The best fantasy books to defy the genre

Nick Alimonos Author Of The Princess of Aenya
By Nick Alimonos

Who am I?

Since before I could write my name, I’ve felt the need to put pen to paper. As a child, I needed a cassette tape recorder to get my fiction out there. I am pretty sure I have a small universe swelling like a tumor in my brain, and if I don’t disseminate the words that make up that world, it’ll grow and grow until it kills me. But I most want to move people with words; that’s where the magic of storytelling lies. I want my readers to come away from the page feeling like they’ve had a genuine experience the way only a great story can offer. 

I wrote...

The Princess of Aenya

By Nick Alimonos,

Book cover of The Princess of Aenya

What is my book about?

Radia was born with a power she does not understand, an empathic connection to Nature that may lead to the destruction of all she holds dear, her life and her people.

Tyrnael once served as the capital of Aenya, but the kingdom declines over the ages and its advanced technology is lost to the pages of myth. Centuries pass when Radia's father dies and she inherits the throne of the once-fabled city. Innocent to the cruelties of the world beyond her ivory tower, she is helpless when her adopted brother, Zaibos, seizes control in a violent coup. While the suffering of her people ravages her soul, her lone protector, Demacharon, forces her to flee, knowing the new king will destroy her if she remains. 

The books I picked & why

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Watership Down

By Richard Adams,

Book cover of Watership Down

Why this book?

I had a pet rabbit that died when I was a kid. Ever since then, I’ve had an affinity for small hopping mammals. So, when an animated film about rabbits popped on my TV screen, I was hooked. But the book the movie is based on, Watership Down, is so much deeper than your average children’s yarn. It’s one of those books that forces you to ask, “how did something like this get published?” While seemingly meant for children, Richard Adams tackles heavy-handed material like war, death, and love—and he does it all through the eyes of rabbits. I have to admit that the end of the book—this unassuming book about animals and their struggles—had me tearing up, and that’s a rare thing for me.

The Neverending Story

By Michael Ende, Ralph Manheim (translator),

Book cover of The Neverending Story

Why this book?

On the surface, The Neverending Story is a fun adventure with a wonderfully unique and imaginative setting. But what truly makes this book stand apart is the depth of meaning buried in its prose. Michael Ende’s masterpiece is so much more than it first appears, offering the reader a lot more to think about and many more feels than the simplified movie adaptation. The Neverending Story is, in essence, a story about storytelling, demonstrating how and why it changes us and the world we live in.

Cloud Atlas

By David Mitchell,

Book cover of Cloud Atlas

Why this book?

Admittedly, Cloud Atlas isn’t for everyone. But for readers who appreciate the beauty of language, Mitchell’s epic is a literary marvel. Part historical fiction, part Sci-Fi, Cloud Atlas weaves a parable spanning generations of human history. Through the eyes of his varied protagonists, who may or may not be the same reincarnated soul, Mitchell demonstrates the failings and triumphs of humanity. It’s a book that’ll make you question everything you think you know, and it might just make you a better person. 

The Last Unicorn

By Peter S. Beagle,

Book cover of The Last Unicorn

Why this book?

I loved this book so much, I pay homage to it in my own book, adopting the unicorn character, Amalthea, that Radia rides in the story.

Like Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings, Peter S. Beagle conjures a myth that seems to have originated from deep within our subconscious memories. But this is no plodding pseudo-history, no world-building treatise like so many fantasy writers strive to write these days. Thankfully, Beagle delivers fairy-tale storytelling in its purest form. The Last Unicorn brims with magic and adventure and heroics, but it’s also a kind of meta-fiction. Like The Princess Bride and The Neverending Story, the characters are aware of their fictional roles. Yet, The Last Unicorn is much more subtle in breaking the fourth wall. Powerfully moving and bitter-sweet, Beagle’s fable shows us why unicorns, and other mythic icons, resonate with us so profoundly.

Mythago Wood

By Robert Holdstock,

Book cover of Mythago Wood

Why this book?

Like other books on my list, Robert Holdstock’s Mythago Wood suggests there’s a hidden reality to our dreams, that folk and fairy tales hold meaning for us because they call to mind a shared storytelling history. Goblins and ghosts and dragons reflect our fears. Heroes mirror our greater aspirations. Writing has always meant more to me than entertainment; a great story, told well, gives our lives a sense of place and purpose, and Mythago Wood taps into that mythmaking power in a beautiful way.    

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