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

The Books I Picked & Why

Assassin's Apprentice: The Farseer Trilogy Book 1

By Robin Hobb

Book cover of Assassin's Apprentice: The Farseer Trilogy Book 1

Why 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.

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Anansi Boys

By Neil Gaiman

Book cover of Anansi Boys

Why 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!

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An Illusion of Thieves

By Cate Glass

Book cover of An Illusion of Thieves

Why 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!

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By Garth Nix

Book cover of Sabriel

Why 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!

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Ella Enchanted

By Gail Carson Levine

Book cover of Ella Enchanted

Why 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!

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