24 Fantasy Authors On The Books That Made Them Fall In Love With The Genre
Thanks to series like Harry Potter, Red Queen, and A Court of Thorns and Roses, fantasy fiction might be more popular today than ever before. If you're looking for a magic book, 24 fantasy authors recommend books that made them fall in love with the genre in the list below. Whether you're a seasoned fantasy veteran, or a newcomer to tales of fairies, dragons, and mages, the recommendations on the list below are sure to satisfy you.
You might notice that some books and authors on this list show up a lot. Kristin Cashore's Graceling and Sabriel by Garth Nix got two recommendations each from the authors Bustle reached out to, and author Anne McCaffrey has three different books in the mix below. Clearly, these authors and their books were super influential to today's fantasy writers.
It's also important to note the diversity of today's fantasy literature. The white, muscle-bound heroes and their scantily-clad damsels in distress of yore — I'm looking at you, Conan the Barbarian — have been replaced by strong heroines of all different ethnicities and sexual orientations. If you have never seen yourself in a fantasy novel, I encourage you to check out the books written and recommended by the authors below to see if they can't change your mind.
'The Winter of the Witch' Author Katherine Arden Recommends 'The Hero and the Crown' by Robin McKinley
"The book that got me into fantasy was The Hero and the Crown, by Robin McKinley. It was the first book I ever read where the heroine slays the dragon instead of the hero. (With her horse best friend to help). It was also the book that showed me that writing could be beautiful for its own sake."
'Ninth House' Author Leigh Bardugo Recommends 'Catwitch' by Una Woodruff and Lisa Tuttle
"I was obsessed with a picture book by Una Woodruff and Lisa Tuttle called Catwitch. I'm not sure if it's still in print, but I have my original copy and the illustrations are so saturated and rich with detail they're almost psychedelic. It's about an evil developer trying to build resorts in the land of Faerie, a witch who desperately wants to be an actress, and of course, a cat who wants to be a witch. But it's really about secret worlds and the sure belief that there's magic waiting to be discovered — if you have the guts to go looking."
'Wicked Fox' Author Kat Cho Recommends 'Daughter of Smoke and Bone' by Laini Taylor
"The book that made me fall in love with fantasy was probably Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor. There were fantasy novels I loved as a child, but DOSAB was what solidified my current love affair with the long-lasting emotions that fantasy can evoke in readers. I love that there was the familiar of our modern world, but the mysterious unknown of a world that lives adjacent to ours. It introduced me as a reader to something unexplainable, something beautiful and terrifying at the same time."
'The Princess Beard' Co-Author Delilah S. Dawson Recommends 'The Valley of Horses' by Jean M. Auel
"I would say Watership Down, which I stole from the library in second grade because the librarian said it was too violent for me, but we all know that's real and not Fantasy at all and that Hazel-rah will live forever. Therefore, I'd have to conclude that the first Fantasy book that really drew me in and hooked me on sweeping sagas was Valley of Horses by Jean M. Auel. My mom gave me the first book in the Earth's Children series, Clan of the Cave Bear, which followed Ayla as she grew up as a 'modern' human raised by Neanderthals. It was exciting, tragic, and marvelous. But with book 2, Ayla becomes a true Fantasy heroine. She navigates a world so ancient it feels like magic and becomes the first human to tame horses, cave lions, and wolves — and she even invents various weapons and her own religion. And, just as importantly, she explores her sexuality after a violent rape, taking charge of her body and her life. It was eye-opening in every way, plus now I know which parts of the cattail are edible."
'Bloodwitch' Author Susan Dennard Recommends 'Dragonsong' by Anne McCaffrey
"Choosing a single book that turned me into a fantasy reader is, quite frankly, a tall order. I always joke that there was no YA shelf when I was growing up, so I went from A Wrinkle in Time to Wheel of Time. But that's not quite true, and in fact, I can vividly recall the one book that made me leap shelves from children's fantasy to adult SFF: Anne McCaffrey's Dragonsong. Intended for younger readers, that book (and its sequels) introduced me to the Pern world at age thirteen, and after that, I was hooked. So once I'd devoured every Pern novel, I moved on to other adult fantasy novels — and I never did look back."
'We Hunt the Flame' Author Hafsah Faizal Recommends 'Graceling' by Kristin Cashore
"I've always been a huge fan of fantasy, most likely because it's a genre so far out there that it isn't a glaring reminder of how different I am, unlike in contemporary fiction. Getting lost in a new world where everything is new and exciting and dangerous is my favorite thing, but it wasn't until I picked up Graceling that I fully realized it. Kristin Cashore's debut was my entry into young adult literature and the book that got me back into reading, and eventually writing! It's the story of Katsa, a girl who believes she has no place in a world where she's seen as monstrous, and yes, I can wholly relate."
'Magic for Liars' Author Sarah Gailey Recommends 'Sabriel' by Garth Nix
"The book that made me fall in love with fantasy was without a doubt Garth Nix's Sabriel. I remember reading it as a very young child, and being completely absorbed by the world he built. I had experienced fantasy narratives before, obviously — kidlit is ripe with genre themes — but Sabriel was the book that made me realize fantasy could be rich and gorgeous and complex and dangerous. The entire Sabriel series remains a refuge for me, and I recommend it to every reader."
'The Afterward' Author E.K. Johnston Recommends 'The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe' by C.S. Lewis
"When I was five, my mother read me a story. A girl had to hide, and then she opened a door. She watched the snow melt and Christmas come again, and then — with the Lion's roar — spring. And when the girl grew up, they called her Valiant, and said that she was always merry. But there’s a note at the beginning of that story, a note to a real girl named Lucy, who Jack wrote for. It said that though she would be too old for fairy tales when the book was done, that there would come a time in her life when she would be ready for fairy tales again. That, for me, is reading fantasy. When you are ready for fairy tales, they will welcome you back. They will change as you do, as the world does, but when you need them, they are always, always there."
'A River of Royal Blood' Author Amanda Joy Recommends 'Graceling' by Kristin Cashore
"I was an early reader of fantasy. One of my oldest memories is of reading The Horse and His Boy and asking my Dad to explain a new word every other page. But the book that made me truly fall in love, and want to write fantasy, is Graceling by Kristin Cashore. I was 16 the first time I read this feminist AF novel and I felt an immediate connection to Katsa, a girl with a preternatural gift for violence. I saw myself in her self-loathing and rage, and marveled at the perfect simplicity of magical gifts called 'graces.' What still stands out to me, many rereads later, is that Katsa’s real power is her heart, but she doesn’t have to be disarmed or broken to understand that."
'The Dragon Republic' Author R.F. Kuang Recommends The Broken Earth Trilogy by N.K. Jemisin and The Dandelion Dynasty Trilogy by Ken Liu
"When I was a kid, the books that made me fall in love with fantasy were the classics – Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter, and the Chronicles of Narnia. But I grew increasingly disillusioned with fantasy as I got older and became more aware of how myopically white, male, and Western European the genre was. Then I read books like the Broken Earth trilogy by N.K. Jemisin and the Dandelion Dynasty trilogy by Ken Liu, which opened my eyes to what fantasy could represent and accomplish."
'The Raven Tower' Author Ann Leckie Recommends 'The Crystal Gryphon' by Andre Norton
"I've been reading science fiction and fantasy so long it's hard to know what started me on those genres. But the first fantasy book I truly fell in love with was Andre Norton's The Crystal Gryphon. A friendless hero, rejected by his family, but who has perhaps inherited strange abilities; a tough, practical heroine who can run a castle or fight a battle; a land overrun by war; and strange, ancient powers lurking in The Waste beyond the inhabited Dales... I suspect Norton's work isn't as popular as it once was, and she wrote so much that (speaking as a die-hard fan of her work) the worst of it is pretty bad. But the best of her work — and I count The Crystal Gryphon in that category — is wonderful."
'Jade War' Author Fonda Lee Recommends the Dragonriders of Pern Series by Anne McCaffrey
"I discovered Anne McCaffrey’s Dragonriders of Pern series when I was teen. I started with the original trilogy (Dragonflight, Dragonquest, and The White Dragon), followed by the Harper Hall books and a number of other stories in the Pern universe. I’d read other fantasy novels, but McCaffrey’s books were unlike anything I’d encountered before. They had familiar fantasy elements: intelligent dragons telepathically bonded to human riders in a pre-industrial civilization under mysterious threat — but there was also planetary colonization, genetic engineering, and astronomical explanations for the Thread. McCaffrey took fantasy tropes and placed them in a science fictional world that felt entirely grounded, full of characters that were human and flawed. I loved that McCaffrey blurred genre lines and made the seemingly fantastical feel intensely believable. It stuck with me, and is something I strive to accomplish in my own writing today."
'Middlegame' Author Seanan McGuire Recommends 'The Last Unicorn' by Peter S. Beagle
"The Last Unicorn was the narrative through line of my childhood. I saw the movie when I was far too young to appreciate it for the delicate masterwork that it was, and read the book only a few years later, when I was six. It was one of the first 'real' books I read, and I would return to it over and over again throughout my childhood."
'Fireborne' Author Rosaria Munda Recommends 'The Once and Future King' by T.H. White
"The Once and Future King, because it was the first fantasy I ever read that was both profoundly political and intimately psychological. As a king, Art hopes to 'break the wheel' with his high-minded ideals for Camelot — but as a friend, he wants to protect his friends Lance and Gwen, even as their love destroys the kingdom and breaks his heart."
'Steel Tide' Author Natalie C. Parker Recommends 'The Dark Is Rising' by Susan Cooper
"The Dark is Rising by Susan Cooper blew my mind when I was a young reader because it was the first time I saw a fantastical, magical world that collided with our own. I loved the adventure, the mythology, and the idea that these things were tucked just beneath the surface of the world I walked in every day. It was one of the first books that inspired me to imagine my world differently, and one of the first that inspired me to write."
'Whispers of Shadow and Flame' Author L. Penelope Recommends 'Mama Day' by Gloria Naylor
"The book that made me fall in love with fantasy is Mama Day by Gloria Naylor. Though it wasn’t categorized as fantasy and would likely fall more onto the magical realism shelf, for me it opened a door to the mythic, the magical, and the fantastic, which never shut again. Ambitious and haunting, it’s a supernatural story of African American family, curses, and freedom that’s lingered with me since I first read it as a child."
'Stormsong' Author C.L. Polk Recommends 'Night's Master' by Tanith Lee
"As a kid, I didn't actually understand that fantasy was a genre. I loved reading fairy tales, and collections of stories based on mythology, but I didn't think of those stories as fantasy. I think the distinction came in a school library where I found a copy of Tanith Lee's Night's Master. It enchanted me. This was a series of stories that reminded me of the fairy tales and the myths I loved when I was small, but wasn't from a collection that was decades old. It had published less than ten years before, and that made it something I could actually do myself. I read all the tales of the Flat Earth. I adored their rhythms and language, their imagery and beauty, how the unforgettable characters and their stories stood outside of this world and outside time. It made fantasy a real genre to me, and I still have my complete Flat Earth series in my library. They're my forever books."
'The Lost Future of Pepperharrow' Author Natasha Pulley Recommends 'Ship of Magic' by Robin Hobb
"The book was Ship of Magic, by Robin Hobb. The big fantastical concept is the existence of 'liveships' — ships built from a kind of sentient wood, which means that the ships are alive, and their figureheads can speak. I loved it so much because it felt like it was almost real. It wasn’t a huge sweeping fantasy trope, like werewolves or fairies, where the magic is divorced from normal people and distinct from the real world; it felt to me like something that really might be true, if you could only catch the right ship in an unguarded moment. Ships — normal ones — feel a bit alive sometimes, and it’s common to hear sailors speak as if those vessels have personalities. It was a such a brilliant, believable step to just edge that idea further on. That’s still my favourite thing about fantasy today: its ability to highlight the magic that is already in the world."
'The Near Witch' Author V.E. Schwab Recommends the Harry Potter Series by J.K. Rowling
"I had the incomparable pleasure of discovering Harry Potter as an 11-year-old when the first book came out. My first thought? I’d never forgotten who/where I was before. My second thought? I want to have that power."
'The Priory of the Orange Tree' Author Samantha Shannon Recommends 'Sabriel' by Garth Nix
"Sabriel by Garth Nix: This brought me back to fantasy in my early teens after I grew frustrated with not being able to find enough female main characters in the genre I loved. (Unfortunately, many of the great female-authored epics, like Alanna, never found me.) I loved that Sabriel centred on a truly complex and iron-willed young woman — to the point that her name was the title — and its magic system both fascinated and terrified me."
'These Witches Don't Burn' Author Isabel Sterling Recommends 'Ella Enchanted' by Gail Carson Levine
"When I was eight years old, I fell in love with Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine and became a lifelong fantasy reader. The first time I read Ella Enchanted, I wanted to disappear into the pages in a way I never had before. I wanted to meet the fairies and giants and other mythical creatures in the story. I wanted to learn the various magical languages Ella could speak. I wanted so desperately for that world to be real that I read the book over and over again, wondering what it would be like to have Ella’s curse of obedience or to have a fairy godmother of my own. I loved that Ella was smart and headstrong — in much the same way I’d come to love Hermione when I finally found my way to Harry Potter. Ella’s character was a beacon of hope during a time when I discovered that my classmates didn’t think 'smart girls' were cool. To see a prince fall in love with Ella’s brains, wit, and humor instead of her looks was just as magical to me as the artistically-blessed elves and their enchanted pottery. Her story made fantasy feel like a second home and set me on the path to becoming the writer I am today."
'A Reaper at the Gates' Author Sabaa Tahir Recommends 'Moreta: Dragonlady of Pern' by Anne McCaffrey
"Anne McCaffrey's entire Pern series featured a host of fascinating heroines — some were brave, some were sly. Some were funny and others were sober and serious. But she captured that inner, core feminine strength that I do not believe we celebrate enough. My favorite book by her is Moreta: Dragonlady of Pern. Moreta is a historical character you hear about in other Pern books, and she's always spoken of with awe. To actually read her story, beautiful and tragic as it is, was a wonderful look into the badassery and sacrifice that often twine together when telling the stories of great women."
'The Fire Opal Mechanism' Author Fran Wilde Recommends 'The Phantom Tollbooth' by Norton Juster and 'The Annotated Alice' by Lewis Carroll and Martin Gardner
"At least two books are to blame for my love of fantasy... well, actually, more like two and a half books. The Phantom Tollbooth, by Norton Juster, is one. I remember babysitters reading it to me when I was very young, and doing all the voices. Later, when I was a junior camp counselor, my senior counselor and I took turns reading it to our cabin of eight-year-olds (she did all the voices too, and so much better than me). I adored, most particularly, Alec Bings, who was still growing, and whose feet would eventually reach the ground; and the dodecahedron. The other book (and a half) was The Annotated Alice — featuring works by Lewis Caroll, annotated by Martin Gardner. I read that before I read the standalone Alice in Wonderland, and something in me cracked. Now I always look for footnotes, and marginalia, even when it's not there. Okay, also, much later Terry Pratchett's Tiffany Aching series, first because I'm team witches and second because footnotes. And Earthsea. And... okay. That's much more than two books isn't it."
Fran Wilde's new book, The Fire Opal Mechanism, is out June 4 and is available for pre-order now. Norton Juster's The Phantom Tollbooth and The Annotated Alice by Lewis Carroll and Martin Gardner are available now.
'The Ascent to Godhood' Author JY Yang Recommends The Lord of the Rings Trilogy by J.R.R. Tolkien
"Not the first fantasy books I read, but definitely the one that made me interested in more fantasy: the Lord of the Rings trilogy, which I read when the films came out. I was in college at the time; I was mostly a committed science/space SF nerd before that. Still am, actually! Except that I now appreciate fantasy a bit more. Sometimes I even write it! (The Tensorate series was my first serious attempt at secondary-world fantasy; most of the short fiction I wrote before that was SF…)"
JY Yang's new book, The Ascent to Godhood, is out on July 30 and is available for pre-order now. J.R.R. Tolkien's Lord of the Rings Trilogy is available now.