The best fantasy books with compelling, likeable, and gutsy characters

Why am I passionate about this?

My family loudly expressed emotions as a normal way of life. We shouted, we laughed, we wept, we sang (think My Big Fat Greek Wedding!). Emotional intelligence helps me understand the world and learn empathy for others. I illustrate dynamic character emotions through my science fiction and fantasy, and often through the themes of family, memory, and healing. Emotional roller coasters and high-stakes adventures are my jam! The books on this list got my feels firing on all cylinders and didn’t leave me bereft on their final page. Enjoy these gems!


I wrote...

Forecast

By Elise Stephens,

Book cover of Forecast

What is my book about?

After discovering a magic door in a forest, 15-year-old Calvin awakens his own sight and plunges into a swirling world of portents and shadow where friend and foe are hard to discern and his own talent threatens to consume his mind.

Calvin must brave extraordinary trials in order to wield his sight, defend his family, and prepare to battle not just an ominous secret society, but the man who’s brought Calvin the greatest pain—his father.

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of Assassin's Apprentice

Elise Stephens Why did I love this book?

This book yanks you into the excitement and intrigue of a young boy without social power who gets pressed into the service of his king as a spy and wielder of a familial mind-magic that he was born to, but can’t claim because of his illegitimate birth. The characters show a wide breadth of kindness and cruelty, sacrifice and courage, and a healthy dose of humor and affection. I rooted for Fitz’s wins and ached for his heartbreaks. This book helped me grasp the deep impact that a foster parent’s love can have on a child as well as the bond of trust that forms between a servant and his master. I love a thrilling adventure and the levels of suspense and mystery are very gratifying in this story.

By Robin Hobb,

Why should I read it?

12 authors picked Assassin's Apprentice as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Voyager Classics - timeless masterworks of science fiction and fantasy.

A beautiful clothbound edition of Assassin's Apprentice, the first book in the critically acclaimed Farseer Trilogy.

In a faraway land where members of the royal family are named for the virtues they embody, one young boy will become a walking enigma.

Born on the wrong side of the sheets, Fitz, son of Chivalry Farseer, is a royal bastard cast out into the world, friendless and lonely. Only his magical link with animals - the old art known as the Wit - gives him solace and companionship. But the Wit, if…


Book cover of Anansi Boys

Elise Stephens Why did I love this book?

Family is a huge part of my life, and this book is all about family. Two brothers, united by the death of their father, only to discover there’s magic in the family and they must use it to defend what’s left of their legacy. I love the themes of sibling rivalry, the anguish and joy of family ties, and the challenge of discovering an inner strength you didn’t know you had. Charlie Nancy is a kind, self-deprecating character who has to get out from under the shadow of his dashing, winsome brother, and he manages it with humor and heart. True story: this book also helped cure my fear of spiders! I recommend this one to all my friends!

By Neil Gaiman,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked Anansi Boys as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

From bestselling storytelling legend Neil Gaiman, author of American Gods and The Ocean at the End of the Lane, Anansi Boys is a kaleidoscopic journey deep into myth that will thrill Game of Thrones devotees and Terry Pratchett fans alike. 'Exhilarating and terrifying' Independent.

Fat Charlie Nancy is not actually fat. He was fat once but he is definitely not fat now. No, right now Fat Charlie Nancy is angry, confused and more than a little scared - right now his life is spinning out of control, and it is all his dad's fault.

If his rotter of an estranged…


Book cover of An Illusion of Thieves

Elise Stephens Why did I love this book?

I have a tender spot for heroines who experience such strong emotions that they’re prone to being tossed by their own inner tempests. (I…ahem…might resemble that last comment). Romy had to make a wretchedly hard choice to protect her brother and the fallout separates her forever from the man she loves. She’s a determined, fiery woman and her diligence helps her survive in a city where her magical gift is forbidden. Her past could easily have made her bitter, but she fights with hope for second chances and a ferocious love that makes me adore her! When Romy teams up with other magically gifted people for a complicated heist, she’s consistently kind, unifying, and bravely vulnerable. I just love her!

By Cate Glass,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked An Illusion of Thieves as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A ragtag crew with forbidden magic must pull off an elaborate heist and stop a civil war in An Illusion of Thieves, a fantasy adventure from Cate Glass.

In Cantagna, being a sorcerer is a death sentence.

Romy escapes her hardscrabble upbringing when she becomes courtesan to the Shadow Lord, a revolutionary noble who brings laws and comforts once reserved for the wealthy to all. When her brother, Neri, is caught thieving with the aid of magic, Romy's aristocratic influence is the only thing that can spare his life―and the price is her banishment.

Now back in Beggar’s Ring, she…


Book cover of Sabriel

Elise Stephens Why did I love this book?

If I can tell a character is scared and emotional about their mission and then they force themselves to do the right thing despite that fear, I get a warm spot in my chest and think “I want to be brave like that, too.” Sabriel is an amazing heroine because she goes into extremely scary places, accepting her calling as the Abhorsen and learning to ring these bells of death that help her to send dead monsters back to the underworld. I love her grit and courage as she gets the job done, even though it’s absolutely terrifying! This book showed me that I could still read stories with horror elements as long as I was thoroughly attached to the main character—which I was!

By Garth Nix,

Why should I read it?

11 authors picked Sabriel as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it. This book is for kids age 12, 13, 14, and 15.

What is this book about?

A stunning anniversary gift edition of the second in the bestselling Old Kingdom fantasy series.

Sabriel has spent most of her young life far away from the magical realm of the Old Kingdom, and the Dead that roam it. But then a creature from across the Wall arrives at her all-girls boarding school with a message from her father, the Abhorsen - the magical protector of the realm whose task it is to bind and send back to Death those that won't stay Dead. Sabriel's father has been trapped in Death by a dangerous Free Magic creature.

Armed with her…


Book cover of Ella Enchanted

Elise Stephens Why did I love this book?

I should begin by confessing that, way deep down, I’m a sappy romantic. This is a love story and a Cinderella retelling. I don’t typically read romance nor am I a big fan of the Cinderella story, but I adored this book! The interactions between Ella and Char are heartwarming and delightful. The storyline veers far enough from the Disney and storybook versions that I’ve read a thousand times, so things stay interesting. This book showed me that there is definitely room for fairy tale retellings as long as the characters stay strong, funny, and likable! Pretty darn sure that I was in love with Char by the time I finished reading!

By Gail Carson Levine,

Why should I read it?

8 authors picked Ella Enchanted as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it. This book is for kids age 8, 9, 10, and 11.

What is this book about?

ELLA ENCHANTED is a witty, refreshing take on the popular fairytale, Cinderella which preserves the spirit of the original but adds plenty of humorous twists and a spunky, intelligent female protagonist. "If you've read HARRY POTTER, try ELLA ENCHANTED" Publishers Weekly

Ella is given a blessing at birth by a very stupid fairy: She gets the gift of obedience! but the blessing turns into a horror for Ella who literally has to do what anyone and everyone tells her, from sweeping the floor to giving up a prrecious necklace! She has to battle with ogres and wicked stepsisters, make friends…


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The Others

By Evette Davis,

Book cover of The Others

Evette Davis Author Of Woman King

New book alert!

Why am I passionate about this?

I’ve worked in journalism, politics, and public policy for 30-plus years and watched as the extreme voices gained the most traction on either side of a debate. On social media, these minority views often dominate the discussion. 48 States is a stand-alone novel highlighting the problems of extremist viewpoints in a civil society. I also have another book series that features a political consultant who discovers she's a witch and joins a secret society that uses magic to manipulate elections to protect humanity. Bottom line: if I can’t fix political discourse for a living, I can write science fiction novels that contemplate how to do it.

Evette's book list on dystopian stories for the bada** feminist in us all

What is my book about?

True Blood meets Supernatural in the kickoff of this urban paranormal fantasy series from an acclaimed author. Readers enter a dystopian San Francisco filled with empaths and vampires embroiled in political unrest—and Book 1 is just the beginning.

Much as she wishes otherwise, superstar political consultant Olivia Shepherd was born a powerful empath. It’s a legacy she walked away from long ago—but when she wakes up one morning to find Elsa, a tenacious time-walker, standing in her kitchen, she realizes she can no longer ignore her gifts. She is quickly plunged into the hidden world of powerful “Others” and drafted…

The Others

By Evette Davis,

What is this book about?

True Blood meets Supernatural in the kickoff of this urban paranormal fantasy series from an acclaimed author. Readers enter a dystopian San Francisco filled with empaths and vampires embroiled in political unrest—and Book 1 is just the beginning.

Much as she wishes otherwise, superstar political consultant Olivia Shepherd was born a powerful empath. It’s a legacy she walked away from long ago—but when she wakes up one morning to find Elsa, a tenacious time-walker, standing in her kitchen, she realizes she can no longer ignore her gifts. She is quickly plunged into the hidden world of powerful “Others” and drafted…


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