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Top 50 Best Coming of Age Fantasy Books

Best Coming of Age Fantasy

Coming of age stories are one of the oldest themes in fiction, providing a sense of progression and growth that can't be rivaled. This is a theme that's as old as the first tales told by the ancient humans. The German word for 'coming of age' is Bildungsroman which literally means 'novel of formation.' And that's exactly what defines a coming of age story: it's a tale about the formation of a person (read our Coming of Age fantasy subgenre guide).

It's a concept that rings strong in every person; we have all, at one point, undergone the coming of age. But coming of age doesn't always have to be centered about the adolescent moving into adulthood, it's an experience that can encompass a broad range of ages, and cover a broad range of experiences. 

The point is that it covers the defining interval of a life, the key moment when a person (or in the concept of a novel, the hero) becomes the man (or woman) that defines.

In fantasy, that coming of age experience is even stronger, tying in new experiences familiar to us enhances with new, unfamiliar experiences such as magic, swordsmanship, and other foreign concepts.  Also expect a good dose of love, loss, tragedy, and new beginnings to be thrown in too.

There are thousands of these fantastical coming of age stories out there, but we've managed to narrow it down to fifty of the best ones.

If you haven't heard of The Kingkiller Chronicles by now, you'll want to pick it up as soon as possible. Rothfuss' award-winning series took the genre by storm in 2007 with its expertly crafted take on a traditional story. On the surface, the series doesn't seem to offer anything particularly new. It's a story of an orphan boy and his bid to enter a prestigious magic school.

However, Rothfuss proves that a good story is not just in the idea, but the execution. He crafts an incredible, unreliable narrator, clever, yet flawed and broken. Kvothe opens his story with a hook how he fell from grace as a powerful wizard to a humble innkeeper. Along the way, Rothfuss introduces incredible characters, who manage to be quirky yet realistic, bringing emotion and nuance to the tale.

All of this is tied together with beautiful prose. It manages to be vivid, yet precise, integrating with several plot strands that give the feeling of an epic, but incomplete story. The second book leaves you listlessly waiting for the third, which has been six years in the making.

Read if you like:

Unreliable narrators, clever protagonists, music in fantasy.

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Tad Williams' series was the source of inspiration for many of the titles on the listand some outside of it. Authors like R.R. Martin, Patrick Rothfuss, and more all cite The Dragonbone Chair as a turning point in fantasy. That's part, in thanks, to the epic nature of the series. Williams uses the popular tropes in 1980s fantasy: elf-like creatures, trolls, magic, and more. However, the incredible detail of his world and political system combines with an intelligent subversion of those stereotypes in one of the most underrated coming of age stories.

Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn tells the tale of Simon and his journey from kitchen boy to magician, and from magician to legend. Despite this, our protagonist is not the willing, genius hero that we've come to expect. Simon is reluctant, self-pitying and often doesn't understand the full picture. Though this makes the character sound undesirable, Williams' writing simply makes him feel real. Simon's feelings seem like a natural reaction to his circumstances, and the subtle growth as the series progresses makes his journey all the more satisfying.

It's joined by a plot that arches across three novels of up to 1000 pages and two other companion novels. The author slowly lowers you into the history and world of Osten Ard until you loath to leave it.

Read if you like:

Tolkien, Game of Thrones, epic fantasy.

Books in Memory, Sorrow, ... Series (3)

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Award Nominations:1997 LocusF

Robin Hobb has received significant praise for her Realm of the Elderlings world, which spans four series and several other short works. However, among that epic list, The Farseer Trilogy stands out as the strongest coming of age story. It chronicles the beginning of Fitz Chivalry's story, a royal bastard who ends up an assassin.

It's not a new idea, building on classic tropes and settings to build a compelling story. However, Hobb's execution is somewhat different to the norm. Fitz is very much fallible. Despite the gift of magic, he often makes mistakes, misses clues, and undergoes hardships. It's difficult to maintain a likable character despite this, but Hobb expertly builds Fitz shortcomings as natural learning experiences. Fitz never becomes perfect, and that's what makes him feel so real.

Read if you like:

Imperfect characters, long series, fantasy assassin.

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With a Martin-esque plot and Jim Butcher pace, The Axe and the Throne is a definite "must read" for even the pickiest fantasy fans.

In his stunning debut, Ireman has built the type of world so vivid and engrossing that leaving it at the end is agony. In spite of leaning toward grimdark, where authors often enshroud every scene in depressing darkness, there is no lack of cheerful moments or brilliant scenery. Yet the pangs of near-instant nostalgia that come after you put down a book like this have less to do with the inspired setting, and far more to do with those who inhabit it. 

From savage, unremorseful heroes, to deep, introspective villains, the cast of this story is comprised of believable characters capable of unthinkable actions. And it is these characters -- the ones you wish you could share a drink with or end up wanting to kill -- that forge the connection between fantasy and reality. Keethro, Titon, Ethel, Annora. These are names you will never forget, and each belongs to a man or woman as unique as they are memorable. 

No book would be complete without a its fair share of intrigue, however, and there is no lack of it here. Each chapter leaves you wanting more, and Ireman's masterful use of misdirection leads to an abundance of "oh shit" moments. Do not be fooled (or do -- perhaps that's part of the fun) by storylines that may appear trope-ish at first. This is no fairytale. 

Available on Amazon & Audible, Barns & Noble, iTunes, Google, and Kobo.

This award-winning 1968 novel takes the classic coming of age story and gives it a dark spin. We follow Ged, a young, brash wizard who plays with forces beyond his control. Thinking his magic school training makes him next to invincible, he unleashes a shadow that threatens the world.

Much of the book follows Ged's mental and physical journey as he comes to terms with his mistake and tries to hunt down the evil he has released. There are dragons, rivals, battles, and everything you want out of traditional fantasy. However, with her lyrical narration, Le Guin manages to turn it into a much deeper lesson. It's an exploration of our thirst knowledge, the temptation of power, and the darkness that lies inside of all of us. It details redemption, love, and the need for balance in all things.

Read if you like: Young adult, Harry Potter, symbolism in fantasy.

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A blend of sci-fi and fantasy, Frank Herbert's Dune created a foundation for many of the themes in modern genre fiction. Its exploration of ecology, pacifism, and mysticism pairs with a story of destiny to remain relevant fifty years after its publication. However, underneath that apt commentary lies a powerful coming of age story.

The story follows Paul Atreides, the heir of a family that controls the planet of Arrakis. In a layered, complex world of religion and politics, Paul becomes a hero and messiah. This happens not in a sudden rush of circumstance but slow and painful progress through training. Throughout it, Herbert weaves an expertly adapting mental state. The protagonist comes to understand the meaning of equality, love, and most importantly, time.

Dune is not an easy read. It's wordy, jargon-filled, and examines difficult but important concepts. But if you can get past Herbert's initial learning curve, you'll find a rich world that's only overshadowed by its use of character.

Read if you like:

Epic sci-fi, philosophy in fiction, dense reads.

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This trope-defying series is often compared to Harry Potter, The Wizard of Earthsea, and other defining novels. When you get down to it, though, The Magicians' cynical attitude provides a completely different experience. The characters in Grossman's series aren't perfect, they aren't nice, and they're not happy.

The main character, Quentin, is depressed, overly-analytical, and book-obsessed. His hopes mirror that of any fantasy reader that the world of his favorite novel actually exists. Except, when it does turn out to be real, it solves nothing.

Sure, magic exists, but Quentin is now in a school full of geniuses. Though he learns to control his magic, think critically, and do great things, he must ultimately learn to accept that he's not outstanding, and nor is anyone else. Likewise, the heroes from his novels aren't as great as they're cracked up to be. In fact, they're kind of assholes.

At its heart, The Magicians is a story of growing up. Not an idealistic, censored version, but one of real significance. Grossman doesn't shy away from sex, drugs, swearing or death. The overarching message is that no matter which world you're in, internal struggles will always catch up to you.

Read if you like:

Narnia, mental health in fantasy, realistic fantasy.

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Award Nominations:2009 LocusYA

Pratchett's immensely successful Discworld gets the most attention of his works, but amongst those works lie unrelated novels that deserve even more praise. Nation is one of those, and may even be the best novel he's written.

The book is essentially in a parallel earth, detailing the story of a boy who has lost not just his family, but his entire tribe. His only company is Daphne, a westerner and sole survivor of a shipwreck. It has Pratchett's textbook humor and vivid writing, but wrapped up in it is a tale of growth and emotion.

Through its incredible characters, Nation tells a story not just of death, but of creation. Through it, Pratchett examines the internal voice both characters hold their rules and traditions that must be questioned to move forward. By doing so, he creates a feeling of connection and a story that's simultaneously, sad, funny, and poignant. It will leave you laughing and crying, and, most importantly, thinking.

Read if you like:

Parallel universes, emotional reads, thoughtful novels.

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Western settings. Farm boys. Spoilt rich kids. Often, coming of age fantasy hits you over the head with unsubtle interactions and world-building. Abraham's Long Price Quartet does not fit into that category.

It's a gentle piece. There's intricate world-building, a heavy focus on character progression, and little need for action. The World consists of city states with an asian inspiration, each looking to gain political influence. This is where much of the novel lies. Not in fighting, or magic, though both are present, but human interaction.

Part of that is presented in the growth of characters, which is presented in an entirely unique way. Each book in the series is spaced fifteen years apart, presenting a change in the characters that can only be achieved by time. The central character is Itani, a laborer who is much more than he pretends to be. The Long Price Quartet follows him from the age of 12 through to 80, and from a young boy to an emperor. Ambitious in its timeframe, the series is much more than the sum of its parts, and far more nuanced than can be described in a short summary.

Read if you like:

Subtle fantasy, character-oriented stories.

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This Hugo and Nebula nominee goes outside the realm of traditional fantasy in a blend of steampunk and dark magic. All too often, fantasy focuses on human protagonists, or half-elves/faeries. Maia is a little more exotic, the subject of an arranged marriage between human and elf.

He's considered an abomination, but unfortunate circumstances lead to the young prince reluctantly taking the throne. What follows is a book of politics, intrigue, and friendship. Maia isn't the usual perfect, arrogant protagonist. He's kind and extremely likable. As he's thrust into having more responsibilities, he has to learn many things. Social skills, dancing, ruling, and, importantly, his own worth.

There's no huge scale battles here, no needless action sequences, and that's what makes it special. Addison manages to weave an entertaining story of political intrigue and mystery through her characters alone. There's little romance, little magic. It's entirely about the personal journey.

Read if you like: 

Steampunk, political fantasy.

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Mark Lawrence's debut series is one that seems to divide readers, and a lot of the criticism comes from its non-traditional take. Coming of age stories often detail a young but innocent character,  learning to be a good person and the value of friendship. The story of thirteen-year-old Jorg Ancrath doesn't follow those tropes.

Jorg is a sociopath. He's not a good person, he's a killer and a marauder. He rapes, burns, and tortures, reminiscing in cold detail. This book doesn't ask for empathy like many in the sub-genre. Instead, it keeps readers hooked with a grim fascination and great prose.

The protagonist's transformation is less of a transformation of morals, and more in power. The series details Jorgs journey from boy to king, and the things he has to do along the way. Despite this, Lawrence creates moments that make you question everything. A kind gesture here, a moment of vulnerability there. Just enough to keep you caring, before the horror show begins once more. The fallout will make you wonder if Jorg is the victim of his circumstances, or if he was just born a broken boy.

Read if you like:

Grimdark, gore, evil main characters.

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Most of the world has heard of Game of Thrones by now, but R. R. Martin's book series is still overlooked in favor of the more accessible TV show. For fans of coming of age, that could be a huge mistake. There are many ways A Song of Ice and Fire differs from its counterpart, and one of those is the depth and growth of younger characters.

Martin's tale is a slow and weaving one, taking the perspective of many characters in the third person. With this variety comes multiple coming of age stories. Among the most prominent are the Stark children Arya, Sansa, Bran, Robb and Jon. In just one family there's growth in swordsmanship, magical ability, and inner strength. Then there's the story of Daenerys Targaryen, from girl to Khaleesi, and from Khaleesi to the mother of dragons.

However, Martin's novels are set apart by a realistic portrayal of not just "good" characters, but bad ones too. Joffrey Baratheon is one of the most hated names in fantasy, yet he still manages to present a story of growth not in morals, but in power, insecurity, and the lengths he's willing to go to. The contrast is tied together with the incredible blend of politics, death, and betrayal the series is known for.

Read if you like:

Dark fantasy, Game of Thrones TV series, strong antagonists.

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This incredible series has inspired countless children and a good number of adults too. In a time when coming of age stories were incredibly popular, L'Engle's books stood above the rest in their refusal to conform. A Wrinkle In Time tells the story of Meg Murry and her brother Charles as they travel through time and space to rescue their father.

It's a simple plot at its core, but with tons of hidden depth. Meg is not the subject of typical 60s girl books. She's awkward, wears braces, and has bad eyesight. In some ways, she parallels to J.K Rowling's Hermione. Throughout the course of the series, she comes to realize that intelligence and family are more important than her appearance. It's a growth in unconformity, self-confidence, and the ability to ask the right questions.

L'Engle's work shines just as much in secondary characters such as Calvin, the love interest. Though he lacks Meg's mathematical intelligence, his journey is no less poignant. It's an evolution in thinking, self-acceptance, and love. These themes combine with an overall conflict of good versus evil, creating a christian story that's as entertaining as it is thought-provoking.

Read if you like:

Christian stories, children's fiction, time travel.

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“On the shores of despair, there was a maiden, she was my quarry and my redemption.”

Marishka Grayson’s novel Bloodreign I: Regnum Ignis is a new breed of adult neo-gothic fantasy—a cross-genre novel that defies easy categorization but makes for a scintillating and highly enthralling read.

Magdalena’s encounter with the vicious but fascinating creatures of light, the Nuria, push her to the brink of sanity. Dark and brooding, the story reveals a hidden world of beings who possess magic, and a lore whose thread is hidden in the haze of history. Battling against their own violent, lustful nature and seeking atonement, the Nuria pursue their goals in the constant shadow of powerful foes—magi who have sworn to destroy them. Allegiances shift, alliances form and shatter. But through all the madness, there may be one immutable constant—Arik Kuno, grandson of the Sovereign and heir to the title of Luminary, whose obsession with Magda seems to have no bounds and time itself cannot wane.

Click here to buy Bloodreign on Amazon. For more information about the book and author, check out her blog.

This trilogy offers another refreshing take on traditional coming of age stories. Often in fantasy, magic is seen as a way out for the protagonist. It lets them move away from their humble beginnings to a magic college where everything is better. In McKillip's world, that's not quite true. The wizards are all dead, and the only way to uncover their secrets is through riddles.

Morgon is not a peasant boy, he's the ruler of a farming island called Hed. He's not happy with adventure, or the dangerous journey through magic. Unfortunately, he was born with three stars on his head, marking him for prophecy. However, this prophecy is not complete, and Morgon spends much of the novel reluctantly trying to figure out who he is and what he's supposed to be.

The result is a hero with a real sense of vulnerability, both internally and in his ability to defend himself. His journey is a slow one, stretching out across the whole trilogy, tied together with elegant prose, unique magic and incredible attention to detail.

Read if you like:

Tolkien, high-fantasy, classic fantasy.

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Ostensibly a Science Fiction read, but when you dig down deep, it's a book that can easily cross over into the fantasy sphere.

This series gets a lot of comparisons, not least with Divergent and The Hunger Games. The truth, however, is that though Red Rising presents a similar, dystopian setting, the parallels do it a disservice. At its core, the series is closer to high and epic fantasy. It has a slow pace, a nuanced world, and steady character development.

Brown tells the story of sixteen-year-old Darrow, a miner on Mars who is at the very bottom of society's rungs. His only hope of a pleasant life is to win a 'laurel' from his overlords, providing goods and luxuries for his group. Thankfully, he's no ordinary person, possessed with reflexes and abilities that put him above the average miner. Throughout the course of the series, Darrow works his way to the upper echelons of society in a world far more brutal than others in its genre. In his quest, he must face the realization that everything he knew was a lie and risk his life in a twisted and bloody contest. In the words of the author:

"The entire story is about rejecting the limits that others put on you...and also trying to rise above what society has told you that you have to be".

Read if you like:

The Hunger Games, page-turners, dystopia.

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Award Nominations:2009 BFS, 2009 WFA

Gaiman is one of the biggest names in modern fantasy, and for good reason. His ability to craft fairytale-like, lyrical stories is almost unparalleled. With The Graveyard Book, he goes a little outside of that norm, presenting us with a slightly darker story.

Despite being for children, the novel starts with a very macabre tone. Following a triple homicide, Nobody Owens seeks a new family in his local graveyard. Adopted by ghosts, vampires and other creatures, he makes his home among the tombstones. In a blend of creepy and sweet, the author manages to appeal to a whole spectrum of ages.

Along the way, Nobody learns to use magic, the history of the ghosts, and the truth about his parents killer. More importantly, though, he struggles to gain the skill to return to the world of the living. Gaiman's book draws parallels with the same challenges children face today, raising questions about traditional upbringings and if you can truly be prepared for adulthood. Entwined in that is a brilliant exploration of death and living in spite of loss.

The end result was so perfect that it won a Hugo award and Newbery medal.

Read if you like:

Children's fiction, paranormal elements.

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It's impossible to even gauge the impact Tolkien had on the genre when he created The Hobbit. It's the grandfather of coming of age fantasy, inspiring generations of authors to create. It was written as a simple story for his children, but its brilliance gave it international acclaim.

Now, Bilbo is not the age you'd expect for such a story. At the start of the novel, he's 50 years old. Not ancient by hobbit standards, but not young either. Still, it's hard to deny that the book fits into this list. It's a story of dragons, magic, and great evil. It details elves, trolls, orcs, and more. But the underlying theme is Bilbo's growth into his true self.

At the start of The Hobbit, he's shy, complacent, happy to live a simple life. By the time the journey ends, he is an adventurer, a legend, and much more confident. The events in the novel serve primarily as a catalyst for Bilbo's change, forcing him to rely on his own strengths. It's this aspect that makes the tale so relatable, reaching across age brackets to bring joy to both adults and children.

Tolkien's unmatched world-building, lyrical prose, and standout characters only enhance this, creating a must-read for any fantasy fan.

Read if you like:

The Lord of The Rings, high fantasy.

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world-building and character, in a way that's meaningful and almost unheard of. It's an incredible accomplishment for Polish video game studio CDProjekt, but much of that success comes from the work of one man, Andrzej Sapkowski.

Though his stories are popular domestically, Sapkowski didn't hit it quite as big outside of eastern Europe. Thankfully, that's not due to any lack of quality. More than anything, The Witcher series promises a unique experience. There's nothing that quite matches the brooding, creature-infested world and its incredible depth.

The story follows Geralt, a mutated monster-hunter or 'Witcher', and his protege, Ciri. It's in her that we see the main transformation. Born with elven blood, she will soon come into incredible power. Eager to protect her, Geralt and the other Witchers teach her to slay monsters, use a sword, and figure out her magical abilities. Throughout, Sapkowski manages to expertly juggle emotional scenes, action sequences, and politics to create a series that is an easy equal to its sister games.

Read if you like: 

The Witcher 3, unique settings, mythical creatures.

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The Wheel of Time sits next to Tolkien's series as some of the most distinguished fantasy series of all time. That's not an accident, it's an incredible epic that starts with a strong but familiar coming of age story. Rand starts in a small farming community and makes his way into legend.

The premise has been done hundreds of times before, though admittedly Jordan got in pretty early. However, this book transcends those simply by its incredible attention to detail in world building and character. Every person in this series is a living, breathing human, and none more so than Rand.

Jordan follows the classic 'chosen one' trope, quickly establishing Rand as the dragon reborn. Joined by Mat and Perrin, he avoids the dark creatures that hunt him. The journey is offset by intense personal battles. Rand has to accept his destiny, Perrin has to face his fears, and Mat struggles with an evil influence. Everything unfolds so organically that you find yourself completely lost in Jordan's world, carried along by culture, growth, and perfect pacing.

Read if you like:

'Chosen one' fantasy, great world-building, epic fantasy.

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Pullman's multi award-winning series is as inventive as it is emotional. It sits in a parallel to our world, with references to Oxford college yet beautifully crafted fantastical elements. It starts with Lyra, a young orphan, who, like everyone else, has a daemon. It takes the form of various animals, mirroring the soul of the human and settling into a final form with adulthood.

In that single element, Pullman manages to weave a coming of age into the heart of his story. There's a layered plot of other worlds, child thieves, and polar bears, tied together through the perspective of Lyra. It's far from predictable, forcing the reader and protagonist to confront their views as she's thrust into dangerous situations. With sparse prose, it describes the growth from a disobedient child to a strong young woman.

Read if you like:

The Golden Compass, parallel worlds, arctic settings.

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Award Nominations:2007 BFS, 2007 WFA

It's hard to say what makes this series so special, but there's no question that it is just that. It has all the elements of a generic fantasy story an orphan, thieving, an island city. Yet Lynch manages to tell a story so compelling and fresh that it makes you evaluate your bias for those tropes.

Some of that is thanks to the brilliance that is Locke Lamora. The character builds an instant and likable connection with the reader. He's not a particularly nice person; in fact, he's a thief and a liar. Even so, his humor, energy, and loyalty leaving you pining for his next word and wondering what heist he will pull next.

Locke's development isn't an easy one, nor is it thrown in your face. It's a slow build, a realization that things need to change, a need to adapt to circumstances. He struggles his way into legend, building an empire bit by bit through pure resilience. He gets angry, he gets jubilant, and he learns the importance of both.

A clever, turning plot runs through those themes, pairing with memorable characters to build an incredible yet unfinished series.

Read if you like:

Loveable rogues, Ocean's Eleven, colorful swearing.

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Schools are a common theme in coming of age, be it a magic academy or just a mentor. It's difficult though, to do that in an original way, and Ryan's series offers something fresh. Vaelin was given to the Sixth Order at ten years old, a secular group with a penchant for both battle and god. In a blend of high fantasy and excellent storytelling, we learn of Vaelin's journey from a boy to a hardened warrior, with a hint of power beyond comprehension. It's not an easy path, fraught with dangerous trials that are only offset by the loyalty between his peers. This book is regularly compared to The Name of The Wind, and in some ways it's justifiable. Both are told through flashbacks. Both are coming of age stories. However, Raven Shadow is not about a man who is good at everything, but at a single discipline. Vaelin is not a Mary Sue. He's flawed, and if you didn't like Rothfuss' character, you'll probably like this one. Where his immersion is next-level, Ryan's storms ahead with his intensity. Intricate subplots weave together, atmosphere overwhelms, and you always wonder how it will end.

Read if you like:

Name of the Wind, religion in fantasy, epic fantasy.

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Staveley's Unhewn Throne series presents an intelligent mash-up of three simultaneous coming of age stories. Separated for eight years, three royal children must face the fallout of the Emperor's assassination and learn to deal with their complex new duties.

It's a simple premise, but it's hard to describe how complex and weaving Stavely manages to make it. Each of the children has a feeling of relatability, trapped by their obligations yet likable and down-to-earth. They present an entirely different viewpoint on the same world the view of a soldier, a monk, and a finance minister.

With the touch of a true master, Stavely manipulates these plot threads, expanding some, abandoning others, giving glimpses at a grand design. Then, with sweeping grandeur, he manages to tie them all together in a rush of revelations and satisfaction. It ends with a real sense of development, the characters undeniably shaped by their roles and experiences.

Read if you like:

Complex plots, epic fantasy.

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Nobody writes coming of age quite like Garth Nix, and this quickly became clear with Sabriel in 1995. In this world, the dead refuse to stay that way, and the Abhorsen are needed to keep them in check. With her father missing, that job falls down to Sabriel, and she has a lot to learn.

Nix writes his female protagonist, not as a whiny girl, or ridiculously strong, but somewhere in between. Sabriel is flawed, yet her worries feel real and acceptable. Her thoughts and motives feel intensely human, as do her sidekicks a magic bound cat and a royal guard that was frozen in time.

Incredible attention to detail transports readers straight into the Old Kingdom, blending zombies, swordplay, and a unique and detailed magic system. Nix is a master of selecting the right information at the right time, forgoing info dumps and forging understanding through action and lyrical prose. As Sabriel grows into her role, the story reaches a dark crescendo of action and emotion.

Read if you like:

Interesting magic systems, page turners, necromancy.

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Though Sanderson's main criticism is a lack of character depth, it's hard to deny the satisfying coming of age stories in Mistborn. The novel describes a classic rags-to-riches story, Vin progressing from street scammer to metal ingesting magician. However, Vin's development and the scope of the story goes much further than that.

Sanderson raises many important questions through the protagonist and lets her grow as she comes to her own conclusions. There's an exploration of class, religion, moral ambiguity, and, most importantly, trust. Rather just presenting a story of powerless to powerful, the author explores how one so exploited can come to form meaningful relationships.

While some would be content to leave it there, this tale contains similar progression in other characters. The latter books focus on the growth of Elend from an intellectual to a leader, while a minor character plot explores the quest to find meaning among powerful friends. These plot arches combine with an incredible magic system, detailed worldbuilding, and intense action sequences to create an easy and entertaining read.

Read if you like:

Interesting magic systems, religion in fantasy, rags to riches.

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Flewelling's series takes place in the medieval country of Skala and presents a near-perfect sword and sorcery experience. It details the growth of Alec, saved from prison by Seregil, a hired thief and member of a secretive group called 'The Watchers'.

Flewelling has always written strong characters, and this series is no exception. The bond between the two men is the defining feature of these novels, with Seregil acting as both mentor and friend. Where Alec is naive, Seregil is sharp and witty, creating a perfect contrast in morals and personality.

However, at its base level, Nightrunner is a coming of age story. It's about Alec learning to accept his new profession, but also to trust. He's thrown into a tight-knit group, so ready to accept him that it almost feels suspect. He comes to respect them and believe in himself, meeting wizards, learning, and discovering his sexuality. Flewelling manages to write bisexual characters while keeping it incredibly natural. There's no dwelling, and if there is a clear message in Alec's growth, it's of loyalty and acceptance.

Read if you like:

Diverse characters, sword and sorcery, rogues.

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Abercrombie kicked off his Shattered Sea series with the award-winning Half a King, but his second novel approaches true mastery. Half the World picks up many years after the first, featuring some crossover characters but working perfectly as a standalone.

Thorn Bathu is the new protagonist, and she presents a familiar dilemma. She was born to be a warrior, but she was also born female. Though she can train with the rest of the boys, she will never be one of them, and that's only made worse when she's branded a murderer.

Abercrombie's foray into YA is a slightly more lighthearted take than his usual taste. But only slightly. Thorn's story is one of failure, learning to accept infallibility, accepting she isn't perfect. There's a deep exploration of morals through Brand, a naive warrior who tries not to kill. It's a divergence from the usual gore and killing off main characters, but that somehow makes it feel more intelligent. Together, Thorn and Brand must travel the world, convince allies, and start a war.

Read if you like:

Heroines, Vikings, young adult.

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The Paksenarrion trilogy introduces another female warrior lead, but that doesn't mean its protagonist is ordinary. Paks doesn't start out a strong, brooding hero. She's not particularly intelligent, she doesn't question orders, she doesn't want children. It's loyalty that holds her together, and it's what eventually leads her to change.

The pure scope of Moon's trilogy makes the number of books feel warranted, and that's partly thanks to the huge character development. It's not just a case of sheep farmer to paladin Paks changes right down to her very core. Her morality, psychology, and religion are all influenced by the events in the series, leaving a feeling of real change, rather than an afterthought.

There's a sense of a classic chronicle to the book, a medieval world complete with elves and dwarves. It's high fantasy, but also very clearly an epic adventure. Its battle scenes are littered with Moon's experience as a marine, complete with gory scenes and the ambiguity of hero or tool.

Read if you like:

Elves, Paladins, less romance.

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A lot of novels on this list are either children's stories or young adult. While they make for great stories, there are some great coming of age stories that feature very mature content. Primarily, Phedre's Trilogy is a fantasy series. It features a medieval world in Terre d'Ange, a mirror of France. It's complete with angelic powers, myths, and warriors. It also contains some BDSM.

In the hands of a novice writer, this could become a Fifty Shades sleaze-fest. And though this is Carey's debut, she's far more subtle than that. Sexuality is tied into the very fabric of the world, feeling like an extension of it rather than being thrown in randomly. It's a fantasy book first, and a romance one second.

Still, Carey realizes that the discovery of sex is an important role in coming of age. She doesn't linger on it unnecessarily, but it does tie naturally into the thread of the story. We follow Phedre from her roots as a courtesan, where a red mote in her eye makes her undesirable. However, it's more than just a blemish. According to her new patron, it's a mark from the heavens.

What follows is an education surpassing her humble beginning. She learns not just language and history but to observe and influence. It's a telling that's epic in scale, stretching across three large books as Phedre uses her knowledge to combat conspiracies and save the ones she loves.

Read if you like:

BDSM in fantasy, epic fantasy, angels.

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With The Blue Sword, McKinley presents another story with familiar tropes but incredible execution. Her flawless writing skill brings something really special to the YA genre and won her Newbery Honor in 1983.

McKinley's country of Damar takes readers away from the popular medieval setting and into a sandy world. There's stunning detail here, not just in vivid description but the cultures of each group. When Harry is captured by the nomadic Hillfolk, things only get better. Finding she has kelar in her blood, she slowly comes to terms with her heritage and magical ability. She quickly takes to the Hillfolk, feeling at home for the first time with the horses and language.

But there's a war coming from the north, and Harry has a lot of growing up to do before she can face it. She learns to become unbeholden to the wills of others, control her kelar, and become a hero.

Read if you like:

Classic fantasy tropes, young adult, desert settings.

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While some of the books on this list offer a fresh take on the classics, Jim Butcher creates something entirely new. It began on a writer's workshop board during an argument, where he was challenged to write a book out of two central ideas the lost roman legion and Pokmon.

Despite its source material, the result is surprisingly unique. Butcher details a world in which aggressive races are complemented by elemental creatures called furies. Tavi from the rome-like Alera, and at fifteen years old he still can't furycraft.

Butcher manages to flip expectations by creating a protagonist who doesn't come into great power. In fact, Tavi seems to be the only one without magic, and for once that makes things more interesting. As their next door neighbors prepare to declare war, Tavi has to rely on his wits to survive. As the series progresses, he learns his lack of magic doesn't make him worthless, facing emotional turmoil and coming out a strong, well-trained man.

Read if you like:

Unique settings, trope subversion, intelligent characters.

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The Amber Chronicles is a complex blend of genres and plot. It starts like a murder mystery, drawing the reader in, then it moves on to a mixture of sci-fi and fantasy. However, while Zelanzy's tension-building goes a long way, it's the character that keeps the reader invested throughout this ten book series.

The book is from the perspective of Corwin, a hospitalized amnesiac trying to remember his true identity. We follow along as he tries to unravel his thoughts with the hard resourcefulness. But then Corwin learns that he's not in his home world but has been banished to shadowland that is earth. More than that, he has a claim to the throne, and his siblings are all too happy to kill him to take it.

In an inspiring change, Zelazny details Corwin's growth as he comes to remember little details about himself and his personality changes as a result. It's a subtle beginning, opening to flood as he both realizes himself and is altered by the events of the series. Throughout it all, he remains intensely lovable, human, and eloquent.

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Alexander's Wales-inspired epic fantasy offers little in the way of originality when compared to the novels of today. It's a simple tale of Taran, a pig farmer who has always wanted more, and gets more than he's bargained for. But as is common in these stories, execution is the key, and this author has it down to a tee.

The Chronicles of Prydain is an adventure novel at its core, detailing the fight and journey a band of heroes against evil. There are some incredibly strong characters, from half animals to princesses and soulless warriors. There's no Mary Sue characters in this book, each defined as much by their flaws as their weaknesses. But that doesn't mean they have no redeemable qualities, and many of their internal journeys are about finding those.

Despite this, none of them reach the depth of Taran, which is where Alexander's true mastery shows. He manages to create a feeling of care for the character despite his clumsiness and irritability.Taran is not a stalwart warrior with no emotion, he's fragile and still learning. Still, he has such a strong presence that Alexander never has to describe his face.

Read if you like:

Lord of the Rings, adventure, diverse characters.

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Every now and then, a book comes along that reinvigorates your love for a genre. They bring something new to the table unique ideas that prove innovation isn't dead. Brett's The Warded Man is one of those novels, but it's also much more.

In this world, the author creates a feeling of constant tension and danger. Demons skulk in the night, ready to kill anybody caught outside when the sun sets. The only thing that holds them back are wards, but they also confine society to a small area.

Arlen believes his people should not trade safety for freedom and seeks to end the threat one and for all. In a society confined both physically and by its thinking, he's an outside thinker. There's the regular journey from a nobody to a hero, but Brett also gives Arlen a feeling of morality and bravery without a lack of intelligence.

Tying it together is a perfect pace that keeps you turning page after page. Before you know it, the 900-word novel is over, and Arlen is almost a man.

Read if you like:

Interesting magic systems, demons, page turners.

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Most of you will have read it already, some of you will be sick of it, but you can't do a coming of age list without mentioning it. Harry Potter is one of the most influential stories of this generation, and at its heart is a story of growth, friendship, and learning.

The first book presents a typical orphan-to-legend trope as Harry slowly discovers who his parents were and the wizarding world he's been sheltered from. His affinity for magic and thwarting Voldemort quickly turns him into a legend, and his character matures into that role as the series continues.

However, things get more interesting when you consider the other characters in the story. Rowling manages to create incredible depth in every single one of her characters, evolving them organically from book to book. Ron, for example, learns to get over his disdain for Harry's fame, while Hermione ditches the know-it-all attitude and becomes more compassionate. Neville has a great transformation from a clumsy, self-hating child to a competent and loyal resistance leader.

The same attention is paid to the story's antagonists. Malfoy begins a spiteful child and progresses into something far more dangerous. Working in tandem with some truly amazing world building, this character progression makes Harry Potter well worth the praise it receives.

Read if you like:

Magic school stories, mythical creatures, chosen one fantasy.

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At this point, there's very little to be said about Narnia that hasn't been put better already. But I have to justify this list somehow, so I may as well try. The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe has inspired generations of readers and countless adaptations. Lewis remains one of the most influential figures of the last century, and he will continue to be for years to come.

It starts when four children step through a wardrobe and into a fantasy world. A world full of talking animals, centaurs, and fauns. Humans are a rarity, and Susan, Edmund, Lucy, and Peter particularly so. They're the children of prophecy, destined to sit on the throne.

Throughout the novel, each of the children deals with their own challenges and comes out changed. Lucy struggles to be believed, Edmund with jealousy, Susan with death, and Peter to control his younger siblings. In this intensely Christian story, Lewis tells of a battle between good versus evil, sacrifice, and maturity. The children live out fifteen years in the world, returning the same age, yet forever changed.

Read if you like:

Christian fiction, mythical creatures, children's fantasy.

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Gavriel Kay's Fionavar is an ode to J.R.R. Tolkien, building on his life as an editorial assistant to his son, Christopher. Kay was instrumental in the publication of the legend's posthumous works, and the echoes of those themes shine through in this series.

It carries many of the elements of classic heroic fantasy, complete with a rising evil and an unlikely hero. Kay's execution, though, is entirely different. The series follows five students from the university of Toronto as they find themselves in a magic world. While Tolkien blends many mythologies, this setting has a Celtic style that makes it feel incredibly unique.

Kay keeps the lengthy, lyrical prose, but surpasses many in his characters and plot. It's not a journey to Mordor it's complex, winding, linked and intricate. That describes his characters too, to an extent. The series has a huge number of them, yet they manage to promote real depth and emotion. The five each have their own flaws which they must overcome, and that makes for a great story of power, forgiveness and free will.

Read if you like:

Tolkien, high fantasy, heroic fantasy.

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This novel is dark fantasy down to the core, bringing a refreshing tone and plenty of room for development. It's told not from the eyes of the protagonist but the scribe Arki, unfolding the story with a feeling of instant legend.

The scribe follows a man called Captain Killcoin, a mercenary leader who wants someone to tell his journey. The story, however, is as much about Arki as it is Killcoin, and that's where the real coming of age lies. Integrating into the band of rough warriors, he is taught to survive, but also to live fully.

Through this narrative perspective, Salyards shows not just growth but the depth of his world and characters. Arki's questioning nature allows for expert world-building without pages of infodumps, immersing the reader completely in a medieval world. Likewise, his interaction with new characters shows the human nature of their relationships and makes action heavy with the fear of loss.

Read if you like:

The Name of the Wind, great action sequences, military fantasy.

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If you're fed up with books that take themselves too seriously, Jonathan Stroud's debut series is a great place to find a break. His style is of a casual, comedic tone, with heavy doses of cynicism and sarcasm. It's less of a world-shaking fight against evil and more of an adventure, infused with memorable characters and rule-breaking.

This isn't your regular coming of age, either. Nathaniel doesn't learn to accept people for who they are or become a better person. If anything, he becomes more of a snarky dick. That may not make for the most likable protagonist, but there's plenty of growth in the area of magic, and the other characters more than make up for it. The second PoV from Bartimaeus, a sarcastic Djinn, brings the whole story together and creates plenty of funny moments.

In the end, though, the feeling of growth is still key in this story. Nathaniel's penchant for vengeance is marred slightly by a small conscience deep inside, and he eventually feels the need for redemption. Stroud's subversion ultimately makes the series stand out above the competition, and makes for a wildly entertaining read.

Read if you like:

Humor in fantasy, snarky protagonists.

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The Brother's Grimm have inspired countless adaptations and retellings, but Marillier's Sevenwaters is perhaps the best yet. She doesn't twist the story, accepting that the original is already a masterpiece. Instead, she expands on the world and hones in on the characters.

For those familiar with fairy tales, this book is based on The Six Swans but takes place in a medieval Celtic world. The protagonist takes on the name of Sorcha, who follows her six brothers around on their adventures, largely a supporter rather than a doer.

That all changes when her brothers are put under a spell that only Sorcha can end. In a beautiful tale of love and hardship, Mariller paints a less than pleasant view of the world. It steps away from the trope of a universally happy ending, and pushes the thought that characters can come out stronger, but also broken in some way.

Read if you like:

Fairy tale retellings, emotional reads, druids.

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This book makes the list for its unique focus on psychology inside of the sub-genre. Connolly tells the story of a child so lost in books and darkness that he can no longer tell the difference between the real world and fantasy. There's no doubt that this is a character-driven novel, and David is the perfect conduit.

Instead of the fairy tale world that's often present, his thoughts are marred by his depression, turning his fantasy into a terrifying, malice-filled world. As he develops from the age of twelve, he begins to mature, learn the meaning of morality, and the pain of love.

More than that though, it's a story of overcoming monsters. The ones in David's world, and therefore the ones in his head. It's a touching, dark journey that mirrors the difficult process of grief.

Read if you like:

Creepy stories, dark fantasy, fairy tales.

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Harry Potter did the English magician story very well, but it also overshadowed some incredible books with similar settings. Will is a chosen one of sorts, one of the few that can battle the powers. His mentor is an old, kind wizard, seeking to end the cycle of light and dark.

It sounds quite familiar, but other than the setting, that's really where the similarity ends. Arguably, Cooper is a better writer than Rowling, stepping away from a cheery style and into a darker tone. Where JK's story is a mashup of different myths, Cooper's is a careful construct of Celtic and Arthurian legends.

That makes for some very clear imagery and some fantastic conflicts. Will narrates the story from two perspectives, his young, content self, and his wise, magical self. As a narrative tool, it highlights the cost of power and the changes of adulthood. It's not an easy journey, and Cooper weaves in heavy themes of loss, unwanted destiny, and darkness.

Read if you like:

Harry Potter, King Arthur, English settings.

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The Cycle of Fire is another one of those classic series. The world is in danger, and three children are its only chance of survival. It's a popular plot line, but it's hard to deny how awesome it is to experience. Wurts' world is one of magicians, demons, and medieval swordplay. Beyond that surface, though, it blends sci-fi elements, unusual characters, and a closer focus on psychology.

Namely, Wurts has created a varying and flawed cast. He follows three protagonists that, like real life, are shaped by their childhood. It means that despite facing similar changes and events, they all react differently, creating a story of diverging paths of character development.

Through Taen, Emien and Jaric, Wurts explores themes of heritage, self-doubt, and empathy. There's no complex plot, but his canny characterisation is more than enough to drive the story to success.

Read if you like:

Sci-Fantasy, Epic fantasy.

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If you're looking to scratch the itch for an epic after finishing Game of Thrones, this series is a great place to start. It details the growth of the king's four children through to adulthood, jumping across a multitude of perspectives, political maneuvering, and battles.It's huge in scope and slow in its pacing, but Acaia has that rare ability to make you think deeply.

Durham, seamlessly integrates important philosophies into the story through his characters and their actions. None of the four protagonists are outright 'heroes'. In fact, the book takes a close look at the monstrosities dynasties get away with in the name of good. You quickly learn that the kingdom isn't all it's cracked up to be, and when the threat of invasion looms, it's not always easy to pick the right side.

It's not an easy read. There isn't a constant or flashy use of magic to catch your eye, and the sheer detail means it can be overwhelming. But if you can push past that, you'll find real value in this story of betrayal, war, and relatable villains.

Read if you like:

Game of Thrones, multiple perspectives, gray areas.

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Tamora Pierce's Lioness series manages to touch on difficult issues without ever preaching them. Through Alanna, she explores both feminist and gender identity issues while weaving an epic story of action and knighthood.

The hook comes in the form of ambition to step outside of society's boxes in a backward and medieval world. Alanna has always longed for adventure, but those kind of activities are restricted to boys. Her parents want to send her to a convent to learn magic, but instead, she switches places with her twin brother to begin training as a page.

Pierces plot device works excellently. It creates a prevailing fear of discovery and naturally reduces the focus on romance. There's a sense of dedication and loyalty in Alanna despite her deception and a clear progress from a stumbling page. Ultimately, though, it's a reminder that it's okay to be different, and Alanna's own struggle to find a middle ground between her fake persona and the one society expects her to have.

Read if you like:

Strong female characters, adventure, sword and sorcery.

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Vaudeville: mad, mercenary, dreamy, and absurd, a world of clashing cultures and ferocious showmanship and wickedly delightful deceptions. But sixteen-year-old pianist George Carole has joined vaudeville for one reason only: to find the man he suspects to be his father, the great Heironomo Silenus. Yet as he chases down his father's troupe, he begins to understand that their performances are strange even for vaudeville: for wherever they happen to tour, the very nature of the world seems to change. Because there is a secret within Silenus's show so ancient and dangerous that it has won him many powerful enemies. And it's not until after he joins them that George realizes the troupe is not simply touring: they are running for their lives.And soon...he is as well.

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Alex Verus by Benedict Jacka A lot of the books on this list have a similarity. They may be in wildly different settings and various fantasy worlds, but most of them are some time in the past. 

Jackas urban fantasy offers a great change from that through a modern London setting. We follow a humble shop owner called Alex who is mage not of battle magic but divining. He can see the threads of various paths of the future and their implications. This makes him valuable; to the dark wizards, and to the light ones. 

However, the strength of setting and magic isnt the major driving force in this novel. That comes with the way Jacka writes Alex. He has weaknesses, yet hes able to overcome them. 

Hes trained in martial arts, but he wont fight in every situation needlessly. This creates a character who is smart and real, yet still has room for growth. Alex has to learn not to sit on the fence entirely, to do things for the greater good, and to find his place in the world of magicians. Read if you like: Urban fantasy, Jim Butcher.

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This series is quite simply a work of art. Like all great authors, Weeks shows significant progression since his debut Way of Shadows series, and manages to balance world, plot, and character spectacularly. The inventiveness is off the charts, from his color-based magic system to a varying cast of misfits.

In this novel, we get a mash-up of five different PoVs, each intensely interesting and unique. They're complex, with none being completely perfect and many making wrong decisions. With those mistakes, Weeks makes room for development while also tying in a plot that is a lot more complex than it seems.

In fact, that's a good way to describe the book in general. From the magic system to the world and characters, there's an easy, surface route, and a much deeper truth lying underneath. Kip is the perfect example of this, with an outward appearance of snideness and sarcasm, but an inner lack of self-belief.

With greatly improved prose, Weeks devotes some of the novel to the pursuit of this. The personal journey is to fix those parts, rather than mask them.

Read if you like:

Inventive magic systems, great world-building, epic fantasy.

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It's really hard to go wrong with a good magician's apprentice story, but Raymond Feist manages to push beyond that with an epic scale and several new elements. Magician is set between two worlds the medieval Midkemia, and Kelewan, an eastern inspired setting. At random, a Rift will open between them, leading to war.

Pug lives in the first of those, and he's nothing but a simple kitchen boy until a magician realizes his talent. In one of the greatest works of standalone fantasy, Feist details his growth from illiterate child to fully formed adult. As the two epic worlds clash, he stands at the center of it all, staff in hand.

Feist carries the reader with ease over a decade, across weaving plots and overarching stories, battles and disasters, friendships and romances. It's impossible to do justice to the mastery of this blend, which will lead readers unable to resist the author's next Saga.

Read if you like:

High fantasy, complex plots.

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Comments (0)
Awards Won:1988 LocusF
Award Nominations:1988 HUGO, 1988 WFA

Orson Scott Card is best known for his immensely popular Ender's Game series, but he hasn't just tried his hand at the sci-fi genre. Card markets Alvin Maker as a stark contrast to the usual 'British fantasy'. It's set not in medieval Europe, but an alternative American frontier, making for a story that stands out from many on this list.

The world-building is nothing short of amazing, with rich descriptions, tweaks to history, and hints of religion and democracy. In a way, it's a model of what America could have been; an idealized version that still isn't without its troubles.

Importantly, Card hasn't just written the same novel in a different genre. It would be easy to read Ender's Game and move on to this, thinking the protagonist would be the same. He isn't. In some ways, he's a polar opposite. Alvin is socially skilled and physically strong. Some would even argue that he's a better, more conflicted character.

Like Ender, Alvin holds the weight of a world on his shoulders, but his circumstances are far direr. He's fighting something which, by all accounts, is undefeatable, and that shapes his character. This Locus Award winner will absorb the whole way through, with light sprinklings of humor to contradict the down times.

Read if you like:

Alternative history, American frontier.

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There books that are great in their complexity and moral exploration, and ones that are amazing simply for the entertainment they provide. David Edding's Belgariad series falls into the second category and it's better for it. Some authors lose you in exposition, leaving you half way through the book and having no fun. The story of Garion isn't a particularly deep one, but it's intensely enjoyable and incredibly easy to read. Eddings creates a rich world of Gods and Kings without needless description or a frustratingly slow pace. It's a stroke of genius, each word perfectly chosen for both impact and concision.

The result is a world that feels vast, yet bright and hopeful. A pace that's fast yet doesn't skimp on characterization. A story that perfectly balances light and dark moments. It's a classic 'chosen one' story, and it's rarely been done better. It doesn't break new ground, it doesn't have a winding plot, but it's an easy world to get lost in, and sometimes that's the exactly what you need.

Read if you like:

Fast pace, lovable characters, starter fantasy.

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