What makes a good Sci-Fi or Fantasy novel? The world building, diverse and fleshed out characters, the plausibility, the gripping plot? Well, the answer depends from person to person. So while I can’t answer this question I can answer another: what are some good Sci-Fi and Fantasy novels and series? Here are some much recommended novels you just might enjoy.
The ‘Graceling’ series (Graceling, Fire, and Bitterblue) by Kristin Cashore
Each book is different and all are very enjoyable. Cashore’s writing manages to bring me to laughter and tears and sometimes both at the same time. These three companion novels are not only a fun read but provide different viewpoints on relationships, both romantic and platonic, loyalty to country and people, living through wars, and torn families. The world building is shown well and through beautiful prose. Each protagonist is a dynamic and unique woman with her own stories to tell. None of the books feel like a repetition of each other and can be read in any order though some suggest that you read them in order of their release. I have reread Graceling and Bitterblue three times and reread Fire countless more.
‘The Keys to the Kingdom’ series by Garth Nix
This seven-part series is a wonderful blend of sci-fi, fantasy, humour, and adventure. Nix introduces us to an unwilling hero, Arthur, in Mister Monday and we see him grow and learn throughout the series. His friends are all individuals with interesting personalities and motives. The betrayals and problems Arthur faces can be dark at times so I don’t recommend it solely for preteens, I think older age groups will enjoy them just as much and understand the subtext better. Having each of the seven ‘Trustees’ controlled by one of the seven deadly sins is another fun aspect. The religious features within the series provide new things to ponder about, as well as the historical figures such as the Pied Piper and the Ancient Mariner. It can be very reminiscent of old legends and fables, just look at the name of our protagonist.
‘Shatterbones’ by Robert Brown
Brown’s novel is an interesting take on the whole apocalyptic/mutant scenario. Children, now vampires, battle with other great monsters such as giants and behemoth-like creatures, and so enjoyable fight scenes play out within the novel. Characters are interesting in how they use their gifts, for good or for bad, and Brown does bring to life some interesting characters (pun intended). The dialogue is entertaining and sometimes even inspirational. The political aspect is very readable. Shatterbones is a horror so I recommend this to young adults and older.
‘A Face Like Glass’ by Frances Hardinge
This beautiful fantasy is set in the underground world of Caverna where people are born with faces ‘as blank as untouched snow’. The very premise of having skilled mastercrafts people teach others for a price to convey emotions on their face is incredibly intriguing. Hardinge’s cast of characters is so diverse and interesting that one can fall in love with it based on them alone. Our protagonist Neverfell, named so because she fell into a vat of Neverfell cheese, goes on a dangerous journey through courts and murder and mystery and takes us along so we don’t get lost. After all, it is very easy to get lost in the caves of Caverna. The world building is captivating and the plot is gripping. This book is a truly wonderful read and I constantly recommend it to the people around me. As a general rule I would say to always pick up a Hardinge book, I have yet to read one that disappointed me.
The ‘Rose’ series by Holly Webb
For the younger readers I recommend the four part series that bewitched me as a pre-teen. The story of a young orphan, alchemy, and magic in the streets of a British town is a delightful tale with mystery and fantasy. The details behind magic are not too intricate and complicated which makes them all the more enjoyable for that age. Rose and the ensemble of magic and non magic people captured my attention; it’s always helpful to have a likeable protagonist and some interesting villains, which this series does. The mystery of who Rose is is a question that stays with you throughout the series and the answer is not a disappointment. They are quick reads and, depending on your speed and time availability, can be read within a week though I drew it out so I could savour the books for longer.
‘I, Nemo’ by J Dharma Windham and Deanna Windham
This clever retelling of ‘20,000 Leagues Under the Sea’ by Jules Verne provides a backstory to Captain Nemo is ‘his very own words’! The lost journal idea has been done before but it was fresh here in Windham’s book. The steampunk vibe paired with the jungle setting captures the attention and makes the book a fast read. The descriptions of the seas and the battles are well written and very vivid. The characters are well thought out with our protagonist having fun personality traits and an ambiguous morality. It’s a novel for so many people; adventure lovers, sci-fi lovers, steampunk lovers. This is definitely on my recommended list!
‘The Enemy Within’ by Scott Burn
This heartwrenching story of a teen who dreams of an apocalyptic future and finds himself institutionalised for suicidal thoughts as a result will pull you in and keep it’s hold on you after. Max and the friends he makes are fleshed out and well written characters who give you all the feels. Their dialogue is realistic, something that can be hard to find in many novels centered around teenagers. What separates this sci-fi from others published at the moment are the identity issues, morality issues, and the survival issues. It showcases real life but with aliens on the side. It also opens up the discussion on teenage suicide and abuse. Burn has a rich imagination and brings something fresh to the genre which I think many people would enjoy and should read.
Clouds of smoke and ash swirled through the city. Tidal waves of fire consumed every helix-shaped building that rose into the burning sky. Max watched the colossal structures collapse with crushing force, shaking the earth.
Agonized screams echoed around him, but all Max could see through the scorching haze was the thousands of charred corpses – their arms outstretched as if reaching for salvation. Brittle bones turned to dust beneath him as he tried to run, but there was nowhere to hide.
No one ever survived the inferno – no one except Max, who was forced to watch a world’s end over and over each day.
Cold, wet pavement pressed against his face. Max opened his eyes to find himself in the alley. Rain deluged the streets. He winced as he pushed himself upright, his fingernails raw from clawing at the pavement while in the grip of the last vision.
Max didn’t want to die, but he knew there was only one escape and he’d take that tonight. Clutching the bolt cutter, he stepped out of the shadows into the night.
G. F. Smith
“My feet are cold; it’s cold outside!”
“No, it’s over seventy degrees outside, Dad. Your feet are cold because you put your shoes in the freezer again.”
“Freezer? What on earth are you talking about? Why in the world would I put my shoes in the freezer?”
“I don’t know, Dad. Why would you put your shoes in the freezer? You tell me,” she said, looking between the busy road and her father.
“Well, I…don’t know. I wouldn’t have a clue.” He looked at her, caught her worried glance. He suddenly felt sadness, a fleeting sense of remorse. Something sparked in his mind, but then he forgot what it was. He turned away and looked out the window. Something wasn’t right, but he just couldn’t figure it out. His brow tensed and wrinkled.
Sarah Frances Whiting drove carefully after dropping her father off at the Merit Ptah Medical Center. Her mind was inundated with thoughts of him, his apparent worsening condition, his stay at the center for tests, as well as her forthcoming job interview, which she was en route to. The clearly insane drivers in Los Angeles were not helping. As soon as she turned on to the street, she was nearly rear-ended by a pokey-haired, suit-clad man intensely multi-tasking on his smartphone.
“Watch what the…watch what you’re doing!” she grumbled, as she switched her attention between the rear-view mirror and what was in front of her. The driver behind her was getting a little too close as traffic inched and stopped, and her car’s rear proximity alarm was making Sarah edgy by blaring every twenty or so seconds.
The alarm sounded again and Sarah snapped. She slammed the gear shift into park and leaned out of the window.
“Hey, you mind keeping your eyes on the driving!” she yelled, scowling.
The man heard the remark and looked up with a defensive frown. He held both hands up, Smartphone still in hand, and presented a what’s the problem? air of innocence. He then shook his head with annoyance and within seconds changed lanes, mumbling, “Crazy bitch, you lost your mind?” out of the side of his mouth as he increased his distance.
Sarah Whiting rolled her eyes and bit the inside of her lip.
She turned onto the highway.
After two hours of driving she arrived at the campus’ tree-shrouded parking lot.
She was cutting it close on time.
Sarah exited the high-mileage, 2047 two-seater, Praxis-Sport. She grabbed her backpack, reaching into it as she stood up. She shut the door with her slender, athletic hip, hurriedly turned, and as she walked, pinched her streaked, light brown hair back on both sides with small clips.
She was barely going to make it.
J. Dharma Windham & Deanna Windham
In My Mind’s Eye
Let this chronicle serve as the true and unvarnished tale of my life irrespective of the nonsense written about me by that knave—professor Pierre Arronax. There is nothing, and I do mean nothing, I regret more than this: That I ignored my better judgement and allowed that pompous old fraud on board my Nautilus.
The man was a fool to the bone and a tyrant to his manservant, Eduard Conseil, a gentle and inoffensive Belgian. Then there was Ned Land, a coarse and ignorant waterfront lout I ought to have slain at once but spared out of deference to his accidental fellow travelers. Fortunately, we shall not cross paths with these fellows in this first volume, and for that we can all be thankful.
Captain Nemo The Nautilus 1878
17 May 1940: A time tear
We had gone back in time. Only a few days, but it would be enough. Wacker and I hid in a closed thicket on the far side of the river from the French gun emplacement. A perfect spring day. Buds hung off the thick shrub bank. A sweet spring smell floated on the soft gossamer wind. Song birds played hide and go seek through the branches while bees and butterflies danced in the air. The spring mid-afternoon sun, bright and piercing like a searchlight, made us shield our eyes. We hid, like two wanted men, waiting for our time to go, waiting for hell. We lay there, concealed, even though the French had no guards, no patrols. They were confident on their own land, behind their thick, banked hedge.
We knew them. We had drunk and eaten with them, yet still we hid. Guilt? Guilt that we knew they would soon be dead? Their souls ripped from their bodies? Probably. The Phoney War had carried on for months while the French army rotted in their defensive positions, waiting. They did not train, they just waited, day after endless day, week after countless week. When the invasion of France started, just seven days ago, the Allies were wrong footed, and had been trying to stem an unstoppable tide. This counterattack by the Allies would eventually fail. Our job was to buy enough time for the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) to retreat to England.
Wacker and I synchronised watches. Wacker, broad as a tank, his face set hard in concentration, set his watch to mine. I warned him not to change anything. We must only do what we set out to do: plant a package into the dead lieutenant’s pocket. If we did anything more, we would alter the past and that would cause a ‘tear’ in time. That tear would become a rip, and then more rips would form. More and more until a conflux of rips would rupture time into a parallel universe.
One hour. We crossed the bridge and walked a little way along the road. It was potted and patched with dirt. Our feet crunched like popcorn on the gritty surface. The sun was lower now, our shadows longer, but the birds still swooped and fed as insects danced across the blossom. We picked our spot where the hedge looked thinner, and then clambered up the bank and through the hedgerow, sliding down through the prickles and weeds into the field. Its crop was hand high. Wheat. We made our way along the field boundary to behind the French emplacement. We drew closer, steadily creeping along the edge of the field. Why? I did not know, but it felt like intruding, spying on something that should be left unseen.
There were voices now, caught on the zephyr breeze. Happy, laughing. A sing-song voice, a deeper voice, a brickbat noise. Then the distinctive sound of mortars howling through the sky. Soon, a deeper roar of German artillery. We hit the ground, the smell of dirt in my nostrils; my hands over my ears, nearly deafened by the noise. Then silence as if the whole world was stunned. A smell of burnt flesh, high explosives, and melted metal hung low above the field. We choked in the fog of war. In that hanging stillness, Wacker and I again crept forward. The French camp was a shambles—taken completely by surprise.
They began to come to. Their number one gun was destroyed. Around their number two gun were a few injured men, their groans clear in the sizzling after effects. French calls and shouts, orders barked. Then a French gun boomed.
Teracia unfolded herself from the flaps of the manta and waved it off. The giant ceph jetted away, moving far faster empty than it had with a passenger. She watched as it rose toward the surface, spread its diaphanous wings, and soared the ocean currents. Teracia felt a twinge of guilt for interrupting its day.
She turned and looked across the swimway at Song Corp’s headquarters, a giant teal-blue dome that mimicked an aroused male diaphragm. Centrix city had many palaces and impressive government buildings. This trumped them all. Teracia felt the ballow on her forehead inflate and its neutral beige morph into a swirling tempest of rage red and fear yellow. She fought to control it, drawing water slowly through her gills to force a return to the beige.
Three security guards floated in a line behind the entrance to the building. Fit and young fahr, they showed no signs of song addiction. Each held a pitch wand. Behind them a coral garden beckoned with a collection of radiant trophy fish and a few gauzy shrimp.
Teracia swam forward. “I have an appointment.”
“You’re the femfahr?” the one on the right asked. His pitch wand moved to within a few inches of her diaphragm.
Teracia said nothing but felt the beige yellow and then to pink into irritation. The pitch wand was capable of inflicting severe pain when touched against the male Fahr diaphragm but would have no effect on her. She glared at the guard until his ballow inflated and mauved into embarrassment.
“Of course she is,” said the second one. “If you would follow me, Mamini.”
Someone had taught him the ancient form of femfahr address. Teracia allowed her gill slits a small ripple of pleasure. It was a nod to a time when the fahr expressed their sexuality, when males noticed females. Now the femfahrs were little more than objects of curiosity, mistakes made in the reproductive labs, pitied because songs could not arouse them and males had no interest.
The guard led Teracia past the coral garden and into the stunted kelp forest beyond. A blue-green jelly, a favorite food, pulsed into Teracia’s peripheral vision, she snag-tongued it, pulling it into her mouth and swallowing.
“Not many job applicants would poach in the Song Corp forests on the way to meet Lord Greyling,” the guard said.
“Not many job applicants are called in to meet him personally,” Teracia replied allowing just enough gold into her ballow so show a hint of arrogance.