There's magic in the pages of Kazuo Ishiguro’s The Buried Giant. No, really. The Man Booker Prize-winning author has most often turned his talents to reality-steeped situations (from the purposely dreary The Remains of the Day to the future-set but still deeply believable Never Let Me Go ), but his latest novel imagines a wild world populated by dragons and knights, ogres and warriors, and secrets to spare. The novel is set in a real time — approximately 450 A.D., after the end of Roman rule in Britain and around the time Anglo-Saxon rule was taking over — but its narrative is peppered with elements pulled from fantasy novels (you know, like dragons).
But the book is more than big battles between knights and monsters, and is mostly focused on the marriage between Beatrice and Axl, two aging Britons who can’t quite recall the finer details of things, but are nonetheless convinced that they have a son and that they need to find him. Beatrice and Axl aren’t the only people who can’t remember things, indeed, most of the country seems to be walking around in a dreamy daze, unable to hold on to even the most important of memories. (Does that sound like it will make a quest extremely hard to launch? Oh, it is.) As Beatrice and Axl cross the — often accompanied by a motley crew of equally dazed new — Ishiguro works his slow burn magic to full effect.
If you’ve already read The Buried Giant and are eager for more books like it, here are 9 unforgettable recommendations for you to try.
Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro
The Buried Giant may be a big departure for Ishiguro in terms of plot and setting, but its tone and somewhat languorous pacing aren't all that dissimilar from his other books. You've probably heard of Never Let Me Go before — hell, you probably saw the Andrew Garfield- and Carey Mulligan-starring movie adaptation that came out back in 2010 — but if you haven't read the actual novel, you owe it to yourself to give it a chance. While the film version of the novel doesn't hide that it's about human cloning, Ishiguro's source material really takes its time before letting that element slip. And when it does? You heart will break.
Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel
Although Ishiguro's novel is set in a fictional post-medieval setting, the novel has plenty in common with other stories about ruined worlds, even more modern-seeming post-apocalyptic dramas. St. John Mandel's latest is set in a destroyed North America, but like The Buried Giant, it's also about journeys, quests, and the lingering power of secrets. If you enjoyed Ishiguro's novel but didn't necessarily go bonkers for its time period, this could be a solid fix. (And, if you do like Station Eleven, I even have 9 more recommendations for reading after that one; books galore!)
A Game of Thrones by George R.R. Martin
OK, yes, Martin's series is huge and sprawling and daunting, and it all but begs for the assistance of guides and maps to keep it flowing (even just watching the HBO series, I constantly find myself consulting maps of Westeros to remember where everything is), but if you're desperate for a deeper dive into the fantasy realm, you can't get much better than the first book in the Song of Ice and Fire series. At the very least, you'll walk away with a greater understanding of the series (at the worst, you'll suddenly find yourself compelled to read thousands of pages without pause).
Dragonsong by Anne McCaffrey
McCaffrey's Dragonriders of Pern series is a gold standard YA franchise, but it also has plenty to offer its adult readers, including intriguing storylines, indelible characters, and a mythology that makes the existence of dragons felt almost unnervingly real. If Ishiguro's dragons caught your eye, McCaffrey's will turn your entire head.
The Book of Strange New Things by Michel Faber
At the heart of The Buried Giant is the unexpectedly enduring marriage between Beatrice and Axl, and a similar relationship drives Faber's new novel, despite wildly different settings. Faber's book tests the love of his own protagonists — Peter and Bea — by separating them... by entire galaxies. While Peter works on establishing a new world lightyears away, Bea stays back home on Earth, where things are getting increasingly more bizarre and dangerous. Turns out, their love might be the one thing that can save them.
The Princess Bride by William Goldman
Yes, The Princess Bride is based on a book (a fun fact I only learned a few months ago, much to my imminent shame). Just like the cult classic film based on the novel, Goldman's book is filled with zippy asides and a fun, high-spirited tone. Also like the movie? It's not really based on another story — despite the fact that its title claims to be an abridged version of another fairy tale, one that doesn't actually exist — adding an extra layer of delicious cleverness.
The Woodcutter by Kate Danley
A dark spin on the Cinderella tale — glass slipper and all — Danley's book satisfyingly blends magic, high drama, epic fantasy, and a lingering sense of unease that can't be blamed entirely on the creepy woods where it takes place.
Outlander by Diana Gabaldon
Just like Game of Thrones, Gabaldon's sprawling series has scads of dedicated fans, a popular TV series, and enough books to scare off even hearty readers. But Gabaldon's emotionally rich and enormously inventive series is easy enough to get into, thanks to her addictive writing and one (or more...) big time romances that will capture your heart.
Stardust by Neil Gaiman
Specifically written to sound like a traditional English fantasy novel, Gaiman's book imagines a world filled with faeries, fallen stars, and extremely complicated community politics. It's enormously fun to read, an adult fairy tale that draws from the genre, but still makes some very modern choices.
Image: Kate Erbland