tough guide fantasyland map
I’ve always been one of those people who are a bit snooty about fantasy, eschewing anything with dragons or magic and generally fearing that most fantasy will be cookie-cutter high fantasy of the medieval European variety – with barbarians in the north, exotic desert people in the south, and some sort of quest in between.

That said, I was fascinated by the Calormen scenes from the Narnia stories as a child, and Ged’s growth in A Wizard of Earthsea still offers so much to me, even as an adult.  I also just simply adore the presence of just a little bit of magic and mystery in my everyday world, something urban fantasy does so very well.  And for those who love their history, you can’t look past the complex and deeply realised worlds of Guy Gavriel Kay.  I often wish Kay’s wonderful alternate histories, set from Moorish Spain and Tang Dynasty China to Byzantium, were more widely known.  If you enjoy political intrigue and complicated plots told from multiple perspectives, Kay is an excellent choice.  His stories and characters are also deeply moving: I don’t think I have ever cried more in my life than in the final chapters of Tigana or The Lions of Al-Rassan.

So if you love fantasy and have someone in your life that you would like to convert, or if you are deeply suspicious like me, but are looking for a little complex and fully realised escapism in your reading, try some of the following:

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Science Fiction



As a lover of literature and science fiction, I find it frustrating when helping a library customer who wants something literary and thought-provoking to read, but who turns their nose up at science fiction.

I am lucky to have a mother who shared all kinds of reading options with her daughters, but who has always especially loved science fiction. This meant that as children we read novels about life in space (like Enders Game, Calling B for Butterfly, Growing Up Weightless, and Orbital Resonance), and some wonderful young adult dystopias (like The Giver, Rocco, and Winter of Fire).  I remember dipping into adult science fiction in my teens when I started to raid my mother’s bookshelf, and my observant mother payed attention to my growing list of favourite books and started to supplement with gifts of books she thought I would enjoy (the summer I was fifteen and received Always Coming Home by Ursula Le Guin as a present will always remain a watershed moment).

The ability to imagine the world differently (or to see the world through new eyes) is something I cherish.  I think science fiction does nothing if it doesn’t offer us a lens through which we can examine ourselves, and so I continue to try to reduce the stigma science fiction carries for some readers by sneaking in a speculative read that I know will still have general (or niche) appeal.  Here are some of my favourites:

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If you Liked… Fates and Furies

I tore through Lauren Groff’s Fates and Furies in the final days of 2015, and it was a bit of a conflicted read for me.  I’m still not quite sure why I enjoyed it so much.  I do know that it was beautifully written (a language book, definitely), and I was very interested in the development of both main characters: Lotto and Mathilde.  I also thought it had some interesting things to say about luck and the meaning of success, and placed an unexpected lens on the idea of privilege.


Lauren Groff said in a recent interview that she would describe her book as: ‘a novel that appears to be one thing, but cracks open to reveal another. A book that plays with ideas about privilege, female rage, creation, happiness, opera, destiny and, of course, marriage.’

Still thinking and feeling the book through… but as I was reading it, these were some other reads that echoed in my mind.

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If You Liked… The Luminaries

As a New Zealander who likes historical novels that have a modern sensibility, when I first read The Luminaries I felt like it had been grown in a lab just for me.  My favourite way to describe the Booker Prize winning novel is to say that it is ‘Middlemarch meets Deadwood’.  I am a huge fan of both the HBO series Deadwood, and George Eliot’s classic novel, and I am pretty sure Eleanor Catton is too.

luminaries front

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If You Liked… Station Eleven

Station Eleven

A Visit From the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan
Riddley Walker by Russell Hoban
The Road by Cormac McCarthy
The Passage by Justine Cronin
Z for Zachariah by Robert C. O’Brien
After the Plague by T. C. Boyle
In the Heart of the Valley of Love by Cynthia Kadahota
Into the Forest by Jean Hegland
The Dog Stars by Peter Heller
The Chimes by Anna Smaill
California by Edan Lepucki
A Wrong Turn At the Office of Unmade Lists by Jane Rawson
Clade by James Bradley


Book Review: Among Others by Jo Walton

Among Others by Jo Walton
(Inter Library Loan from Public Library)

Among Others was recommended by a friend of a friend, and when I finally got round to reading it it turned out to be one of those books that I felt had been grown in a lab, just for me.  It’s a love letter to reading, set in rural England and Wales in the 1970’s, with just enough fantasy beneath the surface to intrigue me, without needing me to suspend disbelief.


If you enjoy books about reading, rural settings and a hint of urban or contemporary fantasy, you might enjoy these other reads:

Tam Lin by Pamela Dean
Her Fearful Symmetry by Audrey Niffenegger
Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro
Ysabel by Guy Gavriel Kay
Trader by Charles De Lint
The Wood Wife by Terri Windling