The best fantasy books that show that our own world, too, is a wildly different place than you think

Who am I?

My favorite books all show me that reality is much, much richer and stranger than it seems. And that is exactly what makes me write myself. Already as a child, I wanted the world to be different. I longed for the other, richer realities that were, I felt, just around the corner. So I started to travel, to Senegal and beyond, and learn about other people’s life experiences. When I became a researcher of world literature, it truly came home to me how one-sided my view of the world was. Ouch. Fortunately, there is a wealth of stories out there to tell us about everything we have been blind to. 


I wrote...

The Dream Merchant

By Isabel Hoving, Hester Velmans (translator),

Book cover of The Dream Merchant

What is my book about?

Josh Cope is a bit of a dreamer... who sometimes steals things. Otherwise, he's just your average boy. So why is an international corporation calling him in the middle of the night, insisting that he come and work for them? Why would they be so convinced that Josh is the key to conquering their new market—the past? Drawn into this astonishing, whirlwind adventure, Josh soon finds himself in the middle of a nightmare, caught in a place between dreams and reality. For Josh and his friends to find their way back, they must follow a trail that takes them right into the very heart of the human imagination—and to the furthest ends of time itself.

Shepherd is reader supported. When you buy books, we may earn an affiliate commission.

The books I picked & why

Pet

By Akwaeke Emezi,

Book cover of Pet

Why did I love this book?

Akwaeke Emezi’s Pet is an emotional wave that will engulf you. When a nation has freed itself of the monsters that terrorized it, an angel appears: there is still one monster left. The novel’s young hero has to help track it down and destroy it. I have never encountered a more breathtaking expression of the rage and pain caused by abuse. Pets avenging angel is sublime. It says—in its sheer force alone—what we, in our world, often cannot put into words.

By Akwaeke Emezi,

Why should I read it?

4 authors picked Pet as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

How do you save the world from monsters if no one will admit they exist?

She stumbled backwards, her eyes wide, as the figure started coming out of the canvas
...
She tried to be brave. Well, she said, her hands only a little shaky, at least tell me what I should call you.
...
Well, little girl, it replied, I suppose you can call me Pet.

There are no more monsters anymore, or so the children in the city of Lucille are taught. With doting parents and a best friend named Redemption, Jam has grown up with this lesson…


The Order of Time

By Carlo Rovelli,

Book cover of The Order of Time

Why did I love this book?

Carlos Rovelli’s The Order of Time is not at all a fantasy book—it is science—but nevertheless the most inspiring, life changing fantasy I’ve ever read. If I look around me with scientist Rovelli’s eyes, I too see that “the world is made up of networks of kisses, not of stones.” Beautiful, weird, and scientifically accurate. True fantasy! 

By Carlo Rovelli,

Why should I read it?

5 authors picked The Order of Time as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

THE #1 SUNDAY TIMES BESTSELLER

One of TIME's Ten Best Nonfiction Books of the Decade

'Captivating, fascinating, profoundly beautiful. . . Rovelli is a wonderfully humane, gentle and witty guide for he is as much philosopher and poet as he is a scientist' John Banville

'We are time. We are this space, this clearing opened by the traces of memory inside the connections between our neurons. We are memory. We are nostalgia. We are longing for a future that will not come'

Time is a mystery that does not cease to puzzle us. Philosophers, artists and poets have long explored…


Dawn

By Octavia E. Butler,

Book cover of Dawn

Why did I love this book?

Octavia Butler’s classic trilogy Lilith’s Brood is shocking and sad and strangely funny too. Humanity has all but destroyed itself, but a wise, benevolent alien race saves a few survivors—and tells them that they would be happy to help humanity survive by making babies with them. Very generous, indeed; but unfortunately, the aliens are horrendous monsters. This made me realize with a shock how much we, too, see newness and change often as monstrous, even if we know that clinging to the old will lead to self-destruction. I cannot think of a more topical story.

By Octavia E. Butler,

Why should I read it?

7 authors picked Dawn as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

'One of the most significant literary artists of the twentieth century' JUNOT DIAZ

'Octavia Butler was playing out our very real possibilities as humans. I think she can help each of us to do the same' GLORIA STEINEM

One woman is called upon to reconstruct humanity in this hopeful, thought-provoking novel by the bestselling, award-winning author. For readers of Margaret Atwood, Toni Morrison and Ursula K. Le Guin.

When Lilith lyapo wakes in a small white room with no doors or windows, she remembers a devastating war, and a husband and child long lost to her.

She finds herself living…


The Cloud Roads

By Martha Wells,

Book cover of The Cloud Roads

Why did I love this book?

This series—just start with The Cloud Roadsbrings you to The Three Worlds, a world brimming with intelligent life in all possible forms and sizes. Our heroes, the Raksura, are shapeshifters that seem a fantastic cross between bees and proud vultures, living happily in their unusual, close-knit families, in colonies ruled by warrior-queens. Read the series, and you will look at your non-human fellow beings with new eyes: aren’t they, too, sensitive and intelligent people? And you may wonder if there aren’t, in our world too, unusual family arrangements like those of the Raksura—don’t we stick too much to our own notion of family as the only one possible, perhaps?  

By Martha Wells,

Why should I read it?

4 authors picked The Cloud Roads as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Nominated for the 2018 Hugo Award for Best Series. "Wells...merrily ignores genre conventions as she spins an exciting adventure around an alien hero who anyone can identify with."-Publishers Weekly, Starred Review

Moon has spent his life hiding what he is - a shape-shifter able to transform himself into a winged creature of flight.

An orphan with only vague memories of his own kind, Moon tries to fit in among the tribes of his river valley, with mixed success. Just as Moon is once again cast out by his adopted tribe, he discovers a shape-shifter like himself . . . someone…


Fool's Fate

By Robin Hobb,

Book cover of Fool's Fate

Why did I love this book?

There is so much to love, perhaps in the first place, the bond between tragic hero Fitz and the irresistible Fool. But even more moving is that the series shows you how deeply human beings can be bonded to non-human beings. The world is so much alive that even wood harbours intelligence; and even if human beings arrogantly fail to acknowledge it, there are more magnificent intelligent creatures around than human beings. This series makes me all the more aware of the broken beauty of our own nature, and the need to take good care of it.

By Robin Hobb,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Fool's Fate as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The triumphant conclusion to our three thrilling fantasy series, from the author of the bestselling Farseer and Liveship traders trilogies.

The triumphant conclusion to the tale of the Farseers, in which kingdoms must stand or fall on the beat of a dragon's wings, or a Fool's heart.

A small and sadly untried coterie - the old assassin Chade, the serving-boy Thick, Prince Dutiful, and his reluctant Skillmaster, Fitz - sail towards the distant island of Aslevjal. There they must fulfil the Narcheska's challenge to her betrothed: to lay the head of the dragon Icefyre, whom legends tell is buried there…


You might also like...

One Giant Leap

By Ben Gartner,

Book cover of One Giant Leap

Ben Gartner Author Of The Eye of Ra

New book alert!

Who am I?

I love to read a good action-adventure story. I’ve also written a few. And I know that no matter how high the stakes, if there’s no heart in the characters then there’s very little engagement to make it any more memorable than a temporary thrill. I love thrills, but the stories that stick with you after the excitement of the moment is over, those are the true gems. Besides the fun of reading that type of book, maybe you even learn something about yourself or the world and come out a wee bit wiser than when you went in. And isn’t that a fantastic use of our imaginative powers?!

Ben's book list on new action-packed middle grade with heart

What is my book about?

I’m pretty sure I’m about to die in space. And I just turned twelve and a half.

Blast off with the four winners of the StellarKid Project on a trip to the International Space Station and then to the Gateway outpost orbiting the Moon! It’s a dream come true until space junk collides with the ISS, turning their epic trip into a nightmare of survival. Alone aboard the Aether starship, the kids have to work as a team to save the adults before the ISS is destroyed. Suit up, cadet, and launch into adventure with One Giant Leap!

By Ben Gartner,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked One Giant Leap as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

I’m pretty sure I’m about to die in space. And I just turned twelve and a half.

Blast off with the four winners of the StellarKid Project on a trip to the International Space Station and then to the Gateway outpost orbiting the Moon! It’s a dream come true until space junk collides with the ISS, turning their epic trip into a nightmare of survival. Alone aboard the Aether starship, the kids have to work as a team to save the adults before the ISS is destroyed. Suit up, cadet, and launch into adventure with One Giant Leap!

Praise for…


5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in magical realism, isolation, and extraterrestrial life?

9,000+ authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about magical realism, isolation, and extraterrestrial life.

Magical Realism Explore 366 books about magical realism
Isolation Explore 19 books about isolation
Extraterrestrial Life Explore 199 books about extraterrestrial life