The best books that will make you feel lost and obsessed by a haunted world

Why am I passionate about this?

I’m Vajra Chandrasekera, from Colombo, Sri Lanka. I’m a writer, and more importantly, a reader. My favourite kind of book is bigger on the inside, the kind that drops you into a world too big and too weird to really get a handle on, a world that’s strange in ways you feel you recognize, like how sometimes you wake up from a dream and think, I’ve dreamed about that place and those people before, but you can’t tell if you have, or whether you dreamed the memory, too. You read the book and look at the world and you ask yourself: Did I dream those people, that place? Or is this the dream?


I wrote...

Book cover of The Saint of Bright Doors

What is my book about?

When Fetter was born, his mother tore his shadow away and raised him as a weapon to kill his sainted father. Now Fetter, who grew up seeing devils and antigods that no one else could see, wants only to be free of the destinies his parents have given and taken from him. He finds his way to a city of mysterious doors, where no one cares about his lost shadow or his scars, where he might find companionship, even love—but the world is more full of monsters than he ever knew, and some of them are family.

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of Piranesi

Vajra Chandrasekera Why did I love this book?

A house that is not a house but a world; a drowning, empty, echoing world with one lonely, endearingly innocent wanderer, endless statues, occasional birds—and the remains of the dead.

Dreamlike but lucid, sharp enough to cut, Piranesi is a relatively slim book (you could read it in one deeply absorbed afternoon) but the world it evokes is vast.

It sounds like distant seabirds as heard from a dark room, and it tastes salty, like blood or the sea.

By Susanna Clarke,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Winner of the 2021 Women's Prize for Fiction
A SUNDAY TIMES & NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER

The spectacular new novel from the bestselling author of JONATHAN STRANGE & MR NORRELL, 'one of our greatest living authors' NEW YORK MAGAZINE
__________________________________
Piranesi lives in the House. Perhaps he always has.

In his notebooks, day after day, he makes a clear and careful record of its wonders: the labyrinth of halls, the thousands upon thousands of statues, the tides that thunder up staircases, the clouds that move in slow procession through the upper halls. On Tuesdays and Fridays Piranesi sees his friend,…


Book cover of A Stranger in Olondria

Vajra Chandrasekera Why did I love this book?

I think everyone finds themselves helpless to describe this book without using some synonym of “rich”—it’s a story thick with stories, about what it means to tell and be told stories.

Olondria brims with the literary history of a world that doesn’t exist—but of course, it does exist, both in the sense that all stories about other worlds are about our own (having been written in it and therefore inescapably pointing at it) and in the more literal sense that it’s right there on the page in black and white, in words and silences.

And Olondria is about exactly that: the magic and the violence of reading, and a ghost trying to tell a stranger a story, which is just what writing and reading are like.

By Sofia Samatar,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked A Stranger in Olondria as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Jevick, the pepper merchant's son, has been raised on stories of Olondria, a distant land where books are as common as they are rare in his home. When his father dies and Jevick takes his place on the yearly selling trip to Olondria, Jevick's life is as close to perfect as he can imagine. But just as he revels in Olondria's Rabelaisian Feast of Birds, he is pulled drastically off course and becomes haunted by the ghost of an illiterate young girl. In desperation, Jevick seeks the aid of Olondrian priests and quickly becomes a pawn in the struggle between…


Book cover of Amatka

Vajra Chandrasekera Why did I love this book?

You know how you go somewhere you’ve never been and you feel hollow in your bones, like you’re more fragile there, you might blow away in a strong wind or just melt down if this place doesn’t learn to recognize you?

Amatka is like that, and it’s about that. We follow someone trying to diligently do a perfectly normal market research gig in place where everyday objects must be clearly labelled and the labels reinforced constantly, otherwise they dissolve into slush.

She has to keep putting things in their place, but she’s not too good at that, because she’s always been out of place herself.

I mean, isn’t that exactly what life is like? And then it all falls apart.

By Karin Tidbeck,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

A LOCUS AWARD FINALIST

ONE OF THE GUARDIAN’S BEST SCIENCE FICTION AND FANTASY BOOKS OF 2017

A surreal debut novel set in a world shaped by language in the tradition of Margaret Atwood and Ursula K. Le Guin.

Vanja, an information assistant, is sent from her home city of Essre to the austere, wintry colony of Amatka with an assignment to collect intelligence for the government. Immediately she feels that something strange is going on: people act oddly in Amatka, and citizens are monitored for signs of subversion.

Intending to stay just a short while, Vanja falls in love with…


Book cover of The Iron Dragon's Mother

Vajra Chandrasekera Why did I love this book?

Technically—very technically—this is the conclusion of a trilogy, but it’s more three standalone novels that have some things to say to, and about, each other.

The first book, The Iron Dragon’s Daughter, was hugely influential on me as a reader and writer, and on speculative fiction as a field. This one, two decades later, is the most direct about the mutual imbrication, the bidirectional haunting, between our world and theirs.

Swanwick’s Dragon books do indeed feature dragons, except the iron dragons are mechanical, warplanes bonded to their human pilots, in a version of Faerie that has fully integrated vile modernity and knows our souls all too well. 

By Michael Swanwick,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Iron Dragon's Mother as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A 2020 LOCUS AWARD FINALIST AND KIRKUS BEST SCIENCE FICTION AND FANTASY OF 2019

Award-winning author Michael Swanwick returns to the gritty, post-industrial faerie world of his New York Times Notable Book The Iron Dragon’s Daughter with the standalone adventure fantasy The Iron Dragon’s Mother.

Caitlin of House Sans Merci is the young half-human pilot of a sentient mechanical dragon. Returning from her first soul-stealing raid, she discovers an unwanted hitchhiker.

When Caitlin is framed for the murder of her brother, to save herself she must disappear into Industrialized Faerie, looking for the one person who can clear her.

Unfortunately,…


Book cover of Death In Spring

Vajra Chandrasekera Why did I love this book?

Death in Spring is a tiny book containing a bigger, more intricate world than many a doorstopper, for all that the whole story set in a small, nameless hamlet.

Life there too is made of strange, violent rituals, only not the ones we know. We follow a boy growing up and learning them, and being scarred by these mysteries—what do they fill the mouths of the dead with, before they are killed and put into a tree forever? (It’s cement.)

Rodoreda wrote in Catalan, and Tennent’s translation is fluid and beautiful.

Perfection is a rare thing; if you want to see what that looks like, here you go.   

By Merce Rodoreda, Martha Tennent (translator),

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Death In Spring as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Considered by many to be the grand achievement of her later period, Death in Spring is one of Mercè Rodoreda's most complex and beautifully constructed works. The novel tells the story of the bizarre and destructive customs of a nameless town—burying the dead in trees after filling their mouths with cement to prevent their soul from escaping, or sending a man to swim in the river that courses underneath the town to discover if they will be washed away by a flood—through the eyes of a fourteen-year-old boy who must come to terms with the rhyme and reason of this…


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The Nameless Throne

By Lisa Cassidy,

Book cover of The Nameless Throne

Lisa Cassidy Author Of The Nameless Throne

New book alert!

Why am I passionate about this?

Author Book nerd Fantasy lover Coffee snob

Lisa's 3 favorite reads in 2023

What is my book about?

An ambitious orphan. A ruthless warlord. An impossible destiny.

Arya Nameless is a lowly Raider posted to an isolated fort in the most dangerous place in Dunidaen. She has few prospects, and as much as she loves her fellow soldiers, she burns for more—more control, more autonomy, more power.

When her bravery during an unexpected attack leads to an offer to join the household of one of Dunidaen’s warlords, Arya finds a home and family she never expected. Yet her quicksilver temper and fierce pride put her place there at constant risk.

And as her warlord embroils them all in a dangerous political game to rule Dunidaen, over the border to the west, the Nightstalker lurks. A king who wields powerful magic, the Nightstalker’s fate is inextricably entwined with Arya’s. His relentless pursuit will force Arya into a choice she doesn’t want to make, between loyalty and love, and taking hold of the destiny she was born to fulfill.

Which will she choose?

The Nameless Throne

By Lisa Cassidy,

What is this book about?

An ambitious orphan. A ruthless warlord. An impossible destiny.

Arya Nameless is a lowly Raider posted to an isolated fort in the most dangerous place in Dunidaen. She has few prospects, and as much as she loves her fellow soldiers, she burns for more—more control, more autonomy, more power.

When her bravery during an unexpected attack leads to an offer to join the household of one of Dunidaen’s warlords, Arya finds a home and family she never expected. Yet her quicksilver temper and fierce pride put her place there at constant risk.

And as her warlord embroils them all in…


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