Our Favorite Fantasy & Dystopian Novels

The Chronicles of NarniaThe Chronicles of Narnia Series by C.S. Lewis
First Published Book: The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe
Publisher: Harper Collins
Publication Date: October 16, 1950

What’s it about:
Four adventurous siblings—Peter, Susan, Edmund, and Lucy Pevensie—step through a wardrobe door and into the land of Narnia, a land frozen in eternal winter and enslaved by the power of the White Witch. But when almost all hope is lost, the return of the Great Lion, Aslan, signals a great change . . . and a great sacrifice.

Our Thoughts: Carrie says, “I first read these books as a young girl, when people still considered The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe the first in the series. (In other words, back when people still had them in the correct order. J) Lewis’ Narnia captured my heart and my imagination, and the subtle parallels I could draw – even at a young age – between his stories and THE Story ensured this series would be one I would re-read often and to this day. ‘Safe?… Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he ain’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.’” Melissa adds, “I read these as an adult because I didn’t want to watch the movie first. I now realize what a magical world I had missed by not reading them years earlier. I can certainly understand why these books have stood the test of time and are enjoyed not only in childhood, but throughout one’s life.”

 

A Wrinkle in TimeA Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle
Publisher: Farrar, Straus, & Giroux
Publication Date: January 1, 1963 

What’s it about:
It was a dark and stormy night; Meg Murry, her small brother Charles Wallace, and her mother had come down to the kitchen for a midnight snack when they were upset by the arrival of a most disturbing stranger.

“Wild nights are my glory,” the unearthly stranger told them. “I just got caught in a downdraft and blown off course. Let me sit down for a moment, and then I’ll be on my way. Speaking of ways, by the way, there is such a thing as a tesseract.”

A tesseract (in case the reader doesn’t know) is a wrinkle in time. To tell more would rob the reader of the enjoyment of Miss L’Engle’s unusual book. A Wrinkle in Time, winner of the Newbery Medal in 1963, is the story of the adventures in space and time of Meg, Charles Wallace, and Calvin O’Keefe (athlete, student, and one of the most popular boys in high school). They are in search of Meg’s father, a scientist who disappeared while engaged in secret work for the government on the tesseract problem. 

Our Thoughts:  Carrie says,” This is another book I first read in childhood that has remained with me as an adult. My tastes in science fiction/fantasy are very specific but A Wrinkle in Time met all of my requirements – quirky but kind characters, magical realism, a hint of romance, and a deeper message. My favorite characters by far were Mrs. Whatsit, Mrs. Who, and Mrs. Which, and to this day I don’t say either of those W’s without thinking of the three eccentric neighbors who were more than they first seemed. And to me, that’s one of the best parts of fantasy novels – things (and people… and themes) that are more than they first appear.  ”

 

Song of AlbionSong of Albion Series by Stephen Lawhead
First Book: Paradise Wars
Publisher: Westbrow
Publication Date: 1991

What’s it about:
From the dreaming spires of Oxford, Lewis Gillies drives north to seek a mythical creature in a misty glen in Scotland. Expecting little more than a weekend diversion, Lewis finds himself in a mystical place where two worlds meet, in the time-between-times—and in the heart of a battle between good and evil.

The ancient Celts admitted no separation between this world and the Otherworld: the two were delicately interwoven, each dependent on the other. The Paradise War crosses the thin places between this world and that, as Lewis Gillies comes face-to-face with an ancient mystery—and a cosmic catastrophe in the making.

Melissa’s Thoughts: When I wanted to dive into the world of Stephen Lawhead, I asked Eric Wilson his thoughts. He recommended Song of Albion and Byzantium as a starting point. I have to say, this was a good suggestion. I loved the epic adventure in The Paradise War along with the authentic, relatable characters. These books were so fun to read and made me a Stephen Lawhead fan.

 

Harry Potter and the Sorcerers StoneHarry Potter Series by J.K. Rowling
First Book: Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone
Publisher: Bloomsbury
Publication Date: June 27, 1997 

What’s it about:
Harry Potter has no idea how famous he is. That’s because he’s being raised by his miserable aunt and uncle who are terrified Harry will learn that he’s really a wizard, just as his parents were. But everything changes when Harry is summoned to attend an infamous school for wizards, and he begins to discover some clues about his illustrious birthright. From the surprising way he is greeted by a lovable giant, to the unique curriculum and colorful faculty at his unusual school, Harry finds himself drawn deep inside a mystical world he never knew existed and closer to his own noble destiny.

Our Thoughts:  Carrie says, “I love everything about the Harry Potter series – the characters, the world, the story. From the very first word, Rowling’s subtle British humor captivated me. I fell in love with the dynamic trio of Harry, Ron, and Hermione (especially bookish, studious Hermione… kindred spirits, she and I) as well as with Hagrid and Dumbledore and a myriad of other characters that traipse through the halls of Hogwarts.   At first, I simply enjoyed the clever writing and the ingenious world-building, appreciating a good and entertaining story. But as the series progressed, I became more and more aware of the spiritual metaphors swirling through the plot and appreciated the books on a whole different level. This series is one that calls to me each year when the weather turns crisp and cool, beckoning me to snuggle up with my dog, a quilt, a mug of hot chocolate, and the boy who lived.”

 

Alphabet of ThornAlphabet of Thorn by Patricia A. McKillip
Publisher: Ace Books
Publication Date: February 3, 2004

What’s it about:

In the kingdom of Raine, a vast realm at the edge of the world, an orphaned baby girl is found by a palace librarian and raised to become a translator. Years later, the girl — named Nepenthe — comes in contact with a mysterious book written in a language of thorns that no one, not even the wizards at Raine’s famous Floating School for mages, can decipher. The book calls out to Nepenthe’s very soul, and she is soon privately translating its contents. As she works tirelessly transcribing the book — which turns out to be about the historical figures of Axis, the Emperor of Night, and Kane, his masked sorcerer — the kingdom of Raine is teetering on the brink of chaos. The newly crowned queen, a mousy 14-year old girl named Tessera who wants nothing to do with matters of state, hides in the woods as regents plot revolution. The queen’s destiny, however, is intertwined with Nepenthe’s ability to unravel the mystery of the thorns.

Beth’s Thoughts: I was enthralled from the moment I started this book – a child abandoned at a palace library that towers near the edge of a cliff? One who grows up to be the only one to translate an ancient language in an ancient book? I am so there! This story has a huge, fantastic twist that kept me glued to its pages. Patricia A. McKillip is one of my favorite fantasy authors, specifically for the way that her stories are effortlessly fantastic and almost lyrical in their telling. Alphabet of Thorn is one of those books that you notice something different about every time you read it and, though I’ve read all of Patricia’s fantasy novels to date, this one remains my favorite.

 

The CircleCircle Series by Ted Dekker
Publisher: Thomas Nelson
Publication Date: 2004

What’s it about:
Three novels. Two worlds. One Story.

Enter an adrenaline-laced epic where dreams and reality collide.

Black – An incredible story of evil and rescue, betrayal and love, and a terrorist threat unlike anything the human race has ever known. A virulent evil has been unleashed upon the people of Earth. The only man who can stop it is Thomas Hunter, an unlikely hero whose life is stretched between two worlds. Every time he falls asleep in one reality, he awakes in the other. Soon Thomas no longer knows which reality is real. Yet it quickly becomes apparent that his choices in each world impact the other–and that the fates of both rest in his hands.

Red – In one world, Thomas Hunter is a battle-scarred general commanding an army of primitive warriors. In the other, he’s racing to outwit sadistic terrorists intent on creating global chaos through an unstoppable virus. Thomas must find a way to change history–or face the destruction of two worlds.

White – Thomas Hunter has only days to survive two separate realms of danger, deceit, and destruction. The fates of both worlds now rest on his unique ability to shift realities through his dreams. Thomas and The Circle must quickly decide who they can trust–both with their own lives and the fate of millions. And neither the terror of Black nor the treachery of Red can prepare Thomas for the forces aligned against The Circle in White.

Melissa’s Thoughts: Black was one of the first Christian fantasy novels that I read and will always hold a special spot in my heart. I love how the imagination and creativity combine with an allegory which takes the reader through the Bible. The idea that God interacts with His creation in a fun and loving manner is beautifully portrayed. It’s a wonderful series and one of the few that I’ve read multiple times. My favorite is probably Red, but it could be White or it might even be Black? Too hard to decide for sure. 🙂

 

Garden SpellsGarden Spells by Sarah Addison Allen
Publisher: Bantam Books
Publication Date: 2007

What’s it about:
In a garden surrounded by a tall fence, tucked away behind a small, quiet house in an even smaller town, is an apple tree that is rumored to bear a very special sort of fruit. In this luminous debut novel, Sarah Addison Allen tells the story of that enchanted tree, and the extraordinary people who tend it….

The Waverleys have always been a curious family, endowed with peculiar gifts that make them outsiders even in their hometown of Bascom, North Carolina. Even their garden has a reputation, famous for its feisty apple tree that bears prophetic fruit, and its edible flowers, imbued with special powers. Generations of Waverleys tended this garden. Their history was in the soil. But so were their futures.

A successful caterer, Claire Waverley prepares dishes made with her mystical plants–from the nasturtiums that aid in keeping secrets and the pansies that make children thoughtful, to the snapdragons intended to discourage the attentions of her amorous neighbor. Meanwhile, her elderly cousin, Evanelle, is known for distributing unexpected gifts whose uses become uncannily clear. They are the last of the Waverleys–except for Claire’s rebellious sister, Sydney, who fled Bascom the moment she could, abandoning Claire, as their own mother had years before.

When Sydney suddenly returns home with a young daughter of her own, Claire’s quiet life is turned upside down–along with the protective boundary she has so carefully constructed around her heart. Together again in the house they grew up in, Sydney takes stock of all she left behind, as Claire struggles to heal the wounds of the past. And soon the sisters realize they must deal with their common legacy–if they are ever to feel at home in Bascom–or with each other.

Carrie’s Thoughts: The elements of fantasy in Allen’s books never cross too far outside the realm of possibility, which is important to me when I read fantasy. In one novel, books just appear – with no explanation – whenever the character needs them. In another, a family of women closely guards their legacy, the personality-imbued apple tree presiding over a fenced garden to give their catering business a magical boost. And in still another, the wallpaper changes to suit the character’s mood. Typically set in the South and full of lovably misfit characters, Allen’s stories leave readers peering around them perhaps a bit more carefully for their own glimpse of magical realism.

 

The Hunger GamesThe Hunger Games by Suzzane Collins
Publisher: September 14, 2008
Publication Date: Scholastic

What’s it about:
In the ruins of a place once known as North America lies the nation of Panem, a shining Capitol surrounded by twelve outlying districts. Long ago the districts waged war on the Capitol and were defeated. As part of the surrender terms, each district agreed to send one boy and one girl to appear in an annual televised event called, “The Hunger Games,” a fight to the death on live TV. Sixteen-year-old Katniss Everdeen, who lives alone with her mother and younger sister, regards it as a death sentence when she is forced to represent her district in the Games. The terrain, rules, and level of audience participation may change but one thing is constant: kill or be killed.

Melissa’s Thoughts: I will admit, that I might not have picked up this series if it wasn’t for the movies, but I absolutely love The Hunger Games. I fall hard for the characters and was totally immersed in their struggles. The story is fresh, the setting intriguing, and well I have my thoughts on who should have won Katniss. The second and third books are good as well, but there is a definite decline as the series progresses. Of course it probably doesn’t help that the ‘wrong’ guy gets the girl. 🙂

 

The Snow ChildThe Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey
Publisher: Headline Review
Publication Date: February 1, 2012 

What’s it about:
Alaska, 1920: a brutal place to homestead, and especially tough for recent arrivals Jack and Mabel. Childless, they are drifting apart–he breaking under the weight of the work of the farm; she crumbling from loneliness and despair. In a moment of levity during the season’s first snowfall, they build a child out of snow. The next morning the snow child is gone–but they glimpse a young, blonde-haired girl running through the trees.
This little girl, who calls herself Faina, seems to be a child of the woods. She hunts with a red fox at her side, skims lightly across the snow, and somehow survives alone in the Alaskan wilderness. As Jack and Mabel struggle to understand this child who could have stepped from the pages of a fairy tale, they come to love her as their own daughter. But in this beautiful, violent place things are rarely as they appear, and what they eventually learn about Faina will transform all of them.

Beth’s Thoughts: I’m not sure if “historical fantasy” is a thing, but it should be because this book would win that category, in my opinion. In my review for this I called The Snow Child a breath of fresh, snow-laden air. The setting is the beautiful but brutal 1920’s Alaskan frontier, and the story is about that, but also about a child built out of snow during a carefree moment. The story is sad, but somehow hopeful and one that I will definitely read again.

 

The SelectionThe Selection Series by Kiera Cass
First Book: The Selection
Publisher: Harper Teen
Publication Date: April 24, 2012

What’s it about:
For thirty-five girls, the Selection is the chance of a lifetime. The opportunity to escape the life laid out for them since birth. To be swept up in a world of glittering gowns and priceless jewels. To live in a palace and compete for the heart of gorgeous Prince Maxon.

But for America Singer, being Selected is a nightmare. It means turning her back on her secret love with Aspen, who is a caste below her. Leaving her home to enter a fierce competition for a crown she doesn’t want. Living in a palace that is constantly threatened by violent rebel attacks.

Then America meets Prince Maxon. Gradually, she starts to question all the plans she’s made for herself—and realizes that the life she’s always dreamed of may not compare to a future she never imagined.

Megan’s Thoughts: In general, I have a soft spot for series, and then when you add dystopian on top of that—you pretty much have a free pass that I’ll give it a whirl. A competition to become a princess, so much potential there, and Kiera Cass’s books never disappointed me. I adored America and now as the stories continue with her daughter, Eadlyn, I’m still as hooked as I was in book one. Go team Kile…&…Go team Erik. (I have two current favorites. That’s allowed, right?)

 

Tuesdays at the CastleTuesdays at the Castle by Jessica Day George
Publisher: Bloomsbury USA Childrens
Publication (reprint) Date: October 30, 2012

What’s it about:
Every Tuesday Castle Glower takes on a life of its own-magically inventing, moving, and even completely getting rid of some of its rooms. Good thing Princess Celie takes the time to map out these never-ending changes. Because when the castle is ambushed and Celie’s parents and oldest brother go missing, it’s up to Celie to protect their home and save their kingdom. A great new series that readers will devour!

Carrie’s Thoughts: I enjoy the entire Castle Glower series, but the first book is still my favorite. For starters, the setting is actually one of the main characters! George’s storytelling is whimsical, magical, and full of heart, and I want to read her books repeatedly (preferably aloud) while curled up with a mug of hot chocolate and a cozy quilt, savoring every word.

 

Saving YesterdayTimeShifters Series by Jess Evander
First Book: Saving Yesterday
Publisher: Phantom Ship Press
Publication Date: February 16, 2014

What’s it about:
Her blood holds secrets she never knew existed.

Despite the fact that she acts as a parent to her alcoholic father, Gabby Creed feels pretty normal. But her life is turned upside-down on her seventeenth birthday when a bracelet appears on her wrist and sucks her back through time.

Turns out she’s not even a little bit normal. She’s a Shifter—a protector of humans and of history itself. And she’s not alone. The other Shifters believe Gabby is special, even more special than the mysterious Michael Pace. Oh, and the Shades—seriously creepy creatures who feed off of human despair—are determined to capture her.

It’s all a lot to absorb. So Gabby’s grateful to have Michael as her Trainer—or she would be if she could get her rebellious heart under control. Then again, if the rumors about her blood are true, saving yesterday will be the least of her worries.

Megan’s Thoughts: This author’s way of writing makes me forget that I’m even reading a story. I’m sucked in from the beginning. Her characters aren’t just your basic good or bad, they’re well-rounded, going beyond simple likes and dislikes. They feel real. And you wish they were so you could be their friends. (Hugs Gabby and Michael) J The storyline is fresh. There’s history, time travel, romance, and when you add in the allegory, ta-da, you have success. Love-LOVE!

 

The GiftingThe Gifting by K.E. Ganshert
Publisher: CreateSpace
Publication Date: May 1, 2015

What’s it about:
If science is right, then I am crazy. And crazy is dangerous.

In a world where nothing supernatural exists, Tess Eckhart is positive she’s going crazy. After her complete freakout at a high school party, her family is too. So much that they pack their bags and move across the country, next to a nationally-renowned facility for the mentally ill.

Tess is determined to fit in at her new school, despite the whispers and stares. But when it comes to Luka Williams, a reluctantly popular boy in her class, she’s unused to a stare that intense. Then the headaches start, and the seemingly prophetic dreams that haunt her at night. As Tess tries harder to hide them, she becomes increasingly convinced that Luka knows something–that he might somehow be responsible.

But what if she’s wrong? What if Luka Williams is the only thing separating her from a madness too terrifying to fathom?

Megan’s Thoughts: K.E. Ganshert aka Katie Ganshert is one of my favorite authors, and she doesn’t disappoint with her YA series here either. Tess and Luka are a priceless pair, and I couldn’t read through their lives fast enough. I love the way Ms. Ganshert describes people in her stories and the dream-world and ‘gifts’ are creatively intriguing. A 5 star book for sure.

 

A Time to SpeakA Time to Speak (Out of Time Series Book 2) by Nadine Brandes
Publisher: Enclave
Publication Date: October 16, 2015

What’s it about:
What happens when you live longer than you wanted to?

Parvin Blackwater wanted to die, but now she’s being called to be a leader. The only problem is, no one wants to follow.

The Council uses Jude’s Clock-matching invention to force “new-and-improved” Clocks on the public. Those who can’t afford one are packed into boxcars like cattle and used for the Council’s purposes.

Parvin and Hawke find themselves on a cargo ship of Radicals headed out to sea. What will the Council do to them? And why are people suddenly dying before their Clocks have zeroed-out?

Megan’s Thoughts: A story that provides a sense of hope, an awaking to love, the desire for purpose in real everyday life, and a call to act with a huge helping of page turning adventure. This book has a little of everything, including a cliff hanger of an ending. A must read.

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