Six Standalone Fantasy Novels that Stand Out


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There’s a certain satisfaction in picking up a fantasy novel and knowing it’s a standalone. For one, you won’t have to wait a year, or two, or even five before you find out what happens next. In that time you’ve invariably forgotten much of the first, or previous book anyway, so a lot of the time you have to reread to get up to speed. Also, you won’t end up picking up an interesting looking fantasy novel from the shelves, starting it, then realizing it’s actually book two of a trilogy, or book four in a ten book series.

With Blood of the Four, we wanted to build a big, epic world full of fascinating characters, and tell a story that comes to a definite end. The reader will hopefully end up satisfied, the story threads come together. Of course, that’s not to say there aren’t other stories that ...

“Raise the Wild Cry”: The Cassandra by Sharma Shields


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Mildred Groves leaves her home for the first time in her life in 1944. In her early twenties, she has lived an isolated life in her small hometown where her only companions were her sharp-tongued, hypochondriac mother, her cruel and indifferent sister, and her weak-willed brother-in-law. But with the economy booming with war production and jobs ripe for the picking, she walks away from everything she knows. Really, she has no choice. A vision told her she would take a secretarial job at the newly built Hanford research facility in eastern Washington state. And so she goes.

Mildred has had visions of the future all her life, but they get more lurid and extreme at the camp. No matter who she tells or what she says, no one ever believes her, not even when they experience the very thing she predicted. Her Hanford friends are troubled by her sleepwalking, while ...

The City of Bicycles: Get to Know the World of Witchmark


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Witchmark, C. L. Polk’s debut novel, is a fantasy set in an original world that loosely resembles our own around the turn of the 20th century. Kingston, the capital city in which the story unfurls, is an old town on the brink of transformation by recent inventions, bright lights and modern applications electrified by the new national Aether network. Below, Polk describes the history of this booming era’s favorite method of commuting: the bicycle.

Combining magic, mystery, intrigue, and romance, Witchmark was one of our favorite books of 2018, and now it’s our Valentines Day gift to you! Sign up for the Tor.com Newsletter by 11:59pm on Friday, February 15th for a FREE ebook download!

 


 

The City of Bicycles

Kingston has 2.1 bikes for every citizen over the age of eight—the legal age to cycle alone. How did it succeed?

Is there anything more ...

Sleeps With Monsters: Quiet Novels About Changing The World


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This week I want to talk about a pair of short, independently published novels that deal with marriage, communities, and the process of change in conservative societies. It takes hard work and hope to begin to change the world, but the work is worth doing.

Those novels are M.C.A. Hogarth’s Healer’s Wedding, set in the “Pelted” space opera universe, the first book in a new duology; and Stephanie Burgis’s Thornbound, the second full novel in her “Harwood Spellbook” series, set in a country that resembles 19th-century England—but a 19th-century England ruled by a council of women where it is only socially acceptable for men, women’s helpmeets, to learn magic.

Healer’s Wedding takes place a year after the end of the Chatcaavan War, the events of which formed the backbone of Hogarth’s “Prince’s Game” series. Most of it sets itself on the Eldritch homeworld, ...

Reading The Wheel of Time: Ba’alzamon’s Secret Identity


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It seems to be a standard of epic fantasy that all the important characters have a ton of names. I mean, it’s Aragorn’s fault, right? The guy spent so many years traveling incognito, and he picked up all those names along the way, plus there are his elvish names and the names that relate to his heritage! Elessar, Estel, Longshanks, Strider, Thorongil, Wingfoot, Envinyatar… and I’m sure I’m missing some. Now that’s set up as a standard, and we get al’Lan Mandragoran, Lord of the Seven Towers, Lord of the Lakes, Dai Shan, uncrowned King of Malkier, and Rand al’Thor, who’s the Dragon Reborn on his own merit even before he inherits Lews Therin Telamon’s titles, like Lord of the Morning. I guess being reincarnated throws a unique twist in this game of many names.

It can sometimes be difficult to keep track of who’s who when everyone has a ...

At Last It’s a Girl’s World in Andre Norton’s Octagon Magic


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When I read Steel Magic, I wondered rather plaintively if Norton would (or could) give her girl character a less trammeled role in the next book. It’s true that Sara gets to be a cat, which is cool, but she doesn’t make her own decisions. She’s told what to do at every step, and she has to perform her assigned tasks under much more challenging physical conditions than either of her brothers.

Octagon Magic is, in a lot of ways, the answer to my wish. It’s the first straight-up girls’ book I’ve read in the Norton canon, and it’s part of a sea change in how Norton seems to have perceived her intended audience. By 1967, the Witch World series was well under way, and the Free Trader/Forerunner universe was opening up to strong and proactive female characters. She’s not writing boys-only adventures any longer. She’s writing for girls, ...

I Tell You True: Black Leopard, Red Wolf by Marlon James


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Until recently, Jamaican born writer Marlon James was known best for wining the Man Booker prize for A Brief History of Seven Killings, but his latest novel, the sprawling epic fantasy Black Leopard, Red Wolf, is going to very much take place of what the writer is most associated with—there is no doubt.

“I wanted to reclaim all the stuff I like—court intrigue, monsters, magic,” James told The New Yorker last month, “I wanted black pageantry.” And that’s exactly what he’s achieved with this story of Tracker, an angry young protagonist who is known for his nose, and uses this power (alongside his ability to not be harmed by anything ‘born of metal’), to find what no one else can. Tracker, similar to the protagonist of Salman Rushdie’s Midnight’s Children, has a most powerful sense of smell—he can smell below the surface to detect emotion; he ...

Introducing the Children of Blood and Bone Reread


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Children of Blood and Bone was a hit before it even made it out of edits. Tomi Adeyemi wrote the first draft in just a month. Less than a year later she sold her manuscript and earned one of the biggest advances in the history of young adult fiction. Not long after that, Fox 2000 picked up the film rights for development.

Publisher’s Weekly gave the novel a starred review, stating, “By making tangible the power that comes from embracing one’s heritage, Adeyemi conjures a story that resonates with magic both literal and figurative while condemning apathy in the face of injustice.” The Atlantic beamed with enthusiasm at the story’s Afrofuturist tendencies, noting that “reimagining oppressive pasts and envisioning far-off futures are closely linked revolutionary acts—meditations on the nature of power that can revive the creative potential of speculative fiction.”

Luckily, none of that is hype: the book ...

Breaking In: The Hod King by Josiah Bancroft


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The thrilling third volume of Josiah Bancroft’s The Books of Babel continues the incredible trajectory set by Senlin Ascends and sustained in its excellent successor. The first book in the series was tremendously inventive, and a bunch of fun, but for its iffy beginning; Arm of the Sphinx proved a superlative sequel in every sense, though it too suffered from a section that slowed progress; now, come The Hod King, there can be no denying Bancroft’s mastery of fantasy. It’s the biggest book in the saga so far, and the boldest, and, yes, the best.

So much has happened since Thomas Senlin was separated from his newlywed wife at the foot of the Tower of Babel, a superstructure so very vast that its inhabitants have their own laws and languages and the like. Maps and guidebooks are available, at a cost, but even if they were to be ...

A Simple, Measured Fantasy: Dark of the West by Joanna Hathaway


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Joanna Hathaway’s debut novel, Dark of the West, can classify itself as fantasy by virtue of its setting: a secondary world whose technology seems to fit an equivalent of our 1930s. With its radios and tanks and machine guns, it perhaps bears comparison with Lara Elena Donnelly’s Amberlough, another magicless fantasy novel with a 1920s/1930s feel. But Amberlough and its sequels foreground the complexities of politics, understanding that while the personal is political, social movements can be bigger (more complicated, more long-lasting) than any single person. For Dark of the West, there appears to be no such thing as competing political interests. Everything, it seems, comes down to personal animus or personal loyalty.

Aurelia Isendare is a princess of a small kingdom, raised in privilege and sheltered from real responsibility while her brother is groomed for the throne. She’s kind to small animals, hates hunting, and has ...

The Haunting of Tram Car 015


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Cairo, 1912: The case started as a simple one for the Ministry of Alchemy, Enchantments and Supernatural Entities—handling a possessed tram car.

Soon, however, Agent Hamed Nasr and his new partner Agent Onsi Youssef are exposed to a new side of Cairo stirring with suffragettes, secret societies, and sentient automatons in a race against time to protect the city from an encroaching danger that crosses the line between the magical and the mundane.

P. Djèlí Clark returns to the historical fantasy universe of “A Dead Djinn in Cairo” with the otherworldly adventure novella The Haunting of Tram Car 015—available February 19th from Tor.com Publishing.

 

 

CHAPTER ONE

The office of the Superintendent of Tram Safety & Maintenance at Ramses Station had all the decor befitting someone who had been elevated—or likely pushed along the lines of patronage—into such a vaulted position. A sprawling vintage Anatolian ...

5 Requests I Have for Megan Whalen Turner’s Return of The Thief


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So, so, so. After discovering that there was more than one sequel to The Thief about a decade after every other Megan Whalen Turner fan, I’ve gotten caught up on The Queen’s Thief series by devouring A Conspiracy of Kings (a weekend spent on the couch occasionally putting down the book to exclaim “ugh how is it so GOOD”) and Thick as Thieves (tearing up at my desk over the final pages). I was emotionally wrung out but also in the perfect headspace to pick up the sixth (and final, alas) book in this consistently brilliant and heartbreaking series.

Unfortunately, Return of The Thief just moved its publication date from March 2019 to summer 2020; however, considering the average five-year wait between installments, this delay is but a short wait to weather. Anyone who has been astounded by the twists and revelations in the past five volumes would agree ...

Keeping Your Fantasy Novel Organized with a Bullet Journal


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Have you ever heard of bullet journaling? Its basic concept is simple: instead of using a day planner with formally assigned pre-printed pages, a bullet journal starts out completely blank. You assign pages in the front to be an index, and then write down important information and to-do lists as you go. Any time you want to dedicate space to a special subject (say ‘Plot Notes’) you can do so while just jotting down the page numbers of that topic back in the index. Its primary power lies in its versatility. It’s not just a day planner: it’s a to-do list combined with a day planner plus a journal with a healthy dollop of idea book mixed together with…well…honestly anything you might want to write or draw.

There are, to misquote one of my favorite pirates, no rules with bullet journals, only guidelines.

As a fantasy writer, I am a ...

The High Costs of Fantasy Sainthood


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The defining feature of fantasy is the reality of the supernatural within the narrative—whether the supernatural element in a given story involves magic or gods or some other force-yet-to-be-defined. Yet in my favorite fantasy books, what fascinates me isn’t the magic, and it isn’t the gods. It’s the characters that I think of as the saints, not in the strictly religious or Christian sense, but those who dedicate themselves fully to a higher power—those crazy-dedicated, all-in, vision-haunted warriors and children and priests.

More than that, it’s the costliness of fantasy sainthood. In the most moving fantasies, those who choose to follow their god or goddess or magical deity end up paying a price for it. Sainthood doesn’t come free.

Yet even though the risk of losing everything is clear, these books also make it plain to the protagonist that this is only path truly worth taking. Sure, you might lose ...

Reading the Wheel of Time: The Heron Names Him True in Robert Jordan’s The Great Hunt (Part 27)


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Welcome back to the Read of The Great Hunt! Today is the last day of The Wheel of Time’s second novel, and although the climax is over, there are still a few gaps to fill in, and a few choices left to make. Also, Moiraine is here, Gandalf-ing back into Rand’s life now that all the dangerous things are over, to explain (somewhat unconvincingly, I might add) that she’d been doing her own important stuff all this time.

Chapter 27 opens with Min struggling to make her way through crowds of people, some of whom are running in panic while many more remain frozen in place, uncertain if it is more dangerous to stay or to flee. She can’t find Nynaeve, Egwene, or Elayne, but she can see Seanchan ships burning in the harbor, and the Spray beating out to sea. She doesn’t blame Domon for leaving; if anything, she ...

Reading The Ruin of Kings: Chapter 17


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OMG, Tor.com, The Ruin of Kings is almost here! Here, have one more chapter to tide you over! Come on in, the water’s fine!

(Well, no, the water’s actually filled with maelstroms and kraken and death, but, you know.)

This blog series will be covering the first 17 chapters of the forthcoming novel The Ruin of Kings, first of a five-book series by Jenn Lyons. Previous entries can be found here in the series index.

Today’s post will be covering Chapter 17, “Waking the Old Man”, which is available for your reading delectation right here.

Read it? Great! Then click on to find out what I thought!

Holy kidnapping dragons, Batman!

So, this chapter was insane, in a good way. You know the fit has hit the shan when the giant kraken piggybacking on your ship’s arse end is one of your background problems. Sheesh.

Seeing as ...

Strange Lands: The Kingdom of Copper By S.A. Chakraborty


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We leap in to The Kingdom of Copper right where we left off with The City of Brass (if we can recall just where we left off), and then quickly jump to five years later, when Nahri and Muntadhir are married and living under his father King Ghassan’s rule: Muntadhir keeping up with his harems, following in his father’s methods, and Nahri working as the only Nahid, the healer for the djinn. Alizayd is in a village far away, helping irrigate the dessert with his new abilities of ‘finding’ springs, and Dara is with the original Nahid, training an army to take back Daevabad. Each character is caught up in their own plot, each plot is built up and interwoven with the others as the narrative progresses.

Chakraborty seems to be continuing her exploration of the ideas of colonisation, genocide, and the racial and ethnic biases that fueled The City ...

Rise Up: Reckoning of Fallen Gods by R.A. Salvatore


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Last year’s Child of a Mad God was a glorious return to the world of Corona. I love the world from R.A. Salvatore’s tremendously underrated DemonWars Saga, and appreciated the way he handled the transition to a new series in an old world. It had echoes of the past, but also felt like its own thing. Its sequel, Reckoning of Fallen Gods, returns to the cold, bloodless peak of Fireach Speur, and thrusts readers into a tale of revenge and comeuppance, epic magic, and personal journeys that will have world-changing implications.

The demon fossa is dead at the hand of a young, powerful witch named Aoleyn—but what should be a time of celebration is anything but as Aoleyn is prosecuted and sentenced to death by the very people she saved. If that wasn’t enough, little do they know that the fossa was a safeguard against invasion from beyond the ...

Sleeps With Monsters: Epic Fantasy and Feminism in The Women’s War and The Ruin of Kings


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Who doesn’t like epic fantasy? And feminist epic fantasy, at that?

The Women’s War by Jenna Glass and The Ruin of Kings by Jenn Lyons are both opening volumes in new epic fantasy series. I read them one after the other, and can’t help comparing their approaches to feminism—because both of them set themselves within oppressive societies. And yet, though The Women’s War spends more of its time with female main characters and sets itself amid a violent struggle for the liberation of (some) women in a rigidly patriarchal society, I found The Ruin of Kings more inclusive and more persuasive—more liberatory—in its approach to a patriarchal society.

The Women’s War stakes out its ground in a society divided by class as well as gender, and its arguments are quite simple: Discrimination against women on the basis of their gender is awful, patriarchy is terrible, and ...

Reading The Ruin of Kings: Chapters 15 and 16


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Of all the gin joint blog posts in all the Internets, you clicked on mine, Tor.com. And I couldn’t be more thrilled. Another post for you!

This blog series will be covering the first 17 chapters of the forthcoming novel The Ruin of Kings, first of a five-book series by Jenn Lyons. Previous entries can be found here in the series index.

Today’s post will be covering Chapter 15, “The Zherias Maw”, and Chapter 16, “The General’s Reward”, which are available for your reading delectation right here.

Read it? Great! Then click on to find out what I thought!

Chapter 15

Maelstroms are a staple feature of just about any fantasy story involving travel by ship, from Scylla and Charybdis on down, and it’s no wonder: Besides being a ready source of danger/adventure, they fit perfectly into fantasy tales, because it’s hard to believe they are actually real ...