9 Beautifully-Written Fantasy Books That Deserve Far More Attention

by Charlotte Ahlin

Like science fiction, mystery novels, and toy-based children's cartoons from the '80s, fantasy is one of those genres that gets adapted a lot these days. It feels like we're seeing more high fantasy on TV and film than ever, which is good news if you're a fan of swords and dragons and elaborate Game of Thrones fan theories. But it also means that a lot of great fantasy books are going unrecognized. If your fantasy reading has only covered J.K. Rowling, George R.R. Martin, J.R.R. Tolkien, and all the other big-name authors with J's and R's in their names, then you've just barely scratched the surface of all that the genre has to offer. Here are a few fantasy gems that deserve a little more attention.

Of course, these books do already have their dedicated fans out there in the vast wilderness of the Internet. I don't mean to suggest that they've been languishing unsold in bookstores for centuries. But these books don't quite have the wide, Hogwarts/Westeros/Middle-Earth level following of some fantasy epics, and they could really use some extra love. Here are a few of the most thrilling, creative, and beautifully written fantasy novels that deserve far more attention:

'Lud-in-the-Mist' by Hope Mirrlees

At this point, Lud-in-the-Mist is starting to become well known as one of the greatest unknown fantasy novels of all time. Written years before Tolkien's hobbity classics, and before any fantasy tropes were set in stone, Lud-in-the-Mist follows Nathaniel Chanticleer, mayor of the titular fantasy city, as he tries to save his son and his people from the mysteries of the fairies who live to the west. It's a strange, original, beautifully written story that has inspired fantasy authors for generations.

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'A Stranger in Olondria' by Sofia Samatar

Jevick has always heard stories of Olondria, where books are plentiful and life is just generally wondrous and pleasant. So when Jevick finally gets the chance to visit this strange land himself, he is thrilled to find that his dreams are coming true — until he meets a ghost, falls in with some powerful cults, and winds up facing his deepest fears in a country on the brink of war.

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'The Bone Doll's Twin' by Lynn Flewelling

Forget all those tropes about girls dressing as boys to go to knight school, because The Bone Doll's Twin goes one step further: Tamir was meant to be a prophesied queen, but magic has placed her in the body of a boy, in the hopes of protecting her from her hateful uncle's wrath. Now the haunted "boy" Tobin must find a way to claim her destiny with the aid of a couple of wizards and an outlaw forest witch in this fantastical exploration of gender and identity.

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'The Grass Dancer' by Susan Power

It's debatable whether The Grass Dancer really counts as fantasy, or as magical realism or folklore or some other fantasy-adjacent genre. But what's not debatable is that The Grass Dancer is an extraordinary novel infused with magic, weaving together the lives of different members of the Sioux Nation from the 1980's to the 1800's. The result is this complex tapestry of family, loss, love, ghosts, and brilliant non-linear storytelling.

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'Forest of a Thousand Lanterns' by Julie C. Dao

Xifeng is a beautiful girl, and she has long been destined for great things. Her cruel, witchy aunt has promised that she will become empress one day, and leave her peasant life behind. But first she must accept the dark magic that runs through her blood, the magic that requires her to do not-so-great things, like spurning a young man who loves her... or devouring the hearts of the recently killed.

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'Lion of Senet' by Jennifer Fallon

In Ranadon there is no night, and two suns blaze in the sky without end. That might sound pretty OK, but the High Priestess of the Shadowdancers messed with some pretty dark magic to make things this way. At first her power is unquestioned, but when a mysterious sailor washes up on shore, political alliance begin to shift, and the realm of Ranadon finds itself caught between two powerful forces in a struggle that could bring back the dark for good.

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'The Hidden City' by Michelle West

Jewel Markess has been orphaned, left alone in the slums of Averalaan. At least, she was alone—now she's found herself strangely bound with a man called Rath, a man who prowls the undercity, who has nursed her back to health, and who seems to be the target of the mysterious demons who once nearly destroyed the Essalieyan Empire.

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'Fire Logic' by Laurie J. Marks

The land of Shaftal is dying. The four elements are out of balance. The earth witch is dead. Now saving the world is up to Emil, the brilliant scholar and reluctant warrior, Zanja, the sole survivor of a murdered people, and Karis, the half-giant who can use magic to heal... when she's not spending all her time abusing drugs. Fire Logic is a delightful, feminist fantasy epic featuring a ragtag bunch of misfits, swashbuckling, romance, and some weird elemental magic.

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'Throne of the Crescent Moon' by Saladin Ahmed

As the master thief known as the the Falcon Prince leads a rebellion against the tyrannical Khalif, and as supernatural murders sweep through the kingdom, Doctor Adoulla Makhslood is trying desperately to enjoy his retirement. All he wants to do is have a cup of tea and forget about his life of monster-hunting... until one murder hits too close to home, and Adoulla is pulled back into a world of djenn and ghuls and magically charged political intrigue.

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