The best books set in a modern fantasy world

The Books I Picked & Why

Three Parts Dead

By Max Gladstone

Three Parts Dead

Why this book?

I’m drawn to fantasy stories set in modern-day analogues because I’m fascinated to see the ways that having magic and monsters as a fact of life would shape a world from the ground up. I’m particularly interested in the impact on more mundane matters like legal contracts and labor disputes. Perhaps no one dives into this topic with as much gusto as Max Gladstone. In Three Parts Dead, we meet necromantic lawyers and witness the legal and practical repercussions of a god’s death. In lesser hands, this could easily slump into tedious details, or the intricacies might be forgotten in an attempt to ramp up the action. But Gladstone finds the perfect balance, keeping abstract concepts engaging while presenting action scenes that carry true consequences. The city of Alt Coulumb is one of my favorite fantasy settings, and the entire Craft Sequence is well-worth reading.


When you buy a book we may earn a small commission.

Amberlough (The Amberlough Dossier Book 1)

By Lara Elena Donnelly

Amberlough (The Amberlough Dossier Book 1)

Why this book?

Oh, man… I love this book so much! Donnelly writes the kind of prose that makes me jealous. I frequently stop and go back, rereading her words just to savor the imagery and effortless flow. Characterizations are rich and full, not only for the leads but also for the background characters. Now, I need to point out that there is no magic in this book, so if you’re looking for dragons and lightning bolts, it won’t scratch that itch. But Amberlough feels like a proper fantasy world, and that earns it a place on this list. if you enjoy the encroaching global conflict of Lord of the Rings, but also love John LeCarre and Cabaret, Amberlough is the perfectly-blended cocktail you’ve been looking for.


When you buy a book we may earn a small commission.

Jade City

By Fonda Lee

Jade City

Why this book?

As much as I love seeing fantasy worlds grappling with legal and political realities, I’m also fascinated by the question of fantasy crime. If you feel the same way, then you’ll be happy to hear that Fonda Lee’s Green Bone Saga is The Godfather retold with magic. It’s a story of family power struggles, preternaturally-enhanced abilities, and carefully-crafted action. I’m astonished at how clearly Lee’s scenes unfold in my mind, making them easy to follow even during the most frenetic of action sequences. I’m not the only one blown away by this series -- Jade City has won wide acclaim, including a World Fantasy Award and being included on Time Magazine’s list of Top 100 Fantasy Books of all Time. 


When you buy a book we may earn a small commission.

Shrouded Loyalties

By Reese Hogan

Shrouded Loyalties

Why this book?

Shrouded Loyalties combines post-war intrigue with submarine warfare and Lovecraftian terrors. Everything in this book is awesome, but the two aspects I love the most sit at opposite ends of the realism spectrum. In the realm of the fantastic, Hogan’s creatures are terrifyingly other-worldly, and the prose masterfully switches between revelation and shadow, underlining just how deeply frightening these beings are. But the book also shines in its very down-to-earth depiction of relationships fraught with trust issues, as characters find themselves wrapped in layers of wishful thinking, old grudges, and external propaganda.

Hogan is a master of showing how conflicts can arise when both sides believe they’re in the right. The players in Shrouded Loyalties are all doing the best they can, even if that brings them into deadly conflict with those they care most about. 


When you buy a book we may earn a small commission.

The Iron Dragon's Daughter

By Michael Swanwick

The Iron Dragon's Daughter

Why this book?

I’m a sucker for fantasy blended with industrial strife. In Michael Swanwick’s Jane, we see a character trapped in an industrialized fairy-world, forced to work in a factory building bio-mechanical dragons. The Iron Dragon’s Daughter blends biting social commentary with a thoughtful coming-of-age narrative, resulting in a powerful story that’s accumulated a stack of award wins and nominations. 


When you buy a book we may earn a small commission.

Closely Related Book Lists

Distantly Related Book Lists

Random Book Lists