Gathering this list together in mid-2020 makes me think I should read post-apocalyptic books not for entertainment, but for practical tips and tricks.
The Trees arrived in the night: wrenching through the ground, thundering up into the air, and turning Adrien’s suburban street into a shadowy forest. Shocked by the sight but determined to get some answers, he ventures out, passing destroyed buildings, felled power lines, and broken bodies still wrapped in tattered bed linens hanging from branches.
It is soon apparent that no help is coming and that these trees, which seem the work of centuries rather than hours, span far beyond the town. As far, perhaps, as the coast, where across the sea in Ireland, Adrien’s wife is away on a business trip and there is no way of knowing whether she is alive or dead.
When Adrien meets Hannah, a woman who, unlike him, believes that the coming of the trees may signal renewal rather than destruction and Seb, her technology-obsessed son, they persuade him to join them. Together, they pack up what remains of the lives they once had and set out on a quest to find Hannah’s forester brother and Adrien’s wife—and to discover just how deep the forest goes.
Their journey through the trees will take them into unimaginable territory: to a place of terrible beauty and violence, of deadly enemies and unexpected allies, to the dark heart of nature and the darkness—and also the power—inside themselves.
“[An] atmospheric modern fairy tale… This stunning exploration of love, hope, and the wildness inside us all will have readers enchanted from the first page.”
In a wasteland born of rage and fear, populated by monstrous creatures and marauding armies, Earth’s last survivors have been drawn into the final battle between good and evil, that will decide the fate of humanity. They include:
Sister, who discovers a strange and transformative glass artifact in the destroyed Manhattan streets.
Joshua Hutchins, the pro wrestler who takes refuge from the nuclear fallout at a Nebraska gas station.
And Swan, a young girl possessing special powers, who travels alongside Josh to a Missouri town where healing and recovery can begin with Swan’s gifts.
But the ancient force behind Earth’s devastation is scouring the walking wounded for recruits for its relentless army, beginning with Swan herself.
“A broad, compelling story… a long, satisfying look at hell and salvation.”
Prince Yarvi has vowed to regain a throne he never wanted. But first he must survive cruelty, chains, and the bitter waters of the Shattered Sea. And he must do it all with only one good hand.
Born a weakling in the eyes of his father, Yarvi is alone in a world where a strong arm and a cold heart rule. He cannot grip a shield or swing an axe, so he must sharpen his mind to a deadly edge.
Gathering a strange fellowship of the outcast and the lost, he finds they can do more to help him become the man he needs to be than any court of nobles could.
But even with loyal friends at his side, Yarvi finds that his path may end as it began—in twists, and traps, and tragedy.
“Once this plot has its teeth in you, it will not let go… Abercrombie’s masterful storytelling means that everything, from the characters that you come to love and despise, to the sprawling world that is explored, is enthralling.”
—Fantasy Book Review
The world is scarred by an apocalyptic past, evoking a time both two thousand years past and two thousand years into the future, as untold thousands gather for a crusade. Among them, two men and two women are ensnared by a mysterious traveler, Anasûrimbor Kellhus—part warrior, part philosopher, part sorceress, charismatic presence—from lands long thought dead.
“[S]hould please those weary of formulaic epic fantasy. Bakker’s utterly foreign world, Eärwa, is as complex as that of Tolkien.”
As darkness falls each night, the corelings rise–demons who well up from the ground like hellish steam, taking on fearsome form and substance. Sand demons. Wood demons. Wind demons. Flame demons. And gigantic rock demons, the deadliest of all. They possess supernatural strength and powers and burn with a consuming hatred of humanity. For hundreds of years the demons have terrorized the night, slowly culling the human herd that shelters behind magical wards—symbols of power whose origins are lost in myth and mystery, and whose protection is terrifyingly fragile.
It was not always this way. Once, men and women battled the corelings on equal terms. Once, under the leadership of the legendary Deliverer, and armed with powerful wards that were not merely shields but weapons, they took the battle to the demons… and stopped their advance.
But those days are gone. The fighting wards are lost. Night by night the demons grow stronger, while human numbers dwindle under their relentless assault.
Now, with hope for the future fading, three young survivors of vicious demon attacks will dare the impossible, stepping beyond the crumbling safety of the wards to risk everything in a desperate quest to regain the secrets of the past.
Arlen will pay any price, embrace any sacrifice, for freedom. His grim journey will take him beyond the bounds of human power.
“Brett’s gritty tale will appeal to those who tire of sympathetic villains and long for old-school orc massacres.”
At 4:31 Saturday afternoon the laws of physics as we know them underwent a change. Electronic devices, cars, industries stopped. The lights went out. Any technology more complicated than a lever or pulley simply wouldn’t work. A new set of rules took its place—laws that could only be called magic. Ninety-nine percent of humanity has simply vanished. Cities lie abandoned. Supernatural creatures wander the silenced achievements of a halted civilization.
Pete Garey has survived the Change and its ensuing chaos. He wanders the southeastern United States, scavenging, lying low. Learning. One day he makes an unexpected friend: a smartassed unicorn with serious attitude. Pete names her Ariel and teaches her how to talk, how to read, and how to survive in a world in which a unicorn horn has become a highly prized commodity.
When they learn that there is a price quite literally on Ariel’s head, the two unlikely companions set out from Atlanta to Manhattan to confront the sorcerer who wants her horn. And so begins a haunting, epic, and surprisingly funny journey through the remnants of a halted civilization in a desolated world.
Part post-apocalypse, part road-trip, part sword-and-sorcery: Ariel is one of my favorite adventure novels of all time.
—Cory Doctorow, author of Little Brother
Logan Tom is doomed to remember the past and determined to rescue the future. Far behind him lies a boyhood cut violently short by his family’s slaughter, when the forces of madness and hate swept our world after decadent excesses led to civilization’s downfall.
Somewhere ahead of him rests the only chance to beat back the minions of evil that are systematically killing and enslaving the last remnants of humanity. Logan has sworn an oath to seek out a remarkable being born of magic, possessed of untold abilities, and destined to lead the final fight against darkness.
Across the country, Angel Perez, herself a survivor of the malevolent death-dealing forces combing the land, has also been chosen for an uncanny mission in the name of her ruined world’s salvation. From the devastated streets of Los Angeles, she will journey to find a place—and a people—shrouded in mystery, celebrated in legend, and vital to the cause of humankind… even as a relentless foe follows close behind, bent on her extermination.
Meanwhile, in the nearly forsaken city of Seattle, a makeshift family of refugees has carved out a tenuous existence among the street gangs, mutants, and marauders fighting to stay alive against mounting odds—and something unspeakable that has come from the shadows in search of prey.
In time, all their paths will cross. Their common purpose will draw them together. Their courage and convictions will be tested and their fates will be decided, as their singular crusade begins: to take back, or lose forever, the only world they have.
“In this exciting first of a new fantasy trilogy, bestseller Brooks effortlessly connects the Tolkien-infused magic of his Shannara books… with the urban, post-apocalyptic world of his Word and the Void series… Longtime Brooks fans and newcomers will be riveted.”
—Publishers Weekly (starred review)
Roshar is a world of stone and storms. Uncanny tempests of incredible power sweep across the rocky terrain so frequently that they have shaped ecology and civilization alike. Animals hide in shells, trees pull in branches, and grass retracts into the soilless ground. Cities are built only where the topography offers shelter.
It has been centuries since the fall of the 10 consecrated orders known as the Knights Radiant, but their Shardblades and Shardplate remain: mystical swords and suits of armor that transform ordinary men into near-invincible warriors. Wars were fought for them, and won by them. One such war rages on the Shattered Plains. There, Kaladin has been reduced to slavery. In a war that makes no sense, where 10 armies fight separately against a single foe, he struggles to save his men and to fathom the leaders who consider them expendable.
Brightlord Dalinar Kholin commands one of those other armies. Like his brother, the late king, he is fascinated by an ancient text called The Way of Kings. Troubled by visions of ancient times and the Knights Radiant, he has begun to doubt his own sanity.
Across the ocean, an untried young woman named Shallan seeks to train under an eminent scholar and notorious heretic, Dalinar’s niece, Jasnah. Though she genuinely loves learning, Shallan’s motives are less than pure. As she plans a daring theft, her research for Jasnah hints at secrets of the Knights Radiant and the true cause of the war.
“Sanderson is a master of hooking the reader in the first few pages, and once again he doesn’t disappoint. Fans and lovers of epic fantasy will find the ending satisfying, yet will eagerly await the next volume.”
In a world struggling back from the brink of apocalypse, life is harsh. And for Elspeth Gordie, it is also dangerous. That’s because Elspeth has a secret: she is a Misfit, born with mysterious mental abilities that she must keep hidden under threat of death. And her worries only multiply when she is exiled to the mountain compound known as Obernewtyn, where—for all her talents—Elspeth may finally and truly be out of her depth. Then she learns she’s not the only one concealing secrets at Obernewtyn.
“Blends graceful storytelling with appealing characters.”
The Wheel of Time turns and ages come and go, leaving memories that become legend. Legend fades to myth, and even myth is long forgotten when the age that gave it birth returns again. In the Third Age, an Age of Prophecy, the World and Time themselves hang in the balance. What was, what will be, and what is, may yet fall under the Shadow.
When The Two Rivers is attacked by Trollocs—a savage tribe of half-men, half-beasts—five villagers flee that night into a world they barely imagined, with new dangers waiting in the shadows and in the light.
“Recalls the work of Tolkien.”
John Shannow, the Jerusalem Man, lived in a world that had toppled on its axis. Civilization had been replaced by ruthlessness and savagery. Relentless in his quest for peace, Shannow followed a path that led only to bloodshed and sorrow.
Abaddon, the Lord of the Pit, sought to plunge mankind into a new Satanic era. His Hellborn army spewed forth from the Plague Lands with an unholy force stemming from human sacrifice. For it was the blood of innocents that fueled the corrupted Sipstrassi Stones of Power—the source of Abaddon’s might.
But the Hellborn made a fatal mistake—they took the woman who had stolen Shannow’s heart. He would move Heaven and Earth to save her or he would die trying.
“Gemmell… keeps the mythic currents crackling.”
In Mary’s world there are simple truths.
The Sisterhood always knows best.
The Guardians will protect and serve.
The Unconsecrated will never relent.
And you must always mind the fence that surrounds the village; the fence that protects the village from the Forest of Hands and Teeth.
But slowly, Mary’s truths are failing her. She’s learning things she never wanted to know about the Sisterhood and its secrets, and the Guardians and their power. And, when the fence is breached and her world is thrown into chaos, about the Unconsecrated and their relentlessness.
Now, she must choose between her village and her future, between the one she loves and the one who loves her. And she must face the truth about the Forest of Hands and Teeth. Could there be life outside a world surrounded in so much death?
“A bleak but gripping story… Poignant and powerful.”
—Publishers Weekly (starred review)
Technically, Shadow & Claw is science fiction, but its medieval-like setting and mythic quest makes it feel like you’re reading fantasy.
Shadow & Claw brings together the first two books of The Book of the New Sun tetralogy in one volume:
The Shadow of the Torturer is the tale of young Severian, an apprentice in the Guild of Torturers on the world called Urth, exiled for committing the ultimate sin of his profession—showing mercy toward his victim.
The Claw of the Conciliator continues the saga of Severian, banished from his home, as he undertakes a mythic quest to discover the awesome power of an ancient relic, and learn the truth about his hidden destiny.
[C]ontains elements of Spenserian allegory, Swiftian satire, Dickensian social consciousness and Wagnerian mythology. Wolfe creates a truly alien social order that the reader comes to experience from within… once into it, there is no stopping.”
―The New York Times Book Review
In a post-apocalyptic Africa, the world has changed in many ways; yet in one region, genocide between tribes still bloodies the land. A woman who has survived the annihilation of her village and a terrible rape by an enemy general wanders into the desert, hoping to die. Instead, she gives birth to an angry baby girl with hair and skin the color of sand. Gripped by the certainty that her daughter is different—special—she names her Onyesonwu, which means, “Who fears death?” in an ancient language.
It doesn’t take long for Onye to understand that she is physically and socially marked by the circumstances of her conception. She is Ewu—a child of rape who is expected to live a life of violence, a half-breed rejected by her community. But Onye is not the average Ewu. Even as a child, she manifests the beginnings of a remarkable and unique magic. As she grows, so do her abilities, and during an inadvertent visit to the spirit realm, she learns something terrifying: someone powerful is trying to kill her.
Desperate to elude her would-be murderer and to understand her own nature, she embarks on a journey in which she grapples with nature, tradition, history, true love, and the spiritual mysteries of her culture, and ultimately learns why she was given the name she bears: Who Fears Death.
“Both wondrously magical and terribly realistic.”
—The Washington Post
It starts with the great red rift across the heart of the world’s sole continent, spewing ash that blots out the sun. It starts with death, with a murdered son and a missing daughter. It starts with betrayal, and long dormant wounds rising up to fester.
This is the Stillness, a land long familiar with catastrophe, where the power of the earth is wielded as a weapon. And where there is no mercy.
“Intricate and extraordinary.”
―The New York Times
This book has both fantasy and science fiction elements to it.
Amy was abandoned by her mother at the age of six, pursued, and then imprisoned by the shadowy figures behind a government experiment of apocalyptic proportions. But Special Agent Brad Wolgast, the lawman sent to track her down, is disarmed by the curiously quiet girl and risks everything to save her.
As the experiment goes nightmarishly wrong, Wolgast secures her escape—but he can’t stop society’s collapse. And as Amy walks alone, across miles and decades, into a future dark with violence and despair, she is filled with the mysterious and terrifying knowledge that only she has the power to save the ruined world.
“The type of big, engrossing read that will have you leaving the lights on late into the night.”
—The Dallas Morning News
One afternoon at an outdoor market in India, a man’s shadow disappears—an occurrence science cannot explain. He is only the first. The phenomenon spreads like a plague, and while those afflicted gain a strange new power, it comes at a horrible price: the loss of all their memories.
Ory and his wife Max have escaped the Forgetting so far by hiding in an abandoned hotel deep in the woods. Their new life feels almost normal, until one day Max’s shadow disappears, too.
Knowing that the more she forgets, the more dangerous she will become to Ory, Max runs away. But Ory refuses to give up the time they have left together. Desperate to find Max before her memory disappears completely, he follows her trail across a dangerous, unrecognizable world, braving the threat of roaming bandits, the call to a new war being waged on the ruins of the capital, and the rise of a sinister cult that worships the shadowless.
“Shepherd’s debut is graceful and riveting, slowly peeling back layers of an intricately constructed and unsettling alternate future.”
When global climate change and economic crises lead to social chaos in the early 2020s, California becomes full of dangers, from pervasive water shortage to masses of vagabonds who will do anything to live to see another day. Fifteen-year-old Lauren Olamina lives inside a gated community with her preacher father, family, and neighbors, sheltered from the surrounding anarchy. In a society where any vulnerability is a risk, she suffers from hyperempathy, a debilitating sensitivity to others’ emotions.
Precocious and clear-eyed, Lauren must make her voice heard in order to protect her loved ones from the imminent disasters her small community stubbornly ignores. But what begins as a fight for survival soon leads to something much more: the birth of a new faith… and a startling vision of human destiny.
“In the ongoing contest over which dystopian classic is most applicable to our time, Octavia Butler’s Parable books may be unmatched.”
A patient escapes from a biological testing facility, unknowingly carrying a deadly weapon: a mutated strain of super-flu that will wipe out 99 percent of the world’s population within a few weeks.
Those who remain are scared, bewildered, and in need of a leader. Two emerge—Mother Abagail, the benevolent 108-year-old woman who urges them to build a peaceful community in Boulder, Colorado; and Randall Flagg, the nefarious “Dark Man,” who delights in chaos and violence. As the dark man and the peaceful woman gather power, the survivors will have to choose between them—and ultimately decide the fate of all humanity.
“[The Stand] has everything. Adventure. Roman. Prophecy. Allegory. Satire. Fantasy. Realism. Apocalypse. Great!”
—The New York Times Book Review