Sign Up

Get the latest ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit.

All Fantasy Coverage

January 13, 2023

17 perfect books for newcomers to fantasy

Do you want to dip your toe into fantasy, but aren’t sure where to start? These accessible but transportive books can be your gateway.
Share this Article:

The Witch’s Heart

Genevieve Gornichec’s debut novel, The Witch’s Heart, is both staggering in its beauty and delicate in its execution.

Read more

Black Water Sister

Sometimes a book makes you forget everything: the water boiling on the stove for tea, the lunch or dinner that has long since gone cold.

Read more


Heather Walter’s debut novel, Malice, transforms the familiar fairytale of Sleeping Beauty into a dark and compelling fantasy romance between the storybook princess and the dark sorceress Alyce.

Read more

The Chosen and the Beautiful

Nghi Vo perfectly balances the new and the familiar in her magical adaptation of The Great Gatsby.

Read more

Half Sick of Shadows

Laura Sebastian has found an entirely new perspective from which to retell the Arthurian saga: that of Elaine of Astolat, Lady of Shalott.

Read more

Get your custom reading list

Stay on top of new releases: Sign up for our enewsletter to receive custom reading recommendations in your favorite genres every Tuesday.

Recent Features

Do you want to dip your toe into fantasy, but aren't sure where to start? These accessible but transportive books can be your gateway.
Review by

Somewhere beneath the surface of the world, an ancient evil sleeps. The Nameless One, a wyrm so powerful that it once threatened the very fabric of life, is bound beneath the Earth’s crust, in its molten interior. Some think that its defeat came at the hands of a knight named Galian. Those who follow Galian’s teachings believe that his heirs, a line of uncannily identical queens, are all that stand between the world and destruction. Others attest that Cleolind, the queen whom Galian sought to marry, defeated the beast. 

While the old danger sleeps, the Earth has become restless, with volcanoes spewing new terrors in the form of beasts and wyrms. If the world is to survive, its people must learn how to subdue these powerful beasts. For Dumai, the crown princess of Seiiki who has been raised in a remote temple, that will mean learning how to call down the gods to save her people. For Glorian, princess and heir to Sir Galian’s legacy, that will mean sacrificing her childhood for the greater good. And for Tunuva and the rest of the women of the Priory of the Orange Tree, a religious order that Cleolind founded, that will mean fighting in a battle they’ve trained for but hoped would never come. And for all involved, it will require uncommon courage and a will to triumph.

Why Samantha Shannon returned to the world of ‘The Priory of the Orange Tree.’

A Day of Fallen Night is Samantha Shannon’s return to the world of The Priory of the Orange Tree and a prequel to that novel. It is a massive undertaking, clocking in at nearly 900 pages, but with its careful plotting and brilliantly developed cast of characters, it is worth every paragraph. Shannon covers both grand high fantasy themes and more down-to-earth ones, touching on everything from court intrigue and the terrifying frenzy of battle to tender domestic moments. 

The novel overflows with characters whose wins you’ll cheer for and whose failures you’ll mourn. Shannon examines the relationship between mother and child, including the grief that comes with the loss of a child, the hope that a new generation brings and the frustration of trying to live up to your forerunners’ expectations. Her female characters are fierce, but they’re also vulnerable, clever and lonely. At times, her poetic prose overwhelms the senses with sumptuous detail and explosive energy. In other moments, she paints complex emotions with goosebump-­inducing empathy. 

You don’t need to have read The Priory of the Orange Tree to enjoy A Day of Fallen Night. But know that the pull of the priory is strong: Whichever book you start with, you’ll likely want to have the next one close at hand.

Samantha Shannon’s prequel to The Priory of the Orange Tree is just as sumptuous and explosive, immersing readers in a world on the brink of destruction.

After 15 glorious years exploring the 12th-century Indian Ocean with her tightknit crew—acquiring precious jewels and artifacts, prevailing in all manner of violent encounters and reveling in the wildness of life on the sea—pirate captain Amina al-Sirafi grounded herself. Why, after all her legendary adventures, would she leave behind her beloved Marawati and abandon the great wide ocean? Because she gave birth to her daughter, Marjana, whom she wants to protect from the sorts of people she used to live among—the sort of person she used to be herself. 

But as Shannon Chakraborty’s historical fantasy The Adventures of Amina al-Sirafi begins, the past calls to Amina in the form of an irresistible job offer from the wealthy and imperious mother of Amina’s former crewmate Asif. Asif’s daughter has been kidnapped, and if Amina can rescue the girl, she will receive a million dinars, a life-changing sum that could buy the security and privacy she craves. “It was tempting,” Amina thinks. “It was tantalizing. It was me. For I have always had a gambler’s soul . . .” 

Shannon Chakraborty sets sail for a new horizon.

Desire and ambition prevail over misgivings, and Amina returns to the sea after 10 years in hiding, convincing her former crew to join her once again. They encounter people, creatures and secrets that inspire fascination right along with terror and doubt. After all, everyone is older, wiser and burdened by regrets about roads (well, sea routes) not taken. But they’re also thrilled to be together again, and Chakraborty creates a rousing and inspiring portrait of the beautiful alchemy that results when a group of people fit perfectly together, challenging and supporting one another in invaluable and often hilarious ways.

As in Chakraborty’s internationally bestselling Daevabad trilogy, magic and dark forces and bizarre beings pop up in the pages of The Adventures of Amina al-Sirafi, the first volume in a new trilogy. Impressively researched history underpins it all, offering fascinating context and realism that elevate this swashbuckling, adventurous tale of a fantastical heist as it explores parenthood, faith, ambition, friendship and the enduring allure of forging a legacy.

Shannon Chakraborty’s follow-up to her bestselling Daevabad trilogy is a swashbuckling high seas quest that’s rousing, profound and irresistible.
Review by

When you get home from a stressful day at work, do you kick back with a nice cold beer? Or do you prefer hemlock tea? In Hannah Whitten’s The Foxglove King, poisons are drugs that produce a potent magical high. Full of courtly intrigue, smart characters and will-they-won’t-they romance, The Foxglove King is a heady concoction that will satiate anyone looking for an absorbing new fantasy world.

Lore is a poison dealer in the city of Dellaire, and she has a huge secret: She was born into a cult of death-worshipping witches. After she escaped as an adolescent, she swore she’d never let the witches find her again. It’s easy to hide in Dellaire’s underground, but it’s a lot harder to hide when you’re arrested by the soldier-monks of the Presque Mort for dealing poison and forced to serve the Sainted King in his court. Trapped, Lore must use her street smarts to investigate a series of terrible attacks on border towns across the kingdom. To top it off, she’s right in the middle of a tense feud between the king’s son, Bastian, and her Presque Mort guardian, Gabriel. It’s going to take all of Lore’s cunning and skill to survive the court and uncover the mystery behind the attacks.

The Foxglove King is built on opposites: death magic versus life magic, wealth versus poverty, pain versus pleasure and truth versus fiction. But what makes this book so fascinating is Whitten’s willingness to subvert expectations. Sometimes, diametrically opposed forces work better together than against each other. Such is the case with Bastian and Gabriel. Former friends, these very different men become more complex characters over the course of the narrative, each one enriched and challenged by Lore. The love triangle among them adds texture but never distracts from the central storyline. 

Medieval-adjacent fantasy societies can feel stuffy and ancient, but Whitten cannily avoids this trap. Her characters speak with a modern sensibility, which makes the story accessible and often heightens the tension. Lore is a fun guide throughout, snarky and confident one moment, vulnerable and thoughtful the next. Her depth and complexity as a protagonist bode well for future entries in the Nightshade Crown series, with Whitten skillfully tying Lore’s background into the reveals about the broader universe and its unique, dangerous and more than a little creepy magic system. (A dead god buried deep under the city is leaking death magic that infects everything in Dellaire? Rad.) 

Whitten’s already gained a following with her Wilderwood duology, and the perfectly balanced Foxglove King proves that her success was not a fluke.

Hannah Whitten gained a following with her Wilderwood duology, and the perfectly balanced Foxglove King proves that her success was not a fluke.
Review by

Biddy lives on the secret island of Hy-Brasil at the beginning of the 20th century, her only human contact being the kind but mercurial Irish magician Rowan (when he isn’t a raven) and his companion, Hutchincroft (when he isn’t a rabbit). Hy-Brasil has been particularly blessed by magic, which seeps into existence from some unspecified ether, suffusing the world with good fortune and happy circumstances. However, magic has been growing scarce, and mages have become misers. Rowan has been doing what he can, leaving the island to raid his fellow magicians’ storehouses and let a little luck back into the world. Until, one day, he doesn’t come back, and Biddy must leave the island for the first time and go to England in order to find him.

A pandemic project for author H.G. Parry, The Magician’s Daughter was clearly influenced by the enforced isolation of lockdown and the inescapable fear that the world might actually be a dismally unjust place. There are subtle allusions to the Victorian novels that are Biddy’s collective almanac to the world beyond Hy-Brasil, from workhouses and tubercular young women to subversions of traditional gender roles that somehow still end in marriage. But Parry has not crafted a dystopia. Rather, she infuses the book’s industrial-era grime with a literal manifestation of optimism: magic. 

The Magician’s Daughter is beautifully crafted, balancing a lushly detailed 1912 London with a narrative leanness. It’s reminiscent of Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell—if Susanna Clarke were an optimist. It’s a story about an imperfect world that desperately wants to be better, where true evil is an aberration and even monsters may be redeemed. Biddy meets various mages on her journey to find Rowan, and most of their grievances are petty things, twisted beyond recognition by too many decades of coiled resentments and having to fight off one anothers’ magic. Even the villains are more greedy and corrupt than anything, motivated by human failings rather than inhuman desires. In these pages, idealism is a virtue and the world can be saved by the magic in an ordinary girl’s heart.

This is not the kind of fantasy that exposes society’s ills or probes some deep philosophical conundrum. Rather, it is representative of the escapist optimism that COVID-19 seemed to engender. In the face of an unrelentingly depressing reality, where every headline portends some creative new doom humankind must overcome, Parry writes of climbing out from the impending abyss. And she does it well enough that even devotees of fantasy’s darker halls will take solace in this little corner of storybook endings and happily ever afters.

Even devotees of fantasy’s darker corners will take solace in The Magician’s Daughter, a little paean to storybook endings and happily ever afters.

Anyone embarking on a boat-based vacation should not expect to encounter Shannon Chakraborty on the lido deck. It’s not that she has anything against shuffleboard, per se; it’s more of a self-preservational instinct. “The idea of open ocean terrifies me,” the bestselling fantasy author explained in a call from her home in New Jersey. “I joke with my family that I will never go on a cruise. I love the water, but I have enough fear and respect for it that I never want to be out of sight of land.”

Fortunately for her fans—all around the world, as her work has been published in more than a dozen languages—Chakraborty’s imagination is not so landlocked. In The Adventures of Amina al-Sirafi, her inventive and exhilarating start to a new historical fantasy trilogy, the author enters full pirate mode. Her titular protagonist is a seasoned 12th-century sea captain who’s lured out of self-imposed retirement by an offer she can neither resist nor refuse. 

Amina left home at age 16 and was at sea for 15 years, becoming one of the most notorious pirates in the Indian Ocean. But after her daughter, Marjana, was born, Amina left her criminal activities behind, choosing instead to hunker down in her family’s mountainous home in southern Arabia, surrounded by jungle that protects them from prying eyes but close enough to the coast to hear the sea.

” . . . you can love your children, they are the center of your world . . . but you can still want more.”

Staying in one place for 10 years has stirred up a discomfiting swirl of emotions in Amina. The time with her daughter is precious, as is the knowledge that staying away from the ocean has kept them safe. But Amina also misses the freedom of doing whatever she desired, surrounded by her crew, a loyal and talented found family that understood and reveled in the thrill of never knowing where they’d end up next. 

Thus, Amina is particularly primed to accept an unexpected offer from Salima, the uber-wealthy mother of Amina’s former crewman Asif. Asif’s daughter has been kidnapped, and if Amina can figure out who captured her and bring her home, the reward money means Amina will never again have to worry about providing for her family. And, most enticingly, it’s a chance for Amina to achieve one last impossible victory, which could boost her legacy from well known and slightly infamous to unquestionably legendary.

Amina’s powerful combination of fierce maternal instinct and undeniable ambition was top of mind for Chakraborty as she embarked on her new literary adventure, which began mere months after she concluded her beloved Daevabad trilogy with 2020’s The Empire of Gold

Book jacket image for The Adventures of Amina al-Sirafi by Shannon Chakraborty

When Chakraborty began writing The City of Brass, the first book in the trilogy, “I never actually imagined I would be a published author,” she says. “I had slight hopes, but I was [writing] mostly to keep my sanity.” She was caring for her newborn daughter and working full time while her husband contended with a demanding medical residency. “I wrote as enjoyment so I could play in the historical worlds I loved,” she says, having always wanted to pursue a graduate degree in medieval history. And then, she says with a laugh, “when the books went to auction, I was like, okay, I guess I do this now!”

Although she was an established and acclaimed author by the time the COVID-19 pandemic began, Chakraborty was consumed by uncertainty when virtual schooling took over her home life. “I think we can kind of forget the doom of that first six months of the pandemic,” she says. “I just assumed I was never going to have time to write again. And it almost felt selfish; my husband was treating COVID patients and my daughter was having an incredibly difficult time.” 

But then, she says, “I pushed into that, because I wanted to write about parenthood and motherhood and talk about the points where you can love your children, they are the center of your world . . . but you can still want more. And it’s not selfish to want that.”

The thought of other mothers experiencing the same feelings led to the creation of Amina, a woman who deeply loves her daughter but is also proud of her decades of experience as a ship’s captain and the accompanying wide range of skills she’s developed, from prevailing in hand-to-hand combat to diffusing crew quarrels to navigating stormy seas. “I wanted to write a story for us,” Chakraborty says of her fellow mothers, “and talk about how that [struggle] is something that has always happened.”

“Adventure doesn’t stop when you’re 22 years old . . .”

Chakraborty also drew on her abiding affinity for the ancient past. “My love of history has always come before my love of fantasy,” she says. “I was one of those strange kids reading up on the Titanic at 9 years old.” That zeal for research has helped Chakraborty immerse herself and her readers in fabulous and fantastical new worlds. The Adventures of Amina al-Sirafi’s Indian Ocean setting is rife with danger and intrigue, peopled with memorable characters, crackling magic and supernatural creatures. “I always found the idea of these littoral oceanic societies fascinating,” Chakraborty says. “We look for land-based empires and trade routes, and we don’t really look at the ways that oceans and seas connect people. . . . You see a lot of shared cultures and storytelling, and you find very similar stories in India that you then find in Yemen and in East Africa.”

One of those common elements, per her extensive research, was a pervasive belief in the supernatural. “Magic was just considered real,” she says. “It was accepted by a majority of the population.” Chakraborty knows that this concept “could be difficult for modern readers to understand, but if you’re going to write about the past you’ve got to write about where people were coming from.”

Chakraborty is constantly thinking about the disparity between historical reality and the false impressions people draw from what is taught in school or gleaned from popular culture. “Not everybody is privileged to go to college and take undergraduate and graduate courses on history, so a lot of what we understand of the past is very much determined by fictional presentations of it,” she says. “And when we have discussions of the medieval world in particular, especially in the West, we often have this very grim, dark idea that Europe was [completely] white, we talk about the Dark Ages when everything was miserable for women . . . but you have to peel back and say, well, where did those ideas come from? What work are we highlighting?”

The author provides suggestions for further reading on her website, hoping to stimulate such questions in pursuit of a more critical discourse. “By being able to show my receipts and my historical work,” Chakraborty says, “I’m [encouraging] my readers to look at the past a little differently.”

Read our starred review of ‘The Adventures of Amina al-Sirafi’ by Shannon Chakraborty.

Another shift in perspective that Chakraborty is passionate about is her certainty that fantasy has room for exciting, inspiring stories about women who are no longer in their 20s. She says, “Adventure doesn’t stop when you’re 22 years old, and so much fantasy is focused on this extremely narrow age range. . . . But you still don’t know what you’re doing at 40 or 50, you still make mistakes, you’re still trying to have fun and take care of your family.” 

“I also feel like life experiences do matter and time does matter,” Chakraborty adds. “It would be completely unfathomable to me that Amina’s crew would be able to work on this mystery if they hadn’t been at sea and sailing and learning and thieving and poisoning and researching for the past 20 or 30 years. You need those talents, and they take time.”

Having a middle-aged woman as a protagonist also allowed Chakraborty to explore complex themes of faith and growth. “I wanted to write a story about a character who deals with struggle and hardship in a way that comes back to her faith,” she says. “Amina is a devout Muslim, but she’s also someone who is very open about the ways she has failed, particularly in her early life. She’s a pirate, she’s a criminal, she was a thief and murderer, and she’s still coming back to religion and to God in ways that I felt we don’t have a lot of stories about—people who fail and then find their faith later in life.” 

“As someone who is religious myself,” she adds, “it speaks to an idea of mercy and compassion about God and about faith that I don’t think we see enough or talk about enough.”

Readers curious about how this new series will diverge from Chakraborty’s previous books will be interested to know that “whereas the Daevabad trilogy was told from the point of view of magical creatures, this book is very much from the point of view of the humans who have to deal with them.” She also says that “there are lots of Easter eggs, and a character from Daevabad does show up.” 

After all, Chakraborty says with the sort of enthusiasm that any bibliophile will recognize, “All of history is a story. It’s how we understand the world, how we understand the past, how we put facts together, how we describe anything. Everything is story. . . . I think it’s probably one of the most profoundly human things we engage in.”

Picture of Shannon Chakraborty by Melissa C. Beckman.

The author of the bestselling Daevabad trilogy returns with a rip-roaring fantasy adventure starring a 12th-century pirate captain.
Behind the Book by

A tale of dragons and queens that sprawls across an entire world (and over several hundred pages), The Priory of the Orange Tree has become a modern fantasy classic in the eight years since its release. It was originally billed as a standalone novel, so fans were surprised and thrilled when Samantha Shannon announced not only that she was writing a prequel, A Day of Fallen Night, but also that even more books were to follow. In this essay, Shannon explains how the next installment in the Roots of Chaos series came to be.

When I started The Priory of the Orange Tree in 2015, I intended for it to be a standalone novel. Ever since I was young, I had dreamed of dragons—and from the start of my life as an author, I knew I wanted to write about them. It was just a question of when, and how. In 2015, I had my chance. 

That year, I submitted the first draft of The Song Rising, the third installment in my ongoing Bone Season septology. My editor was taking an unusually long time to get back to me, which left me without a project to work on. I would later discover that this was because I hadn’t quite hit the mark with the draft: The Song Rising would require a comprehensive overhaul (and remains the most troublesome book of my career to date). Unable to move on to the fourth installment until I knew the rough shape of the third, I had a window of opportunity to work on a book about dragons.  

I had never meant to write anything but the Bone Season series until all seven books were finished. I wanted to get each installment to my readers as swiftly as possible. Yet as I considered my situation, I realized that if I spent too long using just one voice and living in just one world, my craft could begin to stagnate. As a writer, I consider it crucial to push myself out of my comfort zone every once in a while, to ensure I can adapt and grow. For the sake of both the series and my own ability, I needed to branch out. 

“Ever since I was young, I had dreamed of dragons . . .”

I decided to return to third person—the perspective I had always used in my teens, before the protagonist of The Bone Season took me by surprise with her voice—and to take my first steps into a new subgenre: high fantasy. By doing this, I hoped to strengthen my creative muscles and cultivate a more lyrical and mature writing style, which I could then use to develop my protagonist’s voice in the Bone Season books. 

Between tough rounds of edits on The Song Rising, I worked on the manuscript of The Priory of the Orange. It soon ballooned in scope. Fitting an epic journey into the space of a single novel was a challenge, but I was resolved to do it. By the time it was done, I had built multiple countries, an enormous cast of characters and a backstory that stretched back for centuries. And I knew this world had more stories to tell. 

I was still determined not to commit to another long series. Ten years into writing the Bone books, I’m still in love with the story and characters, and I have to weigh my schedule carefully each time I consider working on something else. Despite my best efforts, writing Priory and its prequel, A Day of Fallen Night, has caused significant delays in the Bone Season series. I feel a great deal of guilt because of this, and it has, understandably, frustrated some of my long-term readers. At the same time, I can’t regret the dragon books. The Mask Falling, the fourth and most recent Bone Season installment, is by far the strongest—my favorite book of my career. I firmly believe this was because Priory improved my writing, as I suspected it would. Working on Priory was an alchemical process, allowing me to unlock another stage in the lifelong process of being a writer. 

When I decided to write another book in the world of Priory, I did it with a clear vision. My aim with the Roots of Chaos cycle is to write a series primarily made up of standalone novels. They will work together to tell an intergenerational story that spans thousands of years, but each may also be read as a self-contained story, hopefully in any order. This means readers aren’t left waiting for the story to continue—each book is its own adventure. 

Read our starred review of ‘A Day of Fallen Night’ by Samantha Shannon.

A Day of Fallen Night begins five centuries before Priory and covers the period known as the Grief of Ages, or Great Sorrow—a devastating war between wyrms and humankind. When I wrote the first book, I mentioned this period frequently and thought that exploring it further would be useful for demonstrating the magical imbalance that forms the bedrock of the series. During this era, siden (one of the two branches of magic, associated with flame and earth) spun out of control, birthing the fire-breathing wyrms. Showing this era would also allow me to explore parts of the world I had never managed to reach in the first book, such as the beautiful Queendom of Sepul and the snowbound North. 

I knew it was a gamble to start afresh with a new cast. Many readers have told me they connected with the characters in the first book. I initially worried that they might only want to see this world through those characters’ eyes—that even I might not be able to imagine it without them. By the end, however, I loved the new cast even more than the first. I can only hope they grow on readers, too.

Photo of Samantha Shannon by Louise Haywood Schiefer.

A Day of Fallen Night reveals the origins of the conflict between humans and wyrms—and blazes a trail for what’s to come.
Feature by

I’m Glad My Mom Died

I’m Glad My Mom Died is a celebrity memoir, but even if you (like me) have never heard of actor Jennette McCurdy or seen a single second of “iCarly” on Nickelodeon, getting sucked into this frankly told and deeply nuanced story of a troubled mother-daughter relationship is almost inevitable. McCurdy’s story kicks off when her mother, Debra, pins her own dashed dreams of Hollywood stardom onto her shy 6-year-old daughter. The pressure’s on, and things get worse from there. McCurdy writes from the perspective she had in the moment, creating tension for the reader, who can see the unhealthy dynamic between McCurdy and Debra long before McCurdy can name or understand it herself. After reading I’m Glad My Mom Died, it’s impossible to see Debra as a good mother, but McCurdy’s commitment to portraying her mother as she truly was still somehow feels like a tribute. 

—Trisha, Publisher

Tuesdays With Morrie

I first read Tuesdays With Morrie in my high school English class. Much like Mitch Albom’s teacher Morrie Schwartz, my teacher Mr. Baker longed for his students to understand what makes life worth living. As the book begins, Albom, a successful young columnist in Detroit, walks through life dead-alive, driven by the pursuit of fame and personal gain. He paints the plague of the modern world so poignantly—the slow and silent indoctrination of society, its swift corrosion of the soul. During his Tuesday visits with his old professor, Albom begins to realize that the dying man is more alive than he is. Tuesdays With Morrie is a book full of convincing triteness and truth. We all need Morrie’s reminders to dance with our eyes closed and reach down into the darkness for the sake of pulling up another. I still find myself in need of Morrie’s teachings—that love is all that stands at the end of time. For readers who share my appreciation of this book, be aware that Rob Schwartz, Morrie’s son, will publish his father’s writing posthumously in The Wisdom of Morrie later this month.

—Emma, Editorial Intern

Lessons in Chemistry

Humor must be just about the toughest thing to get right in fiction. It’s so subjective, first of all, and it’s tricky to balance lightheartedness with the serious bits. And then to be funny without being mean? Practically impossible. Bonnie Garmus’ delight of a debut novel made me laugh—often and loudly—while still honoring the hard road of its heroine. Elizabeth Zott is a female chemist and single mom in the 1960s, so obviously the world has it in for her, and this includes an assault early in the novel. But in the face of such cruelties, she is pragmatic and determined and wry, like a grown-up version of Roald Dahl’s indomitable Matilda. She ends up starring on her own cooking show and finds herself surrounded by a supporting cast that’s as endearing as can be. She also has a dog (named Six-Thirty) who’s enough of a lead character to tip the story into the fantastical. Like so many other readers, I absolutely loved it.

—Cat, Deputy Editor


Naomi Novik’s Uprooted is the type of fantasy novel that seems tailor-made for the exact type of crossover success it has achieved. It’s a seemingly simple story of a young peasant girl trying to save her friend from dark magic, and with its fairy tale-inspired setting, engaging characters and just the right amount of romance, it appeals to fantasy readers and nonfantasy readers alike. I am as intrigued by these types of books as I am leery of them. It’s easy for a story to rest on folklore references and well-known character types within an aesthetically pleasing world and and still never quite step out of the shadows of other works. But Novik didn’t set out to just retell a fairy tale: She wrote her own, and it’s so enthralling that it gave me the type of stay-up-all-night, can’t-put-it-down reading experience I had when I was a 13-year-old first discovering fantasy. I read it within days, its impossibly perfect ending made me cry, and I still think about it more than a year later.

—Savanna, Associate Editor

The Testaments

One of the perks of working at BookPage is getting to read books before they are published, but occasionally a high-profile title gets embargoed, meaning advance copies aren’t sent to the press. If members of the media do receive a copy, they’re forbidden to share the review before the publication date. I’ll always remember the day I was opening mail at the office and unwrapped a finished copy of The Testaments, the long-awaited and heavily embargoed sequel to Margaret Atwood’s groundbreaking 1985 bestseller, The Handmaid’s Tale. Set 15 years after the events of the dystopian classic, the suspenseful plot is driven by the narratives of three women whose fates converge just when their world’s authoritarian regime, Gilead, begins to crumble. The Testaments is the work of a writer at the top of her game; Atwood sticks the landing in a thrilling conclusion to an all too culturally significant tale. 

—Katherine, Subscriptions

Every once in a while, it feels like everyone in the world is reading the same book—and we can all admit that sometimes, that book isn’t very good. This month, we’re celebrating books that are extremely popular and are actually (believe it or not) as excellent as everyone says.
Review by

Prospect Hill is a place where the veil between worlds is thin, where mortals leave out pieces of glass and bits of brilliantly colored string for the Fae in exchange for a bit of luck or good weather. But none save for the most foolhardy—or the most uninformed—dare make larger deals than that, let alone directly communicate with the Fae. Small bargains have helped sisters Alaine and Delphine build a life they cherish with their family, granting them good weather, good harvests and the very land they cultivate. But times are changing.

Delphine has recently married the heir of a glass manufacturing empire but is finding it difficult to make inroads into the high society she’s always wanted to be a part of. Her husband, who was commanding but full of appreciation for her when they were engaged, has since revealed himself to be cruel and controlling. The family orchard, once prosperous, has defaulted on its mortgage payments and is one misstep away from failure. To save her sister and the farm, Alaine knows that she’ll need more than small trades and good luck. She’ll have to make an enormous bargain with the Fae and pray that the safety of her family is worth the cost.

The opening act of Rowenna Miller’s The Fairy Bargains of Prospect Hill is lyrical and sedately paced, feeling more like historical fiction than a fantasy novel. But as the family’s situation worsens and the deals begin to stack up, magic begins to run amok and things spiral into chaos. The broader literary landscape may be swamped with more romanticized versions of fairies, but Miller’s Fae are dangerous and fickle, reminiscent of the cruel fairy kings of Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell or the dark creatures that lurk at the edges of traditional folklore. 

But no matter how powerful its Fae may be, The Fairy Bargains of Prospect Hill reminds us that even magic cannot change what is in a person’s soul. Delphine’s husband’s abuse and the orchard’s financial worries are wrenching portrayals of the cycles of self-delusion that can accompany a looming crisis. The masterful balance of the uncanny and the inhumanly strange with complex, realistic issues makes The Fairy Bargains of Prospect Hill a powerful, if at times difficult, read.

The Fairy Bargains of Prospect Hill is a powerful, if at times difficult, read that balances dangerous, uncanny Fae magic with all-too-human issues.
Review by

The descendent of a Chinese medicine god, Elle is far more powerful than her sedate job at a charm shop in Raleigh, North Carolina, demands. But she would rather cast underpowered spells for the faerie agency that owns the shop and cautiously flirt with French half-elf Luc than live up to her full potential. Concealing the extent of her abilities means she can stay in hiding and keep her older brother, Tony, safe from those who would harm him. Luc has problems of his own, including forced service in the same agency Elle works for and two orphaned children stuck in an enchanted sleep from a mission gone wrong. When Luc, who has long suspected the depth of Elle’s power, commissions a special charm to help him ace his assignments (and get some necessary time off so he can focus on a cure for the kids), Elle at first refuses. Demonstrating magic that strong could put the fragile life she has so carefully constructed at risk. But she eventually relents, and as she and Luc work together, their spark of attraction develops into a steady flame. There’s only one problem: Luc’s latest mission is actually to find Elle’s younger brother, who is the reason she and Tony are in hiding in the first place.

At turns tender and exhilarating, Mia Tsai’s debut, Bitter Medicine, is part gentle contemporary romance, part paranormal action novel. At first, Elle and Luc’s interactions are bumbling and awkward, the perfect dynamic for two characters who are entirely focused on duty and don’t know how to put themselves first. The success of their romance hinges on some pivotal questions: Who is Luc when he isn’t at Elle’s shop? Who are either of them, truly, and who do they want to be? This ever-present tension allows Tsai to temper the gentle moments of Luc and Elle’s budding affection with the dangerous reality of their situation, which is that they are trying to live a romantic comedy in the middle of a spy novel. Luc’s secret missions, close calls between Elle and her younger brother’s associates and the web of secrets woven between Elle and Luc are thrilling. But both characters are capable of transcending the espionage genre in favor of a more hopeful narrative—as long as they are brave enough to take the plunge.

Full of heart and hope, Bitter Medicine is both a heartwarming look into the relationships that shape our lives and an all-consuming narrative about a hidden world of magic and intrigue, combining dreamy prose with sharp wit and a propulsive story. It’s perfect for those who are looking for a cozier read but still want enough action to keep things interesting.

A gentle contemporary romance wrapped within a thrilling paranormal adventure, Bitter Medicine is a sharp and propulsive debut from Mia Tsai.
Review by

Arcady Dalca is a mage who specializes in shape-shifting, a thief and also the scion of the most infamous family in the city of Vatra. Their grandfather, the Plaguebringer, was widely believed to have caused the Strikes, virulent and deadly diseases that swept the world. But Arcady does not believe their grandfather was capable of such destruction and has embarked on a quest to discover the truth. Part of that quest requires stealing the Plaguebringer’s seal, a dragonstone amulet that allows the wearer to wield magic, and using its power to shape-shift into a new identity. But the spell Arcady casts to claim the seal rips a hole in the Veil separating worlds and lets an invader through: Everen, the last male dragon, failed seer and prince of a dying world. Everen wants to tear the Veil wide open, letting his fellow dragons back into the world that banished them so that they can escape extinction and wreak vengeance on humankind for their betrayal. Everen is trapped in human form, but he can regain his full power if he wins Arcady’s complete trust—and then kills them.

In writing Dragonfall, author L.R. Lam was clearly inspired by fantasy authors like Anne McCaffrey and Robin Hobb, both of whom have written iconic tales starring dragons. But Lam also injects this classic high fantasy quest with a healthy dose of sexual tension. The romance between Arcady and Everen is central to the plot, since the fates of both humans and dragons hinge on their bond. And while all is not well in their relationship by the book’s end, it seems clear that by the planned trilogy’s conclusion, these Veil-crossed lovers will be united, saving the world in the process. 

L.R. Lam knows what fantasy romance needs: dragon shifters.

Lam employs many common tropes of both romance and high fantasy, but their world building is still delightfully imaginative and richly detailed. Despite banishing dragons centuries ago, humans still worship them as gods, with different dragon deities being associated with different kinds of spells. All of the magic in Dragonfall involves asking the world to reshape itself in a specific way, which means that all humans who possess seals have the capacity to manipulate themselves or their environments to fit their needs or desires. Lam delves headlong into the philosophical implications of this, constructing a society built almost entirely around fluidity. This extends from architecture built on a premise of ephemerality, because it can be magically adjusted at any moment, to a concept of gender wholly based on personal preferences, as many people can change their appearances at will. Everen, whose world is one of rigid roles and clearly demarcated boundaries, finds this embrace of inconstancy confounding. But for the genderfluid Arcady, such liberation is the bedrock of existence. Lam’s deep exploration of this fascinating society beautifully balances the somewhat pulpy genre elements.

Grimdark aficionados should steer clear, but Dragonfall will delight fans of well-designed worlds, heroes’ journeys and slow-burning romance. Here there be (sexy) dragons.

Here there be (sexy) dragons: Dragonfall will delight fans of well-designed worlds, heroes’ journeys and slow-burning romance.

Sign Up

Stay on top of new releases: Sign up for our newsletter to receive reading recommendations in your favorite genres every Tuesday.

Recent Reviews

As a lesbian in the 1920s, Miss Dara knows a thing or two about being an outcast. When she falls in love with her best friend, Dara runs from her hometown and everything she knows to work as a kitchen girl at the Imperial State Prison Farm in Sugar Land, Texas.

Author Interviews

Recent Features