Fantasy books to read with my niece
November 2, 2019 11:15 AM   Subscribe

My teenage niece and I both enjoy fantasy books. We would like to find new titles to read together. We enjoy magic worlds but do not like excessive violence or dystopia and we do not care for love stories.

We are mostly looking for stories with a happy(ish) ending but that are still well written and not overly cheesy.
We are currently reading/rereading The Goblin Emperor and it hits pretty much all the marks for us - interesting characters, adventure/suspense, a world that feels like it's been lived in for a while.
We prefer The Lord of the Rings to Harry Potter for example. I personally liked Howls Moving Castle but my niece, not so much (rolled her eyes at the love parts).

Other things we liked
The Ink trilogy
a few books by Brandon Sanderson (niece liked Alcatraz, I liked The Emperor's Soul)
The Ugly Princess (the short story not the novel)
The princess and the goblin (niece has read it, I haven't)

I'd love to hear your favorites.
posted by M. to Media & Arts (37 answers total) 19 users marked this as a favorite
Response by poster: I should note that we grew up and live in Poland and so do not hesitate to recommend books that you assume an average English speaker has already read.
posted by M. at 11:45 AM on November 2, 2019

I love the "Protector of the Small" series by Tamora Pierce, about an animal-loving girl who is determined to become a knight.
Diana Wynne Jones has written many wonderful books like "The Ogre Downstairs" and "The Magicians of Caprona" and "Howl's Moving Castle" (that has some romance in it but it's not soppy).
Joan Aiken's books are awesome e. g. "The Wolves of Willoughby Chase"
I adore Jonathan Strouds "Bartimaeus" as well as his "Lockwood" series (Lockwood does have a bit of romance)
Steve Augard "Celandine"
posted by Zumbador at 11:51 AM on November 2, 2019 [6 favorites]

My suggestions - two manga series. I'm linking to the official licensed English releases first, and then the unofficial fan translations so you can try before you buy, so to speak.

Witch Hat Atelier - very beautifully drawn, and so far an engaging story where things are certainly not what they seem to be. Mangadex (unofficial translation) is up to volume 6, volume 4 of the licensed English release comes out this year (2019).

Nicola Traveling Around The Demon's World - first volume comes out in a few days, this has been a fun read so far with an interesting story. Mangadex (unofficial translation) is up to chapter 10.
posted by ralan at 11:52 AM on November 2, 2019 [1 favorite]

Catherynne Valente’s Girl who Circumnavigated Fairyland is a great read in this genre, my all-adult book club had a good conversation about many aspects of it, including what tool might represent a parent. It’s a better read for teens and older.
posted by childofTethys at 12:01 PM on November 2, 2019 [5 favorites]

Naomi Novik's Uprooted is set in Poland with a focus on female friendship.
posted by Botanizer at 12:02 PM on November 2, 2019 [8 favorites]

Wise Child, Juniper, and Coleman, all by Monica Furlong.
Sabriel (and the rest of the Abhorsen series), by Garth Nix.
The Earthsea Cycle, by Ursula K. LeGuin
posted by TheCoug at 12:22 PM on November 2, 2019 [4 favorites]

It's been a long time since I read The Neverending Story (Michael Ende) but I liked it a lot around that age and it is a classic.
See if you can find a copy with two ink colors.

(Btw Uprooted is wonderful but has a sex scene or two, in case that would be uncomfortable in this context, and there is a fair amount of gore.)
posted by trig at 12:36 PM on November 2, 2019 [6 favorites]

Both Alice in Wonderland books. They are petty great in the original and for children and play with critical thinking and logic. Adventure and weirdness, classics you may have missed.

In Polish and easily available in great English translation is The Cyberiad by Stansislaw Lem. It’s an amazing anthology of short stories that would commonly be classed as sci-fi but it’s also just sort of speculative fantasy. Very fun and clever, full of wordplay puzzles but also science and bits about the human condition.
posted by SaltySalticid at 12:42 PM on November 2, 2019 [3 favorites]

Best answer: The Dream Quest of Vellitt Boe. I love this book.

If she's read The Princess and the Goblin, has she read The Princess and Curdie? It has a romance element but it's more of a fairytale "and then they got married" than a major plot point.

Travel Light by Naomi Mitchison is a small book that is accessible to people younger than your niece, but it's also enjoyable by adults - or at least, every adult I've suggested it to has liked it. Naomi Mitchison also wrote a bunch of very strange fairy tales, published as The Fourth Pig, which may interest your niece or may be a little too grown-up for her in style.

If she liked The Princess and the Goblin, she might also like Lud In The Mist, which is a very odd book. It might be a little too grown up for her yet depending on where she's at as a reader, but probably if she liked the George MacDonald she won't have any trouble.

Around that age, I also liked The Last Unicorn. There's some love story in it, but not in the way that there is in Howl's Moving Castle - it's a plot element but not dominant, and it's treated with some distance.
posted by Frowner at 12:52 PM on November 2, 2019 [4 favorites]

I encourage you and your daughter to explore Anne McCaffrey's books about the Dragons of Pern. Maybe start with Dragonsong.
posted by Rash at 1:10 PM on November 2, 2019 [6 favorites]

Highly second wizards of earthsea. Jane Yolen was great for thoughtful young adult fantasy, no specific book.

Lloyd Alexander, Chronicles of Prydain may work. I recently reread it, I read it first in 5th or 6th grade.

Pern includes dragons mating/sex, FYI.
posted by typecloud at 1:42 PM on November 2, 2019 [1 favorite]

Have you read L. Frank Baum's "The Wonderful Wizard of Oz"? It's the original American fantasy book. You'll recognize some of the movie plot points in it, but the book's story is longer and goes deeper into the land of Oz. It fulfills your requirements of being a magical world with no love stories, not a dystopia, not cheesy, no excessive violence, etc. And when you're done, there's over a dozen more to read in the series.
posted by Leontine at 2:14 PM on November 2, 2019 [3 favorites]

Seconding Protector of the Small by Tamora Pierce. Pierce also has a fantasy series set in a different world from Protector of the Small, called the Circle of Magic, the first of which is Sandry's Book -- it fits your criteria, and is about four very different kids learning how to use their magic. I reread both of these series as an adult, and still enjoy them.
posted by Pwoink at 3:04 PM on November 2, 2019 [2 favorites]

Seconding Uprooted and adding Spinning Silver (same author).
posted by true at 3:18 PM on November 2, 2019 [1 favorite]

Oh yeah Oz gets wonderfully weird and a little subversive as you dig in. I look forward to reading them with my kid!
posted by SaltySalticid at 3:22 PM on November 2, 2019 [1 favorite]

i think you will enjoy The Mirror World series by Christelle Dabos. The first two have been translated from the French into English, not sure about Polish. A Winter’s Promise is the first book. Slightly less sophisticated, but still fun, are Scarlett Thomas’ Worldquake series and Jessica Townsend’s Morrigan Crow series. All have young female protagonists!
posted by mollymillions at 3:34 PM on November 2, 2019 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Thank you for the great suggestions so far!
Lots of good stuff here. Please keep them coming!

I've just realized I haven't specified the language but we're looking for books written in English or translated into English.
posted by M. at 5:00 PM on November 2, 2019

The Earthsea books by Ursula LeGuin.
posted by gnutron at 5:07 PM on November 2, 2019 [1 favorite]

Summer in Orcus may work.
Seconding Chronicles of Prydain.
posted by gudrun at 6:36 PM on November 2, 2019 [3 favorites]

His Dark Materials trilogy by Philip Pullman (maybe a bit dystopian? But not really? And there’s a small love story but it’s coming-of-agey)

Anything by Tamora Pierce will be a recommendation you see for girl teen fantasy. Start with the Lioness Rampant series. These skew a SLIGHT bit younger teen but I’d try them out! These may not pass the “no love story” requirement.
posted by kellygrape at 7:10 PM on November 2, 2019 [1 favorite]

Nth the recommendations for Tamora Pierce, the Oz books, Diana Wynne Jones, and Joan Aiken.

Pat O'Shea's The Hounds of the Morrigan is fairly awesome, although may be too young for her.

Robin McKinley's The Blue Sword and The Hero and the Crown are wonderful. She's written a ton of other good stuff, including Beauty, The Door in the Hedge, A Knot in the Grain, and The Outlaws of Sherwood. I'd pass on Deerskin or Sunshine until she's a little older.

Patricia McKillip is a wonderful writer of fantasy and very prolific. I started with The Changeling Sea, and was hooked. I also really enjoyed Winter Rose and The Book of Atrix Wolfe.

Kage Baker's The Hotel Under the Sand is a delightful fantasy story for a young teen (although I read it as an adult and loved it). She also has an adult fantasy series and the wonderful Company novels, which I'd deem "literary science fiction" for lack of a better term.

Gillian Bradshaw's first three books are a retelling of the King Arthur Trilogy - Hawk of May, Kingdom of Summer, and In Winter's Shadow..

Mercedes Lackey has written a TROVE of fantasy. She has several series - the most prolific is her Valdemar series. There is some limited violence and sex in most of her books. For a younger reader, I'd recommend either the Arrows trilogy - the protagonist is a young woman from a disadvantaged background whose life shifts drastically. These were her first works, so they are a little rough. More recently, the Foundation books are very good, and so is the Herald Spy trilogy. She's also written books based on fairy tales.

Patricia Wrede has a series of dragon books that are delightful - they are known as the Enchanted Forest chronicles. She and another author also wrote a set of quasi-regency books for a slightly older audience, starting with Sorcery and Cecilia.
posted by dancing_angel at 10:42 PM on November 2, 2019 [3 favorites]

Best answer: Actually, you might like His Majesty's Dragon (also by Naomi Novik). It gets a little battle-heavy at the end, but the relationship between the main character and the dragon he raises is wonderful and iirc it has some of that feeling of a decent person finding themselves in a new place with new rules that The Goblin Emperor had.
posted by trig at 11:59 PM on November 2, 2019

I highly recommend Frances Hardinge. My favorite is Cuckoo Song, which is noncheesy, nonviolent, and has no love story. Fly By Night also fits the bill.

Coraline by Neil Gaiman.

Into the Wild by Sarah Beth Durst.

The Forbidden Library series by Django Wexler.

Seraphina by Rachel Hartman. There is a love story here, but it very much takes a backseat to the plot.

Out of the Blue by Sophie Cameron. It does have a girl-meets-girl love story as part of it.

The Abhorsen series by Garth Nix.
posted by kyrademon at 2:30 AM on November 3, 2019 [1 favorite]

Two books by T.H. White: The Sword in the Stone, about King Arthur's childhood. It's the first part of The Once and Future King. The rest of it may have too much sex and love for your niece's taste. (Also - CW - incest.) The second is Mistress Masham's Repose, a marvelous fantasy in which the Lilliputians from Gulliver's Travels are discovered living in a rundown English manor house.
posted by ALeaflikeStructure at 4:11 AM on November 3, 2019 [1 favorite]

N-thing Diana Wynne Jones.

Lois McMaster Bujold has several excellent fantasy series. I’m especially enjoying Penric & Desdemona.
posted by Kriesa at 5:16 AM on November 3, 2019 [1 favorite]

I enjoyed Anne McCaffrey's Dragonsong and Dragonsinger at that age. The rest of the Pern series skews adult, but these two are YA and are about a girl and her tiny dragons (I wanted my own little dragons so much).

With Tamora Pierce, I'd say start with Circle of Magic because there isn't any romance for a while.

The Westmark trilogy was my favorite of Lloyd Alexander's.

Sanderson's Mistborn trilogy does have romance, but a lot more of it is neat magic and action. I think the first, Mistborn, was my favorite of the three.
posted by esker at 5:46 AM on November 3, 2019 [1 favorite]

I don't know how well Pern has aged, especially with regards to its depiction of queer people, and as to Wrede, I have absolutely no time for an author who decided that the best way to deal with how North America was colonised in our world was to pretend the Native Americans just didn't exist in hers. I don't care how good a writer she is, there are others.

I love Tamora Pierce and cannot recommend Song of the Lioness enough.

The Phantom Tollbooth might skew a little young for her, but I read it as an adult and enjoyed it. Seconding Cat Valente, Robin McKinley, and Diana Wynne Jones.

If you don't mind ebook, Diane Duane's So You Want To Be A Wizard series is delightful and sounds right up your niece's alley.

Roshani Choksi has the excellent Aru Shah series, which is MG/YA and based very heavily in Indian mythology, for a break from the incredible whiteness of all these recs.
posted by Tamanna at 5:46 AM on November 3, 2019 [2 favorites]

I’ll second Seraphina by Rachel Hartman!
posted by wsquared at 7:29 AM on November 3, 2019 [2 favorites]

Anything by Ursula K. LeGuin. Her Earthsea books are written timelessly, like fables. Epic and personal at the same time. They are great, and they are fairly short, too. Just excellent writing.
posted by SoberHighland at 7:49 AM on November 3, 2019 [1 favorite]

The Dark is Rising sequence by Susan Cooper has always been a favorite of mine, and I think it meets your criteria.
posted by Quonab at 8:47 AM on November 3, 2019 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Anne Leckie's stand-alone fantasy novel The Raven Tower might be right up your alley.

I read N.K. Jemisin's The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms either right before or right after The Goblin Emperor so I may be mixing parts of them together, but that might also be a good one for the two of you.
posted by ActingTheGoat at 9:33 AM on November 3, 2019 [1 favorite]

I love THE SECRET COUNTRY trilogy by Pamela Dean.
posted by OolooKitty at 10:28 AM on November 3, 2019 [1 favorite]

They might be on the silly side for you're tastes, but I loved Dealing With Dragons by Patricia Wrede and all three sequels, and Wee Free Men by Terry Pratchett.
posted by ChuraChura at 11:42 AM on November 3, 2019 [2 favorites]

^ 2nd ChuraChura for Wee Free Men as a start to Tiffany Aching series within Discworld by Terry Pratchett. Earlier Witches series is good too. (Other series you can get to eventually if you feel like it.)
posted by ovvl at 3:40 PM on November 3, 2019 [1 favorite]

Seconding Naomi Novik's Uprooted and Bujold's Penric and Desdemona novellas. Bujold's Sharing Knife series has some dark moments but interspersed mostly through a sort of fantasy travelogue and a romance (albeit with a big age gap.)

The Clocktaur Wars by T. Kingfisher (aka Ursula Vernon) feels like a friendly adventurous D&D game.

Ellen Kushner's Privilege of the Sword about a young woman called to the city by her crazy uncle to train as a duelist. It does as good a job as I've ever seen in fantasy of showing a young person grow beyond "childish" things (clothes, boys, gossip, romance novels, etc.) without discarding the the joy in those early passions.
posted by mark k at 9:15 PM on November 3, 2019 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thank you everyone for the suggestions! I am slowly working my way through the links and have already found a few I definitely want to read NOW. I am already a few chapters into Naomi Novik's His Majesty's Dragon and very much like her style and the general feel of the book, it does remind me of The Goblin Emperor a little bit. Another one I liked immediately was N.K.Jemisin's The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms - the book just pulls you in right away and the words just flow beautifully.

In case you're curious, Alice in Wonderland and the Oz books are very popular in Poland and Alice was even required reading in elementary school (ours is 8 years long) when I was growing up (not sure about now). The Cyberiada by Lem as well (although it's a bit dry/sarcastic in tone). Michael Ende's The Neverending Story is a great book although I haven't read the English translation - I have the German edition and it's indeed printed in two colors (red and green).

For future readers of this thread, I also recommend Tolkien's Farmer Giles of Ham and Till We Have Faces by C.S.Lewis - I love rereading them about once a year.

I have marked as best the titles I have already purchased but I fully expect to fall in love with more books in this thread. Thank you everyone!
posted by M. at 11:48 AM on November 4, 2019

I happened across the NYRB children's classics page and thought of this thread - Krabat and the Sorcerer's Mill and Charlotte Sometimes (caution, this one is a bit sad) both look good, and there are others that might also fill the bill. It's true that they're children's classics, but many of them look like the kind of book that you'd enjoy at any age if you like fantasy.
posted by Frowner at 12:17 PM on December 5, 2019 [1 favorite]

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