STORIES THAT ENCHANT THE MIND
Otherworld's Editorial Picks of 2017…
2017’s top fantasy books, chosen by the Otherworld’s editorial staff highlights this year’s best in the genre. Are you looking to explore pages layered with deep meaning, brilliant prose, and just an overall great story? Then these are the books to grab. Discover a journey that will captivate your mind.
Please note, these selections are based on what our staff enjoyed the most in 2017. If you have suggestions of stories that should be considered for this list, please let us know. We are always searching for new books that invoke the imagination.
If you decide to read any of these stories, remember to write your thoughts on it here and at the store/website you bought it from. Sharing your thoughts will only help fellow readers in their search for new material, and authors in regards to seeing what their fans enjoyed or disliked.
"If you want to know what a man's like, take a good look at how he treats his inferiors, not his equals."
Exit West by Mohsin Hamid is a novel about migration and mutation, full of wormholes and rips in reality. This is a tale about a man and woman who meet at an evening class regarding company branding. Saeed is earthy and works at an ad agency. Nadia, who wears a full black robe and is employed by an insurance company, lives alone, and enjoys vinyl and psychedelic mushrooms. They are temporal individuals struggling with the chains of a theological state.
They live in an unnamed city as refugees begin to flood in. Militants are causing unrest and the terrors arising is driving out those with ambition and voice. Saeed and Nadia embark on a journey that resembles a dreamlike odyssey as they witness strange doors.
The characters move through the pages like abrupt flicker or broken tape. There is no flesh, no middle, only the cognitive shock of having been freshly transplanted to a new territory. Hamid documents the casual devastation of bombs, harassment and molestation that takes place as hundreds of city dwellers fight to take their life savings from a bank, and the supernatural elation of taking a warm shower after weeks on the road. This is explored through elements of magical realism and even The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe-style children’s storytelling. This was such a lush and evocative read that probes the mind of not just the characters, but the reader.
“Every time a couple moves they begin, if their attention is still drawn to one another, to see each other differently, for personalities are not a single immutable color, like white or blue, but rather illuminated screens, and the shades we reflect depend much on what is around us.”
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Politics, violence, and religion on a scale that grips fantasy readers. Mark Lawrence's Red Sister is a complex universe that begins with a gripping army seeking to kill a nun before the tale swiftly rekindles it's flame over the nine-year old Nona Grey who is given away by her mother and village after a frightful night. The children that to be sold are worth as much as what is in their blood.
There are four tribes in this world, and the purer the blood you have the more valuable you are until Nona is found guilty of a very violent crime and is sentenced to be executed. However, Sweet Mercy's Convent for young girls intervenes. This tale focuses on the training and growth of Nona as she is trained in the art of assassination, a regimen that often awakes the slumbering blood of the ancestors–magical skills that enhance the body, and abilities in combat.
The story takes you through epic battles, rival factions within the church, and a world that is slowly dying. Mark Lawrence knows how to create a nail-biting, bloody, on-the-edge-of-your seat kind of scene, and it's one you should not miss.
This story puts a heavy emphasis on friendship and the importance of believing in others even when you've been hurt in the past. Friendship truly is the constant theme of this story, and how beautiful and cruel it can be. Trust is something we should never give willingly, but it can reap so many beautiful things if you choose to put your trust in the right person.
Lawrence's prose carries a slow, but meticulously thoughtful momentum. It's different and unique and reflective on things going on in today's world such as gender, and identity. It's mesmerizing and unforgettable.
“A book is as dangerous as any journey you might take.
The person who closes the back cover may not be the same one that opened the front one. Treat them with respect.”
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"We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars."
Under the pendulum of a black sun floats the realm of Nevermore. It is trapped in a timeless white gale, nearly forgotten by the world it once existed in as if carved out and tossed aside. This is a place ruled by monsters and fallen deities.
The common belief is that humans caused this calamity, but much of the whispers are inconsistent. There is barely any truth anymore, and the once beautiful landscape blanketed by flowers is dying. Time has returned to fix it's mistakes, and with it a girl–a human girl.
Lunora and the Monster King is H.S. Crow's debut as an author, and by all that is Caligo, one of the most underrated masterpieces of 2017. The prose, tangled in poetry, takes the reader into a modernized Shakespearean vale filled with drama, pain, betrayal, vengeance, love, and hope. It is a story tinged with a darkness that utterly mirrors our world.
The issues of hate and discrimination found in the Middle East and United States are primary drivers to this tale, but also the concept of loss, acceptance, death, reality, and retribution. Truth is perspective, and nothing is ever as it seems. LMK paints this beautifully with it's rich exploration of a young girl named Lunora, and her journey to find her father. The girl meets many fantastic creatures along the way, and a Hyperion orphan named Iko, who has sworn to kill the Banished Oberon, King of Nevermore.
Lunora barely surviving her own home after the bombs fell knows to well of the terrible poison hate and revenge can bring. In order to keep her father's memory and teachings alive, she has sworn to never succumb to the wickedness the world spits, and she will die for this righteous belief if she has to. There is always another way. Violence should not be the only choice, and it's a cycle that ends with one's own actions. This decision creates severe conflict in her journey as she wakes in a land that seeks to punish her under the Obsidian Law.
Written in play form, this was such an unexpected ride. A must read of 2017. Become captured by a fairy tale worth remembering and a heroine any child or adult can respect. You may uncover the deeper mysteries locked in its pages. Subjects exploring reality, dreams, and perspective. The unique, yet subtle elements will shake you.
We could not help but to wonder if this is a representation of a child's brain and the imagination she used to hide the horrors she experienced, or if this is in fact another world, a piece of Caligo (The massive universe H.S. Crow is unleashing with Drums of Fog some time in 2019-2020) We have not read many books like this and found it to be easily one of those books that can change minds, bring awareness, and touch hearts. This powerful coming-of-age fantasy will have you seeking more.
“Liar! I know that you humans build your life in lies.
It starts with your mortal lords and their fabricated gods.
They use fictitious stories to impregnate the minds of people,
and like herds of sheep they do as their told.
With manipulation alone is enough to secure their reign.
After all, is it not in your nature to be wanted and purposeful?
It is such an easy game to play.
I have observed this falsehood accepted by fathers and mothers over and over again.
The idiocy becomes one with their children,
and they become the infrastructure that not only sedates but corrodes the soul with instructed conformity.
In the end, lies are all that you are..”
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The explosive first installments of the Broken Earth Series (The Fifth Season and The Obelisk Gate) by N.K. Jemisin was one that took the literary world by storm. Its twisting plots brimming with ideas and clever puzzles encased the reader in a masterwork of world-building tinged with history and culture.
The Stillness is a place of difficult decisions that constantly suffers from earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, and other terrible anomalies. However, the Orogenes are able to manipulate the earth to ease the destruction. They are powerful, yet oppressed due to the fear and ignorance of a civilization that mirrors our own racial issues. The Orogenes in essence are nothing more but resource to the stills, the non-orogenic.
The heart of this novel is oppression, but the soul of this deals with motherhood. The follows the lives of Essun and Nassun, mother and daughter, both before the cataclysm and after. Essun was a rogue Orogene, a person born with an innate, near-magical manipulation of the earth.
In the start, she's hidden alongside the stills on the apocalyptic continent of Stillness until Essun's husband, the father of her children murders their son after learning of the boy's secret–he is also an Oregene. The man flees with the likewise orogenically talented daughter, Nassun, on some terrified quest to save the girl from herself. When Essun comes home to the dead child, and a missing one, it sets a course of no return. What will a mother do to save her daughter?
“But there are none so frightened, or so strange in their fear, as conquerors. They conjure phantoms endlessly, terrified that their victims will someday do back what was done to them—even if, in truth, their victims couldn’t care less about such pettiness and have moved on. Conquerors live in dread of the day when they are shown to be, not superior, but simply lucky.”
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Philip Pullman's world of His Dark Materials returns in the new trilogy called The Book of Dust, beginning with La Belle Sauvage. This delicious return to such a rich and particular tale expands what was loved from the original. It deepens the story we know, and if you don't I suggest you start with The Golden Compass.
La Bella Sauvage captures the original series as we are taken back to when Lyra was a baby. We meet her parents and her spirited Dæmon, Pantalaimon, through the eyes of a inquisitive and adventurous, Malcolm Polstead. The young man becomes entangled in an unsettling plot to pursue and protect a 6 month year old Lyra, the heroine of the previous series, as the wrath of a massive storm drowns Oxford.
The book opens with a slow pace filled with tidbits of magic and secrets that gradually shift to a darker and harsher climax. This story will take you through many emotions, feelings of comfort and sorrow, followed by a deepening of the soul. While His Dark Materials represented a retailing of John Milton's Paradise Lost or the Fall of Eden, this is the Flood.
“Words belong in contexts,
not pegged out like biological specimens.”
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"Fairy tales are more than true: not because they tell us that dragons exist, but because they tell us that dragons can be beaten."
The Bear and The Nightingale by Katherine Arden is jaw-dropping fusion of Russian fairy tales and history, woven together distinctively to tell a powerful modern story exploring themes of belief, feminism, and magic.
Arden evokes a vivid medieval Russia, deep in woods, sunk beneath a blanket of white, and crippling with frost. Many elements from fairy tale stories are intertwined beneath these rich and captivating pages.
Vasilisa “Vasya” Petrovna is the daughter of a 13th century Russian noble. In many ways, she is the essence of a fairy-tale heroine dripping with youth and hope. Her father is kind, but he blames her for the death of her mother, and has always been conflicted by her. He still seeks to protect her the only way he believes he can: by marrying her into royalty. However, Vasya prefers to commune with the spirits that lurk within the woods and waters of the estate she lives in.
Spirits have protected the land for centuries and were respected until the arrival of a new priest and Vasya’s new mother-in-law, who both can see the spirits as well, but view them as demons to be destroyed. The locals begin to reject the ancient beings due to their influences, just when the village needs them the most, and things start to fall apart.
It falls to Vasya to harness the power she holds to save her family and her home. Arden’s lyrical prose serves a story that combines the beauty of nature and the power of magic into a tale that feels like a fairy tale of old—ideal for a cold winter night’s reading.
“There was a time, not long ago
When flowers grew all year
When days were long
And nights star-strewn
And men lived free from fear”
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The Islamic Fantasy epic, The City of Brass by S.A. Chakraborty is a must. It touches on subjects that mirrors our world today. From systematic oppression to identity to human trafficking, it's a story with many elements. The enchanting story takes the reader through the eyes of Nahri, a con woman in her early twenties, who remembers nothing of her childhood and fakes mystical powers of healing and fortune-telling to fleece her mark, or so it seems. Behind the thievery and deceit Nahri bears a special affinity to healing and magic, and it becomes more evident when she accidentally turns one of her exorcisms into an actual summoning. She had never believed in magical beings or creatures until her gaze fell on the Djinn Warrior, Dava.
The tale set in 18th-century Cairo during the Ottoman Empire as Dara tells Nahri that she is in danger and she must come with him to Daevabad, the city of the djinn. There she discovers a world of magic, power, secrets, and possibly, a birthright to reclaim. The imagination behind this book is more than promising, it is bewitching. The rich tale also takes you through the eyes of another, a young djinn prince named Ali with a heavy weight, who lives in the city Nahri must reach.
Many beings with different powers and abilities arise in this tale. The fantastical element in it truly made this story feel so whimsical. There are six tribes, and our dear Nahri is something completely different, very rare, and very sought after…
“It’s not just a word […]
That slur has been used to demonize our tribe for centuries.
It’s what people spit when they rip off our women’s veils and beat our men.
It’s what the authorities charge us with whenever they want to raid our homes and seize our property.”
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George R.R. Martin
"A reader lives a thousand lives before he dies, said Jojen. The man who never reads lives only one."
The Oathbringer by Brandon Sanderson is the third in the immensely popular book series, Stormlight Archive. We highly recommend you to read The Way of Kings, and the novella, Edgedancer before opening the masterpiece that Oathbringer is.
This is a huge scale, epic fantasy, that is massive not only in size, but in content and complexity. Characters and plot lines that span over thousands of years can be discovered here. Everything Sanderson creates resides in the same cosmos that connects all of his previous stories. The intricate magic discussed through these mythical pages exceeded the genre standards again. Yes, again. He has created multiple since his debut with Elantris, a must read as well.
Roshar is devided into ten mini/major kingdoms, all self-governed with Alethkar being the largest and where majority of the main characters build from. Sanderson draws is story through multiple eyes, but three being the primary characters: Dalinar, Kaladin, and Shallan. This installment of the series brings Dalinar and his family to focal point.
The emotions experienced in this book carry weight, and will linger. The heart of this story is oppression, and of the oppressor when they realize the wrong they have been doing or ignoring for so long. It carries a heavy reflection to our world, and the issues of racism and slavery. In addition, Sanderson tackles concepts of sexuality, gender, and identity in ways unlike his previous work. The bones of the story is the religion, and what people are willing to do in the name of it, and their God.
A new desolation has arisen with the return of the Voidbringers, a foe with numbers rivaling their thirst for vengeance. The armies of Dalinar gained victory at a terrible cost as the Everstorm destroyed the land at its wake. In essence, the story follows a band of humans fighting to unite their world in the face of an apocalyptic threat. The threats they face is not only outside, but within their people. Yet, in all this lunacy, deep bonds are formed and even a love that takes you away.
“You are not a heretic, Dalinar Kholin.
You are a king, a Radiant, and a father.
You are a man with complicated beliefs, who does not accept everything you are told.
You decide how you are defined.
Don’t surrender that to them.
They will gleefully take the chance to define you, if you allow it.”
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Ethelwood enjoys her coffee black like the sun, drifting beneath an unbearable white abyss, void of color and life, yet forever present. She loves to listen to the yowling fog, bearing the muffled screams of ancient apparitions while she writes. Life is good, the unnamed are watching . . .