The best fantasy books to break your heart

Who am I?

A lot of people feel intimidated by fantasy. Admittedly, the classics of the genre can be hard to get into, with their epic worldbuilding and thousand-page counts. But what made me fall in love with fantasy was the way it made me feel. Growing up queer, Jewish, fat, and chronically ill in the American South made it impossible for me to relate to the people around me. But fantasy, with its stories of outcasts becoming saviors, resonated with me. That’s why I started writing Queen of All when I was only twelve years old—I wanted to make people feel seen and understood. That’s what these books have done for me. 


I wrote...

Queen of All

By Anya Leigh Josephs,

Book cover of Queen of All

What is my book about?

In a Kingdom once filled with the magic of the Goddess Gaia, fourteen-year-old Jena has never left her family’s tiny, failing farm. With an absent mother and an inattentive father, Jena’s only solace is her cousin Sisi, a girl renowned throughout the Four Corners of the Earth for her indescribable beauty. But when a letter arrives for Sisi from Prince Ricard, the man Sisi suspects is responsible for the recent devastation across the lands, the two girls find themselves thrust into a world far more extravagant, and dangerous, than ever before.

With her cousin caught under the watchful eye of the Prince, it is up to Jena to uncover the history of the Kingdom and its forgotten magic. 

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of The Two Princesses of Bamarre

Anya Leigh Josephs Why did I love this book?

This fairytale fantasy for young readers is one of the most poignant books I have ever read, in any genre. My best friend, Emma, and I were both fans of Levine growing up. A few months ago, we realized we could both recite the epic poem that concludes this book word for word. Step follows step, hope follows courage. It’s a beautiful story of familial love, growing up and finding yourself, and grappling with the inevitability of illness and loss, all set in a delightfully adventurous fantasy world. The tone is playful and bright throughout, the message ultimately hopeful, but there’s no denying the heartbreak along the way.

By Gail Carson Levine,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked The Two Princesses of Bamarre as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it. This book is for kids age 10, 11, 12, and 13.

What is this book about?

Another fantasy adventure from the author of ELLA ENCHANTED. Two princesses in a kingdom of magic, evil and sorcerors. When Princess Meryl succumbs to the terrible Grey Death, can Princess Addie overcome her fears and embark on a dangerous quest to find the cure?

Princess Meryl and Princess Addie, two sisters as close as can be, are growing up in a world full of magic. When their mother dies of the terrible Grey Death, a mysterious illness for which there is no known cure, they must look after each other. Addie looks to Meryl for inspiration - her brave, lively…


Book cover of The Poppy War

Anya Leigh Josephs Why did I love this book?

The first book in a celebrated trilogy by R.F. Kuang, The Poppy War more than earns its fame with innovative worldbuilding, an absorbing and sometimes shocking plot, and beautifully concise writing. But the reason it’s on this list is the way it deals with an almost unimaginable horror, taken from our real world into the realm of fantasy in a way that neither sensationalizes nor diminishes history. I am a descendant of genocide survivors twice over, which makes Kuang’s ability to tell this kind of story especially resonant for me. 

By R. F. Kuang,

Why should I read it?

4 authors picked The Poppy War as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Winner of the Reddit Fantasy Award for Best Debut 2018

'The best fantasy debut of 2018' - WIRED

A brilliantly imaginative epic fantasy debut, inspired by the bloody history of China's twentieth century and filled with treachery and magic.

When Rin aced the Keju - the test to find the most talented students in the Empire - it was a shock to everyone: to the test officials, who couldn't believe a war orphan from Rooster Province could pass without cheating; to Rin's guardians, who had hoped to get rich by marrying her off; and to Rin herself, who realized she…


Book cover of Ptolemy's Gate

Anya Leigh Josephs Why did I love this book?

The conclusion to a charming middle-grade trilogy about a quick-witted demon named Bartimaeus, this book also depicts love and loss with an intensity and realism that resonates with readers of any age. I first read this book when I was about nine years old, eager to find out what would happen to the hilarious characters I’d loved so much in the first few books. I’ll never forget how hard I cried on that school bus home. I was just old enough to understand what that kind of loss would feel like, and still young enough to be moved by the story’s idealism and for the fantastical world to feel real for me. But I think, no matter who you are, this is a story at once heartbreaking and hilarious. 

By Jonathan Stroud,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Ptolemy's Gate as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it. This book is for kids age 9, 10, 11, and 12.

What is this book about?

The tremendous climax of the Bartimaeus sequence.

Three years on from the events in The Golem's Eye, the magicians' rule in London is teetering on a knife-edge, with strikes, riots and general unrest. The Prime Minister is largely controlled by two advisers, one of whom is 17-year-old Nathaniel. Meanwhile, living under a false identity, Kitty has been researching djinn; she has come to believe that the only way to destroy the magicians is with an alliance between djinn and ordinary people.

Kitty seeks out Bartimaeus and embarks on a terrifying journey into the djinn's chaotic domain - the Other Place…


Book cover of The Golden Compass

Anya Leigh Josephs Why did I love this book?

This book begins Pullman’s iconic His Dark Materials series. Originally published for adults, it’s become quite beloved by young readers as well, perhaps because it grasps the real feelings of coming of age better than any book I can think of: the burgeoning of sexuality, the struggle for identity, the recognition of mortality. I loved this book so much as a child that I named my favorite stuffed animal (a tiger that was given to me by my grandmother) Pantalaimon after the shape-shifting daemon in the book. The series’ ending is unforgettably poignant, but the scene that always makes me cry is when Lyra and Pan are nearly separated. This book really shows how real the stakes of fantasy can feel.

By Philip Pullman,

Why should I read it?

26 authors picked The Golden Compass as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it. This book is for kids age 10, 11, 12, and 13.

What is this book about?

The first volume in Philip Pullman's groundbreaking
HIS DARK MATERIALS trilogy, now a thrilling, critically
acclaimed BBC/HBO television series. First published
in 1995, and acclaimed as a modern masterpiece, this first
book in the series won the UK's top awards for children's literature.

"Without this child, we shall all
die."

Lyra Belacqua and her animal daemon live
half-wild and carefree among scholars of Jordan College, Oxford.

The destiny that awaits her will take her to the frozen lands
of the Arctic, where witch-clans reign and ice-bears fight.

Her extraordinary journey will have immeasurable consequences
far beyond her own world...



This…


Book cover of The Fifth Season

Anya Leigh Josephs Why did I love this book?

I can’t sing the praises of The Fifth Season highly enough. It’s a truly original and creative speculative fiction story, with an entirely original system of magic, and storytelling so complex it stands up to any of the great novels of literary fiction. I once taught this book in a college literature class on fantasy and more students wrote on Jemisin than on Tolkien or Ovid or Shakespeare. I truly believe it is one of the best books ever written. It is also supremely heavy, skillfully and thoroughly dealing with issues like slavery, domestic violence, bigotry, and much more. The Fifth Season will make you think about the world we live in, imagine possible futures, and also feel deeply for its diverse and compelling cast of characters.

By N. K. Jemisin,

Why should I read it?

24 authors picked The Fifth Season as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

At the end of the world, a woman must hide her secret power and find her kidnapped daughter in this "intricate and extraordinary" Hugo Award winning novel of power, oppression, and revolution. (The New York Times)

This is the way the world ends. . .for the last time.

It starts with the great red rift across the heart of the world's sole continent, spewing ash that blots out the sun. It starts with death, with a murdered son and a missing daughter. It starts with betrayal, and long dormant wounds rising up to fester.

This is the Stillness, a land…


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Terra Blanca - Insurrection: Gaia Prequel

By Zoe Routh,

Book cover of Terra Blanca - Insurrection: Gaia Prequel

Zoe Routh Author Of The Olympus Project

New book alert!

Who am I?

Author Leadership futurist Adventurist Former bellydancer Historical and speculative fiction nut Marathoner

Zoe's 3 favorite reads in 2023

What is my book about?

A test of leadership, loyalty, and legacy. Rylie Addison faces the greatest leadership challenge of her life. As climate change ravages the world, leaving millions displaced, Rylie is handpicked by the enigmatic Maja Garcia of Gaia Enterprises to govern Terra Blanca, an unprecedented man-made island community for climate refugees.

As the stakes rise and the fragile foundations of Terra Blanca begin to crumble, Rylie is forced to confront her own beliefs and faces a leadership decision that could change the course of history. Can she find the strength to make the right choice, or will her actions lead to the downfall of the very people she has vowed to protect?

Terra Blanca - Insurrection: Gaia Prequel

By Zoe Routh,

What is this book about?

Rylie Addison faces the greatest leadership challenge of her life. As climate change ravages the world, leaving millions displaced, Rylie is handpicked by the enigmatic Maja Garcia of Gaia Enterprises to govern Terra Blanca, an unprecedented man-made island community for climate refugees.


Thrust into a new world of power and responsibility, Rylie must navigate the treacherous waters of team dynamics and power struggles as she fights to make Terra Blanca a beacon of hope amidst the chaos. But her mission takes a sinister turn when a secret agent infiltrates the community, hell-bent on testing the innovative governance and social structures…


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