The 5 Best Fantasy Series You Need to Read

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I am a lover of all things fantasy (and young adult!). I get a deep sense of joy from escaping into a world completely different to my own. My love of reading as a child, was fuelled by the books listed below. They captivated and inspired me and I hold them close to my heart. These are books I have read and reread countless times, and always return to when I need a place to escape.

His Dark Materials

Northern Lights, the first book in the His Dark Materials series
  • Author: Philip Pullman
  • Total books in the series: 3
  • Published: 1995-2000

I am not afraid to say that these books had a profound impact on teenage me and they may well be my favourite books of all time. They definitely had an effect on my worldview and they still resonate with me to this day. They raise a plethora of philosophical questions and intertwine some of the more complex notions of physics into the narrative in a captivating way. Pullman definitely draws on ideas from quantum mechanics and the multiverse theory and weaves them subtly into a compelling and exciting story. The characters are rich and believable and I was fully invested in all of them. These books made me feel very deeply along with the characters, like I really knew them and shared in their pain and triumphs. I would definitely class the trilogy as a masterpiece and a must read for anyone who loves fiction as a whole.

Pick up a copy of Northern Lights here, or the box set here.

The Old Kingdom Series

Sabriel, the first book of The Old Kingdom series
  • Author: Garth Nix
  • Total books in series: 5 (and some short stories)
  • Published:1995-2016

These books hold a special place in my heart. For one thing, unlike many fantasy novels I have read, they have predominantly female protagonists, and they are believable characters. The women in these books are strong, intelligent and quite frankly, don’t need no man! I found it refreshing to read a series of novels I could fully relate to. The books are dark with an element of humour and romance. I am a sucker for a strong female lead because you just don’t see it enough. The system of magic in this world is fascinating, particularly the necromancy. The story throughout the books is exciting and contains quite a few twists and turns, keeping the reader on their toes.

Pick up a copy of Sabriel here, or a copy of the first three books here.

The Inheritance Cycle

Eragon, The first book of The Inheritance Cycle
  • Author: Christopher Paolini
  • Total books in series: 4 (and some short stories)
  • Published: 2002-2011

I adore this series. As fantasy goes, this is about as fantastical as it gets. The stories are set in an entirely fictional world full of mythical beings. Paolini adheres to almost all the fantasy tropes, but I don’t think that is a bad thing. The books are well written and captivating, if a little heavy at times. He uses several different fictional languages throughout the novels, which can make them a little difficult to read in places, but I think it is well worth it. The story is complex and intricate and I have reread all the books several times. I think Paolini uses description to good effect in the books, and even now, having not read them for while, I can picture the landscape in my mind. If you are looking for epic journeys and complex battles, these books are for you.

Pick up a copy of Eragon here, or the box set here.

The Chronicles of Ancient Darkness

Wolf Brother, the first book in The Chronicles of Ancient Darkness
  • Author: Michelle Paver
  • Total books in the series: 7 (so far)
  • Published: 2006-2020

These are aimed at the same age group (or maybe even younger) as Harry Potter, but stay with me here. They are a compelling read. The books are short and written simply, as you would expect for books aimed at this age group, but that does not detract from the beauty of the story. The amount of research that has gone into these novels is astounding, and I learnt a lot about indigenous tribes and early humans from them. They really capture my imagination and inspire me to be more in touch with nature. Definitely a worthy read for an adult and a good series to share with your children. Paver is currently writing the next book in the series, and I am eagerly anticipating it!

Pick up a copy of Wolf Brother, the first book, here.

The Harry Potter Series

Cover of Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone, the first in the series of seven books
  • Author: J K Rowling
  • Total books in series: 7
  • Published: 1997-2007

The Philosophers Stone was the first “proper” book I remember reading as a child. My Dad, from whom I inherited my love of books, and I read the series together and saw all the films as they came out. Much like other Potter fans, I grew up with Harry and his friends and attach may of my warm and happy memories of my own childhood to these books. My Dad would pre-order the new books and we would eagerly await their release together. Sharing Harry Potter with him are memories I cherish to this day.

Aside from the warm and fuzzy feelings of nostalgia I get from these books, I think they are more than worthy of their status. They tackle many complex issues in ways children can understand. They are full of adventure and mystery and emotion, and a pure joy to read. I find them to be extremely well written and am enchanted all over again when I revisit them. I must have read all of them well over 10 times and each time I find some new magic in them. It amazes me how Rowling managed to link all these books together given the time period from the first to the last. There are so many layers of meaning to the names and places in her world that you are bound to spot something new each time you read them.

I’m still waiting for my letter from Hogwarts!

*I just want to add in here that I wrote this before JK aired her incorrect opinions on trans people. I want this blog to be inclusive of all readers and I do not support her views. That being said, the books hold a special place in my heart and childhood. It’s upsetting that she has sullied that for so many people. I will keep them included here because they meant so much to me, but I have removed the link to purchase them. If you want to buy them you’ll have to go the long way round I’m afraid.

Book Review: The Stand by Stephen King

This post may contain some affiliate links, which means if you purchase an item through the link, I will receive a small commission at no extra cost to you. This helps me cover the costs of running my blog.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Given the current climate, this may seem like an odd choice of book to read, but I like a challenge! I read the extended version on kindle so it was roughly 1325 pages long, but a print edition may be different. I believe the first version of the book was published in 1979 in the UK, with the version I have read first being published in 1990 in the UK.

A strong cup of builders tea is the best brew for this book!

I’ll try and keep the first portion of this post spoiler free, in case you want to read the book and not be coloured by my judgement of the intricacies of it. I personally went into this book with only a vague notion of what it was about and found it a thrilling read. This is a long read, there’s no doubt about that. King explains in the preface the reason there are two versions in the first place is solely down to the length of the book and the cost to produce it versus the sale cost at the time of production. I’m glad they went on to produce this longer version, as the added detail really gives a depth to the story and characters you rarely see in novels. I would say it is well worth springing for the uncut version.

The book has been hailed as a masterpiece by many. As a King fan already, it was this that tempted me to pursue it. He states in his preface that he personally does not see it as such, but I have to disagree with him. I certainly think it is one of his best works based off the few other books of his I have so far read. I found it rich and engaging, and was not bored at any point. A proverbial page turner. I was eager to catch up with each characters journey and felt I could relate to all of them in some way.

Having said all of the above, I have only rated it four out of five stars. This is because, and I have found this as a consistent theme throughout Kings books, I don’t think he writes female characters very well. This could be because I am reading his books as a woman, and he is writing them as a man. It is difficult to write from a perspective you have never had. I find he tends to make his female characters needy and weak. Perhaps not always obviously, but I find in this book even the strong female characters end up being carried in some way by the male characters. I actually find it harder to relate to his female characters than I do to his male ones.

This is not a book for the faint hearted. It is brutal in places and graphic. King does not shy away from describing the very worst in us, and it is that which makes this book a chilling, but believable read. I found it even prompted me to question myself. Who would I be in this situation? How would I act? What path would I take? A good novel should always make us take a look at ourselves and the world around us and wonder. Are we doing/being the best we can?

You can pick up a copy of the book here.

SPOILERS BELOW

And now, onto the spoilers. Below there will be more in depth discussion about the characters and themes of the book, if you are interested in how I interpreted it.

The book is split into thirds. In the first, we see the spread of the plague, and are introduced to our main characters. This is where King goes into real detail on the spread of the disease and the way it decimates the country, even as the government are trying to cover it up. He sets the tone for the book with the first few chapters, and after Stuart and his friends discover the deformed corpses of a mother and her toddler daughter, and the dying father, we can clearly see this book is taking no prisoners. It chills me to my core to know that that one man, just trying to flee and save his family, caused the destruction of the entire world as we know it. You ask yourself, would you do the same?

“In the course of the meal he infected Babe, the dishwasher, two truckers in a corner booth, the man who came in to deliver bread, and the man who came in to change the records on the juke. He left the sweet thang that waited his table a dollar tip that was crawling with death.”

Stephen King The Stand – Chapter 8

King, very aptly in my opinion, describes the spread of the disease across America. This was a bit of an eye opener for me given the current situation. This part of the book is useful in understanding how the corona virus managed to get from a market in Wuhan to your local hospital in a matter of a few months. It caused me to look at the world a little differently and pay attention to my interactions, even in lockdown. Kings virus is much more contagious and deadly than the corona virus, thankfully, but they spread in much the same way. There are also some parallels in Kings book between the governments handling of the virus and the early handling of our pandemic. Fortunately for us, our world leaders seem to be much more open with the information these days, but no one can deny that this pandemic was downplayed by all governments in the early stages, much like it is in Kings book. It leads you to ask the question, what would have happened if the disease was worse?

During the destruction of the world, we are introduced to the main characters, of which there are quite a few. I think the characters are what make this book live up to is masterpiece status. King takes real time to develop and instil in them qualities (both good and bad) we find in ourselves. He takes them from their mundane lives pre-plague, through the horror and loss to the empty and dangerous world beyond. Each character reacts and adapts differently and its easy to see elements of yourself in all of them.

This post will be longer than the book its self if I go into all my thought and feelings on each character. There are many and it not until quite late in the book that their paths all converge. The reader gets to know them so well it is almost as if they are real people to me. I sometimes find myself wondering about them as if I knew them. The journeys they take are fraught with twists and turns. In my opinion, none more so than those of Harold and Larry.

“And when the end comes, and when it is as horrible as good men knew it would be, there is only one thing to say as all those good men approach the Throne of Judgement : I was misled.”

Stephen King The Stand – Chapter 64 (Harold’s last note)

I actually found myself grieving for Harold. I sympathised with his character an awful lot. He represented a lot of the traits we often find undesirable in ourselves and others, but he seemed aware of this. He wanted to change. I found his descent into “evil” quite profound. I understood why he ended up doing the things he did. It made me wonder if we really do know ourselves. I think of myself and an inherently good person. Doesn’t everybody? But that does not mean I always do good things, or react to situations in a ‘good’ way. It doesn’t mean others think I am good. There is no question that Harold commits evil acts, but there is a question over whether he, himself, is evil. I think not, personally. He is a product of his environment and his past, as we all are. He struggles with the hated in his heart right until the very end, and he almost changes his mind. Almost. I think King really tackles some huge issues in this book and leaves me pondering some deep philosophical questions.

“No one can tell what goes on in between the person you were and the person you become. No one can chart that blue and lonely section of hell. There are no maps of the change. You just… come out the other side.

Or you don’t.”

Stephen King The Stand – Chapter 44

I dislike Larry to start with too. He is selfish and arrogant and struggles with this throughout the book. This is once again something I think we can all relate too. As difficult to admit as it can be, we all behave like this sometimes. I know I can be very selfish at times. Larry seems to me like the ideal character to join the ‘evil’ side. I spend quite a bit of the book waiting for that to happen, but it doesn’t. He turns himself around, but he still does ‘bad things’. Just as with Harold, he struggles with himself right up to the bitter end, but unlike Harold, his demise comes of altruism rather than hatred. His struggles are not really any different to Harold’s, just he just makes one choice that saves him, by denying Nadine, where Harold “succumbs to his destiny” with her.

King grapples with the idea of good and evil throughout the book, in fact the plague at the beginning seems almost unimportant to the story other than to create the field upon which this great battle between good and evil will take place. I read this book as someone without religion, and it has clearly been written from a christian standpoint, but I don’t think that matters. Despite the fact I do not believe in a god or a devil per se, (both of which feature quite heavily throughout the narrative) the concept of good versus evil is a recurrent theme thought most schools of thought.

There are stark similarities between both of the new civilisations, I personally think. To someone on the ground, they probably wouldn’t seem very different at all. In fact, Las Vegas would seem better run and better organised. Most of the people there are just that, people. What makes them so evil compared to everyone in Boulder? What makes the children in Las Vegas evil, and the ones in boulder good? I would argue that the only difference is which place they felt could offer them the best chance at survival.

Saying that, once you delve into the intricacies of their societies, you begin to see where the differences are. Those in Las Vegas are controlled by fear, and are living in a dictatorship. Whereas those in Boulder are (given the illusion of) democracy. I would argue that it isn’t a complete democracy as they attempt to engineer the situation to elect those they think will be best suited to the rolls of leadership. There is a question over the morality of this I think. Of course, everyone in Boulder thinks they are doing what is best for the colony, but surely everyone in Las Vegas believes that too. There are certainly good things about the Las Vegas society, and bad things about the Boulder society, so how can one be wholly good, and the other wholly evil?

Harold clearly thinks he is justified in blowing up the newly formed government albeit for somewhat selfish reasons. Is what “God” did to the people in Las Vegas any different? Did all those people, some of them children, deserve the fate they got, even as they were beginning to revolt against their totalitarian leader? Did God even do anything? Could they not have brought about their own destruction in some way. There is deliberate irony, I think in the fact it was Trashcan Man, who was the most devoted of all ‘The Dark Man’s” followers, who brought about the demise of the “bad guys”.

“The Beauty of religious mania that it has the power to explain everything. Once God (or Satan) is accepted as the first cause if everything which happens in the mortal world, nothing is left to chance… or change”

Stephen King The Stand – Chapter 48

I will draw this post to a close here, although I have much to say on the concepts of good or evil. I feel I have only scratched the surface of the intricacies of this book and the philosophical questions it has raised for me. If you have made it this far, I would be really interested to hear what you think of the book, and my somewhat rambling conclusions of it. Especially if you disagree with me.

You can pick up a copy of the book here.

A Book and A Teacup

Five words that pretty much sum up my ultimate happy place. A good book is priceless on its own, but accompanied with the perfect cup of tea, transcendent.

I have been an avid reader all my life. There is a joy specific to reading that enriches the soul and expands the mind beyond the mundanity of every day life. A good book, be that fiction or non fiction, can shape you as a person, and have a profound effect on how you see the world. This has happened to me on countless occasions. Books have enriched my life and my thinking, and they continue to do so. Which brings me to the reason for starting this blog. I thought I would use it as a way to air my thoughts on a recent read. I love to talk over a novel once I have finished it. To think on its implications and meanings. To digest and discuss the intricacies of a plot line or a character. As sad as it sounds, I always enjoyed writing about the books we would study in school.

As you may have also guessed, I enjoy a good cuppa. I am a self proclaimed (perhaps slightly obnoxiously) tea connoisseur and I enjoy almost all the teas I have tried, with the exception of Lapsang souchong. That just tastes like a forest fire to me. However, nothing can replace a good cup of builders tea in my heart, strong, just a splash of semi-skimmed milk and absolutely no sugar, just as nature intended.