I know, I know. Some people claim that they're just not into the whole fantasy thing. The secret powers, the magic, and, often, the healthy dose of medieval-style intrigue. But when a novel has a great story and even greater characters, even people who say they won't read fantasy can get sucked into all the magic. Victoria Aveyard's Red Queen will satisfy diehard fantasy fans, but it will also lure in all those who drank the fantasy haterade.
In the land of Red Queen, the world is divided between those who have Silver blood and those who have Red blood. The Silvers are the elite, the rulers, and the ones with all the privileges. The Red live in poverty, are sent to war, and live to serve. Oh, and what's keeping those Silvers in power other than a land steeped in tradition? They're also blessed with crazy magical powers of all kinds. But after she becomes a servant in the king's home, 17-year-old, Red-blooded Mare Barrow discovers that she, against all odds, also has one of these powers that only the Silvers claim to possess.
Now Mare is forced to trade in her life of pick-pocketing and servitude to one of royalty. To hide her secret, she is masked as a long-lost Silver and betrothed to the prince. However, she hasn't lost her fighting spirit and she uses her position in the world to spy and work for a Red rebellion that aims to take down the Silver control.
The story may be fantasy, but so many of the issues and struggles present in Aveyard's novel are absolutely true to life. The book has so much to say about poverty and how the rich work their damnedest to keep the poor poor and the rich rich. It talks about the intersection between poverty and those sent to battle in war, how the rich get the adoration and the fame but the poor are the ones dying on the front lines. And boy does it have a lot to say about identity, finding your place in the world, and the pain love can add to that..
So even if you think you don't like fantasy, you're going to want to read Red Queen. But in that same vein, there are eight other fantasy novels, both young adult and adult fiction, that will make you realize that you like fantasy after all.
Throne of Glass Series by Sarah J. Maas
Sarah J. Maas was inspired by the tale of Cinderella when she wrote the Throne of Glass series — except the version of Cinderella you read as a kid probably didn't have trained assassins. Teenage assassin Celaena Sardothien has been imprisoned by a corrupt kingdom in a glass castle, and it's here where she competes in battles in order to win the opportunity to serve the kingdom and earn her freedom. And no spoilers, but that's only book one. Three books have already been published in Maas' six-book series.
The Grisha Trilogy by Leigh Bardugo
Leigh Bardugo's fantasy adventure trilogy is inspired by an unexpected source: Tsarist Russia. Our heroine is Alina Starkov, a soldier in her war-ravaged home who discovers that she has a magical power. When this power comes to light, Alina trains with other magical beings in the royal court in order to become part of the Grisha, the elite. But there's a hint of science fiction in the trilogy, too, as Bardugo bases a lot of the training and magic off of actual chemistry theories.
The Magicians by Lev Grossman
In The Magicians , Quentin Coldwater loves his fantasy stories, particularly one about five children in the land of Fillory. Even his life at a secret college of magic and sorcery didn't compare to how he imagined life in Fillory. But as he figures out after graduation, Fillory isn't as fantastical as he had thought. In fact, it's real. And Quentin and his debaucherous friends from college travel there and find that the stories from his books are based on real events. Imagine it as a mature version of Harry Potter — but perhaps without the same happy-go-lucky views of magic.
Stardust by Neil Gaiman
Most all of Neil Gaiman will do, but one of the best real fantasy stories he wrote was Stardust , centered on Tristran Thorn who aims to catch a falling star to win over the affection of his beloved Victoria Forester. But instead, he ends up, well, falling for that falling star. Gaiman wrote the story based on the style of traditional English fantasy, so it's a bit different than his other grittier works, but it has his same imagination and spirit.
The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern
The mysterious Night Circus, called Le Cirque des Reves, is a stage for two dueling magicians, trained since birth to battle each other in the art of magic. They each make stunning visual creations, continually topping each other, but still unsure of just what they are battling for. Their mesmerizing magic binds the two together, and the young magicians, Celia and Marco, end up falling in love. You're going to read this book with their magic dancing around in your head, desperately wishing you could also visit their circus.
The Ring and the Crown by Melissa de la Cruz
If you want to get lost in a stunning world with a touch of magic, reading Melissa de la Cruz's The Ring and the Crown is the perfect way to do so. The story is set in an alternative present day, in the Franco-British Empire, which is the only place in the world where magic lives. Each ruler of the empire is aided by a Merlin, a wizard, who serves and protects. There's trading places, mystery, power struggles, and even some love. And in any land where marriage and titles can mean power, you can't really trust anyone, especially when magic is involved.
Graceling by Kristin Cashore
Katsa lives in a world where inhabitants are all given a special skill, or a Grace. Some people can dance, some people can draw, but Katsa's Grace is killing. And because she sits as the king's niece, she's used to hurt or kill her uncle's enemies, though she is determined to figure out why she was given this Grace and how to use it for good. So instead she forms a secret council devoted to justice over cruelty and power. No matter if you love fantasy or not, you're going to love the tough, strong-willed Katsa.
The Kiss of Deception by Mary E. Pearson
If you like your fantasy with a side of epic romance, you're going to need The Kiss of Deception . At 17, Princess Lia escapes her kingdom and flees from an arranged marriage on her wedding day with her lady-in-waiting Pauline. They run to Pauline's hometown and begin a new life in hiding, but the two women aren't the only ones who aren't who they seem. While her father sends bounty hunters after her, other forces with different motivations send assassins hoping she never returns to fulfill the marriage pact. And two men show up at the door of Lia and Pauline — one is the jilted prince and another is one of those hit men. But remember what I said about the romance.