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27 Best Standalone Fantasy Books

 

“The Neverending Story – The Ivory Tower” by concept artist Peter Bartels [ArtStation | his site]

Sometimes you don’t want the commitment of a seven-book series with each book being over a thousand pages long. Sometime you want a fling, and these books will give you exactly that.

 

27
Sunshine
by Robin McKinley – 2003

Although it had been mostly deserted since the Voodoo Wars, there hadn’t been any trouble out at the lake for years. Rae Seddon, nicknamed Sunshine, head baker at her family’s busy and popular café in downtown New Arcadia, needed a place to get away from all the noise and confusion of the clientele and her family. Just for a few hours, just to be able to hear herself think.

She knew about the Others, of course. Everyone did. And several of her family’s best regular customers were from SOF—Special Other Forces—which had been created to deal with the threat and the danger of the Others.

She drove out to her family’s old lakeside cabin and sat on the porch, swinging her feet and enjoying the silence and the silver moonlight on the water.

She never heard them coming. Of course, you don’t when they’re vampires.

“[P]retty much perfect.”
—Neil Gaiman, author of American Gods

26
The Ghost Bride
by Yangsze Choo – 2013

Though ruled by British overlords, the Chinese of colonial Malaya still cling to ancient customs. And in the sleepy port town of Malacca, ghosts and superstitions abound.

Li Lan, the daughter of a genteel but bankrupt family, has few prospects. But fate intervenes when she receives an unusual proposal from the wealthy and powerful Lim family. They want her to become a ghost bride for the family’s only son, who recently died under mysterious circumstances. Rarely practiced, traditional ghost marriages are used to placate restless spirits. Such a union would guarantee Li Lan a home for the rest of her days, but at a terrible price.

After an ominous visit to the opulent Lim mansion, Li Lan finds herself haunted not only by her ghostly would-be suitor, but also by her desire for the Lims’ handsome new heir, Tian Bai. Night after night, she is drawn into the shadowy parallel world of the Chinese afterlife, with its ghost cities, paper funeral offerings, vengeful spirits, and monstrous bureaucracy—including the mysterious Er Lang, a charming but unpredictable guardian spirit.

Li Lan must uncover the Lim family’s darkest secrets—and the truth about her own family—before she is trapped in this ghostly world forever.

“Captivating epic… [this] impressive first novel takes readers on one of the wildest rides since Alice fell down the rabbit hole.”
—San Jose Mercury News

25
Wheel of the Infinite
by Martha Wells – 2000

With chaos in the wind, a woman with a shadowy past has returned to Duvalpore. A murderer and traitor—an exile disgraced, hated, and feared, and haunted by her own guilty conscience—Maskelle has been summoned back to help put the world right. Once she was the most enigmatic of the Voices, until cursed by her own actions. Now, in the company of Rian, a skilled and dangerously alluring swordsman, she must confront dread enemies old and new, and a cold, stalking malevolence unlike any she has ever encountered.

For if Maskelle cannot unearth the cause of the Wheel’s accelerating disintegration—if she cannot free herself from the ghosts of the past and focus on the catastrophe to come—the world will plunge headlong into the terrifying abyss toward which it is recklessly hurtling. And all that is, ever was, and will be will end.

“Fast-paced, witty and inventive…”
—Publishers Weekly

24
The Golden Key
by Melanie Rawn, Jennifer Roberson, and Kate Elliott – 1996

In Tira Virte, art is prized for its beauty and as a binding legal record of everything from marriages to treaties. Yet not even the Grand Duke knows how extraordinary the Grijalva family’s art is, for certain Grijalva males are born with the ability to alter events and influence people in the real world through what they paint.

Always, their power has been used for Tira Virte. But now Sario Grijalva has learned to use his Gift in a whole new way. And when he begins to work his magic, both the Grijalvas and Tira Virte may pay the price.

“This three-way collaboration is original in concept and superior in execution. Characterizations and worldbuilding are finely realized; Rawn and company have done their homework on art, and overall, the romance justifies every one of its nearly 900 pages.”
—Booklist

23
The Curse of Chalion
by Lois McMaster Bujold – 2001

A man broken in body and spirit, Cazaril returns to the noble household he once served as page and is named secretary-tutor to the beautiful, strong-willed sister of the impetuous boy who is next in line to rule. It is an assignment Cazaril dreads, for it must ultimately lead him to the place he most fears: the royal court of Cardegoss, where the powerful enemies who once placed him in chains now occupy lofty positions.

But it is more than the traitorous intrigues of villains that threaten Cazaril and the Royesse Iselle here, for a sinister curse hangs like a sword over the entire blighted House of Chalion. And only by employing the darkest, most forbidden of magics can Cazaril hope to protect his royal charge. This act will mark him as a tool of the miraculous, and trap him in a lethal maze of demonic paradox.

“A finely balanced mixture of adventure, swordplay, court intrigue, romance, magic, and religion makes this book a delightful read.”
—School Library Journal

22
The War of the Flowers
by Tad Williams – 2003

Theo Vilmos’s life is about to take a real turn for the worse.

He is drawn from his home in Northern California into the parallel world of Faerie, for, unknown to him, he is a pivotal figure in a war between certain of Faerie’s powerful lords and the rest of the strange creatures who live in this exotic realm.

“Travel into another dimension is a popular fantasy ploy, but rarely accomplished with such humor, terror, and even logic as this standalone by bestseller Williams.”
—Publishers Weekly (starred review)

21
The Emperor's Soul
by Brandon Sanderson – 2012

This Hugo-winner is technically a sequel of Elantris, but it works fine as a standalone.

When Shai is caught replacing the Moon Scepter with her nearly flawless forgery, she must bargain for her life. An assassin has left the Emperor Ashravan without consciousness, a circumstance concealed only by the death of his wife. If the emperor does not emerge after his hundred-day mourning period, the rule of the Heritage Faction will be forfeit and the empire will fall into chaos.

Shai is given an impossible task: to create—to Forge—a new soul for the emperor in less than one hundred days. But her soul-Forgery is considered an abomination by her captors. She is confined to a tiny, dirty chamber, guarded by a man who hates her, spied upon by politicians, and trapped behind a door sealed in her own blood. Shai’s only possible ally is the emperor’s most loyal councilor, Gaotona, who struggles to understand her true talent.

Time is running out for Shai. Forging, while deducing the motivations of her captors, she needs a perfect plan to escape…

“[O]ne of those rare high fantasies that feels fresh and is filled with a sense of wonder.”
—Fantasy & Science Fiction

20
The Once and Future King
by T. H. White – 1958

Once upon a time, a young boy called “Wart” was tutored by a magician named Merlyn in preparation for a future he couldn’t possibly imagine. A future in which he would ally himself with the greatest knights, love a legendary queen, and unite a country dedicated to chivalrous values. A future that would see him crowned and known for all time as Arthur, King of the Britons.

During Arthur’s reign, the kingdom of Camelot was founded to cast enlightenment on the Dark Ages, while the knights of the Round Table embarked on many a noble quest. But Merlyn foresaw the treachery that awaited his liege: the forbidden love between Queen Guenever and Lancelot, the wicked plots of Arthur’s half-sister Morgause, and the hatred she fostered in Mordred that would bring an end to the king’s dreams for Britain—and to the king himself.

“Touching, profound, funny and tragic.”
—Los Angeles Times

19
The Night Circus
by Erin Morgenstern – 2011

The circus arrives without warning. No announcements precede it. It is simply there, when yesterday it was not. Within the black-and-white striped canvas tents is an utterly unique experience full of breathtaking amazements. It is called Le Cirque des Rêves, and it is only open at night.

But behind the scenes, a fierce competition is underway: a duel between two young magicians, Celia and Marco, who have been trained since childhood expressly for this purpose by their mercurial instructors. Unbeknownst to them, this is a game in which only one can be left standing, and the circus is but the stage for a remarkable battle of imagination and will. Despite themselves, however, Celia and Marco tumble headfirst into love—a deep, magical love that makes the lights flicker and the room grow warm whenever they so much as brush hands.

True love or not, the game must play out, and the fates of everyone involved, from the cast of extraordinary circus per­formers to the patrons, hang in the balance, suspended as precariously as the daring acrobats overhead.

“Magical. Enchanting. Spellbinding. Mesmerizing.”
—Associated Press

18
Circe
by Madeline Miller – 2018

In the house of Helios, god of the sun and mightiest of the Titans, a daughter is born. But Circe is a strange child: not powerful, like her father, nor viciously alluring, like her mother. Turning to the world of mortals for companionship, she discovers that she does possess power—the power of witchcraft, which can transform rivals into monsters and menace the gods themselves.

Threatened, Zeus banishes her to a deserted island, where she hones her occult craft, tames wild beasts and crosses paths with many of the most famous figures in all of mythology, including the Minotaur; Daedalus and his doomed son, Icarus; the murderous Medea; and, of course, wily Odysseus.

But there is danger, too, for a woman who stands alone, and Circe unwittingly draws the wrath of both men and gods, ultimately finding herself pitted against one of the most terrifying and vengeful of the Olympians. To protect what she loves most, Circe must summon all her strength and choose, once and for all, whether she belongs with the gods she is born from or the mortals she has come to love.

“A bold and subversive retelling.”
—The New York Times

17
One Hundred Years of Solitude
by Gabriel Garcia Marquez – 1967

Winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature

The novel tells the story of the rise and fall of the mythical town of Macondo through the history of the Buendía family. Rich and brilliant, it is a chronicle of life, death, and the tragicomedy of humankind. In the beautiful, ridiculous, and tawdry story of the Buendía family, one sees all of humanity, just as in the history, myths, growth, and decay of Macondo, one sees all of Latin America.

Love and lust, war and revolution, riches and poverty, youth and senility, the variety of life, the endlessness of death, the search for peace and truth—these universal themes dominate the novel.

16
The Golem and the Jinni
by Helene Wecker – 2013

Chava is a golem, a creature made of clay, brought to life to by a disgraced rabbi who dabbles in dark Kabbalistic magic and dies at sea on the voyage from Poland. Chava is unmoored and adrift as the ship arrives in New York harbor in 1899.

Ahmad is a jinni, a being of fire born in the ancient Syrian desert, trapped in an old copper flask, and released in New York City, though still not entirely free.

Ahmad and Chava become unlikely friends and soul mates with a mystical connection. This debut novel weaves strands of Yiddish and Middle Eastern literature, historical fiction and magical fable into an inventive tale.

“[A] spellbinding blend of fantasy and historical fiction.”
—Publishers Weekly

15
Perdido Street Station
by China Miéville – 2000

Beneath the towering bleached ribs of a dead, ancient beast lies New Crobuzon, a squalid city where humans, Re-mades, and arcane races live in perpetual fear of Parliament and its brutal militia. The air and rivers are thick with factory pollutants and the strange effluents of alchemy, and the ghettos contain a vast mix of workers, artists, spies, junkies, and whores. In New Crobuzon, the unsavory deal is stranger to no one—not even to Isaac, a brilliant scientist with a penchant for Crisis Theory.

Isaac has spent a lifetime quietly carrying out his unique research. But when a half-bird, half-human creature known as the Garuda comes to him from afar, Isaac is faced with challenges he has never before fathomed. Though the Garuda’s request is scientifically daunting, Isaac is sparked by his own curiosity and an uncanny reverence for this curious stranger.

While Isaac’s experiments for the Garuda turn into an obsession, one of his lab specimens demands attention: a brilliantly-colored caterpillar that feeds on nothing but a hallucinatory drug and grows larger by the day. What finally emerges from the silken cocoon will permeate every fiber of New Crobuzon—and not even the Ambassador of Hell will challenge the malignant terror it invokes.

“[A]n audaciously imagined milieu: a city with the dimensions of a world, home to a polyglot civilization of wildly varied species and overlapping and interpenetrating cultures.”
—Publishers Weekly

14
American Gods
by Neil Gaiman – 2001

Locked behind bars for three years, Shadow did his time, quietly waiting for the magic day when he could return to Eagle Point, Indiana. A man no longer scared of what tomorrow might bring, all he wanted was to be with Laura, the wife he deeply loved, and start a new life.

But just days before his release, Laura and Shadow’s best friend are both killed in an accident. With his life in pieces and nothing to keep him tethered, Shadow accepts a job from a beguiling stranger he meets on the way home, an enigmatic man who calls himself Mr. Wednesday. A trickster and rogue, Wednesday seems to know more about Shadow than Shadow does himself.

Life as Wednesday’s bodyguard, driver, and errand boy is far more interesting and dangerous than Shadow ever imagined; it is a job that takes him on a dark and strange road trip and introduces him to a host of eccentric characters whose fates are mysteriously intertwined with his own. Along the way Shadow will learn that the past never dies; that everyone, including his beloved Laura, harbors secrets; and that dreams, totems, legends, and myths are more real than we know. Ultimately, he will discover that beneath the placid surface of everyday life a storm is brewing—an epic war for the very soul of America—and that he is standing squarely in its path.

This is a fun book, but the plot does get a little aimless in places.

13
Watership Down
by Richard Adams – 1972

Richard Adams’s Watership Down is a timeless classic and one of the most beloved novels of all time.

Set in the Hampshire Downs in Southern England, an idyllic rural landscape, this tale follows a band of rabbits in flight from the incursion of man and the destruction of their home. Led by a stouthearted pair of brothers, they travel forth from their native Sandleford warren through harrowing trials to a mysterious promised land and a more perfect society.

I’ve always loved this book, and especially liked the depth of the rabbit’s mythology and language.

“A marvelous story of rebellion, exile, and survival.”
—Sunday Telegraph

12
Small Gods
by Terry Pratchett – 1992

While this book is one of the 40+ titles in the Discworld series, it’s completely self-contained.

Brutha is the Chosen One. His god has spoken to him, admittedly while currently in the shape of a tortoise.

Brutha is a simple lad. He can’t read. He can’t write. He’s pretty good at growing melons. And his wants are few.

He wants to overthrow a huge and corrupt church. He wants to prevent a horribly holy war. He wants to stop the persecution of a philosopher who has dared to suggest that, contrary to the Church’s dogma, the Discworld really does go through space on the back of an enormous turtle. (Which is true, but when has that ever mattered?) He wants peace and justice and brotherly love. He wants the Inquisition to stop torturing him now, please.

But most of all, what he really wants, more than anything else, is for his god to choose someone else…

11
Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell
by Susanna Clarke – 2004

In the year 1806, in the midst of the Napoleonic Wars, most people believe magic to have long since disappeared from England, until the reclusive Mr Norrell reveals his powers and becomes a celebrity overnight. Another practicing magician emerges: the young and daring Jonathan Strange. He becomes Norrell’s pupil and the two join forces in the war against France. But Strange is increasingly drawn to the wildest, most perilous forms of magic and soon he risks sacrificing not only his partnership with Norrell, but everything else he holds dear.

“Immense, intelligent, inventive… Clarke is a restrained and witty writer with an arch and eminently readable style.”
―Entertainment Weekly

10
The Phantom Tollbooth
by Norton Juster – 1961

In this children’s book, Milo is bored. When a tollbooth mysteriously appears in his room, he drives through only because he’s got nothing better to do. But on the other side, things seem different. Milo visits the Island of Conclusions (you get there by jumping), learns about time from a ticking watchdog named Tock, and even embarks on a quest to rescue Rhyme and Reason! Somewhere along the way, Milo realizes something astonishing. Life is far from dull. In fact, it’s exciting beyond his wildest dreams…

I recently read this book, and I think I got even more out of it as an adult, since I picked up on all the wordplay.

“A classic… Humorous, full of warmth and real invention.”
—The New Yorker

9
The Princess Bride
by William Goldman – 1973

A tale of true love, high adventure, pirates, princesses, giants, miracles, fencing, and a frightening assortment of wild beasts, as depicted in the beloved 1987 film.

“One of the funniest, most original, and deeply moving novels I have read in a long time.”
—Los Angeles Times

8
Uprooted
by Naomi Novik – 2015

Agnieszka loves her valley home, her quiet village, the forests, and the bright shining river. But the corrupted Wood stands on the border, full of malevolent power, and its shadow lies over her life.

Her people rely on the cold, driven wizard known only as the Dragon to keep its powers at bay. But he demands a terrible price for his help: one young woman handed over to serve him for ten years, a fate almost as terrible as falling to the Wood.

The next choosing is fast approaching, and Agnieszka is afraid. She knows—everyone knows—that the Dragon will take Kasia: beautiful, graceful, brave Kasia, all the things Agnieszka isn’t, and her dearest friend in the world. And there is no way to save her.

But Agnieszka fears the wrong things. For when the Dragon comes, it is not Kasia he will choose.

“Breathtaking . . . a tale that is both elegantly grand and earthily humble, familiar as a Grimm fairy tale yet fresh, original, and totally irresistible.”
—Publishers Weekly (starred review)

7
The Little Prince
by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry – 1943

The Little Prince is the most translated book in the French language. With a timeless charm it tells the story of a little boy who leaves the safety of his own tiny planet to travel the universe, learning the vagaries of adult behavior through a series of extraordinary encounters. His personal odyssey culminates in a voyage to Earth and further adventures.

6
The Last Unicorn
by Peter S. Beagle – 1968

The unicorn lived in a lilac wood, and she lived all alone. So she ventured out from the safety of the enchanted forest on a quest for others of her kind. Joined along the way by the bumbling magician Schmendrick and the indomitable Molly Grue, the unicorn learns all about the joys and sorrows of life and love before meeting her destiny in the castle of a despondent monarch—and confronting the creature that would drive her kind to extinction…

The Last Unicorn is the best book I have ever read. You need to read it. If you’ve already read it, you need to read it again.”
—Patrick Rothfuss, #1 New York Times Bestselling Author of The Name of the Wind

5
Battle Mage
by Peter A. Flannery – 2017

The world is falling to the burning shadow of the Possessed and only the power of a battle mage can save it. But the ancient bond with dragonkind is failing. Of those that answer a summoning, too many are black. Black dragons are the enemy of humankind. Black dragons are mad.

Falco Dante is a weakling in a world of warriors, but worse than this, he is the son of a madman. Driven by grief, Falco makes a decision that will drive him to the brink of despair. As he tries to come to terms with his actions, Falco follows his friends to the Academy of War, an elite training school dedicated to martial excellence. But while his friends make progress, he struggles to overcome his doubts and insecurity. Even Queen Catherine of Wrath has her doubts about Falco’s training.

While the Queen tries to unite the Kingdoms against the Possessed, Falco struggles to overcome his fears. Will he unlock the power trapped inside him or will he succumb to madness and murder like his father?

4
Tigana
by Guy Gavriel Kay – 1990

Eight of the nine Palm provinces of the Peninsula have been overcome by warrior sorcerers Brandin and Alberico. But the sorcerers don’t know that a small band of survivors is plotting their removal. With tensions mounting, the sorcerers become increasingly at odds as each decides where his own path—and that of the land—should truly lie.

“Brilliant. Rich in intrigue and subtlety. A gracefully plotted story. Highly recommended.”
—Library Journal

3
The Library at Mount Char
by Scott Hawkins – 2015

Carloyn knows she’s a little bit… odd. But she figures that’s only natural when she’s spent her life locked away in an infinite Library, forced to study at the feet of the man who might be God. She’s seen her share of terrible things in those years, even died a few times herself.

Steve tried hard to be an ordinary guy, and he’s been doing a pretty good job at it—until Carolyn shows up in his life with a tempting offer, a pair of red rubber galoshes, and exactly $327,000. Soon, he finds himself swept up in a war waged on a scale he can barely comprehend, as powerful forces battle for control of the Library and the future of the universe itself.

“A spellbinding story of world-altering power and revenge… A wholly original, engrossing, disturbing, and beautiful book.”
—Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

2
Invisible Cities
by Italo Calvino – 1972

This is possibly my favorite book of all time. The imagination, the tenderness, and the sense of wonder here is unlike anything I’ve come across anywhere.

In a garden sit the aged Kublai Khan and the young Marco Polo—Mongol emperor and Venetian traveler. Kublai Khan has sensed the end of his empire coming soon. Marco Polo diverts his host with stories of the cities he has seen in his travels around the empire: cities and memory, cities and desire, cities and designs, cities and the dead, cities and the sky, trading cities, hidden cities. As Marco Polo unspools his tales, the emperor detects these fantastic places are more than they appear.

1
The Stand
by Stephen King – 1978

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

2 replies on “27 Best Standalone Fantasy Books”

As someone who has read 20 of the 27 books on this list, let me say to you:

Read The Dragon Waiting by John M. Ford! You’ll be very very glad you did.

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