The best fantasy books with unusual portals to other worlds

Who am I?

Is there any genre so purely escapist as a portal fantasy adventure? I grew up on stories like these, devouring any book I could find that had a portal in it, from Alice in Wonderland to The Chronicles of Narnia to Tunnel in the Sky. Books, in a way, are portals to other places and times, and as a child I wandered through the stacks of the local library, plumbing the depths of every strange world I could get my hands on. If you want to experience the long-lost thrill of falling into a story, few do it like those that take their characters through portals to other worlds.


I wrote...

The Auriga Project

By M.G. Herron,

Book cover of The Auriga Project

What is my book about?

Caught in a quantum teleportation accident, archaeologist Eliana Fisk lands as a prisoner in an alternate Mayan world where nothing is as it seems. This imaginative complete trilogy will thrill fans of ancient civilizations, archaeological thrillers, and high-tech adventure!

The books I picked & why

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The Ten Thousand Doors of January

By Alix E. Harrow,

Book cover of The Ten Thousand Doors of January

Why this book?

Most people I know have already read the classics of portal fantasy—The Chronicles of Narnia, Alice in Wonderland, Tunnel in the Sky, John Carter of Mars.

But few have read the new breed of portal fantasy novelists—and let me tell, they are phenomenal.

Starting with this story by Alix E. Harrow which so skillfully takes characters from the same time period as the classics—the early- to mid-1900s—and masterfully weaves them into adventures that take readers in a new direction.

The Ten Thousand Doors of January has everything you love about The Chronicles of Narnia. A troubled young child—in this case adopted by a rich aristocrat—a cruel villain, and noble animals in great danger…

And, of course, a doorway to another world.

Ten thousand of them!

Harrow’s worlds aren’t covered in ice, but are full of sun and sailing and distant treasures. The wind on your face. A salty breeze.

This is a story about family, lost and found; about books and stories; about love and adventure.

A lyrical, richly layered novel you can get lost it. I highly recommend it.

The Ten Thousand Doors of January

By Alix E. Harrow,

Why should I read it?

6 authors picked The Ten Thousand Doors of January as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

"A gorgeous, aching love letter to stories, storytellers, and the doors they lead us through...absolutely enchanting."—Christina Henry, bestselling author of Alice and Lost Boys

LOS ANGELES TIMES BESTSELLER! Finalist for the 2020 Hugo, Nebula, Locus, and World Fantasy Awards. 

In the early 1900s, a young woman embarks on a fantastical journey of self-discovery after finding a mysterious book in this captivating and lyrical debut.

In a sprawling mansion filled with peculiar treasures, January Scaller is a curiosity herself. As the ward of the wealthy Mr. Locke, she feels little different from the artifacts that decorate the halls: carefully maintained, largely…


The Subtle Knife

By Philip Pullman,

Book cover of The Subtle Knife

Why this book?

Have you ever read a sequel that was better than the first novel?

The Subtle Knife is that book for me.

While it falls in the middle of the complete trilogy known as His Dark Materials, The Subtle Knife takes the story in a new direction by centering it on a knife with the power to cut a path between worlds.

The series follows young Lyra, her daemon Pantalaimon, and Will, a boy she meets who happens to be from a parallel universe. The worldbuilding of this series is some of the best I’ve ever seen, and it truly sets these books apart.

The concept revolves around how Lyra and Pantalaimon are connected. They are two creatures who share a soul. Lyra’s a person, and Pantalaimon is her daemon (think “soul made manifest”) with the power to transform into a fox, hawk, lizard—or any animal he so chooses. At least until Lyra becomes an adult, at which point her demon’s form will “settle.”

What’s important is that the two share thoughts and feelings, and cannot be physically separated without risking death. Everyone in Lyra’s world has a daemon. However, her companion, Will, doesn’t.

I won’t spoil any more other than to say the result is a heartbreaking adventure that takes Lyra and her friends far, far, far away from home.

HBO has adapted these books into a limited-run TV series that fulfilled the vision and really brings the portals, those doorways between worlds that are the hallmark of this book, to life.

The Subtle Knife

By Philip Pullman,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Subtle Knife as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

From the world of Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials - now a major critically acclaimed BBC series.

She had asked: What is he? A friend or an enemy?
The alethiometer answered: He is a murderer.
When she saw the answer, she relaxed at once.

Lyra finds herself in a shimmering, haunted otherworld - Cittagazze, where soul-eating Spectres stalk the streets and wingbeats of distant angels sound against the sky.

But she is not without allies: twelve-year-old Will Parry, fleeing for his life after taking another's, has also stumbled into this strange new realm.

On a perilous journey from world to…


A Door Into Time: An Alex Hawk Time Travel Adventure

By Shawn Inmon,

Book cover of A Door Into Time: An Alex Hawk Time Travel Adventure

Why this book?

When a retired army infantryman knocks down a double brick wall in the basement of his new house, he discovers a doorway and a note pinned on the other side.

Fastened by a knife, the note tells the story of a man who lost his son in this portal. He bricked it up so no one would have to suffer as he has.

Does our soldier listen? Of course not.

Alex Hawke doesn’t go through the doorway unprepared, but he is certainly not ready for what he finds.

A tribe of giants who don't speak a lick of English. 

Massive pterodactyl-like creatures that make a concerted effort to quarter and eat him.

All Alex was trying to do by removing that brick wall was make his new house into a home for his young daughter.

Instead, he finds himself pulled through into another world, forced into the adventure of a lifetime.

Written in a personable, conversational tone, and full of fast-paced action and one of the most realistic tribal cultures I’ve come across in a portal novel, I think you’ll enjoy it immensely.

A Door Into Time: An Alex Hawk Time Travel Adventure

By Shawn Inmon,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked A Door Into Time as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Not all guys obsess over tiny details……but Army Special Forces do.The wall just didn’t look right.Alex has been trying to cope. Life after his deployment had been rough. His ex-wife thought he needed to stop disappointing their daughter. She was right.He would try harder.With six hours before his little girl’s fourth birthday party, he saw the anomaly. One wall was too short. Plenty of time to tear out a panel and look behind it.He found a brick wall.His house wasn’t made of brick.Behind that was another just like the first. He still had time. When the second wall came down,…


The Paths Between Worlds: This Alien Earth Book One

By Paul Antony Jones,

Book cover of The Paths Between Worlds: This Alien Earth Book One

Why this book?

The doorway in this novel is a departure from the usual.

And though it is unusual, yet it ties to humankind's fascination with portals.

The first portal in storytelling history, really, is the threshold a person must pass through to get from life to death.

That threshold has been epitomized in mythology as long as human beings have been using stories to explain the strangeness of existence.

In this sci-fi story, death is once again the portal between worlds. What would you do if, right before you died, an alien entity asks if you’d like to be saved?

Would you do it?

That’s exactly what happens to Meredith Gale. She regrets jumping off that bridge, so she says yes.

The story that follows is surprising and witty and full of heart. A friendly robot pulls the girl from the sea, along with a dozen others like her, every one of them snatched from the jaws of death.

The world in which she finds herself is not like any Earth she knows. Is it Earth at all? The sun is a different color. The world is unrecognizable. Her unlikely companions seem to be from all places and times. They’re strangely familiar in unexpected ways, but only a few of them speak the same language.

This book is an unlikely portal fantasy, but the hallmarks of the trope are very much present. Jones recycles them in fun new ways.

The Paths Between Worlds: This Alien Earth Book One

By Paul Antony Jones,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Paths Between Worlds as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Welcome Children of Earth. Do not be afraid.
After a devastating car crash leaves her addicted to pills and her best friend dead, Meredith Gale has finally been pushed to her breaking point. Ending her life seems like the only way out, and that choice has left her dangling by her fingertips from a bridge above the freezing water of the San Francisco Bay.

But someone, or some thing, has other plans for Meredith. As her fingers slip from the cold steel of the bridge, a disembodied voice ask her a simple question: “Candidate 13: Do you wish to be…


The Mirror Empire

By Kameron Hurley, Richard Anderson (illustrator),

Book cover of The Mirror Empire

Why this book?

The other novels I’ve listed here are optimistic, hopeful stories.

This one takes us on a dark and bloody path.

In The Mirror Empire, two nearly identical worlds populated by violent people and sentient (also violent!) plants are at war with each other.

The only doorway between them is powered by blood.

The limitations of this concept are fascinating. Since the worlds are duplicates of each other, each person who lives in one world has a copy of themselves living in the other.

The twist? A person can only cross to the other side if their imposter is dead.

Talk about consequences!

This novel is incredibly bloody and full of betrayal. It’s violent, but the intense action had my eyes pinned open late into the night. 

The Mirror Empire is often gory and frequently shocking, but two things are for sure: You won’t be able to predict what’s going to happen next, and you definitely won’t get bored.

The Mirror Empire

By Kameron Hurley, Richard Anderson (illustrator),

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Mirror Empire as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

From the award-winning author of God's War comes a stunning new series...

On the eve of a recurring catastrophic event known to extinguish nations and reshape continents, a troubled orphan evades death and slavery to uncover her own bloody past... while a world goes to war with itself.

In the frozen kingdom of Saiduan, invaders from another realm are decimating whole cities, leaving behind nothing but ash and ruin. As the dark star of the cataclysm rises, an illegitimate ruler is tasked with holding together a country fractured by civil war, a precocious young fighter is asked to betray his…


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