Category: High Fantasy

Wards of Faerie, by Terry Brooks

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This fantasy is the first of a trilogy, but I found out, too late, that it is deep in an ongoing series. This makes it tough going early on, as you try to figure out who everyone is and learn about this firmly established world. But once all is established, the story leaps forward and doesn’t let go, focusing simultaneously on a quest for long-hidden magic and on the defense of a mostly-abandoned keep. There is a steampunk feel to the piece, with a medieval high-fantasy setting and airships flitting about.

Author Brooks has his world well in hand, and the POVs from multiple characters ring true. I’m hooked enough to keep going on this trilogy, and will consider starting from the beginning of this world’s series at a later date. For 16 and up, due to violence.

A Game of Thrones, by George R. R. Martin

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An exceptional and byzantine fantasy novel that immerses the reader in deeply detailed worldbuilding. Martin’s world features multiple clans with interwoven alliances, in-depth court intrigue, and a land which has decade-long seasons. Yet with all the high-level worldbuilding, Martin focuses deeply on his targeted characters, creating memorable portraits of each.

I have never seen the TV series, but the book certainly earns its rep for grimness (a 13 year old girl in a forced marriage) and for violence against women. I recommend it for 18 and up due to rape and violence. Martin spares his characters nothing, but, so far, this makes for an engrossing read.

The Goblin Emperor, by Katherine Addison

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Terrific fantasy of court intrigue with dense and vivid world-building and clearly drawn characters. Eighteen-year-old Maia lives in exile, the Emperor of the Elflands’ unwanted fourth son. But when the Emperor and his other sons die suddenly, Maia is the new and deeply unprepared Emperor. Walking through the decisions and challenges he has to face makes for a fascinating view of his world, and gives us a growing respect for his character. His biracial heritage (Elf and Goblin) complicates his life, but makes for an even more interesting story. I’m so glad I read this, as I love inside politics and that sums this book in a nutshell. Highly recommended, and okay for ages 16 and up.

Knight’s Wyrd, by Debra Doyle and James D. Macdonald

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This skews very young, for all that there is plenty of hacking off limbs type of violence, and death of secondary characters is treated with near indifference. I’d call it an adventure story for 12 and up. That said, it is very short, with minimal world building and lots of fighting and magic and reversals. The character building is also given short shrift, and I’m not sure I care enough about any of it to read the next book in the series.

Uprooted, by Naomi Novik

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Sensational fantasy novel that invariably zags when you expect it to zig. It’s not a princess in a tower book, or an evil magician book, or a fish out of water book, or a heroic battle book, though it flirts with all of those. The very title itself changes meaning as the book progresses.

Instead, this is an adventure, a strong heroine book about a girl who has to change quickly as her life circumstances shift, but who manages throughout to find creative ways to be who she is and to problem-solve. I loved this book, loved that it pulled me along even when I had no clue where it was going. I loved our heroine, who has a Polish name pronounced “ag-NYESH-ka,” and her top skill at the start of the book is getting spectacularly dirty no matter what she’s wearing . This skews older teen, 17 and up, due to vicious violence, sexual content, and deeply disturbing fantasy imagery.

Princess Ben, by Catherine Gilbert Murdock

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Wonderful high fantasy, featuring Princess Benevolence, who is a fully realized 15-year-old committed to living her life on her terms, even after she becomes heir to the throne of her small kingdom. Ben is plump, willful, and grieving, and far from the Regent’s idea of a princess. Yet she makes her own choices, good and bad, and delivers for us a wonderful adventure story of a young girl who becomes more than she ever imagines she could. A joy, for readers 12 and up.

Dragonsbane, by Barbara Hambly

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An exceptional high fantasy novel that focuses on 37-year-old Jenny, a minor mage living in the Winterlands, a desolate area that was once part of a larger kingdom. When Gareth arrives in the Winterlands seeking a dragonsbane, someone who has once slain a dragon, to save his kingdom, Jenny is pulled into a world she never imagined. A remarkable story about the road not taken, the sacrifices we make for those we love, and how true heroism bears no resemblance to the glory some seek. I realized some way in that I read this novel years ago, but it is only now, now that I am older than Jenny herself, that I see Hambly’s deeper themes, and feel Jenny’s fundamental work/home conflict. A remarkable story, for 16 and up.

I was glad to find this, as I loved Hambly’s A Free Man of Color series (and highly recommend it – a mystery series crossed with historical fiction). Enjoy!

The Name of the Wind, by Patrick Rothfuss

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A deeply immersive high fantasy, told mostly in flashback, telling the early life of Kvothe, who is a legend to most people. The picture painted is of a brilliant and damaged young man, who goes to University at 15 to become an arcanist, a magic-user. I cannot overstate the strength of Rothfuss’ world-building. The present-day environment, filled with dread and superstition, the traveling player’s caravan, oozing joy and playful learning, the rank poverty of the big city, and the fascinating university and its neighboring city, an arts haven. I cannot wait to read the next one and live longer in this world.

Lirael, by Garth Nix

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This fantasy picks up 20 years after the first in the series finished, and it introduces us to Lirael, a 14-year-old Daughter of the Clayr who is waiting sadly to finally receive the Sight. The Sight comes young to the Clayr; in fact, Lirael is the oldest person without it, and, on her birthday, she doesn’t think she can face celebrating another person’s Awakening. Her adventures, once she decides to move on without it, take up much of the book, which takes place in a magical world with a villainous Necromancer, who raises the Dead to fight on his side. Another wonderful installment in this series, for 16 and up due to violence and creepiness.