Top Ten 10 Favorite Fantasy Books
from my misspent youth
Some of the books on this list are from when I first started devouring the genre in fourth grade, and some are from middle school and junior high. I was a fan of all things books: I loved the scholastic book fairs, our public library, I volunteered in the library during middle school and junior high, I joined every book club I could find. I read in the hallway, I read while I walked to class. I figured out how to tell when my parents were coming down the hall and if I had time to turn off the lights and hide my book before they got there based purely on the different creaks in the floor boards. I devoured everything I could get my grubby hands on. I didn’t just read fantasy books, but they were the ones that had the most significant impact on me. I don’t say all of this to brag, but to explain why I don’t really remember the plots or the characters. At this point in my life, I remember the feelings I had while reading them and little else. That shit was a long time ago, folks. Let’s get started on this list!
A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle
I read this book and the resulting books somewhere around elementary school. They made me feel warm and happy. I don’t think I understood fully what was going on, but I enjoyed the journey.
Dune (series) by Frank Herbert
Frank Herbert was my Tolkien. Dune was my first big-girl series. I think I was in fifth grade, but that part is a little hazy. I had read all my library books and was searching my dad’s bookshelves for something to tide me over until the next trip. I was almost immediately enchanted, but I definitely skipped over the boring political stuff, a bad habit that I continue to this day. I suspect it’s why I’m not a great role player- I just want to read the action and have zero interest in strategy. As my dwarven barbarian once screamed, “GO FOR THE EYES.”
Dragonriders of Pern by Anne McCaffrey
This one was another find from my dad’s shelf, but I had to get some of the series from the library. These were the first books I read by Anne McCaffrey and I was so lost in the world: acid rain, dragons, music… it was utterly magical.
Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis
Scholastic book fair find! This one I definitely started reading in fourth grade. Honestly, I won’t summarize because you have not been living under a rock, dear reader. This was my first fantasy series, pre-dating Dune. I loved Tumnus and had no idea it was a Christian allegory. Womp womp.
The Farthest Away Mountain by Lynne Reid Banks
Definitely ordered from Scholastic. I picked up this book because I recognized the authors name. Our English teacher in fourth grade was reading The Indian in the Cupboard and so I decided to try it. This book is stand alone. The protagonist is a spunky, willful girl who sets upon a journey to fulfill her dreams. It read like a fairy tale, but not in a Grimm style, fear-based allegory. 10 year old Kirstin was down with this story.
The Long Dark Tea-Time of the Soul by Douglas Adams
I believe this was a book I read in high school. My bestie had loaned me Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy in junior high and I really loved his style, then I came across this at the thrift book store. It was the first time I’d read anything like it. It was like he just threw everything in the air and then somehow it all made sense by the time it hit the ground. Tea-Time resonated with me more deeply than Hitchhiker’s, though. I suspect it was the brief moment we hear Susan talking about trying to land a note on her cello over her voicemail. I played the cello and judge any media containing my instrument based on how they treated it. For instance: James Bond rode a Stradivarius down snowy hills and let bad guys shoot holes in it and I never, ever forgave him. But Susan had a working relationship with her cello- she would never let somebody shoot a hole through it. I just knew.
Vows and Honor series by Mercedes Lackey
I read any Mercedes Lackey I could get my hands on- I called them my popcorn books because I couldn’t stop with them. This series was one of my favorites. Two badass women coming together in a journey for truth and justice? Yes, please. There were also some pretty queer undertones to these books, we’re talking Xena & Gabrielle vibes- the kind where you’re like “LADIES JUST MAKE OUT ALREADY” but everybody continues to pretend they’re just really, really good friends.
The Discworld Series by Terry Pratchett
I mean, Terry Pratchett knows how to write some hilarious fantasy novels. I loved these books because I could laugh but I was still deeply invested in the characters. They were well developed and I just always felt really good after reading them. Feel good magic and humor for everybody!
Dealing with Dragons (series) by Patricia C. Wrede
Oh my god, I loved this series so much. This protagonist was a fierce princess who refused to live a life prescribed for a princess. She fought for her new life with intelligence, strength, will, and a fabulous cherry jubilee recipe. What is a cherry jubilee? I don’t know, but Wrede made it sound delicious and empowered. Grown up Kirstin just googled it and agrees with young Kirstin’s assessment. Perhaps I should make it sometime for research. Yes, research.
The Blue Sword and The Hero’s Crown by Robin McKinley
I wore the binding out on these books. I have read them a million times. I don’t even have words to describe how much I loved these books as a tween then teen. They are set in the same fantasy world but with different protagonists, both female. These books are both about intrepid outcasts who are alienated by society and find or create space to flourish and also save their kingdoms. So, you know, just the kind of thing I would love. Are you picking up on the pattern of books I loved? Because I suspect there is one there… wink wink.