The other day I answered a TikToker with a simple question: What would you recommend for someone who hasn’t really ever read a fantasy book?
*knuckle crack* This is where I thrive.
I love fantasy books – large, small, complicated, easy. It is my go-to genre. It feels like home to me. My first real reading experience was The Chronicles of Narnia (hence my lamppost tattoo), and it fostered a deep love of all things magical and not-so-real.
But it never seems like I get the chance to read as much of it as I would like. I feel as if I’m always playing catch up with my list, or there is always a series or author I haven’t gotten to yet (I see you, Wheel of Time), or there is always another sequel screaming at me from my nightstand.
Nevertheless, I felt qualified to answer this question. I used to read The Lord of the Rings every summer … FOR FUN. I know the Council of Elrond is boring. I know what NOT to recommend to a new fantasy reader.
Best High Fantasy for First Timers
Without a doubt, if you want to jump off the high dive into the olympic fantasy pool, the best way to do so is with The Lies of Locke Lamora by Scott Lynch. I read it in 2016, and was immediately enamored. Lies takes no time getting you straight into the action, introducing who you need to know and why, and is thoroughly entertaining from the get go.
High fantasy novels can often get mired in the opposite side of white room syndrome – when the publishing industry is telling you that you need 100,000 words, you might go a bit hog wild on describing that creepy ass forest or that particular crone’s ratchety fingernails.
But Lies is no slog. From the start and throughout, there is heart and humor and forward momentum. Locke is a former orphan turned master thief and con artist in the vein of the inimitable Francis Lymond (see Dorothy Dunnett for the greatest historical fiction and morally grey hero ever written).
The island city of Camorr is a rich setting for a heap of original world building. And Lynch’s pace is unguarded. The book MOVES.
A hilarious, hypnotic heist. That’s Lies. Anyone can read and love it.
Best Low Fantasy for First Timers (and for ALL time)
You’ve heard it said that I have a few authors that I will always –always– recommend until my teeth fall out. The first and most important one is Melina Marchetta. But among all of her fully perfect novels, there stands The Lumatere Chronicles as the gold standard. Literally my favorite series of all time.
Beginning with Finnikin of the Rock, followed by Froi of the Exiles and culminating with Quintana of Charyn, Marchetta’s indelible low fantasy series is the emotional equivalent of a white Christmas in the French countryside with a surprise proposal from Idris Elba and Florence Pugh. In other words, it’s glorious.
Marchetta is the master of weaving familial bonds with those of found families (I would consider it the hallmark of all her writing), and her fantasy series is no different. Lumatere explores those themes through the lens of crumbling kingdoms and prejudices. Finnikin aches to relieve a curse on his homeland, all while worrying he’s unworthy to do so. The family he finds along the way provides and proves his mettle.
God, I love it.
Lumatere Book Club!
I love it so much it’s time to finally do a Lumatere Book Club right here at The Cool Table. Starting November 1 (because we all have spooky reads to get us through October), I’ll be on Twitter, Instagram and TikTok doing chapter reads with anyone who wants to join in starting with Finnikin. I hope you join in. If for no other reason, to see me cry on the internet.
What are your favorite fantasy novels? Tell us in the comments because our TBRs are not long enough already.
Beth is the proud sponsor of two little women and a huge fan of fandom. She took 3 years of Latin in high school and now speaks fluent pretension, which fully explains her current preference for gay wizard regency novels. She will roll over for a giant book with a map in the front. She takes comic book recommendations every day but Wednesday and TV recommendations never (she knows what's good).