Five fantasy reads for realists

Game of Thrones is awesome. The TV series, not the books. You haven’t read those. Fantasy isn’t your thing. It’s not that you’re against magic, dragons and sword fights, per se. But complex, imagined worlds governed by strange gods and peopled by a large cast of characters with unpronounceable names isn’t your brand of fiction. And you’re sick to death of vampires. Werewolves too.

That said, you wouldn’t mind a little more whimsy in your reading. To enter a space where there is more to the world than is visible in plain sight. Not a complete departure from reality, but a story that dares to imagine what if

With the next season of Game of Thrones AN ENTIRE YEAR AWAY *hyperventilates*, we raided our bookshelves to find five fantastic reads to tide you over.

Among Others by Jo Walton (2011)

Among othersA magical twist on the familiar coming-of-age narrative, Among Others is the story of Mori, a shy bookworm who understands there’s more magic in the world than most believe. Following the death of her twin sister, Mori is sent to boarding school where she spies fairies in the woods and finds friends in a local fantasy bookclub as she gradually comes to terms with her loss.

It’s a book of quiet magic and of internal rather than epic quests, a homage to that genre of stories in which anything is possible and unlikely heroes abound. Essential reading for anyone who grew up feeling different or out of place and sought refuge in books and an ideal introduction to fantasy for those yet to venture beyond the realm of the real.

White is for Witching by Helen Oyeyemi (2009)

White is for WitchingDon’t let the title deceive you, this is one dark book. Part coming-of-age narrative, part haunted house story, White is for Witching is sinister and surreal. After the death of her mother, eighteen-year-old Miri develops pica—a rare mental illness compelling her to eat chalk, stones and other non-foods. Meanwhile, the ancestral home her father runs as a bed an breakfast stirs to life, scaring off staff and guests, and a mysterious figure, the Goodlady, walks invisible through the rooms.

Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell by Susanna Clarke (2004)

Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell

Mr Norrell believes himself to be the only true magician in England, a title of which he is much proud having achieved it through years of taxing research and effort. Then along comes wunderkind Jonathan Strange—making up what he lacks in experience with raw talent. Initially the two magicians work as master and apprentice and are enlisted by the government to assist in the war against France. However, as his skill grows Jonathan Strange becomes increasingly disinterested in casting spells by the book and petty games of oneupmanship with Mr Norrell and goes seeking a deeper, darker magic.

Like her magicians, Clarke combines diligent research with flights of fancy to weave an enchantment dark, powerful and utterly compelling.

Tender Morsels by Margo Lanagan (2008)

Tender MorselsA very grown-up retelling of the Grimm Brothers’, ‘Snow white and Rose Red’, Tender Morsels recaptures all the enchantment and terror associated with fairytales before Disney got its sugary mouse paws on them.

After she is raped by her father, fifteen-year-old Liga attempts to end her life and is instead transported to a peaceful haven free from men in which to raise her daughters. But as the girls grow, so too does the call of the world beyond with all its charms and dangers.

The End of Mr. Y by Scarlett Thomas (2006)

The End of Mr YThis is the ultimate thinking girl’s beach read, combining adventure, romance and postmodernist and deconstructionist theory. Following the disappearance of her supervisor, literature PhD student, Ariel Manto, stumbles on a book, The End of Mr. Y, which is rumoured to be cursed. The book tells of an alternate world called the Troposphere, where all consciousness is linked, and Ariel, convinced the Troposphere is real, sets out to find a way in.

Thomas has a genius for weaving complex ideas into fun, fast-paced narratives that are brimming with puzzles and oh-so-meta.

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