15 Standalone Fantasy Novels For When You Don't Want a Commitment
When pressed to pick a genre that I love the most, I never really have to hesitate: It's fantasy all the way. Whether it's high fantasy, urban fantasy, political fantasy, it doesn't matter, I'm incredibly into it. I'm the girl who still believes in unicorns, who owns her own Harry Potter wand, and who sometimes builds entire magical systems for fun. There's something completely inspiring about watching an author build an entire world from whole cloth, following a character on an epic journey that you yourself will probably never be able to go on. It's pure fun and potential escapism, and I love every single moment I spend reading an epic fantasy series.
However, if I'm to be completely honest, reading fantasy can be exhausting. There's not only the endurance run of starting a new series and catching up so you're not spoiled for the next book (an issue, I assume, for Harry Potter late adopters), but there's also the agony of waiting for the next book to arrive (an agony that George R. R. Martin fans are definitely feeling these days).
What about those intrepid fantasy authors who compiled all of their magical ideas into a single standalone novel? Well don't worry, dear reader; I compiled a list of 15 standalone fantasy novels for those times that you don't want to commit to an entire series. These novels are full of magic (of course), mystery, and a whole lot of fun. Put on your robe and wizard hat and crack one of these open, they may leave you wanting more, but it's for the best that the authors held strong as standalone.
1. Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell by Susanna Clarke
It's the year 1806, and most people believe that magic has been long gone, until a reclusive gentleman named Mr. Norrell appears and reveals his magical ability, gaining him a small measure of unwelcome celebrity. Soon he has taken on a student, the wild and adventurous Jonathan Strange, and the two embark on an adventure that takes them through the Napoleonic Wars and straight into the magical realm of the Raven King. Given the sheer size of the book, there's obviously more to the plot, but if you are a fan of witty 19th century history, you'll absolutely be a fan of this. An added bonus is that if you're unable to finish this whale of a book, you can always tune into the BBC miniseries!
2. Sunshine by Robin McKinley
This is a light urban fantasy that reads like a paranormal romance, but goes so much deeper than that. Set in an alternate universe where humanity is living in the aftermath of the "Voodoo Wars" (a war between humans and supernatural creatures), the action of the story centers on Rae "Sunshine" Seddon, a baker who just so happens to get abducted by vampires. This traumatic experience reveals Sunshine's latent magical powers (an ability to control, you guessed it, sunshine!) and sets her on a path to truly discover who she is. This standalone novel might end up leaving you hungry for more, and not just thanks to the loving descriptions of the heroine's special cinnamon rolls.
3. The Book of Lost Things by John Connolly
It's the beginning of WWII, but 12-year-old David doesn't seem to care. Hiding out in his attic bedroom with nothing but his books for company, David mourns the loss of his beloved mother, turning to the fantasy of what lies in the books around him for company. One day, he's drawn into the strange world of The Book of Lost Things , where traditional fairy tale characters are twisted into almost unrecognizable figures, and David must find the king of the realm before he is caught by the sinister and terrifying Crooked Man. This book is an adult fantasy in young adult fantasy clothing and well worth the read.
4. The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern
Centering around a mysterious circus where everything is in black and white, The Night Circus tells a tale of two magicians who make a bet to see which school of magic is superior. Celia and Marco have been trained since childhood to perform their own branches of magic, and using the circus as their medium the two end up manipulating not only the circus, but the lives of the people within it. If you are a fan of Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell but don't want to invest in another giant book, The Night Circus is the book for you.
5. Little, Big by John Crowley
Little, Big centers on Smoky Barnable, a man who travels on foot from The City to the unplottable town of Edgewood, where is has been prophesied to marry a woman named Daily Alice Drinkwater. That story kicks off a story of four generations of a family that lives in a house that is also many houses that exists on the edge of nowhere. It's a quirky, magical book that seems at the same time magical, but also incredibly mundane. Confused? Well, don't worry, there's luckily only one volume you'd need to get through to understand it.
6. Good Omens by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman
A fantasy author dream team if ever there was one, Good Omens tells the tale of the end of the world, but written in true Pratchett and Gaiman style. The end of the world is nigh, and not a single player on either the Good or Evil side seems to be able to figure out where the Anti-Christ is thanks to an unfortunate mix-up that occurred in a delivery room 11 years previously. As the end times approach, it's up to a ragtag group of angels, demons, horsemen of the apocalypse, witches, and witch hunters to find the son of Satan and stop the end of the world before it's too late.
7. The Lions of Al-Rassan by Guy Gavriel Kay
Set in an alternate universe based around medieval Spain, The Lions of Al-Rassan centers on the Asharite Empire, a once proud and pious empire that has splintered into several hedonistic city-states who seem to constantly be at war. On the rise in spite of all this is King Almalik of Cartada who is always aided by his adviser Ammar ibn Khairan, until one Summer afternoon changes all of that forever. The Lion of Al-Rassan is a densely political book, sort of like taking A Song of Ice and Fire , setting it completely in Dorne, and making it a single novel. It's thought-provoking and richly historical.
8. Fevre Dream by George R.R. Martin
Speak of the Devil and he shall appear: George R. R. Martin may be better known for his epic series, A Song of Ice and Fire , but before Ned Stark there was Abner Marsh, a struggling riverboat captain. When Marsh strikes a partnership deal with a wealthy aristocrat named Joshua York, he realizes that something seems to be wrong. Turns out, York is a vampire set on reuniting his species with the rest of humanity, and he's about to drag Marsh on a dangerous adventure he'll never forget. It may not have dragons in it, but at least Martin actually finished this one.
9. The Ghost Bride by Yangsze Choo
Set in the British-controlled Chinese colony of Malaya, The Ghost Bride centers on Li Lan, the daughter in a well known family that also happens to be bankrupt. With very few marriage prospects, Li Lan is giving an interesting proposition from a wealthy and powerful family: they would like her to become a ghost bride for their recently deceased only son. Based off of a real, though rarely practiced, Chinese custom, Li Lan will marry the spirit of the man in order to placate his restless spirit. Soon after the ghost marriage, Li Lan finds herself not only haunted by the ghost of her husband, but also by her attraction to the new heir of the family and is soon dragged into the dark mythology of the Chinese underworld. If you're looking for a fantasy novel that focuses non-Western culture, this is the one for you.
10. The Death Catchers by Jennifer Anne Kogler
Fourteen-year-old Lizzy Mortimer saw her first death-specter on Halloween and soon learns that she is to be a Death Catcher, a group of hunters fated to intervene when an unjust death is planned, a destiny handed down to her by her ancestor: Morgan Le Fay. Soon Lizzy is caught in an elaborate an ancient feud between Morgan and her sister Vivienne, who hopes to bring about the end of the world by killing the very last of King Arthur's descendants. For fans (but not sticklers) of Arthurian legend, this standalone novel is unique and interesting.
11. The City & The City by China Miéville
Equal parts urban fantasy and hard boiled detective noir, The City & The City centers on the incorruptible Tyador Borlú, a member of the Beszél Extreme Crime Squad, who is investigating the murder of a young woman. Set between two Eastern European-inspired cities that were divided by a mysterious "Cleavage" many years ago, and thus have evolved into two completely separate nations and cultures, the people of each city have been conditioned not to see or hear members of the other city, which makes investigation a little difficult. Miéville is the master of standalone fantasy to the point where every book in his Bas-Lag series could be read individually, but if you're on the market for a really good fantastical mystery, The City & The City is definitely well worth your time.
12. The Golden Key by Melanie Rawn, Jennifer Roberson, and Kate Elliott
Set in a world where art is everything, The Golden Key centers on the Grijalvas, an artistic family whose painting abilities have the power to alter reality. For the most part they use these ability for good, until the most talented member of the family decides to use his powers to serve his own interests, with disastrous results. Spanning over 400 years, this book is equal parts generational saga and epic fantasy. It's also unique given the fact that the book is divided into three parts, each written by a different author.
13. Blackdog by K.V. Johanson
In a world where gods and goddesses walk among mortals, a caravan guard named Holla-Sayan stops to help an injured girl and a dying dog. The girl turns out to be an incarnation of a goddess, while the dog is actually a shape-shifting spirit who promptly possesses Holla-Sayan and begins to drive him mad. Blackdog is a fascinating combination of traditional fantasy tropes and new blood, and is definitely worth reading for the high fantasy lover who doesn't want to start a new series just yet.
14. The Rathbones by Janice Clark
Set in a Gothic version of New England, The Rathbones tells the tale of a formerly prosperous seafaring dynasty. Fifteen-year-old Mercy is the scion of the Rathbone clan, a once powerful family who has withered away to nothing. Spending much of her time with her reclusive Uncle Mordecai since her father was lost at sea, everything changes when a strange and violent visitor appears, forcing Mercy and Mordecai to flee and start on a journey that will unravel the haunted mystery of the Rathbone clan.
15. The Folding Knife by K.J. Parker
For those who like a good political fantasy, The Folding Knife is your best bet. Bassianus Severus Arcadius (Basso to his friends) is the First Citizen of the Vasani republic, and is widely regarded as a lucky man. However, when a mistake from his past rears its ugly head, Basso needs to do damage control before his entire life is ruined. Set in a fictional republic that looks a lot like ancient Rome, it's perfect for if you read Dune and wished that there were more staff meetings.
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