The best worldbuilding books

12 authors have picked their favorite books about worldbuilding and why they recommend each book.

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The Goblin Emperor

By Katherine Addison,

Book cover of The Goblin Emperor

My editor wrote to me a few years ago (mostly all-caps and !!!s) about a book called The Goblin Emperor, and had I read it, and didn’t she think I’d adore it? She was so convincing that I ordered a copy from my favorite indie bookstore right away and read it in a sitting. I almost cried when I realized Addison had written only one other book at that point—until a friend told me she was also the author Sarah Monette. I spent the next month reading everything in her oeuvre. But none I adored with my whole body being like I did The Goblin Emperor: its deep kindness, its gentleness, its world-building and warmth, its high stakes and heightened language, its arc of grace and growth. 


Who am I?

With every book we read, we engage in a complex act of telepathy and empathy. We are entering another human’s thoughts, interpreting them with our own, and come out changed from this colossal encounter. These five books I mentioned, with their extraordinary kindness, insight, humor, wisdom, warmth, compassion, and wholeness—many of them fantasies, many of them focusing on communities—have informed the writer I am today: a World Fantasy Award Winner. But I wouldn’t be without all the books that helped make me. These books are some of the best that built me, and keep building in me: the kind of books I try to write myself.


I wrote...

Saint Death's Daughter: Volume 1

By Claire Suzanne Elizabeth Cooney,

Book cover of Saint Death's Daughter: Volume 1

What is my book about?

Lanie Stones, the daughter of the Royal Assassin and Chief Executioner of Liriat, has never led a normal life. Born with a gift for necromancy and a literal allergy to violence, she was raised in isolation in the family’s crumbling mansion by her oldest friend, the ancient revenant Goody Graves. When her parents are murdered, it falls on Lanie and her cheerfully psychotic sister Nita to settle their extensive debts or lose their ancestral home—and Goody with it. Appeals to Liriat's ruler to protect them fall on indifferent ears… until she, too, is murdered, throwing the nation's future into doubt.

Hunted by Liriat’s enemies, hounded by her family’s creditors, and terrorised by the ghost of her great-grandfather, Lanie will need more than luck to get through the next few months.

Struck

By Rachel Langley,

Book cover of Struck

This story was interesting in the way that the author had two main characters who were twins with widely different roles. With one taking the role of the chosen one and the other being in a place to save her, this was an intense rollercoaster ride from beginning to end. Not to mention the worldbuilding, traveling through lightning, was a very unique idea that amped up the suspense. 


Who am I?

I’m a writer of all genres that’s found a lot of love, particularly in fantasy and thrillers. My love for epic fantasies first began when I was young, and like all young readers, was introduced to Harry Potter and the Magic Tree House series. The idea of being whisked away to a magical world captivated me, and so, I started to create my own stories to keep that magic alive. 


I wrote...

The Council

By Kayla Krantz,

Book cover of The Council

What is my book about?

The Council is the governing Coven over the Land of Five, a region entirely inhabited—and split apart—by witches with varying powers. Lilith Lace, a witch thought to be born powerless, happily resides in Ignis, the Coven of Fire, until she suddenly develops telekinesis, an ability only seen in some witches born in Mentis, the Coven of the Mind. She's terrified of it, unsure who she can trust. Her best friends, Helena and Clio, are hot and cold about what she can do, leaving Lilith even more unsure about her future.

At her Arcane Ceremony, the truth comes out. When the Council learns what she can do, she’s taken under their wing and is finally told the truth—everything she’s learned about the Land of Five, herself included, have been nothing but lies.

Tribes of Decay

By Michael W. Garza,

Book cover of Tribes of Decay: A Zombie Novel

I love everything this author does because his world-building is simple but perfect. The post-apocalyptic world-building in this story involves not only a description of mass desolation but also how that desolation has changed humanity. Of course, people are going to be affected by their environment – especially under post-apocalyptic circumstances – and too often I feel like characters in post-apocalyptic fiction are just the same as people today. 

Zombie worlds all have the same familiar feel, but I really liked the idea of how “tribes” of survivors had formed in cities and how these people had reverted to more primitive ways – if the world hadn’t functioned in decades, yeah, teens wouldn’t know about electricity. The world-building in this book covers everything from setting to characters to a strange new social structure that was really intriguing.


Who am I?

I’ve been pulled to rich, deep, complex fiction all my life. And I started building my own world when I was nine, adding to The Kota Series over two decades. Even while getting an English Literature degree, I was bored by simple worlds, characters, and stories and always found myself more interested in unique books and fresh reads. Really, the weirder the world, the better! That’s what I’ve continued to look for as a reader, and I’ve been lucky to encounter new authors that a lot of people might not have heard about yet. I’ve found some real world-building gems, like these I’ve discussed. I hope to find many more!


I wrote...

The Kota: Book 1

By Sunshine Somerville,

Book cover of The Kota: Book 1

What is my book about?

Mankind is stricken. Brought to its knees by a devastating virus, the world is further crushed by the Dominion tyranny. Humanity struggles to survive this apocalyptic nightmare, and there’s only one hope – the ancient promise of an annihilated people.  

The Kota is a science fantasy epic that begins the story of the prophesied Kota Warriors as they fight to save mankind. No hero is perfect, and no journey goes as expected. For the Kota Warriors, this means discovering who they are as well as how they can possibly defeat their enemy. Jump into this dystopian story and enjoy the twists and turns along the way!

Idyll

By James Derry,

Book cover of Idyll

This is one of the very few books that made me yelp out loud in surprise when the twist happened, and I will forever recommend it because of how unique it was. The feel is reflective of The Road with the main part of the story showing a pained journey through a dangerous landscape. It also feels post-apocalyptic as these survivors struggle to cross the abandoned world that’s been overtaken by nature. The author wrote in a unique language that makes Idyll feel otherworldly but familiar too. All this blends together for really great world-building. I don’t want to give anything away, but there is a definite twist where the whole story flips into something different. You go from feeling like this is a Western to suddenly — Oh, yep, there’s the sci-fi!  


Who am I?

I’ve been pulled to rich, deep, complex fiction all my life. And I started building my own world when I was nine, adding to The Kota Series over two decades. Even while getting an English Literature degree, I was bored by simple worlds, characters, and stories and always found myself more interested in unique books and fresh reads. Really, the weirder the world, the better! That’s what I’ve continued to look for as a reader, and I’ve been lucky to encounter new authors that a lot of people might not have heard about yet. I’ve found some real world-building gems, like these I’ve discussed. I hope to find many more!


I wrote...

The Kota: Book 1

By Sunshine Somerville,

Book cover of The Kota: Book 1

What is my book about?

Mankind is stricken. Brought to its knees by a devastating virus, the world is further crushed by the Dominion tyranny. Humanity struggles to survive this apocalyptic nightmare, and there’s only one hope – the ancient promise of an annihilated people.  

The Kota is a science fantasy epic that begins the story of the prophesied Kota Warriors as they fight to save mankind. No hero is perfect, and no journey goes as expected. For the Kota Warriors, this means discovering who they are as well as how they can possibly defeat their enemy. Jump into this dystopian story and enjoy the twists and turns along the way!

The A-Zs of Worldbuilding

By Rebekah Loper,

Book cover of The A-Zs of Worldbuilding: Building a Fictional World from Scratch

I love that the dedication is to the A to Z Challenge bloggers of 2014. (I was one of them!) Here's a well-written and comprehensive reference guide. There's a strong author voice and a great amount of information. It covers the importance of including diverse characters. I recommend The A-Zs of Worldbuilding: Building a Fictional World From Scratch to writers building a fictional world, and to writers using an unfamiliar setting. A necessary reference tool for authors.


Who am I?

I have taken part in the April Blogging from A to Z Challenge #atozchallenge since 2014. I volunteered on A to Z founder Arlee's group early on. I was elevated to co-host in 2017 and became the Team Captain in 2018. In 2019, I ran the "#AtoZChallenge Book Reviews, Tour, and Blog Hop!" My own book, Writing Book Reviews As An Author: Inspiration To Make It Easier, was created because of the challenge. I used my method of writing book reviews, broken down alphabetically, to create a month of blog posts. Then compiled those posts into a book. Authors depend on book reviews, but struggle to write them for others.


I wrote...

Writing Book Reviews as an Author: Inspiration to Make It Easier

By J Lenni Dorner,

Book cover of Writing Book Reviews as an Author: Inspiration to Make It Easier

What is my book about?

This book aims to provide inspiration to encourage people to write more book reviews. It is written for authors, though any reader can benefit.

Kushiel's Scion

By Jacqueline Carey,

Book cover of Kushiel's Scion

I read this before I read the preceding trilogy: Phèdre’s Trilogy, and was well drawn in without the background knowledge that may have come from reading the two series in order. I later did read Phèdre’s Trilogy and enjoyed it, but it was Imriel’s Trilogy that really captured me. I love that while most Fantasy series will focus on aggressive politics and war, these series are more about the arts and diplomacy and humans being very human in all their facets. Imriel was a captivating character who I was eager to follow along with as I discovered the world he lived in.


Who am I?

I grew up reading The Brothers Grimm, Enid Blyton, and any number of stories that would come under the Fantasy umbrella. Later on, I fell in love with Garion and his friends in The Belgariad and The Malloreon. Later, I delved into the literature and Science Fiction of Iain (M.) Banks, and latched onto Terry Pratchett’s Death to navigate the vast Discworld series. I find I always return to Fantasy, and seek to come away from a book feeling as though I’ve made friends within the pages. This, too, was my goal when I took up writing.


I wrote...

Healer's Touch

By Deb E. Howell,

Book cover of Healer's Touch

What is my book about?

The Young Riders meets The Vampire Diaries in this tale of brother versus brother and blood-magic set in a gaslamp fantasy world. Llew has learned to survive the streets of the gold-mining town of Cheer, a hard existence made tougher when her so-called friend accuses Llew of murder, sending her to the gallows. But she doesn’t stay dead for long.

Escaping the hangman’s noose sees Llew fall into the hands of Jonas: the man with the knife and the power to kill Llew’s kind. If Llew can nurture the attraction he has to her, maybe she can keep that knife from her heart. But lurking in the shadows is Braph: the man who has learned to combine Healer and Warrior magics into addictive magical potential.

The Ring of Five Dragons

By Eric Van Lustbader,

Book cover of The Ring of Five Dragons

I discovered the Pearl Saga (a trilogy) via Van Lustbader taking up the reins on Robert Ludlum’s Bourne novels. While I was reading these books, I was waiting to hear from Voyager (Harper Collins) regarding an epic fantasy novel I wrote, which featured in its climactic scenes a girl using crystals to trap a dragon in a cage-like device inside a mountain. There was a delay in the publication of the third book of the Pearl Saga, and when it came out, it featured a girl holding a ‘crystal’ before a dragon, and it was called The Cage of Nine Banestones. My heart sank, but it turned out that the delay was related to the death of Van Lustbader’s father.

The trilogy begun in ‘Ring’ is for some brooding and self-indulgent, but for me it was a triumph of worldbuilding and alien realia, with technology and sorcery vying…


Who am I?

While Dune, Star Wars, Battlestar Galactica (1980s), and other SF staples laid the foundation for my love of SFF, I was also reading about the universe from a young age. Along came Star Trek: The Next Generation in the ‘90s and the stage was set. Completing Bachelor’s Degrees in Ancient History & Archaeology; Religions & Theology; and a PhD in Near and Middle Eastern Studies copper-fastened my passion for the ancient world and the history of religion, and along with reading historical fiction and fantasy, everything merged into the almost allegorical universe you’ll find in Kiranis. Lovers of all the above will find something here.


I wrote...

Gods of Kiranis

By Ronald A. Geobey,

Book cover of Gods of Kiranis

What is my book about?

Kiranis charts the machinations of the Prophet Naveen, as he bends the Universe to his will in a scheme spanning centuries of human development. Gods of Kiranis lays the foundation for a breathtaking new universe, as the Cage arrives at Earth and a countdown threatens activation:

A mysterious structure encompasses Earth, and while the Church of the New Elect prepares for communion with the Sentience, a dark and distant world is reborn. Making an alliance with a powerful and enigmatic species, humankind is brought to a terrible realisation: they do not belong in this universe. Cassandra Messina was warned these days would come, and she believes God is on her side. But the one who speaks from the shadows is not a god at all. Not even close.

Wool

By Hugh Howey,

Book cover of Wool

Wool took the world by storm, as one of the first ultra-successful independently published novels available on Kindle. And for good reason. In the first few chapters, the scene is quickly set for a harrowing tale. Humanity has suffered a terrible blow, and the few survivors left on earth are herded into a massive underground silo-type structure. The air outside has turned poisonous, and right off the bat, we see just how lethal it can be. This entire trilogy is awe-inspiring, and gives credence that Hugh Howey is a master at his craft. Smooth sailings to you, sir.


Who am I?

As a teenager, back when I still had some traces of childhood imagination left lurking about, I started envisioning scenarios and events which would later come together as a dystopian novel. Walks in the nearby park became areas of great skirmishes between neighboring militias; road trips out west became routes to safety; the dusty lot of a rundown gas station became the setting for a life-altering showdown. Flashforward twenty years or so, and all these fantasies came together in my first post-apocalyptic tale. Yet, my eagerness to explore other authors’ narratives in the same genre remains unquenched.  


I wrote...

The After War

By Brandon Zenner,

Book cover of The After War

What is my book about?

Two years have passed since humankind faced extinction: Two cousins are leaving the protection of their underground bunker for the first time, after a cataclysmic war and unrelenting disease ravaged the earth. On the other side of North America, a young survivalist is leaving the seclusion of his cabin deep in the woods. For individual reasons, these men are traveling east, where the fragmented lives of a small number of survivors will soon be decided by the choices of a corrupt few. The strength that resides inside them will be tested, and destiny will call for their fates to be forever intertwined.

"A fierce post-apocalyptic story of war and loss, of nature's vengeance, of survival in the face of overwhelming odds." - Manhattan Book Reviews

Protectors - Book one of Beyond These Walls

By Michael Robertson,

Book cover of Protectors - Book one of Beyond These Walls: A Post-Apocalyptic Survival Thriller

This is my favourite series by Michael Robertson; its world-building is so real that it’s scary because this dystopian world could really exist. The world has its defined structure and the characters within it are believable, even if not all likable. It’s a complex series and yet is simple in its reading; compelling at the very least.

Who am I?

Because sometimes I think they go further than the formulas set by traditional publishing.  I love fantasy and similar genres because there are no limits for the imagination. The books I’ve chosen fulfill what I think is important – world-building, imagination, thought-provoking, intelligent, and wonderful characters on a mission of some kind.


I wrote...

Gone

By Julie Elizabeth Powell,

Book cover of Gone

What is my book about?

Gone will always be my most important book because of why it was written. When my daughter, Samantha, was two, her heart stopped and she died. Doctors revived her, but too late because she was left severely brain-damaged, who she’d been was wiped clean. For the next seventeen years, I watched her withering, twisting body survive without her knowing what was happening except for pain and suffering until she died a second and final time.


During those seventeen years, I had a question: Where had my daughter gone? Because her essence had vanished leaving only an empty shell: hence I created a world and went in search of her. Gone is one answer to that question.  It’s a unique fantasy and might even help others to come to terms with loss.

Magician

By Raymond E. Feist,

Book cover of Magician

While I grew up on Narnia, The Lord of the Rings, and His Dark Materials, I still credit Feist’s Riftwar Saga for sparking my true love of fantasy. This epic spans a total of 31 books, crafting a multigenerational tale of a world of magic, cataclysm, monsters, and continuously rising stakes that never feel trite.

Through all my years reading, nothing has topped it. It’s high time I start a re-read.


Who am I?

I’m a South African fantasy and sci-fi author. I’ve been reading, watching, and playing fantasy since the gods deigned to send me to this world. Since school, I’ve been crafting fantasy realms for my friends to play in for D&D. Fantastical worlds, wondrous magic and brutal monsters fill all my books. I also adore history and philosophy, and let both permeate my fantasy and sci-fi novels.


I wrote...

Part-Time Monster Hunter

By Nicholas Woode-Smith,

Book cover of Part-Time Monster Hunter

What is my book about?

When a ghost from another world possesses Kat Drummond, she could be forgiven for being upset. But instead, she takes the chance to become a monster hunter in the darkness-infested Hope City.

With the help of her ghostly companion, and a pair of swords she bought on the internet, Kat will stop at nothing to become the greatest hunter in the city. Those bills aren’t going to pay themselves after all…

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