Books have long been one of my sources of solace. Fantasy books in particular help me find new worlds to burrow myself into. I treat them like a pile of warm and comfortable blankets that will provide a soft, yet defined barrier between me and the world. Even if the book’s setting is adjacent to reality, it’s enough to help me escape. And in bananas times like these, I want nothing more than to run away for a few hours with intricate magic, shattered kingdoms, and wondrous circuses.
Since we’re staying indoors and away from the COVID-19 pandemic as much as we can, we may as well travel through the pages of books. I know I’m not alone in choosing this mode of transportation. If you’re looking for fantasy books to whisk you away from all of—gestures at everything—this, I have some recommendations for you.
The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern
Penguin Random House
The Night Circus depicts a circus like none other. Some possess magic in this story and become magicians, hiding their very real talents behind illusions. Because of a competition between two magicians, two young proteges, Celia Bowen and Marco Alisdair, are unknowingly trained for a decades-long chess match of sorts. As part of this process, they build an otherworldly, imaginative, wildly extraordinary circus. Open from sunset to sunrise, Le Cirque des Rêves appears without warning.
The Night Circus captivated me entirely and made me forget my surroundings. I’ve rarely been so transported by a book.
Throne of Glass by Sarah J. Maas
Young adult high fantasy has become my favorite way to ingest high fantasy. Throne of Glass puts a teenage assassin, Celaena Sardothien, in the center of this story about a kingdom, Adarlan, ruled by a king who’s a real piece of work. The story starts with a riveting contest to become that tyrannical king’s personal assassin and stumbles into the secrets of the kingdom. Romance, deep-rooted lore, and danger—you’ll find it all.
And if you continue to read the seven-book series, you’ll be rewarded by how much the world expands.
Dread Nation by Justina Ireland
The dead walk in Dread Nation. Set in a different version of America where the dead return to life on the battlefield of Gettsyburg, Dread Nation is so much richer than your average zombie book. Jane McKeene, born right before this madness, trains at a school to learn combat to protect the wealthy—part of the mandatory Native and Negro Education Act. Almost no one cares that it’s not a life Jane wants, but she sets off on her own path anyway and shit gets real in this dark, kinda terrifying world.
Last Call at the Nightshade Lounge by Paul Krueger
Cocktails equal magic in Last Call at the Nightshade Lounge. Bartenders mix drinks with a little something special. For instance, their talents make whiskey cause telekinesis. They can blend spirits for special combat abilities, because hello, the magical bartenders fight monsters. Readers follow Bailey Chen as she learns about the wild world of demon-fighting. It’s snarky, diverse, and an absolute blast to read.
Bonus: the text includes cocktail recipes.
The Cruel Prince by Holly Black
Little Brown Books
The first installment in the Folk of the Air trilogy, The Cruel Prince calls a world of faeries home. The story lures the reader in with a human protagonist, Jude. She and her sisters were taken to the High Court of Faerie after a faery murdered their parents. Faeries have no love for humans, so the teenage Jude grows up in an unfriendly environment. But she wants to define her own place, so she stubbornly jumps into risky palace escapades.
Warning: you will want to inhale this entire trilogy like it is an addictive substance.
A Court of Thorns and Roses by Sarah J. Maas
I will die for Feyre, the lead in A Court of Thorns and Roses. She’s also taken to a land of faery, here called Prythian. This book, the first in a four-book series, kind of adapts the Beauty and the Beast fairy tale. Once she’s in Prythian, Feyre learns humans don’t know a fraction of what the faery kingdom is actually like. For example, all faeries have masquerade masks attached to their faces because of a magical curse. It’s a lot and sometimes it’s well and truly messed up, but Feyre glitters throughout it all. She carves out a unique place for herself.
Trail of Lightning by Rebecca Roanhorse
We stan a monster slayer like Maggie Hoskie. She stands up against powerful foes in Trail of Lightning (first in The Sixth World series), which takes place in an America that’s barely survived a supernatural disaster. Magic returns to the world and some Navajo, like Maggie, receive clan powers. Maggie lives in an ugly world, and not an especially friendly one, but she fights gods, witches, and monsters anyway. For money or goods, of course. When she embarks on a quest, she finds more trouble than she bargained for. This tale is gripping and occasionally gory.
The Girl of Fire and Thorns by Rae Carson
Hello to another teenage protagonist thrust into wild circumstances. Why yes, I do have a type. The Girl of Fire and Thorns follows Lucero-Elisa de Riqueza. She’s a princess of Orovalle, but more importantly, she’s the chosen one. She’s marked by a gem named the Godstone—she’s literally handpicked by god for some uncertain destiny. So nice of God to leave that open-ended, right?
Elisa must figure out what she’s meant to do while dodging ferocious enemies who want her Godstone and also leading a possible revolution. And she does all of this despite the fact that she’s just been plopped into an arranged betrothal. She stumbles, but we get to watch her place one foot in front of the other, becoming more and more sure. Especially as the Fire and Thrones trilogy unfolds.
An Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir
An Ember in the Ashes has roots in ancient Rome. Its setting, the Martial Empire, is stringent with extreme regulations and equally extreme punishments. Citizens die for defiance. I can’t imagine standing up for my beliefs in this type of environment. But Laia, a slave, does it. She makes a risky decision after the Empire arrests her brother for treason. Her course puts on her track to meet Elias, an Empire soldier who wants to be free.
Though the world is harsh, you can find so much to admire in the rebellion, the world’s thoughtful and fraught history, and the lead characters. You’ll find yourself ready to dive into the four-book series of the same name.
If any of these titles sound appealing to you and you have the funds, consider ordering them from your local bookseller. And don’t forget to tell us what books you would add to the list.
Featured Image: Penguin Random House, Bloomsbury, Simon & Schuster
Amy Ratcliffe is the Managing Editor for Nerdist and the author of Star Wars: Women of the Galaxy. Follow her on Twitter.