The best not-exactly-young-adult fantasy books for take-you-there worldbuilding, by an imaginer of worlds

The Books I Picked & Why

The Night Circus

By Erin Morgenstern

Book cover of The Night Circus

Why this book?

The Night Circus…where to begin? I can describe this book only as ‘delicious.’ The fact is, the plot itself does not drive the progression of the pages; instead, this book’s true magic lies in its descriptions. Its complete sensory immersion has no match, and Erin Morgenstern achieves this with such complexity and detail that the scenes seem to linger behind closed eyes. While the plot itself is scarcely a focal point, this poses no problem. Instead, the progression of events acts like the flavor of bourbon threading subtly through chocolate: captivating, yet in the background. A beautiful read, an enchanting read, The Night Circus will surely ensnare your imagination with its creativity and masterful execution.


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The Weight of Feathers

By Anna-Marie McLemore

Book cover of The Weight of Feathers

Why this book?

Another book remarkable for its descriptions, The Weight of Feathers combines the real world with enough distance and faint magic to make everything in it shimmer. Not everything makes perfect sense, and not everything needs to, because in Anne-Marie McLemore’s rewriting of the classic Romeo and Juliet love story, the taste of aguas frescas and the clinking of wind chimes make the otherworldly seem perfectly plausible. The Weight of Feathers is the sort of book that made me want to live in its world, to be privy to the hidden magic. The love story unfolds gradually as the deep cultures and subtle, colorful fantasy steal away the senses.


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This Savage Song

By Victoria Schwab

Book cover of This Savage Song

Why this book?

The world of This Savage Song is one of the most excellently-built settings I’ve ever seen in a Young Adult novel. From gritty grayness to sleek and veneer-thin wealth, Victoria Schwab’s City of Verity—complete with bone-crunching monsters, blood-sucking monsters, and soul-stealing monsters—pokes quietly at the truths of human society. It is not, however, a philosophical book; instead, it’s a fast-paced read of trust and disgust, expectations and reality, and, of course, some cold betrayal. The characters are addictive and individual, the plot compels the pages to turn, and sympathies are pulled in both directions as two people, polar opposites, must find a common ground to survive in a world where the monsters are not always the wicked ones. This Savage Song is the first of two books.


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An Ember in the Ashes

By Sabaa Tahir

Book cover of An Ember in the Ashes

Why this book?

Inspired by the culture of ancient Rome, An Ember in the Ashes is a story of two very different people forced into an unlikely alliance. With constant horrors (Sabaa Tahir pulls no punches) pressing grimly on each characters’ psyche, the similarities between the protagonists emerge with artful telling. The immersive world building and compelling characters lend the story its strength, and as the plot progresses, those protagonists, along with the reader, must dig deeper and deeper into Tahir’s stunning tangle of divided loyalties, slowly-emerging love, and impossible, gruesome decisions. The series unfolds from this book on, and Tahir introduces new characters and plot twists that will keep you captivated from beginning to end.


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A Court of Thorns and Roses

By Sarah J. Maas

Book cover of A Court of Thorns and Roses

Why this book?

Just a few pages into Sarah J. Maas’s A Court of Thorns and Roses, I was completely ensnared. With descriptive intricacies, a fully-fleshed culture, and frankly incredible character development, the series that begins with A Court of Thorns and Roses only seems to peak higher with each new book. Maas’s world of magic and deception hangs heavy with ancient cultural references (which I adore), and each new plot point weaves in with the last so that instead of a linear thread, the result at the end of the book is a tapestry. Quite frankly, in the days after reading A Court of Thorns and Roses series, I couldn’t center myself; I’d become so anchored to Maas’s world that the myth of the story held me more firmly than reality.


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