The best non-fantasy novels for fantasy readers

Gary Jonas Author Of Modern Sorcery: The First Jonathan Shade Novel
By Gary Jonas

The Books I Picked & Why

The Cowboy and the Cossack

By Clair Huffaker

Book cover of The Cowboy and the Cossack

Why this book?

This is one of my all-time favorite novels. A group of Montana cowboys must drive a herd of cattle across Russia in the early 1880s or a village will starve. You’re thinking, dude, this is Lonesome Dove set in Russia. Fair point, but this book came out a decade before the McMurtry novel. And in my humble opinion, it’s a better book. Yes, that’s a bold statement. The scenes are so beautifully written and executed, that you feel like you’re there. Fantasy readers will appreciate the clash of cultures as well as the coming-of-age story that gives the book its heart. I envy those of you who get to meet Levi, Shad, Rostov, and the rest for the first time. This is a book to be treasured and re-read.

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Doomsday Book

By Connie Willis

Book cover of Doomsday Book

Why this book?

Granted, it’s not a big stretch to go from fantasy to science fiction, and this amazing novel won both the Hugo Award and the Nebula Award. Connie Willis is one of the best writers in science fiction, and this is her masterpiece. It’s a time-travel story about a woman named Kivren who ends up stranded in the 14th century during the Black Death. Meanwhile, in the future, an influenza epidemic breaks out, and they’re afraid it may have come from sending Kivren back in time. I know, a charming selection during the time of Covid. But trust me, it’s an amazing novel, and deserves every award bestowed upon it. Fantasy readers will really appreciate the setting and characters. Don’t miss this one.

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The Killer Angels: The Classic Novel of the Civil War

By Michael Shaara

Book cover of The Killer Angels: The Classic Novel of the Civil War

Why this book?

This amazing Civil War novel blew me away. The viewpoints shift between the men and leaders on both the Union and Confederate sides. Friends facing friends across a battlefield. Moral dilemmas abound. What does it feel like to be in the heat of battle? This novel personalized the Battle of Gettysburg by diving into the hopes and dreams of the men who fought and died there. I can see why it won the Pulitzer Prize. Fantasy readers in particular will appreciate the battle scenes, but also the tactics and, as I seem to mention a lot in these notes, the depth of character. That’s something that all five of my selections share. Fiction is about folks.

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L.A. Requiem: An Elvis Cole and Joe Pike Novel

By Robert Crais

Book cover of L.A. Requiem: An Elvis Cole and Joe Pike Novel

Why this book?

This novel was a revelation to me. First, I’ll note that it’s a book in the Elvis Cole series, and the earlier novels were told in the first person (with a couple of exceptions for prologues). This book changed everything by going full-on multiple viewpoints, and in so doing, deepened the characters in amazing ways. It’s not necessary to read the earlier books to enjoy this one, but I predict you’ll get addicted to Crais and read all of them anyway. This novel will appeal to fantasy readers by reminding them how great books can affect us by awakening our humanity and letting us know we’re not alone in the world.

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The Brotherhood of the Rose

By David Morrell

Book cover of The Brotherhood of the Rose

Why this book?

On one level, this novel is about Chris and Saul, two orphans raised by Eliot, a CIA operative, to become world-class assassins. After an international incident, Eliot decides Chris and Saul must be eliminated. Solid and engaging on that level, of course. But on a deeper level, it’s about two young men who trust their “father,” the one person who ever cared about them, only to feel the sting of his betrayal rock them to their core. The emotion makes the action matter. Everything is personal. The accurate tradecraft, killer action, and depth of character all combine to make this one of my favorite books. Fantasy readers will appreciate the secret society aspect of the assassins as well as the amazing action set-pieces.

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