Gimme those cozy travel fantasy recs for quarantine!
April 23, 2020 7:05 PM   Subscribe

So one thing that's been helping my Mom and I during this lockdown is re-reading our sources of what I'd call 'cozy fantasy'-- you know, like the chapters in LOTR where they've arrived somewhere safe and can eat and rest for a few days, or when Mole and Ratty get safe into Badger's house in Wind of The Willows. More, please?

Blaylock's "Balumnia" trilogy comes to mind, as do parts of LOTR, Redwall, Narnia, etc... basically, the "We have arrived at a safe place, it's a bit quirky, but we're gonna eat decent but maybe weird food, and sleep safely, and maybe chat with someone" part, not "WE HAVE TO KILL EVIL NOW!!" part.

It doesn't have to be pure fantasy, but that sort of helps, y'know? Knowing that it's not "Oh, yes, that's how Britain was before WWII" feeling, just "Oh my, the Hedgehog King is saying no one can have any bongleberries after August, so we must eat them all up!" gentle whimsy is comforting; means you can turn your mind off. Sort of like "Rick Steves Goes To Narnia" kinda thing.

Bonus points for no hints of "And they had no idea of the evil that would soon befall" kind of thing, just.. Wind In The Willows style, the absolute worst-case scenario is that, say, you don't have enough goodies to offer the caroling fieldmice, or you're gonna have to face a long legal battle re the ownership of Toad Hall.

Like, a travel brochure for a fantasy land, but very gentle-- no dragons to slay, no great evil to face, just, hey, we were here, we had a good night except the landlord kept singing til 2am, try the mushroom pie.

It's fine if it's "And then stop reading at Chapter 3 because then it gets all rapey"--- if it's a fantasy travel story that made you feel cozy, even for a little, please, tell me about it?
posted by The otter lady to Writing & Language (30 answers total) 68 users marked this as a favorite
The Goblin Emperor by Katherine Addisson. It's just about a nice shy boy trying to be nice.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 7:07 PM on April 23, 2020 [23 favorites]

Swordheart by T. Kingfisher is sweet and heartfelt - some sadness in the past, but not really in the book. It has travelling, but the nicer bits are when they stop (travelling isn't that comfortable in a pre-modern setting).

The Goblin Emperor is truely excellent - not so much travelling but thoughtful and complex without being grimdark.

I don't know if any fantasy for adults that is quite as cosy as The Wind in the Willows (e.g. there is death in Swordheart but it's more, well, justice).

Terry Pratchett is my comfort read -maybe The Amazing Maurice and his Educated Rodents?
posted by jb at 7:53 PM on April 23, 2020 [1 favorite]

You might give L.E. Modesitt Jr. a try. They're usually about someone pursuing a trade or career and follow them throughout their lives. There is usually a back drop of war in the stories and plenty of the novels follow military careers, so YMMV.

Robin Hobb may also be worth a try. I'd point towards the Rain Wild Chronicles as the closest to travel fantasy. It is about a group of people traveling along a river to reach the ruins of an ancient city. It is part period romance, part fantasy adventure. It has been a while since I read it, but I do think there might be an assault in it? At the very least there is a marriage of convenience and some reluctance and affairs going on around that.

Shades of Milk and Honey is essentially a "what if Jane Austen wrote fantasy" book.

The Steerswoman novels by Rosemary Kirstein might work for you. They're about an order of fantasy librarians that travel the world teaching and collecting knowledge.

If you want to branch out into scifi I think The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet by Becky Chambers would fit the bill for you.
posted by forbiddencabinet at 7:58 PM on April 23, 2020 [4 favorites]

Usually, I write long answers at AskMe. But I don't have time, so I'll be brief. Try these:

The Crystal Cave by Mary Stewart (audio version by Derek Perkins is excellent)
Bridge of Birds by Barry Hughart
Howl's Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones
The Princess Bride by William Goldman

I also love The Goblin Emperor but I don't know if it's what you're looking for. Maybe it is. Imagine everyone dies and the thirteen in succession become President of the U.S. but he's totally unqualified and many people don't want him to be there. And everyone has crazy names. And there's lots of political intrigue. It's a great book and it might be what you're after -- but it might not be.
posted by jdroth at 8:18 PM on April 23, 2020 [4 favorites]

The Ranger’s Apprentice is Cozy as Fuck
posted by SaltySalticid at 8:22 PM on April 23, 2020

It sounds like you're open to children's books, so check out Tove Jansson's Moomin books (which are really better appreciated by adults anyway, especially the later ones.) I'm not sure if you only want books about people who are traveling or if you just want them to be set in places you can enjoy virtually traveling to. Some of the Moomin books have travel and in some of them the Moomins are just at home in Moominvalley. All of them are delightful and even when they're a little dark, like Moominpappa at Sea (in which the Moomin family travels to an island and tries living there) or Moominvalley in November (in which various people travel to Moominvalley and stay at the Moomin family's house while they're away on the island) they're still cozy, with happy endings.

Ronia the Robber's Daughter by Astrid Lindgren is another wonderful kids' book. The characters aren't on a journey, but the place they live is a place you might really enjoy traveling to. They face danger at some points and people get angry with each other, but the whole thing is really pretty cozy.
posted by Redstart at 8:32 PM on April 23, 2020 [5 favorites]

The Wouldbegoods, by E. Nesbitt.
posted by Don Pepino at 8:43 PM on April 23, 2020

If you're up for graphic novels and are okay with a quirky safe place without much travel, I think Castle Waiting (both volumes) captures that cozy feeling really well - pretty much the whole thing is set in a castle peopled by a small number of odd individuals who are pretty much "found family" to each other. I thought it was really sweet.

I also loved the found family feel in A Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet, though there is sadness in one part. It's travel sci-fi moreso than fantasy but still scratched the same "cozy" itch for me.

Oh! And The Dark Lord of Derkholm, which is by the same author as Howl's Moving Castle, struck me as super cozy, with a safe, appealing "home base" though the characters do move around the land quite a lot.
posted by DingoMutt at 8:57 PM on April 23, 2020 [3 favorites]

Definitely Howl’s Moving Castle.

Also the series by Patricia Wrede starting with Dealing with Dragons.

I think Nine Goblins by T. Kingfisher is pretty sweet and gentle.

There’s some of this in all of Lois McMaster Bujold’s stuff, but for maximum cozy and minimum conflict you probably want the Penric novellas or A Civil Campaign in the Vorkosigan Saga.

There’s also some of this but also lots of fighting and saving the world in Tamora Pierce’s books.

I agree you’d like Becky Chambers if you wanted to venture into sci fi.
posted by bananacabana at 9:01 PM on April 23, 2020 [5 favorites]

Oh, and I wanted to follow up on the Robin Hobb recommendation: I adored the Rain Wild Trilogy, think the central premise was really unique, and agree that the setting is both interesting and cozy in certain aspects, but be aware that there is a pretty explicit rape in the third volume. There are other characters who experience some significant trauma as well. So while in general I 100% agree that this is a trilogy well worth reading, maybe hold off on the 3rd book at least if you're looking for cozy reads right now.
posted by DingoMutt at 9:05 PM on April 23, 2020 [3 favorites]

My go-to for this purpose is the chapter in A Wrinkle in Time that Meg spends in the care of Aunt Beast.
posted by ActionPopulated at 9:09 PM on April 23, 2020 [9 favorites]

The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern falls into this category for me.

Sharon Shinn has a lot of cozy world building in her books. I’d try Troubled Waters first.

Nthing Becky Chambers and The Steerswoman
posted by Maeve at 9:11 PM on April 23, 2020 [3 favorites]

Okay, something very specific popped into my head immediately upon reading your description - No Reservations: Narnia
Yes, it's fanfic (the link goes to AO3) but it's literally a story of Anthony Bourdain exploring the Narnian countryside and food hosted by a range of characters and Helen Rosner recommended it in the New Yorker and it's wonderful.
posted by BlueBlueElectricBlue at 10:09 PM on April 23, 2020 [13 favorites]

I'm not entirely sure I understand the question, but Mark Twain's The Innocents Abroad and Roughing It might be worth a look.
posted by eotvos at 10:28 PM on April 23, 2020

The Steerswoman books are utterly brilliant, but book 2 makes me cry every time - right now I would definitely not be up to rereading it. So you might want to skip that one for now, because I think it'd be very hard to force yourself to stop reading before the relevant point, and go straight from book 1 to book 3.

T. Kingfisher is very, very good on the soothing descriptions of everyday fantasyland life front. Someone's already recommended Swordheart, which would have been my first choice too. If you like her writing style, there's plenty more to try - although The Twisted Ones doesn't fit your criteria at all, and Paladin's Grace is charming but perhaps a little heavy on the severed heads to really count as cosy.
posted by ManyLeggedCreature at 3:13 AM on April 24, 2020 [1 favorite]

+1 for The Night Circus. Her current book, The Starless Sea, wasn’t as good for me, but it’s cozy AF, with moments of cataclysm and danger. Middlegame by Seanan McGuire has definite cozy moments, but the main tension is having that coziness disrupted and rising dread, so probably not best for you at this moment....
posted by GenjiandProust at 4:41 AM on April 24, 2020 [2 favorites]

It's not exactly fantasy, though there are non-realistic (magical or miraculous) elements ... but Henrietta's House by Elizabeth Goudge has the travel plus the arrival at a cosy place. There are various groups of travellers who take different routes to arrive at the same place, where Henrietta has set up high tea. Review here.
posted by paduasoy at 4:55 AM on April 24, 2020 [1 favorite]

To follow up on Redstart's answer, my cosy place of choice is also in Tove Jansson, but The Summer Book
Maybe an isolated Finnish island is not everyone's idea of cosiness, but for me it sings of childhood summers in the country, which I need right now, and as a bonus is funny.
posted by Flora Poste at 4:57 AM on April 24, 2020 [4 favorites]

The Gnomes book by Wil Huygen is pretty cosy, written as a kind of alternate reality tract on gnomes' lives and customs.
posted by Harald74 at 5:23 AM on April 24, 2020 [2 favorites]

I also love The Summer Book, and it has a beautiful sense of being at home though I would say that it's not fantasy. A bit odd and a bit dream-like, but ultimately set here in this reality.

I would add pretty much anything by Haruki Murakami, which is, again, not strictly speaking fantasy but definitely surreal with fantastic elements. His narrators tend to spend a whole lot of time at home preparing meals and thinking about things. The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle is still may favourite of his books, though there's a flashback to WW2 that features some horrific torture that you will probably want to steer clear of.
posted by spindle at 8:24 AM on April 24, 2020

Lifelode, by Jo Walton. The travelers come to town, rather than the protagonists traveling, but it's got that feel.
posted by gideonfrog at 9:22 AM on April 24, 2020

Short webcomic suggestion: Travelogue by Aatmaja Pandya
posted by cadge at 11:55 AM on April 24, 2020 [1 favorite]

The Animal Family by Randall Jarrell is exactly what you're looking for. Such a sweet, gentle story about a woodcutter and a mermaid. It's not a long read, you can do it in an hour or so. Bonus! It's gorgeously illustrated by Maurice Sendak (Where The Wild Things Are).
posted by WalkerWestridge at 11:57 AM on April 24, 2020 [1 favorite]

James and the Giant Peach by Roald Dahl comes to mind, I recall being entranced by their efforts to get inside the peach.

The Dragonriders of Pern series by Anne McCaffrey has some of this because they all have to go on lockdown against a deadly rain every so often. There's lots of talk about how that works and how their housing works and big kitchens and so forth.
posted by cabingirl at 12:34 PM on April 24, 2020

would pictures help? i’m interpreting this question pretty broadly, but a community of mice who live in elaborate tree trunk houses and mansions with the best stocked pantries is pretty fantastical. the ball during winter is great, but the wedding...

Brambly Hedge
posted by pipstar at 12:34 PM on April 24, 2020 [2 favorites]

Speaking of "all rapey" as mentioned in the question, I'd put a big "gets all rapey" warning on Haruki Murakami's books, especially but not limited to 1Q84.
posted by ITheCosmos at 2:19 PM on April 24, 2020 [2 favorites]

It's been years since I read these, but I remember Spider Robinson's Callahan books being basically exactly that. A group of good-hearted caring people hanging out together at a bar where everyone knows your name and where weird shit happens (they're sf/f) and it's just all warm and fuzzy throughout.
posted by 168 at 5:18 PM on April 24, 2020 [2 favorites]

This is kind of a ... side answer? but if you play video games at all, there are elements of this in Skyrim. I love buying my little cottage, getting it all decorated, sitting around the fire in my cozy place with stacks of books and my lute and some snacks around. Or going for a walk and ending in a cozy inn with a roaring fire, listening to the local bard play those two songs she knows.
posted by Occula at 12:59 PM on April 25, 2020 [2 favorites]

Just wanted to say thanks for the recs above-I have read the first Steerswoman book and the Narnia Bourdain fanfic based on this thread and they were both wonderful. And the book that immediately springs to mind for me for this feeling, though it’s not SFF, is Heidi-those wonderful scenes of grandfather melting cheese on bread over the fire.
posted by purenitrous at 10:06 PM on April 26, 2020 [2 favorites]

Some of the recommendations in this earlier question might work: Making a house feel like home, literary edition.
posted by paduasoy at 1:18 PM on April 28, 2020

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