Worlds of words to escape to
November 15, 2017 6:00 PM   Subscribe

Yesterday, I read the gorgeous, perfect, sweet all-ages comic "The Tea Dragon Society" and fell in love. And then realized how badly I need to disappear into a really good book or 10. Recommendations? I'm looking for some fantasy, historical fiction, regular fiction, or sci-fi novels to read for the purposes of escapism. I'm open to webcomics, too, and podcasts/audiobooks, and kid's books, and movies. Anything where I can really sink into another world and lose myself.

I appreciate finely crafted worlds, whether those worlds are entirely fantastical, interwoven with reality as it is, or magical in power of description only. I also appreciate (in graphic novels and webcomics) really gorgeous art. Bonus for subject matter that includes tea, or winter imagery, or Antarctica, or desert landscapes.

Examples of books I've loved:

Kid's books: Oh my goodness, I loved loved loved The Tea Dragon Society and also Moominland Midwinter.
Nami Moon: Miles from Nowhere. It's regular fiction, not fantasy, but the prose has this incredible hallucinatory beauty that has stayed with me. As in, I close my eyes and I can see images from that book imprinted in the backs of my eyelids.
Sjon: The Blue Fox. Same thing here with the imagery.
All of Stuart Dybek's short stories about the South Side of Chicago.
Tolkien: The Hobbit
Mark Helprin: Winter's Tale
Neal Stephenson: Anathem, Cryptonomicon, Snow Crash, The Diamond Age.
Joan Slonczewski: A Door Into Ocean, Brain Plague, and the other Elysium novels
Marge Piercy: He, She, It

Movies that demonstrate the qualities I'm looking include My Neighbor Totoro, Song of the Sea, The Book of Kells, Kubo and the Two Strings, and the fantastically beautiful Boy and the World. I suppose I'm looking for beautiful animation, beautiful music, and a sense of wonder even in the face of darkness.

I also LOVE graphic novels. Think Emily Carroll's creepy Through the Woods, Neil Gaiman's Sandman, Dave McKean's Cages, Craig Thompson's Blankets...

Regarding escapism: I love Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale, but that is not the kind of thing I'm looking for right now. Also, I didn't enjoy the N. K. Jemisin I have read, and am trying to avoid similarly interior-oriented "person learning to control their powers that are both a gift and a curse"-type mind-over-matter fantasy.

I liked the "Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them" movie better than the Harry Potter movies that were set at Hogwarts. Having the wizards out and about and interfacing with the wider world felt much more interesting than a stifling boarding-school setting.

I am a bit burned out on Stephenson now, but if there's a Neal S. book I haven't read that's extremely excellent, I'm willing to give it a try. I tried to get into Quicksilver but there wasn't enough fascinating stuff in the beginning (a la the other N.S. novels I listed) to get me past the... total dearth of female protagonists.

Thanks, Metafilter! Looking forward to losing myself in your favorite media.
posted by cnidaria to Writing & Language (47 answers total) 95 users marked this as a favorite
I'm a huge fan of Digger by Ursula Vernon.
posted by joyceanmachine at 6:13 PM on November 15, 2017 [6 favorites]

Drop everything and start The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet by Becky Chambers right now.
posted by dayintoday at 6:18 PM on November 15, 2017 [4 favorites]

Oh and maybe Saga on the graphic novel side.
posted by dayintoday at 6:41 PM on November 15, 2017

If you're not anti-steampunk, Girl Genius is a marvelously detailed graphic-novel world.
posted by praemunire at 6:42 PM on November 15, 2017

If you liked The Secret of Kells, you will love The Song of the Sea (which is by the same folks, but is better)

I am pretty confident you will like Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell

If you liked Sandman, you will probably like Neil Gaiman's novels (American Gods, Neverwhere, Anansi Boys, etc.)
posted by phoenixy at 6:44 PM on November 15, 2017 [2 favorites]

I never read fiction but I am currently completely absorbed in and loving Ursula K. Le Guin's first novel Rocannon's World . Great world-building so far.
posted by rustcellar at 6:49 PM on November 15, 2017

Ursula Le Guin, especially Earthsea! I love these books so much I have an Earthsea tattoo.

Also, if you've only read one Moomin book, definitely check out the rest of them, they're all wonderful!
posted by ITheCosmos at 6:50 PM on November 15, 2017 [3 favorites]

I was recently enthralled and transported by Elizabeth Gilbert's the Signature of All Things. And agree that you will probably love Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell.
posted by fingersandtoes at 7:08 PM on November 15, 2017

If you haven't read the Aubrey Maturin series, I highly recommend them. They are delightfully-written historical fiction about two friends in the Napoleonic Wars, and definitely a form of escapism if you can stand naval jargon and a specific style.

I also have to enthusiastically second Becky Chambers. The Small Angry Planet books are a warm-hearted pleasure.
posted by Alensin at 7:13 PM on November 15, 2017

Best answer: It sounds like you would enjoy Seraphina by Rachel Hartman. It's got dragons and music and has a very cozy feeling about it. Really fantastic world building.

Also check out A Corner of White by Jaclyn Moriarty. It is so hard to adequately describe it, but its weird, lovely magical quality has stuck with me for years. I'm never sure who to recommend it to, but I think it might work for you.

Oh and the Hilda graphic novels by Luke Pearson! All ages comics filled with fantastical creatures and adventures in a very cozy foresty setting.
posted by wsquared at 7:20 PM on November 15, 2017 [3 favorites]

Gormenghast Trilogy, Mervyn Peake maybe?
posted by typecloud at 7:27 PM on November 15, 2017 [1 favorite]

Oh! While his characters are terrible, the descriptions of magic in Lev Grossman's Magicians Trilogy are just beautiful, astonishing really. You mention Antarctica... the expedition to Antarctica in the first book is mesmerizing.
posted by fingersandtoes at 7:37 PM on November 15, 2017

Kazu Kibuishi's Amulet graphic novel series is children's/YA but definitely transcends that. It's so good and beautiful. There's some darkness but a lot of hope. (There are 7 books currently; the 8th should be out next year and the 9th probably another year after that).

It's possible you've read it, but since you didn't mention it, Jeff Smith's Bone start out with some Looney Tunes silliness and gradually turns into a full-on Lord of the Rings epic. Also so gorgeous and powerful.

Maybe the animated series Adventure Time and Steven Universe, too. Adventure Time is a little bit more uneven, especially early on, but it's surprising at what a complex world it builds 11 minutes at a time. Steven Universe is wonderful and sweet and the power of its mythology sneaks up on you.
posted by darksong at 7:43 PM on November 15, 2017 [1 favorite]

I really got caught up in the world of Gunnerkrigg Court, and based on what you've described here I bet you would, too.
posted by DingoMutt at 7:44 PM on November 15, 2017 [4 favorites]

I think you should give The Snow Child a try. It has many of the elements you like.

Also I think The City and the City by China Mieville. And/or Embassytown.
posted by janey47 at 7:50 PM on November 15, 2017

I feel like I come into every book thread to do this, but OH, MAN, Connie Willis. CONNIE WILLIS.
posted by fairlynearlyready at 8:05 PM on November 15, 2017 [5 favorites]

Spider Robinson and Jeanne Robinson's Stardance
posted by Jacen at 8:10 PM on November 15, 2017

These aren't perfect matches for your criteria, but at various times in my life, I threw myself into re-reading these novels obsessively:
Bridge of Birds, by Barry Hughart. (Noting there are problematic elements that I glossed over on most of my re-readings.)
The Blue Sword and The Hero and The Crown, by Robin McKinley.
The Once and Future King, by T.H. White
The Free Lunch by Spider Robinson.
Most of the Tortall books by Tamora Pierce. The Lioness Quartet, The Wild Magic quartet, The Protector of the Small quartet, and the Trickster duology.

(And seconding Gunnerkrigg Court and Girl Genius....)

The storylines of the web comic Questionable Content have been really good for the past couple years, especially when Jeph Jacques digs in on AI characters' lives. This strip might not be a bad place to start.
posted by Mutant Lobsters from Riverhead at 8:12 PM on November 15, 2017 [4 favorites]

Tamora Pierce's Tortall universe gives you 15+ books to lose yourself in. They sometimes deal with sexism and bad things, but the kickass female heroines always prevail and there is usually a happy end. Start with "Alanna - The First Adventure".
posted by LoonyLovegood at 8:17 PM on November 15, 2017

I got a similar feeling from The Girls at the Kingfisher Club by Genevieve Valentine.

The Garth Nix Abhorsen series is good for this as well.
posted by frumiousb at 8:25 PM on November 15, 2017 [1 favorite]

I would recommend the gorgeously visual and fantastical film The Fall.
posted by gudrun at 8:31 PM on November 15, 2017 [1 favorite]

Re: Neal Stephenson: I hear you about Quicksilver. Try Anathem for serious escapism.

That said, I've been enjoying the Naomi Novik Temeraire series... which would seem to fit the bill. It's adventures during the Napoleonic wars, if the Napoleonic wars had featured dragons. It is silly and fund and escapist.
posted by pompomtom at 8:42 PM on November 15, 2017 [1 favorite]

erm, 'fun', not 'fund'...
posted by pompomtom at 8:53 PM on November 15, 2017

I've just finished, and loved, the Penric and Desdemona novellas by Lois McMasters Bujold about a boy and his demon (or a demon and her boy). Five so far, each a complete story (though best read in order) with a combo of humor, romance, competence, foolishness and occasional fantasy action.

Privilege of the Sword by Ellen Kushner. I love Elizabeth Bear, both Karen Memory (Steampunk novella) or the Eternal Sky series (high fantasy trilogy) have strong world building. Children of Time by Adrian Tchaikovsky is great SF if you aren't arachnophobic. And finally the Steerswoman series is just wonderful.

Actually for real finally is Tobias Buckell's Crystal Rain with it's alien but Caribbean themed setting. This is a bit grimmer than my other recommendations, though not out of line with your reading list.

Seconds: I don't normally appreciate graphic novels but Gunnerkrieg Court sucked me in. Rocannon's World (and same era / universe novel City of Illusions is also good). City and the City.
posted by mark k at 8:59 PM on November 15, 2017

HELL YEAH to Saga and Earthsea and The Fall!!

Jorge Luis Borges - anything - maybe Labyrinths
Liu Cixin - The Three Body Problem
China Mieville - Perdido Street Station
David Mitchell - The Bone Clocks, The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet, Cloud Atlas (skip the movie)
Ben Okri - The Famished Road
Helen Oyeyemi - The Icarus Girl, Mr. Fox
Salman Rushdie - Midnight’s Children
Mary Doria Russell - The Sparrow
Brian Selznick’s books
Sheri Tepper - Grass
Jeff Vandermeer - Annihilation
The Wicked and the Divine series of graphic novels
Jillian Wiese - The Colony
Jeanette Winterson - Oranges are Not the Only Fruit
Virginia Woolf - Orlando
Patricia C. Wrede - Enchanted Forest Chronicles

The Assassin (dir. Hou)
Beauty and the Beast directed by Juraj Herz
Blancanieves (dir. Berger)
Hugo (dir. Scorsese)
Hunt for the Wilderpeople (dir. Waititi)
The Iron Giant (dir. Bird)
The Little Mermaid directed by Karel Kachyna - you can find it on YouTube I think
Moonrise Kingdom (dir. Anderson)
The work of Jan Svankmajer
The Time That Remains (dir. Suleiman)
The work of Apichatpong Weerasethakul - Uncle Boonmee, Cemetery of Splendor, Tropical Malady
Tideland (dir. Gilliam)
The Wonders (dir. Rohrwacher)

Dirty Three - Whatever You Love, You Are (album)
posted by phonebia at 9:10 PM on November 15, 2017 [2 favorites]

Castle Waiting, by Linda Medley, is a wonderful, story-centric fantasy graphic novel which should be just right for you.
posted by librosegretti at 9:15 PM on November 15, 2017 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Searches page for The Unwritten, doesn't see it yet.

That, then. Definitely The Unwritten. It's an amazing escape.

Seconding Bone.

Searches page for Zelazny, doesn't see it yet.

Add The Great Book of Amber, then, by Roger Zelazny.

For escapist historical supernatural fantasy fiction, I highly recommend Deborah Harkness' All Souls trilogy.

And if you like graphic novels that also involve sexytimes as part of the magical world-building, can't recommend enough Sex Criminals.

And yeah, if you like Stephenson but want something more subtle, maybe try William Gibson. His near-future recent work, like Pattern Recognition, might be your jam. Cayce Pollard is an amazing woman protagonist, and the details of her world are absorbing.

Also, Robin Sloan's Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore is a lovely escape, and the dust jacket on mine at least glows in the dark.

If you love The Sandman and haven't read Lucifer, well, hie thee hence. Just note that there's now a rebooted second graphic-novel series, so take care to start with the first one (which I just linked there).

Vernor Vinge's A Fire Upon the Deep and Ann Leckie's Ancillary Justice are both worth reading if you're at all into mind-bending sci-fi. They'll take you out of your own head and your own perspective entirely for a while.

Bonus: Many of these have movie or TV adaptations either in the works or under consideration, so if that happens, you could get even more lost in that as a follow-up.

Movies and TV: Try time-travel, witchy, and magical-realist stuff like About Time, Howl's Moving Castle, Ponyo, The Time Traveler's Wife, Ghost Whisperer, Charmed, Happy Accidents, The Lake House, Medium, Dead Like Me, Sword Art Online, Being Human, True Blood, Twin Peaks, iZombie, Mushishi...

You could get lost in some of these worlds for quite some time. I definitely have.
posted by limeonaire at 11:38 PM on November 15, 2017 [1 favorite]

Another recommendation here for pretty much anything by Ursula Le Guin. Especially the first three Earthsea books.
posted by inner_frustration at 12:22 AM on November 16, 2017

Over the Garden Wall checks all the boxes for beautiful animation, beautiful music, and a sense of wonder in the face of darkness.
posted by chrisulonic at 1:32 AM on November 16, 2017 [1 favorite]

Seconding Garth Nix. Also, check out The Goblin Emperor by Katherine Addison.
posted by gideonfrog at 5:18 AM on November 16, 2017 [2 favorites]

I'm totally lost in Sharon Shinn's Elemental Blessings series right now (to the point that I read for two hours before going to work this morning). They're light but very engrossing.
posted by terretu at 5:44 AM on November 16, 2017 [1 favorite]

When I'm looking for fantasy immersion, I do a reread of the Inda series by Sherwood Smith. I love so many of the characters and enjoy returning to them. If court drama is your thing, it has that (it's kind of the author's thing), also awesome world building, fighting pirates on the high seas, and tons of women who are powerful in a whole variety of ways.

If you liked The Handmaid's Tale, have you tried her trilogy that begins with Oryx and Crake? It hit way too close for me to feel like escapism, but I found it pretty gripping.
posted by esker at 6:01 AM on November 16, 2017

Best answer: YES read all the Moomins! There are comics too. You can get them at the Bookdepository.

Webcomics: I really like O Human Star.
posted by Too-Ticky at 6:07 AM on November 16, 2017

Best answer: Helprins' Winters Tale felt very tonally similar to me to John Crowley's Little, Big. If you like that one, you might try the AEgypt series, but Little, Big is an incredible work of fantasy in its own right.
posted by crocomancer at 6:13 AM on November 16, 2017 [1 favorite]

Maybe check out City of Saints and Madmen by Jeff VanderMeer, The Glass Books of the Dream Eaters by Gordon Dahlquist, the His Dark Materials series by Phillip Pullman, or The Thief of Always by Clive Barker.

Comics-wise, maybe The Books of Magic or Black Orchid.
posted by Boxenmacher at 6:33 AM on November 16, 2017

Came in to recommend Crowley's Little, Big but crocomancer beat me to it. So I'll just second it. The Chrestomanci novels by Dianne Wynne Jones, and Howl's Moving Castle (and sequels) by the same author.
posted by Nancy_LockIsLit_Palmer at 8:01 AM on November 16, 2017

I strongly second the suggestion for Ursula Vernon's Digger, as well as some of Vernon's other work:
- Summer in Orcus, available free online.
- Jackalope Wives and The Tomato Thief, both novellas available free online

Nnedi Okorofor's Akata Witch and Akata Warrior (books 1 and 2 of a trilogy in progress) are lovely and amazing. They've been described as "Nigerian Harry Potter," and it sounds like they'd be right up your alley.

When I want comfort books, I go straight for Diana Wynne Jones. You might start with Howl's Moving Castle and go on from there.

And finally: have you read Phillip Pullman? There is never a wrong time to read (or reread) the His Dark Materials Trilogy. He's also just released the first book of a new trilogy in the same world, called The Book of Dust: La Belle Sauvage.
posted by ourobouros at 8:03 AM on November 16, 2017 [1 favorite]

Best answer: It's not particularly world-changing in any way, but I Capture the Castle is a book you could happily disappear into for a rainy day.
posted by nakedmolerats at 8:22 AM on November 16, 2017 [3 favorites]

Given the graphic novels you described, I'd recommend:
Mike Carrey's Lucifer (spin-off from Sandman)
Alan Moore's run on Swamp Thing (6 trades, I believe)
Joe Hill's Locke and Key
Jeff Smith's Bone

For novels, you want Nick Harkaway's The Gone-Away World.
posted by Ragged Richard at 9:00 AM on November 16, 2017 [2 favorites]

I am so excited by this thread and have been yelling "Yes!" at half the recommendations in here (and writing down the other half for my own purposes). These are exactly the kinds of stories I love. Bone and Lock & Key are excellent suggestions, and the first Temeraire book is just so cozy and precious and perfect (I haven't yet read the rest of the series but it's on my list). I wanted to add another book by Naomi Novik (who wrote the Temeraire series) - Uprooted is wonderful escapist fantasy with a badass lady protagonist; my only beef with the book is that there isn't more of it.
posted by DingoMutt at 2:06 PM on November 16, 2017

The Night Circus.
posted by mark k at 9:12 PM on November 16, 2017 [1 favorite]

I started my boys on The adventures of Polo
and now we love reading Ben Hatke - start with the Legend of Zita.
Dragons Beware! by Jorge Aguirre is fun too.
Wormworld is very beautiful.

Shannon Hales' Rapunzel revenge was a fun take on a western tall tale. I also liked her Books of Bayern series (starts with Goose Girl)

Sharon Shin's Safe Keepers series is very good. I liked the Elemental Blessings and the Twelve houses series too.

Have you read Zodiac by Neal Stephenson? It's one of the first books he's read, so it's tighter and lighter than the rest, but it's very good. It's about a drug loving eco terrorist. It's more like Reamde than his other books (and since you've left Reamde off the list, I'm not sure if you're in favor of it.)
posted by krieghund at 7:51 AM on November 17, 2017

Best answer: Hilda and the Midnight Giant!

This is supposed to be for kids, but I read it recently and looooved the graphic novel. It's an original, charming and funny story, with wonderful drawings and a kickass pint-sized heroine (in a fantastical world).
posted by storybored at 10:03 PM on November 17, 2017

Martha Wells has worlds that I want to spend time in- her latest fantasy series, which starts with The Cloud Roads, has multiple intelligent species, magic, history, and a protag who is looking for a home.
Cat Valente's Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland In A Boat Of Her Own Making has amazing writing, a girl, a wyvern and a wicked Duchess.
posted by Shark Hat at 12:30 PM on November 18, 2017

Kim Stanley Robinson's Mars trilogy ticks many of your boxes. Recently re-read it; although 20 or so years old, it's weirdly very relevant in many technological, political, social and economic aspects to modern life. Also, though it starts out as the rivalry between two men, it contains several female protagonists, one of whom ... ah, not giving spoilers. It's also quite positive and uplifting, and just what I needed in these not great times.
posted by Wordshore at 4:55 PM on November 20, 2017 [1 favorite]

Last year, during a particularly rough patch, Michael Moorcock's Mother London did this for me. I was grateful to be able to hide in its magical realist world for a while, and it's one of the few books I've been genuinely sad to finish.
posted by ryanshepard at 12:29 PM on November 21, 2017

Seconding The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet! Also, I think you would really like Sorceror to the Crown by Zen Cho - it's a similar setting to Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell (Napoleonic-era-ish England but with magic) but I think the story and the writing are both more interesting.
posted by ontheradio at 7:25 PM on December 4, 2017

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