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Best Stand Alone Fantasy Books

Best Fantasy Novels Not In a Series

Most of the books listed on this website's top fantasy lists have been part of a series, either because of the financial incentive behind publishing multiple books in the same universe, or because their authors are not inventive and talented enough to write a self-contained one-volume story.

And while some of the best fantasy books are part of a series, not all the best the genre has to offer is. There are certainly some good fantasy books that are standalone, though I will admit that the fantasy standalone is a bit of a "rare" breed these days.

Still, great standalone fantasy books DO exist! This list offers some of the top standalone fantasy novels.

I've draw fantasy books from different fantasy subgenres and from a wide range of different time periods ranging from the previous century to the most recent (2015) to present a balanced overview of the best stand alone books in the genre.

I do my best to present some compelling reasons why each and every book belongs on this list, but I encourage you to read what other people recommend in the comment section and to check out the crowd-ranked version too to see what the public has voted (and submitted) on as the best. You might also check out each book's comment link to see what people have to say about that specific book.

December 2015 Update: This 'best standalone list' has been completely updated. It's been two full years since the last update and a lot of great new stand alone books have been released in that period AND the previous list wasn't as comprehensive and accurate a reflection of the best as I've would have liked. To remedy this, I've changed the Top 25, which was a bit restrictive, to a Top 50 list, added a ton of new recommendations (both older books and recently published), and completely reshuffled the whole list to reflect a more nuanced view of the best books. 

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Feb 2015
Award Nominations:1991 LocusF, 1991 WFA

Tigana,once shining beacon of hope to a shattered world, now a land no one can remember. To revive the memory of their beleaguered land and free a world enslaved by a sorcerer tyrant, a musician and his compatriotswill embark on an impossible quest...

One word comes to mind when reading this novel: beautiful. This is Kay's most critically acclaimed (and best reviewed bar none) book to date -- and this is saying a lot, since Kay has yet to write a mediocre book.Kay is a master storyteller and unlike many of his peers, is able to deliver a (complete) compelling tale between two book covers. Tigana is, in my opinion, one of his best works to date. He's come out with some outstanding recent novels as of 2014 with Under Heaven perhaps his most majestic work so far, but Tigana, a book over decade old, still ranks as one of his best, if not his best, pure stand alone book.

Tigana at its core is a story about love, betrayal, and redemption -- all themes that Kay develops a rich plot and setting around. So why should you read this book over everything else? Kay has a remarkable ability to create real characters with real, complex motivations. The characters are real and the plot, raw and powerful. You won't get any sort of ham-fisted storytelling in a Kay book, but rather a gently flowing plot that's pure joy to lose yourself in. The one word that comes to mind when you read Tigana is "emotion." 

As a "manly man", there are few books that have brought me to tears and Tigana is one of them. So read Tigana and weep with joy. 

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Good Omens

(Neil Gaiman)
Feb 2015
Comments (3)
Award Nominations:1991 LocusF, 1991 WFA

Fantasy has never been so clever or funny as it is in the brilliant Good Omens.Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaimen form a super team and pen one of the funniest and best comedic tales out there. 

The premise is simple: the world is ending, the Apocalypse is coming. The only problem is the angels and demons who are supposed to be ushering in the apocalypse decide they rather like humans and each other and maybe Armageddon is a bad idea after all. The book is a not so subtle satire on just about everything and anything, lampooning everything from Elvis sightings to televangelists and the destruction of the universe. It's good stuff, hilariously funny stuff. 

A must read. A good stand alone book? I'll do one better, it's one of the best fantasy books ever written, period. Good Omens also made our Top 25 Best Fantasy Books list. So if you haven't read this remarkable book, don't waste any more time on this list. Make Good Omens your next read!

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Jonathan Strange And Mr. Norrell

(Susanna Clarke)
Jan 2015

At the dawn of the nineteenth century, two very different magicians emerge to change England's history. In the year 1806, with the Napoleonic Wars raging on land and sea, most people believe magic to be long dead in England?until the reclusive Mr Norrell reveals his powers, and becomes a celebrity overnight. Soon, another practicing magician comes forth: the young, handsome, and daring Jonathan Strange. He becomes Norrell's student, and they join forces in the war against France. But Strange is increasingly drawn to the wildest, most perilous forms of magic,straining his partnership with Norrell, and putting at risk everything else he holds dear.

A remarkable book written in a sort of Victorian-era flowery prose. The flowery prose may be off-putting at first, but the mesmerizing story soon sucks you right in. Romance is a definite (and important) element in this novel, but it is certainly not a romantic fantasy. However, the strong narrative, rich characters, and compelling story make this a novel that must be read. Those who love the Jane Austen style settings and prose will be especially delighted. 

What is this tale about? Take Victorian fiction, toss in a Grimm fairy tale or two, and make it a thousand pages and you have Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell. This book is not for everyone, especially not the impatient. For the most part (well, until you get well into the book that is), there are no flashy bangs, sorcerers breaking mountains with their fingers, or bare-chested warriors slaying demons. 

This is a book for those who really like to read and who enjoy a tale that can be slowly unpeeled like an onion, revealing layer after layer. And it's a book that the more you peel back into, the more delicious the flavor.

This is a book that's highly polarizing among readers; more than a few few people start the series only to give up after a hundred pages or so, intimidated by the dense prose, slow pace, and highly detailed world (not to mention those ever present footnotes). But if you are tempted to throw in the towel early, don't! The novel gets exciting, but you need to push well past half point of the book to get there. 

And, if you have the patience, it's a journey that will reward you for the effort.

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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.


The Hobbit

(J. R. R. Tolkien)
Jan 2015

An unforgettable story and a tale that never gets old. It's not as broad in scope as Lord of the Rings which is not really a standalone, nor does it have the depth that The Silmarillion has (which is really just a travelogue) but it's a wonderful story in its own right and an absolute must read. If you've never read Lord of the Rings before, the Hobbit is the perfect segue into Tolkien's Middle Earth.

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The Heroes

(Joe Abercrombie)
Comments (5)
Award Nominations:2012 BFS

Joe Abercrombie's best work yet as of 2015.

This the author at his sharpest, with complexly grey heroes, razor-edged dialogue, and a compelling narrative about what it really means to be a hero (or not) in war. Perhaps one of the best gritty military stories told through personal narratives of a few characters caught up on both sides of a brutal conflict lasting only a couple days. Definitely and edge-of-your-seat read.

The Heroes is a standalone work though there are strong connections to his previous books in the First Law universe; but The Heroes can be read on it's own.

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The Worm Ouroboros

(E. R. Eddison)

By far the oldest book on this list (published well over a century ago) but a classic of fantasy nevertheless. This is a highly influential work on the fantasy genre as a whole, helping to shape the (then) nascent fantasy genre into what it is today. The Worm Ouroboros inspired the likes Tolkien and Lewis. It's a great work of English literature and a foundation fantasy novel.

...and it can be a bit hard to read, so be prepared. This is not a work you rush through in a day, but a story and experience to be slowly savored, page by page. It's a work influenced by the highest levels of literature, drawing on the epic traditions laid down by classics such as Homer's Odyssey and Iliad and epic poetry like of Milton's Paradise Lost. The language is rich, the vocabulary vast. The landscape is populated by noble heroes and dastard villains. There's war, love, loss, and betrayal -- grand and noble themes through and though. This book hails from another time, a time when writers were schooled in the classics, a time when writers had large vocabularies and wrote with lush, ornate, and descriptive prose.

It's a work that (now) few fantasy readers have read (and few will ever bother to read), but it's one of those great works that leaves an indelible imprint on you after you finish. For one of the greatest fantasy books every written... no, one of the great works of English literature even, read The Worm Ouroboros -- a true classic.

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Perdido Street Station

(China Mieville)
Jan 2015

Perhaps one of the strangest reads in the fantasy genre and the breakout novel for China Mieville, one of those writers who's highly polarizing among readers; you simply either love his work and style of narrative or completely detest it.

Mieville's influence on the genre has been wide. He's pretty much pioneered an entire subgenre of fantasy now termed New Weird or Slipstream. His writing style is highly lyrical, poetic, and beautiful full of swollen words you will likely need a dictionary to decrypt; but oh how beautiful the man can write. And his worlds and stories are highly imaginative, often combining the grotesque and macabre with steampunk themes. 

Perdido Street Station, his first and perhaps his most accessible book. If you like this one, chances are you'll love his other books. Perdido Street Station is loosely part of a three book sequence called the Bas Lag series; the books set in the same world as Perdido Street Station though with completely different stories and characters. 

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Talion Revenant

(Michael A. Stackpole)
Jan 2015

The cost of being a Hero is always blood...

There's a fair amount of so called "heroic fantasy" present in the fantasy genre, but most of it is all about brawn and thigh and little of anything else. If you want some heroic fantasy with some intelligence,Talion is one such novel. The author, Michael A. Stackpole is actually quite under-appreciated in the fantasy genre -- for most fantasy readers, he's an unknown, even though he's written a number of fantasy series. His best novel by far is Talion which is a standalone (though it's sort of a prequel to his Dragoncrown Cycle). 

Talion IS a shining example of what real heroic fantasy should be: sharp steel, vicious action, but with a real-beating heart to it, and a slick plot. And yes,there is a beautiful princess thrown in for good measure. 

Talion:Revenant is perhaps my favorite example of outstanding heroic fantasy is. Don't know what I mean? Better read the book to find out why.

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The Last Unicorn

(Peter S. Beagle)
Dec 2014

A beautiful, beautiful tale that will haunt you for the rest of your life. It's a simple story with a hell of a lot of heart. There's a good reason why this novel is considered a classic and has captivated an entire generation of readers. The plot is your typical quest-based one and set in your usual magical landscape. But the characters, oh the characters are outstanding. This novel proudly stands shoulder to shoulder with the other master stories of the genre, including The Chronicles of Narnia and Watership Down.

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American Gods

(Neil Gaiman)
Jan 2015

Neil Gaiman is an ever-popular writer who's branched into cinema, comics, and books. Quite a few people will argue that Neverwhere or Stardust is better than American Gods, but I disagree. American Gods is arguably his best work because it explores some interesting conceits whereas many of Gaiman's other tales are great tales, but don't do anything "new" (other than being really well written of course).

American Gods pits the "Old Gods" of the past against the "New Gods" of the digital world.This is not your classic boy wizard versus dark god fantasy tale, but rather a more insightful, intelligent, and deep look into modern and ancient beliefs and the clash that results. It's a whole and whole urban fantasy tale -- a genre in which Gaiman has helped to lead the modern pack. So if you are looking for a stellar standalone fantasy novel, you'll have to search far and wide to do better than American Gods.

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Jan 2015

Another one of those classics that if you haven't read by now, you better damn well get down to business and do so. On the surface of the novel, the plot is deceptively simple: a couple of talking rabbits set out to save their new home from destruction at the hands of a farmer. But the waters of the novel are so very deep. 

There's nothing more to really say about this one other than if you haven't read it, you're in for a treat. It's really a wonderful fantastical story for for all ages. And who wouldn't want to read about a bunch of rabbits on an epic quest to find a new home?

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Golden Key

(Melanie Rawn)

Over a decade since it was first published but still one of the strongest standalone fantasy books in the genre. With a complex and compelling fantasy world that's highly detailed by three of the most talented female authors (Melanie Rawn and Jennifer Robinson and Kate Elliot) in the genre.It's a rich book with a highly inventive fantasy setting -- a sort of medieval renaissance Spain, Italy or Portugal. It's a complex book that incorporates a bundle of page turning themes like love, treachery, cruelty, political intrigue, beauty, war, revolution, loyalty and friendship and redemption. And of course, all wrapped about with a central theme of artistic creation and genius.

This is a novel that's completely driven by the characters and the rich setting. It's not an action fest, fast paced fantasy in the style of say a Sanderson novel. Nor is a grand-sweeping epic fantasy spanning kingdoms and lands with dark threats looming shadows like Martins Song of Ice and Fire. It may be a smaller, more personal tale of the struggle of a handful of characters. But it's a tale all the more richer for it.

The Golden Key really is one of those narratives that stick with you long after you turn the last page. There's nothing really in the genre that's quite like this one and it's certainly an ABSOLUTE must read if you love stand alone fantasy fiction. In fact, it's a must read if you like great fantasy of any sort.

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The Folding Knife

(K. J. Parker)

One of the best authors in the genre and one who seems to be underrated by the average fantasy reader. But those who are in the know about this author and have the patience for his slower, character-driven narratives, enjoy some of the best fantasy out there. The rest of you, well, are missing out.

Parker has a number trilogies out, but The Folding Knife is a solid stand alone. It's not necessary his best work but it's certainly one of his more accessible, easy to digest works -- an easy way to suss out if you like his personal flavor of fantasy. Paker's fantasy is usually dark, twisted, with a cast of self-destructing, amoral characters who are driven to the brink by powerful motivations -- be it love, hate, or revenge. His books often incorporate a technology theme as well, showing how technology in the right (or wrong hands) can ultimately catalyze complete social upheavals.

Rich, dark, captivating, and oh so intelligently written; these are adjectives that accurately describe Parker's work. Read The Folding Knife for one of the more original fantasy books in the genre. If you love it, then good good things await for you in his other works.     

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Jan 2015

It's rare to find a good high fantasy tale that doesn't span less than half a foot tall. Elantris is an exception. By now, nearly everyone knows who Brandon Sanderson is. You know, author of The Way of Kings, Mistborn, and all those big fat fantasy novels that are selling out quickly at the bookstore. 

But the novel that first put him on the map was Elantris, a standalone fantasy novel and arguably one of the most imaginative books in the genre.

While Elantris doesn't do anything new in the genre (and few books do these days), it's a thoroughly enjoyable tale and certainly one of the better high fantasy tales you can find in packed into a single volume. 

Elantris proves that you don't have to cut down a wide swath of forest to tell a fantastic fantasy tale -- something that many fantasy authors don't seem to realize. What's surprising is that Fat Fantasy Meister Sanderson started his forest-killing career with an environmentally-friendly standalone. 

If you like Sanderson's other books, it's a no brainer to read Elantris. But author pedigree aside, Elantris is a great story with a rather unique (to fantasy anyway) story? 

Now why should you read Elantris out of the many other great books out there? The plot is great, the characters well drawn, and it's a fantasy adventure that sucks you in and won't spit you out till you've finished the last page. The book has a strong female protagonist too (something that's quite common in most of Sanderson's books) and a likable, manly hero too. 

If you are looking for a standard high fantasy tale to make this list, then Elantris is the stand-in one for that spot. Apparently, Sanderson is working (or thinking about) writing a sequel the book, though the story is completely self contained as it is.

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The Anubis Gates

(Tim Powers)
Jan 2015
Awards Won:1983 PKD
Award Nominations:1984 LocusF, 1985 BSFA

Amazon Book Description

The colonization of Egypt by western European powers is the launch point for power plays and machinations. Steeping together in this time-warp stew are such characters as an unassuming Coleridge scholar, ancient gods, wizards, the Knights Templar, werewolves, and other quasi-mortals, all wrapped in the organizing fabric of Egyptian mythology. In the best of fantasy traditions, the reluctant heroes fight for survival against an evil that lurks beneath the surface of their everyday lives.

Tim Powers doesn't get a lot of love from the fantasy crowd, either because he refused to be known as a fantasy writer or simply because people are too glued to tales about village boys and evil lords to bother caring. A pity too, since Tim Powers writes some amazing speculative fiction. He also knows how to tell a pretty damn exciting adventure tale. The Anubis Gates is not your classic high fantasy tale. Rather, it's an urban adventure fantasy tale with a mish mash of pretty much everything you can think of. There's a slew of interesting characters present in the novel: ancient gods, wizards, the Knights Templar, werewolves, and Egyptian deities. Powers has taken pretty much every fantasy archetype, coated it with Egyptian mythology,mixed in a time travel plot, then sprinkled in a reluctant hero to create a stew of surprising genius. This IS one of the best standalone "fantasy" books out there. Action, adventure, magic, time travel,wizards, evil, and love fill the pages of this impossible-to-put-down novel. Don't let the "unconventional" aspect of this fantasy tale scare you away -- Anubis Gate delivers on all fronts.

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Jan 2015

You won't find a more bloody novel than Heroes Die. For those who have the stomach for the raw bloodfest this book entails, Heroes Die is unlike anything out there. It's raw, vicious, action-packed, and a pretty intelligent story to boot. Not for the weak of stomach though.

While Heroes Die was originally a stand alone, it's now part of a greater series called The Acts of Caine with as of 2014 has 4 books out. However, the the first book can be read as a standalone without problem.

Heroes Die also made The Top 25 Best Fantasy Book list. So, read it.

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Bridge Of Birds

(Barry Hughart)
Dec 2014

Set in a fictional ancient China that never was, this is a tale that will delight you, amuse you, and enthrall you the whole way through. It's probably the best book you've never read. Bridge of Birds is the first of three books. It can easily be read as a standalone book but it's a sure bet that you'll be picking up the other two novels which continue the adventures of Number Ten Ox and Master Li. 

The story basically follows the misadventures of the two as they pursue money by all the wrong means (by fair or foul -- usually foul) for all the right reasons (to save the children of Number Ten Ox's village). This one is a strange mix of a fairy tale, an epic, and a fantasy with a wallop of humor thrown in as well. It works though, wonderfully so. 

Bridge of Birds is one of those rare novels that actually lives up to the hype that surrounds it, perhaps even surpassing it. It's a tragedy that the books are not as well-known as they should be they are really some of the best stuff you'll ever read in any genre. 

If you read ONE book from this recommendation list, I suggest it be this book. Yes, it's that good.

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Jan 2015

A powerful story about a primeval forest somewhere in England, a forest that contains within it the living embodiment of every myth created by man. Into the heart of the forest a man will travel to save the woman he loves, a woman created from myth, given life by the forest, who has been captured by an enemy. It's a journey into the heart and soul of mankind and a heartwarming love story to boot. 

Featuring beautiful,almost poetic writing, a compelling story, and interesting hero, and an evocative and highly atmospheric setting, this is one of the best fantasy standalone's I've read, even as of 2015.

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The Curse Of Chalion

(Lois McMaster Bujold)
Jan 2015
Award Nominations:2002 HUGO, 2002 LocusF, 2002 WFA

A man broken in body and spirit, Cazaril returns to the noble household he once served as page and is named secretary-tutor to the beautiful,strong-willed sister of the impetuous boy who is next in line to rule.It is an assignment Cazaril dreads, for it must ultimately lead him to the place he most fears: the royal court of Cardegoss, where the powerful enemies who once placed him in chains now occupy lofty positions.

But it is more than the traitorous intrigues of villains that threaten Cazaril and the Royesse Iselle here, for a sinister curse hangs like a sword over the entire blighted House of Chalion. And only by employing the darkest, most forbidden of magics can Cazaril hope to protect his royal charge -- an act that will mark him as a tool of the miraculous . . . and trap him in a lethal maze of demonic paradox.

Lois McMaster Bujold is well known in science fiction circles for her "The Curse of Chalion," a marvelous foray into the realm of fantasy. "Chalion" is a Spanish-influenced fantasy with a lot of personality. It's got all the elements that make a good fantasy novel: emotion, drama, and of course,some good romance all set in a budding European (Spanish)-influenced fantasy saga. If you are heavy into action fantasy (ala Terry Goodkind,Robot Jordan, Raymond Feist), you may find Chalion not to your liking.Let me be clear here, Chalion is not an action fantasy tale in any sense of the word. There are no super heroic heroes who can slay anything walking with a wink, there are no all-powerful god magicians that can break the world simply by flatulating, rather it's a serious story about redemption, love, and sacrifice. It's a well written tale that has a lot to offer those who enjoy well written, well-plotted fantasy.

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The Etched City

(K.J. Bishop)
Award Nominations:2004 WFA

The Etched city was formed from the love union between Stephen King and China Mieville. If you want a more complex fantasy novel with a good dose of the bizarre, a sprinkle of noir, and a dash of pathos, The Etched City is it. You'll find a lot of comparisons with King's The Dark Tower, as both novels feature a dark, brooding hero tromping through a wasteland of a world. But the stories, in terms of similarities, end there.

Bishop is a strong storyteller with a keen knack for crafting characters that don't fit into the normal mode. You won't find those canned fantasy characters such as the spoiled princess, the dumb hero, the evil dark mage, etc. Rather, you will be presented with a cast of (sometimes despicable) characters, human warts and all.

Let me emphasize that if you are looking for standard fantasy (village boy discovers secret power, gathers up companions including a beautiful princess in disguise, and sets off to fight a dark lord), you should look to other authors. But if you want an entirely different kind of fantasy, a dark, dirty, sensual fantasy where the norms are still yet undefined, where you can root for evil to win and the wretched to victory. Yes, it's that kind of novel. Don't think you can fit The Etched City into your standard fantasy. Reading this book is like going on a trip and experiencing something bizarre -- it's likely the experience may not be entirely comfortable when it's happening, but afterwards you wouldn't trade it for the world. 

The Etched City is not always a comfortable read, nor is it a casual read. Concentration and attention on your part is required, but if you are prepared to put in the effort of reading the novel (and it's not such an effort as you might think), there is a potent and wonderful story to lose yourself in.

It's unfortunate that even as of 2015, the author has not written anything else. Not only is this a Stand Alone book, it's the ONLY book written by Bishop.

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The Night Circus

(Erin Morgenstern)
Dec 2014

A magical tale about two magicians who take part in a competition where only one will be left standing. It's a dark, haunting and powerful tale, and hands down one of the best standalone novels I've ever read.There are some shades of The Prestige in this novel, but only shadows; The Night Circus is a more intelligent and complex piece and it soon becomes apparent they are nothing alike.The prose is awesome beautiful without being too verbose and flowery.The romance is well done  slow and ponderous but never showy or coarse. And the setting is just magical. The mysterious and magical Le Cirque des jumps from the pages seeming so vividly realized youcan almost see it from the words. The plot, of course, is enthralling; it keeps you entangled till the very end as you wait to see exactly how everything is going to play out. 

Read it. Carefully.

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The Mists Of Avalon

(Marion Zimmer Bradley)
Dec 2014

The Tale of King Arthur from a girl's perspective would describe The Mists of Avalon. This may scare some guys away from reading the book,but the book is a compelling read for both sexes.

The Mists of Avalon is a refreshing take on the tale of King Arthur. In a tale that's traditionally told from the perspective of men, Mists of Avalon is pumped from the narrative of the traditionally maligned characters of Morgan and Guinevere. It's an interesting (and arguably brilliant) choice on the part of Bradley and imparts a unique perspective on the traditional tale. There's a lot going on in the novel, such as the struggle of Christianity to become the dominant religion (and push out the historic Celtic religion and its backers).This is a genuinely unique fantasy tale and a wholly riveting read -- for both men and women. If you only ever read "one" tale about King Arthur, then The Mists of Avalon should be it.

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The Forgotten Beasts Of Eld

(Patricia A. McKillip)
Comments (0)
Awards Won:1975 WFA

An absolute classic in the genre and pretty much required reading for anyone who loves fantasy. Don't let the fact that this book is almost 45 years old deter you from reading it; even in 2015, this is a work that still stands very tall indeed; it's no hyperbole to say The Forgotten Beasts of Eld is one of the best stand-alone fantasy books every written. It's one of those unforgettable tale for all ages, a story with deep themes that make you feel like you've learned something good about what it means to be human at the end of the day. While it's a magical tale that keeps you turning the pages, it's the surprising depth that keep you coming back to re-read it, time and time again. Don't skip on reading this absolute classic. It's a didactic tale, yes, but it's also a great story on it's own to boot -- one that won't let you go until the last page is turned. 

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The Goblin Emperor

(Katherine Addison)

A powerful coming of age tale about a rejected half-goblin, half-elven prince who comes unexpectedly to power when an accident kills his father, the emperor, and half brothers. It's a tale about a young prince who finds the confidence to lead his people as emperor and perhaps that he's even good at the job.

Addison's world is fascinating -- complex, richly drawn, with regal customs, regulations, and social orderings. It's a strange foreign hierarchy bound by even stranger social norms, from rituals to language patterns. But it all works together to form a highly detailed setting that you just never want to leave.

Unlike much of the other modern fantasy being released that's always grim and dark with unlikable amoral heroes, The Goblin Emperor returns to some of the older fantasy classic norms with good heroes you can really get behind and root for -- heroes who always take the high road, even though they have suffered through many injustices. It's thoroughly refreshing and sorely missed in a genre now mostly populated with unhappy.

This made our Top 25 Best Fantasy Books of 2014 list and we consider it one of the best fantasy books of 2014.

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The Once And Future King

(Terence Hanbury White)
Dec 2014

This novel is the hallmark classic read of every upper level English class at universities around the world. It's also the defining Arthurian tale and a novel that you will either have a vast loathing for or an endearing love of. If you are a fan of Arthurian myth, you would be doing yourself a disfavor by avoiding what's pretty much considered the seminal work in the field. This novel folks is "the quintessential literary fantasy" novel. 

I suspect that many of you "modern" fantasy readers who've been weaned on the likes of Raymond E. Feist, Robert Jordan, and Terry Brooks, who enjoy heavy action and thick magic may find The Once and Future King too taxing to read. If you are the sort of person who enjoys reading real literature or you want to broaden your "fantasy horizons" quite substantially, or hey, you just want to read the "real" tale of King Arthur, read this book.

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War For The Oaks

(Emma Bull)
Jan 2015 Description

Eddi McCandry sings rock and roll. But her boyfriend just dumped her, her band just broke up, and life could hardly be worse. Then, walking home through downtown Minneapolis on a dark night, she finds herself drafted into an invisible war between the faerie folk. Now, more than her own survival is at risk and her own preferences, musical and personal, are very much beside the point.

My recommendation for urban fantasy standalone's is War for the Oaks, a very clever story about a singer who gets caught up in a Faerie war. Yes, we've all been inundated over and over with Faerie this and Faerie that, but War for the Oaks is something new. Or rather say, it's something old that's still better than a lot of the new stuff (book was released in the late 80s.). It's won a gaggle of fantasy awards over the years, in case you think I'm just blowing smoke over an "unknown" novel. Even better, if you're a fan of rock and fantasy, this book is God's gift to you. For the rest of us, it's a damn swell story that's one of the best standalone books in its class.

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American Elsewhere

(Robert Jackson Bennett)
Jan 2015

Robert Jackson Bennett is one of the most talented writers in the genre. His past string of books have all been compelling works with strong characters, imaginative settings, and deep themes about what it means to be human in the midst of the uncanny. His newest book, City of Stairs made our Best Fantasy Books of 2014 list, debuting as number 2 on the list.

While his recent book (which looks to be part of a series now) is his best effort so far, this does not take away from his very strong previous efforts. His second best book is American Elsewhere a novel about a 30's something woman who gets drawn into mysterious town where strange things are happening.

It's a riveting read that combines to perfection all the qualities of a Jackson novel. It's not just a good read, it's a fantastic one -- a book that can appeal to ALL types of fantasy lovers. And of course it's a stand alone novel.

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Little, Big

(John Crowley)

One of those highly impacting books that stays with you years after you read it. Little, Big is not necessary an easy book to deal with -- it's a profound story of love, loss, heartbreak, and family. If you are looking for a casual easy fantasy read you can consume in a couple hours, Little, Big is not that book. But it's a book with serious power if you give yourself to the story. Little, Big is a deep, complex story about the past, the present and the relationship on a family that shares it.

A magnificent stand alone book and one of the best fantasy books of the decade -- it's one of those rare novels that straddles both the literary sphere and the (fantasy) genre sphere and accepted (even claimed) by both.

Perhaps Little, Big is not a book for everyone, but it's certainly a book for those who love slow. meandering narratives with deep themes and beautiful, poignant writing. 

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The Golem And The Jinni

(Helene Wecker)

A story that touches the heart and won't let go the whole way through. It's a story with some fabulous characters, and multi-layered storytelling, packed with mythology from both Jewish and Arab sources. It's the heartwarming tale about two mythological characters who find themselves forcefully stuck together in a world that no longer wants them.

A remarkable book and one of the best stand alone books in fantasy.

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The Book Of Lost Things

(John Connolly)
Jan 2015

Wow,what a strong story this one has and with such emotion! It's a children's book written for adults, and one that will speak to you on many different levels. If I could describe this, it would be as a "disenchanted fairy tale." The novel follows David, a young boy whose mother dies and whose father marries a pregnant girlfriend. His father's new wife gives birth and the child usurps the attention David feels is his due. He runs away into a forest only to emerge into a different, magical world  a world that David must first conquer before he can be released into his own world, for all lost things must eventually be found. 

The Book of Lost Things is a highly ambitious novel that tries to do new things in the fairy tale genre and mostly succeeds. The story has the skeleton appearance of a child's story, but the intended audience is adults. Think of it as a darker version of a Grimm's fairy tale a bittersweet one at that.

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The Neverending Story

(Michael Ende)
Dec 2014

This is my ode to the classic coming-of-age fantasy tale. The Neverending story is often overlooked when it comes to all the new gritty fantasy that's trying to reinvent the fantasy genre. If you want to read a tale that will re-awaken and delight your inner child, The Neverending Story is as good as they come. For those who hated the movies based on the novel, fear not -- they did a sordid job telling the real story.

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The War Of The Flowers

(Tad Williams)

For a Fair Tale well done, look no further than Tad Williams' The War of Flowers. It makes the classic 'man-goes-into-the-fairy-realm' tale proud. Williams is really a talented writer, having churned out Memory, Sorrow, Thorn saga, the Otherland saga, and his recently finished Shadowmarch series (an epic fantasy tale about fairies!). What am I saying? The man's got a pedigree in fantasy and knows how to write pretty damn interesting books. Williams usually spends a LOT of time building up his books and it can take some time to really get into the meat of the story (like a few books into a series), but since The War of Flowers is a standalone, you don't have any of Williams' usual ponderous world building to wade through; basically, you get his excellent storytelling compressed into 500 words. It's a win win for any fantasy fan who's tired of epic stacks of fantasy book sagas to wade through. So, if you like fair tales, romance, and adventure, then you are going to love The War of Flowers. You can also feel proud that you've saved the environment by not supporting the killing of excess trees while you are at it.

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The Stand

(Stephen King)
Award Nominations:1979 WFA

Book Flap Description

This is the way the world ends: with a nanosecond of computer error in a Defense Department laboratory and a million casual contacts that form the links in a chain letter of death.

And here is the bleak new world of the day after: a world stripped of its institutions and emptied of 99 percent of its people. A world in which a handful of panicky survivors choose sides -- or are chosen. A world in which good rides on the frail shoulders of the 108-year-old Mother Abigail -- and the worst nightmares of evil are embodied in a man with a lethal smile and unspeakable powers: Randall Flagg, the dark man (a character who also appears in King's Dark Tower series AND other works).

The Stand is one of those books that will have you sitting there thinking about it for days after you finish. King has produced a lot of novels in his time, but The Stand is the singular moment where he evolves from horror to literature. The Stand meshes together a bunch of genres (fantasy/horror/literature) in a post-apocalyptic world. King outdoes his usually quality characterization and breathes into life some richly drawn characters that you love or love to hate. All characters are human beings complete with flaws...and humanity. No cookie cutter characters here folks. This is a complex novel, one with a lot of themes present -- love, heroism, friendship, and betrayal. The Stand is well regarded as King's best novel to date. I think it's a bit of a toss up between The Stand and The Talisman (also a stellar King novel), but I'll go with the general consensus and stand The Stand on this list. If you are the sort of reader who doesn't care about all that thematic, literary stuff, that's fine -- you can save that literary claptrap nonsense for the English major nerds. The Stand is also a damn compelling read and can be appreciated solely on the merits of it being pretty damn addiction -- you won't be wasting your time reading it!

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(Robin McKinley)

An author who writes mesmerizing fantasy stories with an almost lyrical, dreamlike style. Her prose is always outstanding, top notch and beautiful to read. Deerskin is perhaps her best, most evocative work. The fact that so much emotion and so much journey of self discovery is packed between a few hundred pages in a single story is staggering. McKinley shows you don't need multiple books to tell a poignant story.

Well McKinley has many awesome books, Deerskin is one of her darker works. It's the story about a Princess who appears to be happy, but as you dig down into the narrative, find out is in fact miserable and lonely. Very bad things happen to her and her life at the palace is destroyed. It's a story about pain, about sorry, about loss, and ultimately about rebuilding your life from the ashes and finding redemption and maybe even love.

This poignant tale is not a happy one and there are moments of intense horror, sorrow, and sadness scattered between the pages, but it's a powerfully intense story about becoming broken and shattered but finding healing and the power to overcome past tragedies and gaining control of your life.

Few books will so impact your emotions like Deerskin. One of the best character riven fantasies firmly rooted in reality.

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Ocean At The End Of The Lane

(Neil Gaiman)

A powerful story that deals with themes of childhood, innocence, and growing up. What's particularly powerful is Gaiman's ability to harness feelings that most of us, as children, have experienced at one time.

Ocean At The End of The Lane is an adult fairy tale, short but oh so sweet. It brings to mind those days lived a child, recapturing that childhood wonder and imagination that's lost with adolescence. But this is through and through an adult tale, not a child's one with stark serious themes beneath the childlike veneer used to frame the story surface.

It's a story about a young boy who discovers a magical world behind the facade of the lovely English countryside he occupies, a world full of amazing sights, faeries, vivid adventures, and, as our child protagonist finds out, deadly dangers too. Gaiman vividly tells a story where terrible things can and do happen to the very young and the very innocent -- qualities that do not shield from the harsh realities of life.

A clever book that juggles the supernatural and the natural, showing a supernatural terror impinging on the natural order of the boy's existence, overturning his former idyllic and carefree bucolic life. But beyond the supernatural threat to the boy's childhood innocence is the stark theme of innocence lost, of families being destroyed, and leaving that tricky space of innocent childhood to find the wider world waiting with all its harsh realities.

Basically, it's a bloody good tale that scares as much as it entertains with deep themes beneath. A brilliant stand alone and one of the best books of 2013.

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Death Of A Necromancer

(Wells M.)

A delightful blend of different genres with elements of steampunk, mystery, and Gothic tossed in. It's a unique story that really showcases Well's talents. Death of a Necromancer is Well's best book (some might argue that her Wheel of the Infinite is her best). This is one of those stories that literally drags you along with the non stop action of it, yet still manages to develop complex and empathetic characters.

Expect fast paced action, strongly developed relationships between characters, and unforgettable personalities. The author's talent for short yet expressive prose is to be lauded; she has the remarkable ability to paint a complex scene or nuanced dialogue with only a few strokes of her pen; what takes lesser authors a page to do, Well's can do in a few lines.

Death Of A Necromancer is fun, dramatic, and one hell of a rip-roaring adventure from start to finish. It's one of the best, most exciting stand alone fantasy books in the genre. If you haven't read it yet, make sure you do.

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Howl's Moving Castle

(Diana Wynne Jones)

Another one of those classics that never get old. It's a funny, well-told tale that's rich in characters, zany in plot, and startlingly deep by the end of it. Jones uses her fantasy to subvert many of the standard fantasy / fable tropes and to teach few lessons about life, love, the definition of good, bad, and what it means to be a heroine. This should be on the required syllabus for any sort of fantasy reading.

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(Ellen Kushner)

Perhaps the quintessential definition of the 'fantasy of manners' subgenre (sometimes referred to as 'mannerpunk'). It's a book that brilliantly combines elements of court intrigue, unbridled human emotion, and sword fighting.

This book, first published in 1987, retains some of those classic fantasy traits with clear distinctions between the good heroes and the bad guys. And in a period where fantasy was mostly stagnated (with the exception of a few breakout works like The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant and the Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn series), helped prove fantasy could be elevated above the 'low' reputation it had acquired due to the various Lord of the Rings ripoffs and sexualized Conan limitations that prevailed during this period.

Swordspoint can also be given just credit for helping to pioneer the fantasy of manners style of fantasy blended with court intrigue that later authors developed and expanded on (i.e. Jacqueline Cary's works).

A classic, but one that should be read.

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Lord Of Light

(Roger Zelazny)
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Awards Won:1968 HUGO
Award Nominations:1967 NEBULA

Zelazny may be famous in the fantasy world for his Amber series, but his best work may just be his stand alone novel, Lord of Light. It's a work that's complicated yet simple -- a story that blends the medieval fantasy with the futuristic science fiction and does so remarkably well. It's a work that brings to mine great works like Dune and The Dispossessed which while can be classified as Science Fiction, also touch the fantasy sphere too.

Few western works dally deep into Eastern mysticism; but Zelazny goes where few writers have gone before (or since) and digs deep into the Hindu pantheon of deities to craft a remarkable story about gods who are just as flawed as the humans who worship them.

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Gemmell's breakout novel and still, as of 2014, one of the foundation fantasy books about heroism. Unlike the more modern books that detail the morally dirty side of being a hero (say Abercrombie's The Heroes), Gemmell celebrates the hero. His version of the hero is a man who stands up at the cost of his own life to save the innocent. Legend IS the book that made Gemmell and while his later books are more sophisticated and show his improvement as a writer, Legend, perhaps, has the most emotional impact on the reader. It's one of those books that gets the blood pumping through your veins, a bright smile on your face, and will have you grabbing for the nearest sword -- or butter knife -- closest to you. If you never had dreams of being a bad ass hero before, you will be inspired to be one by the time you finish Legend.

This is the story of the old hero Druss, a legend grown old, a man waiting for death. But then his homeland is invaded by barbarian hordes and all the stands between the horde and complete conquest is an old fortress with a handful of shoddy soldiers. A heroes duty is never over and Druss, begged by the populous, reluctantly agrees to fight against the horde. And thus Legend is born from blood, nonstop action, grand battles, calls to bravery and a dramatic last stand that brings to mind the Spartan Battle of Thermopylae or the American last stand at the Alamo. It's a dramatic tale that you just can't put down.

Legend is technically part of Gemmell's larger Drenai series (a long running series with many books), but Legend is it's own tale and can stand completely alone without reference to other works in the series.

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The Broken Sword

(Poul Anderson)

Poul Anderson tells the coming of age of a young human man, raised by elves, destined for great deeds who leaves his adopted homeland for the greater world to seek glory. And find glory he does when he gains the power to change the destiny of man, elf, and even the gods by gaining ownership of a powerful god-forged sword.

A unique fantasy tale inspired by Norse myth. And published in a time where fantasy was still in it's infancy (it was published the same time as Fellowship of the Rings), The Broken Sword managed to use the medium to tell a mature, complex, and sophisticated story that helped showcase what good fantasy could be and arguably inspired a generations of later writers. It's also the first true gritty and grim fantasy tale in the genre; an influence (together with works by other authors) that's even being felt today with the gritty styles pretty much becoming the normal in fantasy now. But way back 50 years ago, this sort of tale did not yet exist. The tale was one of the first to really showcase in a modern style of writing the complex interplay between gods, men, faerie, trolls, and heroes.

You could argue that even some of the newest works in the genre, as of 2015, like Abercrombie's Half a King and Kay's Light of the Last Sun draw some inspiration from the setting, tone, and coming of age themes developed by Anderson in this book.

This is an absolute classic in every sense with a unique setting, and a thrilling story. If you don't read it, you are missing out -- despite the age, it's a book that still reads fresh in 2015.

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The Book Of Joby

(Mark J. Ferrari)
Jan 2015

Oh this is a clever one. The premise is that God and Satan make a bet, a bet they have made countless times. But this time, the cards are stacked way in the devil's favor. The target of this cosmic bet is Joby, a young unassuming boy of 9 with a zest for life and future of limitless potential. That is until Lucifer starts messing thing up and Joby endures a world of pain.

Yes, Joby is full to the brim with dark and horrible things and Joby is blindly unaware of the cosmic bet going on between God and Lucifer at his expense. Everything and anything just seems to go wrong for the poor guy. Despite this, not all is lost! There is pleasure with the pain here and a ray of hope in the form of love and friendship, and a bit of reincarnation to even the scales.

Take the biblical book of Job, modernize the story for the 21st century, add in a twinkle of reincarnation, throw in a couple of angels, sprinkle in an Arthurian legend or two, and you have The Book of Joby! This is a fantastic novel and a new take on an age old story. Highly recommended for anyone looking for a non-standard fantasy tale that will have you cringing with despair and crying with delight by the end of it.

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To Ride Hell's Chasm

(Janny Wurts)

Wurts is one of the more underrated fantasy authors in the genre; she's written many book, but perhaps her most fun, most thrilling book is her stand alone To Ride Hell's Chasm, a novel that squeezes in all the qualities that make Wurts one of the most talented writers in the genre without the negative ones (her propensity for creating huge series with thick, ornate prose).

Because of this, To Ride Hell's Chasm, while over 700 pages long, is her most accessible work -- and, as the title indicates, is a one fast paced and exciting ride. It's a tale that's fast paced yet still retains depth; a story about man with a tragic failure of a past who is given the chance to right it. And in the midst of it, maybe just save a princess and a land and a kingdom from demons and sorcerers. 

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God's Demon

(Wayne Barlowe)

Heaven and Hell books are a semi-popular fantasy genre. My pick for one of the more exciting books is God's Demon by Wayne Barlowe. Lucifer, rather than being that despicable guy everyone loves to knock as being the evil force is good. He loses the battle for heaven and gets kicked out of heaven and into hell, then dies. Well, all the fallen angels kind of go psychotic except for fallen angel Sargatanas who doesn't want to play at being a demon anymore. After being separated from God and heaven for countless eons, he decides to mount a revolt against Lucifer's regent, Beelzebub, in a desperate attempt to get back to Heaven.

God's Demon is an interesting thing and it does something completely new with the classic heaven and hell conventions. It poses the question: can evil find redemption? Those who like military fiction, action, heroes, and just thrilling reads will find it hard to put this book down.

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(Stephen King)
Jan 2015

The best Stephen King in a decade, and even a coin toss for his best work yet. King takes a well-known historical event, the Assassination of JFK, and does something wonderful with it. It's a time travel story about an English teacher, Jake Epping, who stumbles onto a wormhole to the 50s. Armed with the knowledge of future events, Jake decides to change the course of history and prevent the assassination of John F. Kennedy. It's a creepy thriller, a love story, a science fiction tale, and any number of things. But what it sure as salt isn't is a boring read. 

This is a book that once you pick up, you won't be putting down anytime soon. Banish any thoughts that this is some old re-hashed time travel tale. It's fresh, invigorating, and totally captivating in a way that few books are. This is King at his best in a long, long time, maybe his best ever.It's thrilling how King gives the entire tale an ominous feel, a creepy feeling keeps a sense of suspense through the story our hero is only ever one mistake away from a fatal mistake because the past itself is his enemy and does not like to be changed.

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(Brandon Sanderson)

Warbreak is an interesting side story it. Sanderson wrote and gave it away as a free digital copy (you can still download it free on his website) years ago. It's suppose to be part of a series, but as of 2014, Sanderson has not yet gotten around to writing it. However, Warbreaker's story can stand alone.

With great action, an interesting setting, one of the more unique magic systems in the genre, and driven by some compelling and likable characters, Warbreaker is definitely a recommended read and a bit of a departure from the normal style of Sanderson (though the unique magic system and strong action scenes are there).

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Fevre Dream

(George R.R. Martin)
Dec 2014
Comments (0)
Award Nominations:1983 LocusF, 1983 WFA

Amazon Description

When struggling riverboat captain Abner Marsh receives an offer of partnership from a wealthy aristocrat, he suspects something's amiss. But when he meets the hauntingly pale, steely-eyed Joshua York, he is certain. For York doesn't care that the icy winter of 1857 has wiped out all but one of Marsh's dilapidated fleet. Nor does he care that he won't earn back his investment in a decade. York has his own reasons for wanting to traverse the powerful Mississippi. And they are to be none of Marsh's concern no matter how bizarre, arbitrary, or capricious his actions may prove.

Marsh meant to turn down York's offer. It was too full of secrets that spelled danger. But the promise of both gold and a grand new boat that could make history crushed his resolve coupled with the terrible force of York's mesmerizing gaze. Not until the maiden voyage of his new sidewheeler Fevre Dream would Marsh realize he had joined a mission both more sinister, and perhaps more noble, than his most fantastic nightmare...and mankind's most impossible dream. 

Here is the spellbinding tale of a vampire's quest to unite his race with humanity, of a garrulous riverman's dream of immortality, and of the undying legends of the steamboat era and a majestic, ancient river.

This is one of the best "vampire" books on the market. Think Mark Twain meets Dracula. I'm usually not a big fan of vampire stories -- they've been done to death and there is very little in the way of originality or plot to most of the vampire fiction out there. Fevre Dream is different, however. Forget about the sappy Twilight novels and the bodice-ripper Anne Rice novels, Fevre Dream is a real novel: complex, horrific, and intelligent. It's a novel that won't let you go till the last page is turned. George Martin is, of course, most famous for his Song of Ice and Fire series, but his Fevre Dream is a stellar standalone horror fantasy that's worth a read. So if you are in the mood for a good scary fantasy tale, I can't recommend better than Fevre Dream.

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Butchers Bird

(Richard Kadrey)

Wow, what a novel -- supremely rich of imagination. Kadrey is often compared to the likes of Neil Gaiman, but more of a blue color version of him. Kadrey tackles topics with more grit and dirt than does Gaiman, infusing his writings with Judeo Christian legends while Gaimen's writings are more influenced by Celtic, Scandinavian, and Native American mythology.

This book basically is one LSD trip through an afterlife populated by monsters, angels, and demons. It's a strange and twisted world that the hero of the tale gets caught up in. And it's one hell of a motorcycle ride though hell.

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(Clive Barker)
Dec 2014

When Clive Barker turns his hand to young adult fantasy rather than pure horror, the results can be tremendously entertaining. I consider this to be Barker's standout novel and a novel that captures your both your thinking mind and your emotions as well. What stands out about this novel is the way Barker ties in the entire mythos of the world's religions into the plot and setting of his story, giving a powerfully congruent explanation for the entirety of human existence -- both its genius and its discrepancies. It's brilliant stuff and it takes over 1200 pages to do it, but when you finish the book, it's unforgettable.

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The Terror

(Dan Simmons)
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Award Nominations:2008 BFS

Be prepared to be truly terrified with this book! If you've never read Dan Simmons before, you have sinned indeed. Simmons is one of the most talented writers on the planet, an author too talented to be contained in any one genre. He's written fiction, horror, science fiction, and fantasy novels -- and every single one of his books is a gosh darn work of art. His science fiction books are particularly good (his Hyperion series I consider some of the best science fiction ever written).

My pick for his fantasy contribution is Terror, which is Simmon's mishmash of Edgar Allen Poe, Patrick O'Brien, and Mary Shelly's Frankenstein. Basically it's a historical fiction meets horror on the open (or icy) sea.

The Terror is a complex novel with a lot going on in and a good deal of scare to it. The story itself begins on a bit of a downer: two ships have been stuck deep in the polar ice for over two years. The crew's food is pretty much finished and there's a mysterious Eskimo woman who can't speak -- or won't speak -- living with the crew, feared as a witch. Add to that a strange creature that's worse than any polar bear imaginable -- it's been clawing to get in the ship and stalking the crew as they hunt for supplies, picking them off one by one by seemingly impossible means.

Sound interesting? It is. I'm not going to spend another 30 minutes brainstorming on how to convince you to read it. Just take my word and give it a go. Oh, and turn down the lights and pull up a blanket when you do, it's going to get scccccaaaary!

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