The new COVID update is out — as I’m sure you already know —and with it comes another lockdown feature! In Ontario, decisions moving forward with this wave still fall into a gray area, but one thing is for certain: we’re all (mostly) stuck inside again!
For the next little while, university students will have commutes, nights out on the town, etc. on pause, providing a lot of free time without much to do. What better way to fill in those gaps than some otherworldly escapism? Below, I’ve curated a list of some of my favorite standalone fantasy novels that I think you should check out. If you’re not a big reader, these standalones come without the burden of a series and are all under 500 pages! As a bonus, most of these works are for adults and have darker tones.
Circe by Madeline Miller
Circe is a captivating retelling of the story of Circe, a magical daughter of the God Helios who, in The Odyssey, serves as an obstacle for Odysseus’ journey home by turning his men into pigs. Madeline Miller lets us see who Circe is as a person, not just a plot tool — we get glimpses into her upbringing, interactions with prominent mythological figures, and witness the development of her powers and her triapses with various aspects of womanhood and immortality.
If not for the content, the prose of this novel is excellent, and on its own enough reason to read it. Check it out on Goodreads!
*Content Warning: non-explicit description of rape*
The Wolf and The Woodsman by Ava Reid
A fantastical adventure blended with politics and humanitarian issues, The Wolf and The Woodsman follows an ostracized, powerless woman from a magical Pagan village as she is surrounded by her people to be a sacrifice for the King of the oppressive nation. When things go awry, and she discovers that one of the men taking her to the King is actually a disgraced Prince, they embark on a journey. Along the way, they bond and grow affectionate to one another — but when magic and political dangers rise, they must decide what side they’re on, and what they’re willing to give up.
While this novel is not nearly as popular as Circe, the society within the novel is quite complex, and the characters are morally grey, making parts of the novel very realistic despite being a fantasy set within a kingdom. Check it out on Goodreads!
*Content Warning: descriptions of violence (mutilation and self harm)*
Sorcery of Thorns by Margaret Rogerson
Do you like libraries or demons? If so, Sorcery of Thorns is the book for you. The protagonist, Elisabeth, grew up in one of many magical libraries filled with grimoires — tools of sorcery that talk, move, and can transform into monsters. When a very dangerous grimoire is let loose and she intervenes, she is accused of the crime and taken to face justice in the capital. She must turn to her sorcerer escort and his demonic servant for help, and they find themselves wrapped in a world-ending scheme tied to the existence of the magical libraries.
This novel is phenomenal in connecting us to the characters emotionally (Almost- Spoiler: I cried a few times), but it is a Young Adult book so it might not be your cup of tea. Check it out on Goodreads!
The Grace Year
In The Grace Year’s small county community, girls are believed to become dangerously magical when they turn 16 — as such, they are banished for a year to release their magic and be purified. The girls come back in fewer numbers, with horrible scars, and distinctly different. Sixteen year old Tierney wishes for more than being lesser, pitted against her fellow women. As she goes into her ‘grace year,’ she discovers that there are more dangers than the elements — and that the biggest one is themselves.
While lacking much of the fantastical elements of the fantasy genre, this novel’s strong point is it’s cruel realism and psychological mastery. Check it out on Goodreads!
An Enchantment of Ravens by Margaret Rogerson
From the same author as Sorcery of Thorns, An Enchantment of Ravens takes a look at an artist and her clients: the fae. Isobel paints portraits of these dangerous beings, who thirst for art, and in return gets valuable enchantments. In painting her first royal patron, she violates a law of their people by drawing mortal pain in his eyes, and is ripped away to their kingdom to stand trial. However, things are not as they seem in the kingdom, and Isobal and her royal patron begin to fall into forbidden territory.
An Enchantment of Ravens is one of my favorite novels despite being a Young Adult novel —there are high stakes and violence, but a lot of comedy to make up for it. Check it out on Goodreads!
Special Mention- Author Holly Black
Holly Black has written many Young Adult novels in the fantasy genre, her The Folk of the Air series being a very popular fantasy collection. Two standalone novels of hers that I highly recommend are The Darkest Part of the Forest (a fae prince replaces snow white in this story) and The Coldest Girl in Coldtown (vampires and a strong female protagonist). Check her works out on Goodreads!
My fingers are crossed that I’ve recommended some works you haven’t seen! I know the struggle of only finding works I’ve already read when searching for something new to binge. Also, apologies to any male-identifying readers that prefer to have male protagonists in what they read — I have yet to come across a standalone fantasy novel with a male protagonist while reading this genre, but I might be able to recommend some in the future!