My end-of-day ritual is to read in bed, usually for 30 to 60 minutes until I am falling asleep. This has become one of the best parts of my day, a quiet sanctuary: the door is closed, our phones and computers are downstairs, my kids are (or should be) asleep, and I can escape into whatever book I’m reading.
While I have always enjoyed a mix of heavier and lighter reading, ever since January 2017, when politics became terrifying and I got sucked into a social media vortex, I’ve discovered a new love for lighter, escapist fantasy fiction. Visiting another world every night has been a cushion from the day and a welcome escape from the noise of our new, cacophonous reality.
With that in mind, here are a few fantasy fiction gems that I’ve enjoyed over the last couple of years, in case you’re looking for something fun to pick up over the holidays.
Harry Potter, by JK Rowling. Right after the 2017 election I grabbed my worn copy of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone and reread all seven books for (at least) the tenth time. I love them every time. If you’re one of the eleven people left on earth who hasn’t read them, you’re missing out. (Bonus: if you’re a true fan and you find yourself in London, head over to Greek Street where you’ll find a gem of a store called the House of Mina Lima with beautiful graphic art from the movies – graphic designers Miraphora Mina and Eduardo Lima created many of the props for the movies).
The Winternight Trilogy, by Katherine Alden. I’ve just finished the first two books in this series. My wife discovered them in our favorite bookstore in Great Barrington, theBookloft, and they are wonderful. The writing is much better and more mature than most fantasy, as Alden brings a historian’s eye to the story. Set in 15thcentury Russia, the books, ostensibly about a girl discovering her magical powers, are really about the intersection of modern Christianity with ancient spirits, and set to the backdrop of politics and power in pre-Tsar Russia. I can’t wait until the third book comes out.
The All Souls Trilogy, by Deborah Harkness. I’m not terribly proud of having read these. They are trashy-but-fun vampire/witch stories with a dollop of Fifty Shades of Grey. Still, they were just good enough to finish, and the writing improves after the first book. They’ll be coming out as a TV series soon so you may as well read them first.
The Stormlight Archive, by Byran Sanderson. Sanderson is an absurdly prolific author, and this series is just one of many he’s written. These books were a guilty pleasure. The Stormlight world is big, sprawling and messy, there warring kingdoms, species pitted against each other, powerful gods, and epic battles. The story at time gets unwieldy and heavy-handed, but I did enjoy them. I’ve been told that Steelheart is the next Sanderson series for me to read.
The Song of Ice and Fire (a.k.a. Game of Thrones) by George R.R. Martin. Not original, I know, but if you’ve only seen the show it’s still worth picking up the books. In reading the first two I thought the series had the potential to stack up with the Lord of the Rings, but the quality dropped a lot after book two and they nearly grind to a halt. The five books are nearly 4,000 pages of reading, so choose wisely.
Seeds of America Trilogy, by Laurie Halse Anderson. These books aren’t strictly fantasy fiction, but they are so good I had to include them. These young adult stories of the American Revolutionary War, told from the perspective of a young female slave, bring historical events down to human scale while leaving the reader to struggle with the inherent contradictions of the fight for American freedom while condoning slavery. The books are fabulous, the characters rich and alive, and I wanted them to go on forever. These books and the Deborah Harkness ones are my favorite ones on this list (besides Harry Potter, of course).
I’d love to hear your additions to this list…otherwise I’ll have to go back to reading serious stuff, and who wants that?