Recommended Fantasy Series

Something about becoming engrossed in a book series is so wonderful. Although I enjoy stand-alone books as too, I love reading a series and knowing that there’s a book after the one I’m reading; another story that immerses me back into the world and its characters. Comfort and familiarity come with following fictional characters into different books on their exciting and (usually) dangerous journeys. While reading a series, I also know which book I should read next, which saves me time that might have otherwise been spent browsing up and down the shelves in the library trying to find a title or a cover that looks as if it might hold an interesting story (although I don’t think browsing the shelves of libraries is necessarily a waste of time). For anyone looking for familiarity, wonderful characters, or just a series to become immersed in, here are some fantasy book series that I recommend.

The Books of Bayern (quartet), by Shannon Hale
First Book: The Goose Girl
I mentioned the first book in this series in a post about exploring new genres, but it’s such a wonderful fantasy series that I wanted to add it here. This series is based in a fairy-tale-like world, but I think it’s great for older teens too. It might be because of Shannon Hale’s entertaining and lovable characters and her style of writing that I haven’t recently found many book series as rounded as I find her Books of Bayern series.

The Secrets of the Immortal Nicholas Flamel (six-part series), by Michael Scott
First Book: The Alchemyst
I have not read this whole series, but I’ve read and enjoyed the first couple of books. I would recommend this series for slightly older teens, and it is an excellent choice if you like stories that include mythology and history. The story is set in the real world, but is filled with a combination of mythological and historical beings. The protagonists, twins Josh and Sophie, give readers a relatable perspective as they discover a magical world. These books are filled with adventure, interesting characters, and detailed settings that add a realistic sense to the fictional elements.

Septimus Heap (heptalogy), by Angie Sage
First Book: Magyk
The Septimus Heap series is set in a fictional world containing wizards and bogarts and magic (who could have known?). One of my favorite parts about this series is the characters. There are so many of them, and though the books center around certain characters, the storylines of many side characters are incorporated throughout the series. I enjoyed reading the little additions Angie Sage makes at the end of the books, which give background or extra information on some of the characters. The books are humorous and filled with adventure and little details that make them even more enjoyable to read.

The Dragon Slippers Series (trilogy), by Jessica Day George
First Book: Dragon Slippers
Please don’t be discouraged by the title; it might not peak everyone’s interest, but this is a wonderful fantasy series that, like the Books of Bayern, I’ve had trouble finding a series as intriguing as. The Dragon Slippers series takes place in a fictional world in which dragons have hoards that don’t all contain gold and, despite what humans think, can be benign. With well-rounded characters and thankfully non-corny talking dragons, Jessica Day George’s Dragon Slippers series is a series that I highly recommend.

– Mia T.

Finale by Stephanie Garber

Caution: this review may contain spoilers from books one and two, Caraval and Legendary

The Fates have been released from the Deck of Destiny. Legend has claimed himself Elantine’s heir, and his coronation as emperor of Valenda is soon to occur. Scarlett and Tella’s mother has not opened her eyes since her imprisonment in a card. Legendary, the sequel to Stephanie Garber’s Caraval, has dressed the place behind the curtains for a final act: the finale.

While the first two books in the trilogy are told by single narrators (Caraval told by Scarlett and Legendary told by Tella), the two sisters take turns narrating in Finale. I thought the combination of Scarlett and Tella’s narration provided a wonderful balance to the story, for each sister has a unique personality and an individual mindset. The idea of the two points of view working together to build this final story also compliments the theme of sisterly love, which is present throughout the trilogy.

Finale focuses largely on the power of love when directed at someone and when used against beings who live off of fear. This story exemplifies how love–whether given gently like Scarlett or ferociously like Tella–may be the strongest force against enmity.

In Finale, Stephanie Garber expands upon certain objects and curiosities that previously appeared in the other two books. I was interested to learn more about Scarlett and Tella’s mother’s past, why Scarlett sees feelings in color, and how Scarlett’s magical dress originated.

I was a bit disappointed that Caraval is not played in this final book, but by no means did the story lack the magic and elaborate colors found in Legend’s game. Understandably, with the Fates running free in Valenda, the characters can no longer simply play a game (not that Caraval was really just a game).

Though Finale is filled with visited dreams, different kinds of magic, and unusual places, I still think my favorite book in the series is Caraval (though I usually tend to favor the first book). It could just be the initial magic of Caraval and Legend that makes the first book so compelling or the mystery of who is an actor and who is not. However, I’m glad I read Finale, as it expanded upon many elements of the magic and characters while also leaving some untied strings to the story.

– Mia T.

Finale by Stephanie Garber is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library

Favorite Fictional Locations

There are many factors that make a book or series lovable, and among these is location. The intricately described and developed locations in books are one of my favorite parts about reading. They make the story vivid, and they strengthen the reality of the world. Here are a few of my favorite fictional locations:

 Hogwarts (Harry Potter by J.K. Rowling)

It’s school for magic and a castle—what more could a fantasy lover ask for? Over the course of seven books, Hogwarts almost becomes a fictional home for readers just as it becomes a home for Harry. Though it has its share of dangers (such as Blast-Ended Skrewts and potentially evil Defense Against the Dark Arts teachers), Hogwarts is an exciting place with cozy common rooms, an incredible library, and a friendly keeper of the keys.

The Burrow (Harry Potter by J.K. Rowling)

The Burrow is Harry’s escape from the Dursley’s, full of Quidditch practice, Mrs. Weasley’s cooking, and the friendliest family. It’s hard not to feel content when I read about the Burrow; it’s such a peaceful place and it’s so comforting to Harry. The house is cozy and delightfully crooked, and even the ghoul in the attic is pleasant (most of the time). 

Isla de los Sueños and Caraval’s Stage (Caraval by Stephanie Garber)

Isla de los Sueños’ description is so intriguing in Caraval: a magic-filled island with colorful shops selling the most unusual items, and with currency other than coins. Caraval’s stage is also a setting I enjoy reading about; there are so many possibilities on the stage: stores shaped like hats, underground networks, and carousels of roses. The unique locations in Caraval allow me to be swept away by the magical performance …though, of course, not too far away.

 Arundel (The Penderwicks by Jeanne Birdsall) 

Although Arundel is not a location in a fantasy story, the yellow cottage, the mansion, and the garden behind the mansion combined with the wonderful characteristics of the four sisters develop a fantastical atmosphere. From walks though a garden in the moonlight to pillow forts in the piano room, Arundel has a large part in the charm of The Penderwicks.

– Mia T.

A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman

Until I read Fredrik Backman’s A Man Called Ove, I hadn’t realized how a book could pull off being so comical yet saddening simultaneously.

The story is in the perspective of Ove, who appears nothing more than a cranky, contentious old man. Ove is the kind of man who takes morning rounds of his neighborhood, playing the role of an unwanted rule-enforcer while judging everyone in his unintentionally humorous way. The novel goes back and forth between present and past, and as the story progresses, insight is gained explaining why Ove is the way he is and why he lost his purpose of life.

The glimpses of the past gave me a respect and understanding for Ove and his principles—he isn’t just a cranky old man for no reason. Additionally, unlike many other stories with flashbacks, this story didn’t frustrate me with its back-and-forth movement. In fact, it kept me wanting to know more. Little mysteries are revealed, which explain Ove’s attitude toward certain, seemingly unconnected things.

As the readers gain a new understanding of Ove, the people (and the cat) around Ove gain a similar understanding and love for him. People appreciate and depend on Ove’s practical skills and blunt-yet-considerate manner; they find a place in their hearts for Ove, which helps him regains his purpose. A Man Called Ove is an incredibly humorous yet bittersweet read, and I highly recommend it. It’s the perfect step outside the realm of the prevalent YA novels, and its depth and insight make it a story that’s well worth the read.

– Mia T.

A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library. It can also be downloaded for free from Overdrive

The Oyster Thief by Sonia Faruqi

Told in third person from the perspectives of Izar, the adoptive son of a wealthy and avaricious owner of the oil company Ocean Dominion; and Coralline, a gentle mermaid who is an assistant at an apothecary, The Oyster Thief is a world of juxtapositions, of mermaids and men, water and fire.

When he is young, Izar’s adoptive father tasks him to invent underwater fire so that Ocean Dominion can scour the ocean floor for treasure while destroying the settlements of merpeople in the process. As is evident from this plan, the people at Ocean Dominion regard merpeople as lesser than humans–even monstrous. In contrast to Izar, Coralline is an apothecary whose goal is to heal and care for other merpeople.

Sonia Faruqi switches between the two characters to show how their lives run both parallel to and in contradiction with each other until their storylines meld together into one. The Oyster Thief touches on the concepts of true love and why people are not always how they seem. Coralline with her healing and Izar with his destruction seem natural enemies, yet they grow steadily closer to each other as the story progresses. I liked how Izar and Coralline’s actions are contrasted with each other by how differently each reacts in a similar situation.

The underwater world Sonia Faruqi builds is very well thought out; the merpeople’s food, customs, currency, and so forth are all considered, which makes the story more realistic. I thought the story was well-researched: for instance, species of algae and sea creatures, the physics of the underwater world, and scientific explanations for anomalies that occur (such as underwater fire) are specified. The incredibly logical explanations of the world help make the novel believable and sophisticated.

I did think that sometimes too much time was spent explicitly contemplating ironies or thematic concepts in the story that usually are interpreted by the reader, and many words are also spent giving a specific reason for a character’s actions. However, the novel’s concept is quite intriguing, and the many contrasts in the novel do lend themselves to a lot of irony that might require explanation.

I particularly enjoyed the characterization of the muses Pavonis, Altair, and Nacre (a muse is basically a merperson’s chosen companion, such as Coralline’s shark friend, Pavonis), as they are very developed and lovable characters.

In The Oyster Thief, Sonia Faruqi exemplifies how even the most contradictory matches–Izar and Coralline, poison and medicine, fire and water–can combine to form something healing and possibly incredible.

– Mia T.

The Oyster Thief by Sonia Faruqi is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library

The Hazel Wood by Melissa Albert

An outlier from the usual fairy-tale-based fiction, The Hazel Wood by Melissa Albert is a unique, compelling book with twenty-first century references and a search for a mysterious, magical wood. Both the title and the cover intrigued me into picking up the book. I read the synopsis, which also seemed intriguing. But when I began to read, I was pulled into a story that I hadn’t quite anticipated–though it was still quite intriguing.

I’ve found that most books based on fairy tales have the protagonist enter the fairy tale world within the first half of the book (if they aren’t there already). However, The Hazel Wood is not based mainly in the fairy tale world, but on a search to find it. The novel begins similarly to a realistic fiction novel with a main character named Alice Proserpine. She and her mother, Vanella (Ella), are constantly on the road, moving from town to town. Alice lives with an unease; her memories seem off, as if she doesn’t fully fit into the world.

Unsettling events seems to follow the mother and daughter. Alice doesn’t know why, but she does know that her mother refuses to speak about her mother–Alice’s grandmother–Althea Proserpine.

Althea Proserpine is the reclusive author of the book of fairy tales Tales from the Hinterland. It’s a difficult book to get a copy of, but its fans are extreme. Alice has never been allowed to read the book, and has only snuck in a few lines from a story called “Alice Three-Times”.

When Alice’s mother receives a letter saying that Althea has passed away, she seems to relax. However, just when she marries and they finally slow down, Ella disappears. Alice, who has been struggling with going to a school full of rich kids (her step-father lives in a rich neighborhood and was able to find her a place in the school), must take on the much larger problem of finding her mother. She and an extreme fan of her grandmother’s stories named Ellery Finch begin a search for Althea’s estate, the Hazel Wood, which is just the place where Ella ordered Alice not to go.

During their search, Ellery and Alice notice characters from Tales from the Hinterland who have somehow left their world, and Ellery tells Alice parts of Althea’s stories, which are horrific and evil and not at all happily-ending.

Sprinkled with references to our popular culture, The Hazel Wood takes place mostly in the modern world, and is understandable for a young adult audience. I liked how Melissa Albert uniquely did not embellish the story with unrealistic romance or happy endings, which made the story more realistic: Alice’s stepsister is not ugly or really unkind to her, not everyone leaves the Hazel Wood, and the protagonists of some fairy tales are evil.

The Hazel Wood is a wonderful book to read if you are searching for a non-cliché young adult novel that puts an eerie spin on fairy tales.

– Mia T.

The Hazel Wood by Melissa Albert is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library

Caraval by Stephanie Garber

Caraval, by Stephanie Garber, begins with Scarlett Dragna, who lives on a secluded isle with a cruel father who uses his daughters’ love for each other to control them. Whenever Scarlett does something wrong, her father punishes her sister, Donatella (Tella), instead. Scarlett banks her and her sister’s safety on her upcoming arranged marriage to a count whom she has only conferred with through letters. 

For years, Scarlett has written to Legend, the mysterious master of Caraval, hoping that he will bring his extravagant performance to her isle. Finally, when Legend writes back with three tickets to Caraval (which will be taking place on a magical island this year), Scarlett thinks she Tella would be better off not going. However, Tella has other ideas.

Far more bold and far less of a worrier than her protective sister, Tella and a strange sailor, Julian, conspire to bring Scarlett away from their father to the island where Caraval will be that year. When Tella suddenly disappears, Scarlett, who would do anything for her sister, begins to find that Tella has a greater part in Caraval than Scarlett had known. The only way Scarlett knows of that will reunite her with Tella is to win Caraval.

Caraval is Legend’s once-a-year performance which takes place over the course of five nights. Ticket holders can choose to either watch or play the game. The year Scarlett plays, the stage is a village, where the audience members who have chosen to play the game stay. Each night, Caraval fills with magic and illusions, and the players search for clues to guide them to the final prize. Scarlett finds herself in a performance where reality is blurred; it becomes difficult to differentiate the real people from actors who are simply playing parts in the game.

With Stephanie Garber’s beautiful descriptions and elegant characters, Caraval is one of my favorite young adult books. I particularly enjoyed reading from Scarlett’s perspective because her personality is not necessarily standard of a fantasy novel’s heroine, but her love for her sister motivates her throughout the book. By the end of Caraval, she has noticeably grown. Scarlett also describes senses and feelings with color, and the vivid imagery that results is magical. 

The story of Scarlett and Tella is continued in Legendary, which is written from the perspective of Tella. 

Caraval’s fantastic characters, vivid descriptions, and unanticipated turns make the book so difficult to set down. Stephanie Garber’s exquisite writing is a wonderful gift to read, and I highly recommend Caraval.

– Mia T.

Caraval by Stephanie Garber is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library. It can also be downloaded for free from Overdrive.