Well done easy fantasy/HisFi recs
December 20, 2023 6:48 AM   Subscribe

What's a good fantasy or historical fiction series for an adult getting back into reading fiction? Think of "wind down at the end of the day" books. Good to feature more relationships and less epic war and conflict. The reader just finished rereading Heralds of Valdemar. They also loved Bridgerton and its spinoff(s).

They haven't expressed interest in reading more of the Valdemar books. Hoping to find something well-written but not a slog to get into or through. A series would be ideal, but single books would also be welcome. Person experiences a lot of stress, and this will be a welcome escape.
posted by Winnie the Proust to Writing & Language (16 answers total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
Definitely recommend T. Kingfisher's fantasy work - The Clockwork Boys/The Wonder Engine, Swordheart, and all of the Paladin books (there are four.) They're all in the same world and about the same tone - they go from more plotty to more relationshippy in that order, but they're all focused much more on interpersonal stuff than epic stuff. Some of my favorite books.

If this person likes mysteries, the Brother Cadfael series by Ellis Peters is incredibly soothing, imo. Far enough from the modern world to not feel uncomfortably close to home (as modern cozies sometimes can) and a lovely historical setting.
posted by restless_nomad at 6:55 AM on December 20, 2023 [8 favorites]

Outlander - historical, fiction, time travel (fantasy), plus Bridgerton-style romance and sometimes court politics. Bonus - there are so many of them!
posted by RoadScholar at 6:58 AM on December 20, 2023

What about Discworld books?

Lois McMaster Bujold's Chalion books (Start with Curse of Chalion) are good.
posted by Archer25 at 7:24 AM on December 20, 2023 [4 favorites]

I've been enjoying the Empyrean series by Rebecca Yarros. It's in that emerging New Adult/Romantasy genre. The books out now are Fourth Wing and Iron Flame. In terms of writing quality they aren't terrible, but also not fantastic (her publisher launched a fantasy imprint off of them, so I think there was some speedy writing going on). The next one is supposed to be out in a year or so, so I'm hoping for better as the series continues. They are well plotted, quickly paced, and character driven. There's also some decent world-building in there as well. Worth a breeze through if they are interested.
posted by eekernohan at 7:33 AM on December 20, 2023 [1 favorite]

Perhaps you’re look8ng for Cozy Fantasy. Legends and Lattes received a surprising number of award noms this year, and is very cute. Diana Wynne Jones scratches the same itch if YA is acceptable. Serafina and sequels has some epic war, but more relationships. Becky Chambers is SF but reads like fantasy.
posted by bq at 7:35 AM on December 20, 2023 [5 favorites]

I would probably suggest Penric and Desdemona by Bujold if they are looking for a shorter length, but 2nd the world of Chalion.

If they would like a Regency magic fantasy, Sorcerer to the Crown by Zen Cho.
posted by lizard music at 7:37 AM on December 20, 2023

I'd try Guy Gavriel Kay's two-book series (sorry, I just cannot bring myself to use the word "duology") The Sarantine Mosaic, set in a somewhat fantastic analog of Byzantium, around the time of the construction of what is now called the Hagia Sophia.
posted by number9dream at 8:06 AM on December 20, 2023 [2 favorites]

I wouldn't say Kay is an "easy" read by any means. Wonderful, but dense and often deeply sad and definitely not averse to portraying war and conflict. Maybe I'm misremembering but I didn't think the Sarantine Mosaic really fits the mold of the books the OP gives as examples, even if it's not as bleak as some of the others.
posted by Kutsuwamushi at 9:09 AM on December 20, 2023

Yeah, I was about to recommend Guy Gavriel Kay but then I remembered how much war is in those books, lol. They're still written on a very human, personal scale, but they're definitely more elegiac than cozy. If your person is still willing to give them a shot, they're a great blend of fantasy that feels like historical fiction.

So I will recommend Victoria Goddard instead. Her Nine Worlds series is sprawling, and while plenty of plot and action happens in the Greenwing & Dart subseries, the Lays of the Hearth-Fire sub-series is much more relationship focused. The Hands of the Emperor and its sequel At the Feet of the Sun are very long, but I found them absolutely engrossing and tremendously cozy and soothing to spend time with. Goddard's recommended reading order can be found here, but I think for a reader just starting out, going straight from The Hands of the Emperor to At the Feet of the Sun is fine, and sticking The Return of Fitzroy Angursell and The Redoubtable Pali Avramapul in between those is also fine.

However, they might be a slog to get through if the person is low on patience/energy for keeping track of characters and fantasy worlds. I enjoyed the sense of sliding into this fully realized, complex world, but totally get how it could be a tough reading road to hoe if you're low on mental energy. For low on mental energy and just wanna have some fun, I will second the recs for T. Kingfisher and Legends & Lattes. For slightly more mental energy, I will second the Bujold recs.
posted by yasaman at 9:32 AM on December 20, 2023 [4 favorites]

Courtney Milan's historical romances? Olivia Waite? KJ Charles? All of these writers have romance-genre-typical series, where minor characters in one book become protagonists of another book.
posted by yarntheory at 9:49 AM on December 20, 2023

I really liked Juliet Marillier's Blackthorn and Grim trilogy, starting with Dreamer's Pool. It's not too epic-war-y; there is a backstory of trauma, but then there is trauma in several of the Heralds books too.

Has this person read Lackey's Elemental Masters series? The quality of those varies a lot, but might be worth trying. I might start with The Wizard of London.

Celia Lake's fantasy novels might also work - strong on relationships. I really liked Wards of the Roses.

Katherine Addison's The Goblin Emperor, another relationshippy one.

Freya Marske's A Marvellous Light.

Historical fiction - Georgette Heyer? These vary in quality a lot. Maybe The Foundling.
posted by paduasoy at 10:06 AM on December 20, 2023 [3 favorites]

I’d say Patricia Wrede's Frontier Magic trilogy has a lot going for it.

Each book is short and the language is rich but not elaborate, the story is fascinating and you can hardly wait to see what happens next, characters who are not the main character are fully developed, and the main character and narrator, who is an ill-omened Thirteenth Child, is extremely likable.
posted by jamjam at 10:08 AM on December 20, 2023 [1 favorite]

T. Kingfisher all day long! Enough heft to engage a person's brain and also lots of humor and joy.

Maybe N.K. Jemisin's "The City We Became" and "The World We Make"--there is conflict, but there's lots of character and worldbuilding. I found these books lighter in tone than some of Jemisin's other work, but just as well-written (Ms. Jemisin is a FANTASTIC writer).

An alternate world fantasy/romance series in a Jane Austen vein is the series that starts with "Shades of Milk and Honey" by Mary Robinette Kowal.

Legends and Lattes and the prequel Bookshops and Bonedust, both by Travis Baldree, are light, cozy, and delightful.
posted by epj at 10:20 AM on December 20, 2023 [1 favorite]

I came in here to recommend Victoria Goddard's Nine Worlds books too. There's so much there and they're so interesting. I'm just getting into them now and I'm excited to have so many books to dive into. But I did want to caution that if "relationships" means "romance", the very first book Hands of the Emperor will feel like a very long slog with no payoff. The relationships between these people are intense and complicated but pretty much entirely platonic.
posted by potrzebie at 12:10 PM on December 20, 2023 [1 favorite]

Robin McKinley has done some amazing retellings of fairy tales. I think your person may find the familiarity soothing but also the world-building is engrossing and the writing evocative and the emotional payoff so so satisfying.
posted by spamandkimchi at 7:21 PM on December 20, 2023 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thank you for all of these amazing recommendations! I did a fast dash through our local bookstore and picked up a few titles. The reader just finished Fourth Wing, and loved it. (She said she had to make an effort to spend time with her parents during Christmas -- she just wanted to keep reading!)

Meanwhile, her kiddo picked up Legends & Lattes off the stack of books, finished it in a few sittings, and is looking forward to reading the prequel.

No best answers, because so many were great, and I'm sure many of these titles will be in our collective future. Thank you!
posted by Winnie the Proust at 7:01 AM on December 30, 2023

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