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As we stare down the looming shorter, darker, colder days ahead, I find myself, probably much like many of you, on the hunt for books to sink into. What could be better than a well-wrought fantasy world to while away the winter hours? How about a fantasy world so immersive and wide-ranging that a single book or series can’t contain it? If you’re looking for something a little fresher than the old standbys, these contemporary fantasy novels could satisfy that itch, with well-wrought stories featuring characters and places that intersect among series titles, stand-alones, and spin-offs.
Greenglass House, by Kate Milford. 2014. Clarion.
It’s difficult to pin down an order to the novels set in the expansive, richly described world of Nagspeake, but this is a good starting point. From here, Milford travels backward and forward in time, exploring the history of Nagspeake, a protected way station for smugglers and thieves, as well as its many secrets, including connections to the world of her earlier novels The Boneshaker (2010) and The Broken Lands (2012).
The Kiss of Deception, by Mary E. Pearson. 2014. Holt.
Pearson’s Remnant Chronicles start with this volume, which follows princess Lia, who’s on the run from an arranged marriage, and the assassin sent to return her to her obligations. An intricate plot involving the chase, magic, and romance fills out the rest of the trilogy. While a second series, beginning with Dance of Thieves (2018), features some familiar characters from the Remnant Chronicles, this new story’s protagonists are captivating enough on their own.
The Lightning Thief, by Rick Riordan. 2005. Hyperion.
This series opener is just the beginning of an ever-expanding universe of interconnected adventures and world mythologies. Spin-off series include The Heroes of Olympus (beginning with The Lost Hero, 2010) and The Trials of Apollo (beginning with The Hidden Oracle, 2016). The Kane Chronicles series exists in the world of Egyptian mythology, and a series of short, digital-only stories links this series to Percy Jackson’s world, and Magnus Chase and the Gods of Asgard series, about the Norse pantheon, eventually loops into the world of the original series as well.
Shadow and Bone, by Leigh Bardugo. 2012. Holt.
Bardugo’s Grishaverse starts with this trilogy opener, which follows a new magician in the land of Ravka and her growing (dangerously so) powers. Two subsequent series, starting with Six of Crows (2015) and King of Scars (2019), respectively, further explore the world, its politics, and the mechanisms of its magic. The Language of Thorns (2017), a collection of fairy tales and fables from the fictional Ravka, adds a compelling layer to the world building.
Shadowshaper, by Daniel José Older. 2015. Scholastic/Arthur A. Levine.
The first book in Older’s critically acclaimed Shadowshaper Cypher series introduces Sierra, who discovers she can communicate with the spirits through art, particularly the street art in her Bed-Stuy neighborhood. Sierra’s adventures occasionally cross paths with characters from Older’s Bone Street Rumba series, an adult urban fantasy featuring Carlos Delacruz, who also bridges the gap between the living and the dead in Brooklyn. Several interstitial novellas expand the universe even more.
Tithe, by Holly Black. 2002. Simon & Schuster.
The world of Faerie is a frequent setting for Black’s novels, from this urban fantasy series opener to her more recent trilogy, beginning with The Cruel Prince (2018), which explores the twists and turns of the high court of Faerie. A graphic novel series (The Good Neighbors, illustrated by Ted Naifeh) and a stand-alone horror-tinged fairytale, The Darkest Part of the Forest (2015), explore the permeable borders of the magical world.
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