when you start taking the courses and writing the papers, what you find out is that a lot of library scholarship involves programming, bringing bodies into the library, struggling to remain relevant, and balancing the tasks of providing access vs. objects.
In between writing papers about collection development, privacy, forms of access, and teen services, a lot of us still manage to make time for the art lost to graduate students everywhere: reading for pleasure. Personally, I do most of my pleasure reading via audiobooks—it combats my road raging tendencies by making stopping in traffic fun, and driving time is time when I literally cannot be doing something else. I’m a captive audience.
If you ever wanted a person with a degree in library science and a love of fantasy, YA, and some science fiction thrown into the mix to give you a list of book recommendations, then do I ever have an article for you! If you have no interest … well, what are you doing still reading this article! Get out of here, ya goober! ;-)
In no particular order, here are ten books or series of books that I love and want to share:
1.) The Fever Crumb series by Phillip Reeve
Fever Crumb is not a symptom of a disease—she’s a person. She’s a lady scientist in a world that does not encourage women toward education. She’s the only female scientist in her order. When she’s assigned to assist an archaeologist, she begins to experience memories that are not her own.
An orphan, Fever does not know about her origins, and when it is surmised that she might be one of the Scriven, a genetically modified people who ruled the world in recent history and were renowned for their excesses, impracticalities, and raging appetites and intelligence, her life is in danger. After the Scriven were deposed in an uprising, the remaining survivors were hunted to near-extinction.
Technology, religion, archaeology, machines, and a young woman’s quest to find and understand her own humanity (or lack thereof) are all wrapped around each other in this excellent series. Often called a “steampunk” series, Fever Crumb stands alone as fantasy or apocalyptic what-if science fiction as well. I love Fever’s personality—she’s practical to a fault and often bewildered by the very existence of her own and others’ emotions. The entire series is a prequel to Reeve’s Mortal Engines quartet, which I have yet to read, and am excited to do so!
2.) The Chrestomanci series by Diana Wynne Jones
When DWJ passed away recently, I was saddened because unless they find a hidden treasure trove of lost writings, I’m not getting more Christopher Chant. And also because she was a wonderful writer who is now gone from this world. And also because OMG no more Christopher Chant!
The series begins with Charmed Life and The Lives of Christopher Chant. Often, the two books are combined into one, but sometimes not. Charmed Life is about siblings Cat and Gwendolen, who are taken to live with The Chrestomanci, a powerful, multi-lived magic user who acts as a leader/policer of other magic users across several different but connected worlds. In this book, Christopher is a grown man in the office of the Chrestomanci. In The Lives of Christopher Chant, he’s a young boy taken in by the previous Chrestomanci, and he faces his own issues and adventures.
The books in this series go back and forth between when Christopher is young and after he has grown up and assumed the role of the Chrestomanci. Conrad’s Fate is my favorite book in the whole series and features a teenage Christopher Chant in all of his teenage angsty glory. This is a guy who grows up to wear weird, flamboyant, brightly-colored dressing gowns that his wife makes fun of. It’s the best kind of awesome.
3.) The Dark Is Rising series by Susan Cooper
This series of books was recommended to me by a good friend who loves them. I had tried to read them as a kid and just wasn’t that into them, but when I read them as an adult, I realized what I had been missing. These books combine Arthurian legend, semi-modern life, mythology, and the geography of the British Isles into a story with imagery that just … stays.
The first book, Over Sea, Under Stone, introduces Simon, Jane, and Barney Drew, whose mysterious Uncle Merriman leads them to adventure. In The Dark is Rising, we meet Will Stanton, a young boy who is learning about his own extraordinary role in the conflict betwen the Light and the Dark. In Greenwitch, the third book, the characters in the first two unite to fight The Dark. An example of the story’s use of real-world detail: The Drews and Will Stanton have prophesied roles in the fight against The Dark and run about the countryside fulfilling that destiny. There are actual standing stones called the Stanton Drew stone circles. Check them out: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stanton_Drew_stone_circles.
4.) The Infernal Devices series by Cassandra Clare
This series is a Victorian-era prequel to her The Mortal Instruments series and features a few of the same characters and the ancestors of some others. I loved The Mortal Instruments, but the prequels … they stole my heart. I listened to the audiobooks of them in the car and I distinctly remember thinking, “It’s not going to be all right! How can any of this be okay?? I’m freaking out here!”
I had several of those moments, related to the wellbeing of certain favorite characters, and I won’t spoil it except to tell you that I was very satisfied with the author’s handling of the characters. This series is full of great characters, but the standout for me was Tessa, who was possibly one of the most reasonable female characters I’ve ever met. She got mad, she laughed, she apologized when appropriate, she listened—all of the things that infuriate me about characters in books? She didn’t do those things.
She was smart, forgiving, loving, interesting, and her character grew and progressed as she made a very realistic progression from an Victorian woman with Victorian sensibilities to a fighter and user of magic. She didn’t lose herself or become someone else. She became a stronger version of herself. Go, Tessa!
Charlotte, the leader of the Institute, was another great female character. She was ahead of her time—the first woman to lead the Institute, and she had to deal with nearly incessant skepticism and sexism with her ability to lead. Charlotte dealt diplomatically, trained herself and those under her watch to fight and protect themselves, and subverted stereotypes wherever she could. On top of that, she was never stripped of her motherly nature to make room for leadership—those things were side by side in Charlotte’s character.
One of the best things about the story is the friendship between Jem and Will. Oh, God, those boys! I feel like my heart was ripped out, wrung out, and hung out to dry with birds picking at it … sorry about the imagery, but oh, my boys! No spoilers. I promised.
5.) The Thief series by Megan Whalen Turner
Oh, Eugenides! You have ruined me for all others. Sigh. I knew when I picked up this book that I was going to be in for a mighty book crush, and I was right. Eugenides, or “Gen” as he is known to his friends and family, is exactly the kind of character I always go for. He’s a thief, named after the god of thieves, and he’s a clever trickster with a mind that whirs like Tony Stark’s and a wit to match. What’s not to love?
Megan Whalen Turner’s world is set in a sort-of ancient Greece-like place (many of the character and place names reflect this) with three major countries in conflict with one another: Sounis, Attolia, and Eddis. Gen is from Eddis, which is ruled by his cousin, the Queen of Eddis, who is my very close second favorite character in the series. Eddis, as she is known because she IS the country in personified form in her role as Queen, is an amazing, multi-faceted character. She might sent Gen into danger, but when he is harmed, Eddis does not forgive easily. Her genuine love and friendship for her cousin bring out her fierce protectiveness and it makes for a refreshing change to see a female protagonist take a stand and rescue her male friend.
Later in the series, her steely-eyed standoff with Attolia, a Queen who has done harm to Gen, actually gave me shivers. Eddis is also described as rather plain, with a broken nose. Her lack of “traditional” beauty is not played for ugliness, but rather described as a facet of her character. She isn’t unattractive, rather her appearance is often not what others expect. Her interests lie elsewhere.
The character of Attolia is a whole other bag of worms—interesting character worms, that is. She’s initially set up as a cold antagonist, but then we are shown her perspective and how she became the way she is, and she becomes a much more multifaceted character. One of my favorite attributes of many of the main characters in this series is their devotion to friendship above the politics and constraints of country and office. When Sophos, a character from the first book, comes back in A Conspiracy of Kings, it is revealed that Gen was looking for him all along and then uses his newfound status to give the boy the help he needs. *Sob* I just love how they’re all so … THERE for each other!
… *like in this video clip:*
6.) The Navigator Trilogy by Eoin McNamee
I feel a weird kinship between this series and The Dark is Rising. The authors have a similar way of making the landscape and atmosphere known and integral to the heart of the story. I’ve read mixed reviews of this series, and nearly all of the bad ones seem to me (admittedly, a huge fan) to be the kind of reviews one leaves when one did not actually understand the book.
This series has time travel. If you’re not into time travel and consider time paradoxes to be a deal breaker, then … this is not the series for you. If you like weird, ethereal is-it-science-fiction-or-fantasy tales with good characters and really well thought out endgames, this might be something you would enjoy. It kind of reminds me of Doctor Who mixed with The Dark is Rising, but in a good way.
The main protagonist is Owen, a boy whose father has passed away, and whose mother has gone into a deep depression. His mother’s depression is sensitively handled, as are the consequences of her neglect upon her son’s emotional state—Owen frequently escapes to his “den,” a sort of clubhouse he’s cobbled together for himself out of junk. One day, his world disappears and he finds himself … elsewhere.
He meets the Resisters, a group who exist to fight against The Harsh. When not needed, the Resisters sleep for hundreds of years between times when they are needed to fight, with the exception of the Sub-Commandant, who keeps an eye on things while his people sleep. The Sub-Commandant’s daughter Cati is around Owen’s age, and the two quickly become co-protagonists (co-tagonists?) as the series progresses. Give it a chance. It starts weird, but it gets better and better! And weirder and weirder.
7.) Tales of the Kingdom series by Cynthia Voight
When you hear the name “Cynthia Voight,” it brings to mind such middle-school classics as Dicey’s Song and The Runner. Those books are great too, by the way, but I’m here today to preach on the topic of her lesser-known The Kingdom series. There are four books in the series, and they’re all loosely connected to each other. Just connected enough to make you look for the connections as you read and think, “I wonder if that’s the place where—oh, yep! It is!”
The first book is called Jackaroo, and it is about a young woman named Gwyn and also about a Robin-hood-esque outlaw called Jackaroo who rides the land helping people when the nobles don’t care about the common people. Reading is not allowed for the common folk—only lords may learn—and this is also built expertly into the plot.
The next book in the series is On Fortune’s Wheel, and it’s about an Innkeeper’s daughter named Birle with a connection to Gwyn that I will not reveal (no spoilers, right?) and a young lord called Orien. This story is probably my favorite in the whole series, even though I have a huge soft spot for the character Griff from the third book The Wings of a Falcon. He was kind of like a hotter, taller Samwise Gamgee, the way he followed, helped, and comforted his friend Oriel throughout the book. The best love story in the whole book was their friendship. The fourth book, Elske, was, in my opinion, the weakest of the series, but it was still very good.
8.) The Rulers of Hylor series by Cherry Wilder
Unfortunately, the author has passed away, so any updates to the series are unlikely. That said, this series was absolutely everything to fifteen-year-old me, who found it in the public library and obsessed over the series for … well, okay. Still obsessing.
The world is detailed and well-imagined, and the characters are complex and have equally complex motivations for the decisions they make. The first book in the series is A Princess of the Chameln, and is the story of Aidris, who was born to rule The Chameln, but must first escape with her life and learn the skills of war and rulership.
The second book is Yorath the Wolf, and Aidris’ cousin Yorath is the title character. He was rejected at birth due to a physical deformity and overcame this disadvantage to become a strong, valiant warrior, along the way, catching the attention of a Shee (fairy) woman known as the Owlwife.
The third book, The Summer’s King, ties up a lot of loose ends left by the first two books, and is mostly about another of Aidris’ relatives, young king Sharn. The incidental characters are exceedingly well done and pop up from time to time in all of the books. If you read it, please know that Raff Raiz holds a piece of my heart. Forever. Amen. There is a fourth book, The Wanderer, which was released posthumously, and co-written by another author. I own it, but have book anxiety about reading it. This is a thing that happens to me fairly often—I love a character so much that I’m terrified to read the other books in the series for fear of my character being killed. It’s not rational, but it’s sure real.
9.) The Seven Realms series by Cinda Williams Chima
Now is the part of the article where I wax poetic on my love for author Cinda Williams Chima and her incredible sense of place, character, and voice. I discovered this series by accident in Barnes and Noble. I saw the cover art for The Demon King and was sucked in. I devoured the book on my Kindle and jumped back in for more.
The Seven Realms series does fantasy in a way that is both fresh and familiar. High fantasy stalwarts such as world-building, attention to mythology, etc. are held in high esteem. Chima does an amazing job with characters’ individual “voices.” You can always tell who’s talking. The street jargon she invented for the character of Han Alister and his fellow street Raggers is brilliant and believable—somewhere between Bert from Mary Poppins, 1940’s gangster-speak, and the Queen’s English.
Everything about the world and the characters who people it are both familiar and not. The Clanspeople seem simultaneously Native American, Scottish, and Romani, but distinctly their own thing as well. When someone mentions someone being Clan in the story, you immediately receive a mental image of how they might be dressed, the things they might carry, and how they might speak or comport themselves.
The main protagonists are the aforementioned Han Alister, who is simultaneously every bit as tough and not even kind of as tough as he wants you to believe, and Raisa ana’Marianna, the Princess Heir to the Queendom of the Fells. Yep. The Fells is historically ruled by Queens, and Raisa is next in line. She is a heartbreakingly well written character. She’s earnest—she really, really wants to be a good ruler. She’s also a teenage girl with desires and crushes and a firm understanding of what can and cannot be for her.
Due to circumstances beyond her control, she must be spirited away to Oden’s Ford under an assumed name to learn to fight and bide her time until she can safely return home. Raisa’s frustration with her situation is also frustrating to read—she doesn’t understand her mother and feels that she is a weak Queen. She doesn’t understand her younger sister at all, and that failure drives a barrier between the young women. She fights to understand attraction, love, magic, and to help uncover the past history of her world that has made it the way it is. Raisa is hopeful, sad, strong, happy, and enjoys a good Clan party. Thank you for making her, Ms. Chima.
As far as side characters go, Hayden Fire Dancer is pretty wonderful, and I also like that even though the story is written for a medieval-ish world, no mention at all is made of the fact that both men and women go to Oden’s Ford to train to be soldiers and wizards. It’s just normal and how it is. Read them. Read all of the books!
10.) The Heir Chronicles by Cinda Williams Chima
I told you I was going to go on and on about this author! Well, when I finished the Seven Realms books, I was desperately searching for something else by the same author and discovered her Heir Chronicles series. At first, I was put off by the modernity of the stories—I basically wanted more of the Seven Realms kind of fantasy—but quickly became enamored of this new batch of characters.
In this modern fantasy series, magic users are divided up by kind—Wizards, the most powerful, have lorded it over the other groups for too long. Warriors were taken by wizards and used as gladiators in vicious fights as proxies, because wizards were forbidden to fight each other directly. Sorcerers used material magics to create charms and potions, and Enchanters were gifted with a golden tongue that could convince others to do their bidding. There are some other designations within the series, but I don’t want to spoil it for anyone!
The series is often set in a fictional college town in Ohio, and the detail that the author goes into regarding the geography of the area is rivaled only by the sense of place she put in to her worldbuilding in the Seven Realms series. I live in the Midwest and have been to Ohio many times, and she catches the very different feelings of different parts of the area incredibly well—the Appalachian corner, the lakes, the college towns, etc.
The best starting point is with The Warrior Heir, which introduces the characters of Jack and Ellen and sets up the families, characters, and magical rules that govern the story arc. So … start with The Warrior Heir, meet Linda Downey, Jack, and Ellen, and stay for The Wizard Heir, where you get to meet Seph McCauley and Jason Haley. And then just keep reading. They all kind of drift in and out of each other’s stories, and sometimes even the “bad” characters end up surprising you! Seph and Jason are my faves, but you’ll have your own! Let me know who they are if you decide to read this series!
These ten series are just some of my favorites—if you disagree or super-agree, please let me know in the comments! I love to talk story!
Sara Goodwin has a B.A. in Classical Civilization and an M.A. in Library Science from Indiana University. Once she went on an archaeological dig and found awesome ancient stuff. Sara enjoys a smorgasbord of pan-nerd entertainment such as Renaissance faires, anime conventions, steampunk, and science fiction and fantasy conventions. In her free time, she writes things like fairy tale haiku, fantasy novels, and terrible poetry about being stalked by one-eyed opossums. In her other spare time, she sells nerdware as With a Grain of Salt Designs, Tweets, and Tumbls.
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