The best fantasy novels that showcase the power of stories

Who am I?

I've always loved stories. After years of observing the importance of stories, and their role in creating our reality, the determination to write my own clicked into place. Storytelling is very much at the heart of my first novel, Strange Gods. Strange Gods features a multiverse of powerful gods, but humans still stand out for their ability to tell self-defining stories. From the inciting incident where Carcass kidnaps Spooky to be his storyteller, to the decisions she makes along her journey, the stories Spooky tells others and herself determine her outcomes. I hope the books on this list inspire you to reflect on the power of any stories you tell, as they've inspired me. 

I wrote...

Strange Gods

By Alison Kimble,

Book cover of Strange Gods

What is my book about?

Spooky arrives at a wilderness boot camp for troubled teens with two suitcases and an ultimatum: either she stays out of trouble over the summer, or she won't be allowed home at the end of it. But when an encounter with another camper goes awry and ends with Spooky hiding in the woods, trouble finds her. Something ancient and powerful has sent out feelers, hoping to catch a human alone. For its purposes, even a delinquent teen will do.

If Spooky wants to survive to see any kind of future, she will have to figure out how to gain leverage over a god. And as if the one wasn't bad enough, a pantheon of dark entities are lining up between her and the life she's always wanted....

The books I picked & why

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By Seanan McGuire,

Book cover of Middlegame

Why this book?

So many fantasy worlds repeat familiar settings, characters, and types of magic. Middlegame delights because it is so different. I couldn’t encapsulate all of it in a single sentence, but to peel back some of the weird layers: alchemists give universal concepts like Good and Evil semi-human forms in a race to control them and attain godhood. This ties into the theme of storytelling because McGuire reframes historic literary greats like Mark Twain as alchemists, who are intentionally creating and changing the nature of the world with their books. If that isn’t a powerful image of a storyteller, I don’t know what is. 

A Monster Calls

By Patrick Ness, Siobhan Dowd, Jim Kay (illustrator)

Book cover of A Monster Calls

Why this book?

This is a quick and heartfelt read that explores loss, love, and truth. It centers around Conor, a boy with a sick mother, who is struggling with bullies in school. One night, a monster visits him, demanding his truth. Throughout their encounters, the monster tells Conor original stories that smack with all the weight of ancient fables. It offers a classic story-within-the-story that helps Conor understand his circumstances through new eyes and access a deeper part of himself

Anansi Boys

By Neil Gaiman,

Book cover of Anansi Boys

Why this book?

This follow-up to American Gods once again puts ancient gods in the modern world, but you don’t have to have read the first book to jump in. American Gods centers on Shadow, the son of Odin, while Anansi Boys focuses on the children of the trickster god, Anansi. Anansi is a classic storyteller, who fooled the animal god Tiger into giving him ownership of all stories. This book is all things you would expect from Gaiman—clever, humorous, and mythic. And it directly analyzes the power and purpose of storytelling, giving readers a rare glimpse into a storyteller’s toolbox

The Hazel Wood

By Melissa Albert,

Book cover of The Hazel Wood

Why this book?

I read The Hazel Wood while writing my own book, and the vibe immediately struck me as similar. It takes the protagonist, Alice, on a journey between our world and a world of dark, original fairytales, where stories are the very fabric of the universe. The more entangled the story becomes in the fairytale world, the more the book itself reads like feels like a dream, with events unfolding unpredictably as we learn the rules of the new world and what the characters from it want. 

Mistborn: The Final Empire

By Brandon Sanderson,

Book cover of Mistborn: The Final Empire

Why this book?

Mistborn might not have as much of a direct link to storytelling, but in addition to this flat-out being one of my favorite series, it does give an important role to ancient stories. In the Mistborn series, current characters are trying to decipher truths about their magic system from ancient texts and relics, with imperfect results. It employs the worthy trick George R.R. Martin pulls again and again in A Song of Ice and Fire—it treats myth, legend, and prophecy as unreliable information sources. This not only creates exciting conflict but is also realistic—goodness knows humans love to make up stories, whether or not they are true. 

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