The best indie fantasy books that survived my gruelling test

Jefferson Smith Author Of Strange Places
By Jefferson Smith

Who am I?

As host of ImmerseOrDie, I've tested over 600 indie novels so far, searching for books that can hold me in their spell for at least 40 minutes. Unfortunately, self-publishing is rife with the quirks and gaffs that burst such glamours: bad spelling, bad formatting, ludicrous dialogue... Even allowing three failures before bailing, only 9% survived. And reading those to completion whittled the herd still further. So here then are the surviving 1%. A glittering few, plucked from the muck so that you don't have to. I don't promise you'll love them, but I do make one guarantee: they do not suck. And in the Swamps of Indie, that is high praise indeed.

I wrote...

Strange Places

By Jefferson Smith,

Book cover of Strange Places

What is my book about?

Unlovable. That's what they call her. According to the nuns who run the orphanage, girls like Tayna, with minds of their own, are too unruly to ever be loved. So they're put to work in the kitchens and never shown to the wanna-dads and mommy-bes who might offer them a loving home.

But that all changes when Tayna learns that her entire life has been built on a lie. Her parents are still alive! Only they're trapped in a world of magic and now it's up to her to rescue them. All she has to do is escape her nunnish prison, find her way into that secret world, and lead a rescue mission. But compared to being a slave? This oughta be a piece of cake.

The books I picked & why

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Pilgrim of the Storm

By Russ Linton,

Book cover of Pilgrim of the Storm

Why this book?

Everybody loves a good underdog tale, but by my lights, the best underdogs are the ones who aren't even human. So I really connected to Linton's insectoid hero, Sidge. Born a slave but valiantly trying to make a better life among his human "betters," Sidge rises above their constant abuse, confidant that if he can just prove himself, they will finally accept him. But to do that, he'll have to survive a perilous journey. And unfortunately, it's being led by the very people who hate him most. Good luck, Sidge. You're going to need it.

The Whirlwind in the Thorn Tree

By S.A. Hunt,

Book cover of The Whirlwind in the Thorn Tree

Why this book?

Most fantasies are set in a quasi-medieval landscape, but Hunt has chosen a deliciously different canvas: the Wild West. His hero is Ross, the estranged son of a famous fantasy author. When dear old dad is murdered, Ross grudgingly attends the funeral organized by the fantasy geeks and role-playing nerds who loved the old man's books. That much, he can handle. But being told that the fantastical world described in those books is real? No way! That disbelief is shattered, though, when Ross himself crosses over and is quickly drawn into the hunt for his father's killer in a nightmare world of gunslingers and monsters where the rules make no sense.

And to make matters worse: he hasn't read the books.

Rust: One

By Christopher Ruz,

Book cover of Rust: One

Why this book?

What would you get if Stephen King fathered a love-child on the corpse of HP Lovecraft? You'd get Rust, a full-throated scream of confusion and despair expressed in the chaotic afterlife of one Kimberley Archer. Is she single and dead? Or is she trapped in a living hell populated by the devoted husband and loving child she cannot remember knowing? This one creeped me out completely.

The Journeyman: The Commons, Book 1

By Michael Alan Peck,

Book cover of The Journeyman: The Commons, Book 1

Why this book?

The life of a homeless teen is pretty dark. But for Paul Reid, his life is nothing compared to his death. After being taken out by an untimely accident, Paul finds himself caught in a war between the forces of light and dark. Unfortunately, the forces of darkness are winning, and light doesn't seem to care.

This is a horrifying vision of an afterlife run by a faceless bureaucracy, where a newly dead young man will have to defeat all the forces of evil, just for a chance to rest in peace.

Catskinner's Book: The Book of Lost Doors

By Misha Burnett,

Book cover of Catskinner's Book: The Book of Lost Doors

Why this book?

The books that grab me most firmly are the ones where the premise itself gets me in a headlock and screams: "READ ME!" at the top of its lungs while twisting my ear until I give in. Case in point: Catskinner's Book.

After years of failure, long-time loser James Ozwrycke has finally assembled a life. Sort of. He's got a tiny apartment and a crappy job, which might not be much to you, but it's enough to pay the bills and fuel his video game habit, and that's the best life James has ever known. So how did he manage to score this skid row utopia? By entering an unusual agreement. All he has to do is let a demon use his body every now and then. You know, to kill people. But that's not so bad. Is it?

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