Life-changing Fantasy Books
“Art isn’t created in a vacuum.”
I’ll admit, I don’t know who said it but I love that it was said. It’s so true. Everything that is created is created in reaction to something. An influence, an homage, a statement about the world, there’s so much that goes into even making the most original creation. And, often times, I find it the intersection of influence and originality that makes the best stories.
As an author, I will consciously and subconsciously pay homage to, and be influenced by, books I admire. It’s hard not to be moved by great work. Furthermore, as I think most of us know, sometimes we grow as people from books as they make us question the way we see the world and live our lives.
I’m no exception. When I look back at the books I’ve read there are some that always stand out to me as having a special impact on my life and the way I tell stories. These are books that I think that everyone should read, and while you may not get the same thing I got out of them I hope you will gain a deep enjoyment from them as I did.
I’m starting this list with a book that’s on the fringe of Middle Grade and Young Adult. Unsurprisingly, I read this for the first time when I was in that range of 12-14. It was a formative point in my life and this work was the right book at the right time.
This is book 2 in the Unicorn Chronicles, in which Cara (a young girl) travels to the magical land of Luster. She sets out on a journey with a young unicorn, Lightfoot, along with her other new friends to get to the Unicorn Queen before a mysterious follower does.
Honestly, I couldn’t tell you about Cara or Lightfoot anymore. I couldn’t even remember their names until I looked them up (and then proceeded to have that wonderful nostalgia moment). But, I remember something prominently: The Song of the Wanderer.
In the book the Song of the Wanderer is a poem that I can still recite word for word to this day. There’s still a weathered old bookmark keeping place around the dog-eared pages in my book that the poem is told. That’s the impact it had on me.
You can find the full poem online, but some of my favorite parts include:
“My heart seeks the hearth, my feet seek the road, a soul so divided is a terrible load.”
“Oh, the things that I have seen, the secret paths I’ve trod, the hidden corners of the world known to none but me and God.”
As someone who grew up painfully afflicted with Wanderlust this resonates with the conflict that is waged on constantly in my soul. I also think that it will speak to many fantasy readers who read the genre of fantasy to escape from the “real world.” It speaks to the conflict between the worlds we want to be in, that live within us, and the space which we occupy.
It’s hard to argue against Wicked being a phenomenal book. Any work that has a Tony Award winning musical based after it should be! And the story of Elphaba, the real “Wicked Witch of the West” certainly lives up to the hype the musical creates. A note on this also, the book is vastly different from the musical! Almost two completely different stories with the same characters. So if you’ve seen the musical the book is far from ruined for you.
Wicked takes place entirely in the world of Oz and starts from Elphaba’s birth and childhood all the way through her eventual “demise” at the infamous water bucket. I can almost still smell the pages of this book as I held it in my hands, the soft turn of the newsprint as I devoured the words contained within. This was a book I read multiple times over, and learned something new every time.
From a technical perspective, it’s a shining example of how a “story you knew” can be transformed into a plot that makes you question everything. It’s a study in the misunderstood villain, making them a sympathetic character you not only feel for, but cheer for. It shows that the good guys may not be so good and every time you put something into black and white – or, white and green? – you’ll only be met with failure and heartbreak.
On a personal level, all of those things I think are revelations we experience in life. That moment when the person who was supposed to care for you turns out to not be the person you thought they were. When a promise doesn’t come through. When people who were supposed to protect you and the people you loved are only out for their own gain. And how you navigate such a world. It may sound jaded, but for being the story of a green witch it’s very real and that’s why stays with you. It’s real. It’s personal.
I have a book from my childhood, my young adult years, and now I felt I should include the most recent book to have a profound impact on my life on this list: Uprooted.
Uprooted was the first fantasy novel I’d read in a long time that I promptly started back at page one after finishing. It’s a wonderfully told story with the right blend of romance. I did a long review of Uprooted that you can read here.
Uprooted was, again, the right book at the right time. I read it after I’d begun the publication process for Air Awakens and had started really looking at books critically. I’m so used to high fantasy being a series that it was almost refreshing (albeit a little frustrating when I wanted more!) that Uprooted was a single tale. I think the ability to tell a cohesive story in one book is an art that shouldn’t be diminished and it’s an art that I think I still have room to mature into as an author.
I think what I loved most about Uprooted was the romance. It wasn’t ideal perfection, but it was a real draw between two characters. Two mature people who had no reason to pull together but they did and that felt very honest to me as a reader.
Honorable Mention: Harry Potter
I can’t have one of these lists and NOT include Harry Potter. I won’t go in-depth. I think Harry Potter is obvious in its impact just from its global reach alone. But, I will say, the first Harry Potter book came out when I was eleven and it was something that I carried with me into my twenties when the final movie came out. A world of hope and magic that I could grow alongside I think greatly changed and shaped who I am today and the author I want to be.
In my debut series, Air Awakens, you can see some of these influences and others. There are homages I’ll work into the story from certain lines, character traits, settings, and more. Air Awakens combines the hopeful romance of Cinderella with the dark magic and mystery of the Phantom of the Opera in a high fantasy world, complete with elemental magic system. You can preorder it here.
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book one in the Air Awakens Series.
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