Reading List: Fantasy and Science Fiction

Students and friends ask this question a lot: What are some great books to read in the genre? Recently, I wrote a pretty extensive email in answer. Here’s the list of books I’ve either fallen in love with or I have on my to-be-read shelf at home:

A Game of Thrones – George R.R. Martin
– A familiar title, but if you’ve never read it, the first book in that series is simply gorgeous. A master class in just about every imaginable category.
Binti or Akata Witch – Nnedi Okorafor
– There’s a reason she just won awards for Binti. Brilliant writing in diverse settings with diverse characters. Please grab Akata Witch instead of reading about Rowling’s school of magic in Africa. Okorafor’s is by far the superior version.
The Name of the Wind – Patrick Rothfuss
– In terms of literary/lyrical writing in fantasy, few really stand up to Rothfuss. He even wrote an off-shooting book for this world in iambic pentameter. A worthy, sprawling epic.
The Goblin Emperor – Katherine Addison
– Not action oriented at all. It’s much more focused on diplomacy and navigating traditional waters in a new way. The main character, Maia, wrestles with maintaining his thoughts and beliefs in light of an unexpected and powerful new status.
The Gardens of the Moon – Steven Erikson
– Only read this if you enjoy a steep learning curve, feeling a little lost, and the convergence of powerful forces. Erikson’s characters tend to feel like video game bosses, which I really enjoy. His magic system is also pretty great in this one.
Wizard of Earthsea- Ursula K. Le Guin
Old school, but she does it so well. We can thank her for all the wizarding schools that followed. I’d also suggest The Left Hand of Darkness, if you want a taste of her sci-fi.
Red Rising – Pierce Brown
– This series was tops for me after the past few years. It’s relentlessly action-packed with characters we simply can’t help attaching ourselves to. It has the darkness of Game of Thrones, but really tends to read more tightly, and without so confusing a cast.
 
The Assassin’s Apprentice – Robin Hobb
In my mind, this is the benchmark for traditional fantasy. The magic, the world, the characters… all brilliantly rendered, but I’ve never read someone who writes relationships better than her. Fitz reads like a Jane Austen character in that respect. His interactions with each person are incredibly dynamic. Whether it’s the Fool or Molly or Chivalry
The Lies of Locke Lamora – Scott Lynch
In my mind, it’s Ocean’s 11 but set in a fantasy world. Great characters and a very gritty world.
Temeraire – Naomi Novik
Not my personal favorite, but if you like historical fantasy, this is one of the tops in the category. Imagine the 1800’s navies of our world, but with a dragon air force. Pretty great concept. Her more recent novel, Uprooted, was up for all kinds of awards.
N.K. Jemisin – The Fifth Season
One of my recent favorites. The work she does with narration in this one is just brilliant. She also has some mind-bending, eye-popping world building within the story.
The Scar – China Mieville
If you want weird fantasy, go this direction. He’s trying to push back against Tolkien (dwarves and elves) and carve out some funky newness in the genre. I just started his book The City and the City It’s one of the coolest things I’ve read in a while.
Bone Street Rumba / Shadowshaper – Daniel Jose Older
Daniel’s known for being a force on Twitter and a force in his books. He crafts distinct, diverse worlds with casts of characters you’ll follow to the end.
Station Eleven  – Emily St. Mandel
A group travels from town to town performing Shakespeare in the apocalypse. She jumps through time quite a bit, but I really thought she pulled it off better than most.
The Golem and the Jinni – Helene Wecker
1900’s New York. A story about a golem and jinni trying to make life work in the city of immigrants. Really beautiful prose throughout
Annihilation – Jeff VanderMeer
Science fiction. Really cool story, sort of creepy, but very compelling intellectually.
A Darker Shade of Magic – V.E. Schwab
A character who can travel to three different versions of London?! Treat yourself.
Just to be clear this is the equivalent of a starter kit. I also didn’t really include ANY YA books in here. I know there are MASSIVE gaps in my reading as a science fiction, fantasy, and young adult author… I’m working every day to shore those gaps up, but I’m also admitting to myself that I’ll never really complete that task. Too many new books. Too many brilliant writers over the year. Just pick the books you love and keep reading them!

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