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Top Fantasy and Magical Realism Novels

Updated on December 29, 2012

Must Read Magical Realism and Fantasy Novels

Magic, wizards, dragons...these famed ideals make fantasy and magical realism novels come to life. The book industry has been taken by storm with millions of books in these realms. Sadly, this means that you may end up sifting through a lot of junk to find a great read. That is where this lens comes into play. I read six books per month and can guarantee that the books on this coveted list will not disappoint you.

I have spotlighted them using Amazon because I want you to have the same great deals that I get. Amazon is the only place that I go to for books because you can get free shipping and novels at fractions of the retail price tag. That reads as more books, less money.

Have a great time checking out my lens and feel free to leave comments at the bottom!

Lord of the Rings

A Brief Synopsis

The Lord of the Rings is a high fantasy epic written by English philologist and University of Oxford professor J. R. R. Tolkien. The story began as a sequel to Tolkien's earlier, less complex children's fantasy novel The Hobbit (1937), but eventually developed into a much larger work. It was written in stages between 1937 and 1949, much of it during the Second World War.[1] It is the third best-selling novel ever written, with over 150 million copies sold.

The work was initially intended by Tolkien to be one volume split into three sections. However, when Tolkien submitted the first volume entitled The Lord of the Rings to his publisher, it was decided for economic reasons to publish the work as three separate volumes, each consisting of two books, over the course of a year from the 21st of July 1954 to October 1955, thus creating the now familiar Lord of the Rings trilogy. The three volumes were entitled The Fellowship of the Ring, The Two Towers, and The Return of the King. Structurally, the volumes are divided internally into six books, two per volume, with several appendices of background material, much abbreviated from Tolkien's originals, included at the end of the third volume. The Lord of the Rings has since been reprinted numerous times and translated into many languages, becoming one of the most popular and influential works in the field of 20th-century fantasy literature and the subject of several films.

The title of the novel refers to the story's main antagonist, the Dark Lord Sauron, who had in an earlier age created the One Ring to rule the other Rings of Power as the ultimate weapon in his campaign to conquer and rule all of Middle-earth. From quiet beginnings in the Shire, a Hobbit land not unlike the English countryside, the story ranges across north-west Middle-earth, following the course of the War of the Ring through the eyes of its characters, notably the Hobbits Frodo Baggins, Samwise "Sam" Gamgee, Meriadoc "Merry" Brandybuck and Peregrin "Pippin" Took, but also the Hobbits' chief allies and travelling companions: Aragorn, a Human Ranger, Boromir, a Human nobleman, Gimli, a Dwarf warrior, Legolas, an Elven prince, and Gandalf, a Wizard.

Tolkien's work has been the subject of extensive analysis of its themes and origins. Although a major work in itself, the story was only the last movement of a larger epic Tolkien had worked on since 1917, in a process he described as mythopoeia.[8] Influences on this earlier work, and on the story of The Lord of the Rings, include philology, mythology, religion and the author's distaste for the effects of industrialization, as well as earlier fantasy works and Tolkien's experiences in World War I.[1] The Lord of the Rings in its turn is considered to have had a great effect on modern fantasy; the impact of Tolkien's works is such that the use of the words "Tolkienian" and "Tolkienesque" has been recorded in the Oxford English Dictionary.[9]

The enduring popularity of The Lord of the Rings has led to numerous references in popular culture, the founding of many societies by fans of Tolkien's works,[10] and the publication of many books about Tolkien and his works. The Lord of the Rings has inspired, and continues to inspire, artwork, music, films and television, video games, and subsequent literature. Award-winning adaptations of The Lord of the Rings have been made for radio, theatre, and film.[11]

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Harry Potter Books 1-7

Harry Potter Paperback Box Set (Books 1-7)
Harry Potter Paperback Box Set (Books 1-7)

Wizards, witches, and wonders, all set in a place every kid can identify with: school. Harry Potter is an "everykid" -- a character all kids can relate to. He's that awkward, shy kid starting his first day of school. He is forced to deal with situations that many kids face: bullies, annoying relatives, unreasonable teachers, etc. In short: it's a wildly entertaining series for kids and a fantastic way to get your child into reading; it's also not unheard of to have the parent "borrow" their children's copy. Who says children's Fantasy books are only for kids?



A Brief Synopsis

When Eragon finds a polished blue stone in the forest, he thinks it is the lucky discovery of a poor farm boy; perhaps it will buy his family meat for the winter. But when the stone brings a dragon hatchling, Eragon realizes he has stumbled upon a legacy nearly as old as the Empire itself. Overnight his simple life is shattered, and he is thrust into a perilous new world of destiny, magic, and power. With only an ancient sword and the advice of an old storyteller for guidance, Eragon and the fledgling dragon must navigate the dangerous terrain and dark enemies of an Empire ruled by a king whose evil knows no bounds. Can Eragon take up the mantle of the legendary Dragon Riders? The fate of the Empire may rest in his hands

Prey by Michael Crichton

A Brief Synopsis

The novel is narrated by the protagonist Jack Forman, who is an unemployed software programmer who used to work for a company called Media Tronics when he was fired for discovering an internal scandal. As a result, he is forced to take the role of a house husband while his wife Julia serves a high ranking at a nanorobotics company called Xymos. Julia claims that she is working on a new piece of revolutionary imaging technology with her company, which takes up most of her time. He starts believing that during her long hours away from home she is having an affair, and becomes watchful of her changes.

One night Julia comes home late and shows Jack a video of her demoing the Xymos nanobots. In the video, the nanobots are put into a human test subject, and video from inside the body is broadcast in real time. The next day, Julia is in a car accident, and Jack is offered a job by Xymos, because the project manager, Ricky, is having software issues with the nanobots.

Jack is taken to the Xymos research facility in the desert. Jack is given a tour of the lab and meets the programming team. He is shown a very complicated machine used to make the nanobots. Ricky refuses to show Jack the source code for the nanobots, and later Ricky claims that building contractors failed to properly install filters in a certain vent in the building. As a result, hazardous elements such as the assemblers, the bacteria, and the nanobots were blown into the desert, evolving and eventually forming autonomous swarms. These swarms appear to be solar-powered and self-sufficient, reproducing and evolving rapidly. The swarms exhibit predatory behavior, attacking and killing animals in wild, using code that Jack himself worked on. Most alarmingly, the swarms seem to possess rudimentary intelligence, the ability to quickly learn and to innovate. The swarms tend to wander around the fab plant during the day but quickly leave when strong winds blow or night falls.

The nanoswarm kills a rabbit outside the complex, and Jack goes outside with Mae to inspect. They find that the rabbit died of suffocation resulting from the nanobots blocking its bronchial tubes. While Mae goes inside for equipment, Jack is attacked by the swarms. He barely manages to get through the airlock inside the lab before falling unconscious from anaphylactic shock.

Persuaded by Jack, the team decides to destroy the swarm. They believe that the swarm must have nested in the desert to reproduce. They attempt to find this nest by tagging the swarm with radioactive isotopes and following them back to their nest at night. Under the cover of a strong wind that forces the swarms to remain dormant, the team goes outside to a storage shack to find the isotopes and build a spray device. However, as the wind dies down, four swarms attack the shack and eventually kill David and Rosie. The rest of the team are forced to take shelter in the cars parked outside. The Swarms begin an attempt to enter the cars.

Eventually, the swarms find a way to enter the cars, but not long before the wind picks up in speed again. Jack and Mae manage to escape to the lab before losing consciousness, but Charley falls unconscious outside his car after he sprays his swarm with the isotope. Bobby, Vince and Ricky refuse to go outside and help Charley. Jack, dizzy and nauseous, goes back out again to save Charley as the swarms attacks again. Using a motorbike found in David's car, Jack manages to get himself and the semi-conscious Charley to the safety of the airlock before he falls unconscious again.

As night falls, Jack, Mae and Bobby set out to find the swarms. While searching for them, they discover that one of the swarms, now so evolved that it can operate without solar energy, is moving the now deceased Rosie through the desert. They follow the body to find the swarms nesting in a cave. As some of the swarms come out of the cave after them, a Xymos helicopter arrives and traps the swarms inside the cave using its powerful draft. Mae and Jack then venture into the cave and proceed to exterminate the swarm, their nest and their organic assembly plant (which looks very similar to the original Xymos assembly plant) using explosive thermite caps. They return to the Xymos plant, exhausted.

At the plant, Jack, Mae and Bobby are enthusiastically greeted by Julia, who was earlier discharged from the hospital and was brought in by the chopper. Julia's behavior seems to be extremely aberrant: She seems to heed to nothing else other than trying to entice Jack and kissing him, even when Charley is found dead in the locked communications room with a swarm flying around him and the communication links cut. Jack cannot understand how the swarm got inside the rigorously protected airtight building, why Charley would have disabled the facility's communications, or why Julia and Ricky seem to be coming up with various out-of-character ways of how he died.

To Jack's horror, the video not only reveals that Julia and Ricky had an affair but also shows how Charley engaged in a vicious fight with Ricky and Vince. All of them end up in the communications room where Julia kisses a subdued Charley, injecting a stream of swarm into his mouth.

Eventually, Jack and Mae realize that everyone in the facility except themselves have been infected by a symbiotic version of the nanobot swarms. These nanobots, although evolved alongside the other swarms, do not show aggressive predatory behavior. Instead, while they seem to invigorate their hosts' physical statistics and their perception, they slowly devour and take over their hosts, initially affecting their decisions and then controlling them, while allowing them to travel and contaminate others.

Jack comes up with a plan to destroy this new strain. Mae and Jack drink vials containing a form of phage that kills the nanobot-producing E. coli bacteria. The phage would protect them from infection. Jack then proceeds to take a sample of the phage and pour it into the sprinkler system and drench everyone with it. He tricks Mae into alerting Julia and the infected team. They set out to stop Jack. In the vicious struggle that ensues, Vince is killed and Jack, who barely escapes death multiple times, finally manages to dump the sample into the sprinkler system.

In order to prevent the sprinkler system from triggering, infected-Ricky disables the plant's safety network. However, this is exactly what Jack wants, as Mae has already allowed the phage into the assembly line, causing the phage to reproduce rapidly. The assembly line is rapidly overheating because of the no longer active safety system. If Ricky and Julia do not turn on the safety system the assembly line will burst, filling the lab with the phage. The infected-team, who are now doomed either way, choose to re-activate the safety network and get drenched with the phage. Jack and Mae escape the facility in a helicopter shortly before the facility explodes due to a methane gas leak combined with thermite Mae has placed in the building. After returning home, Jack infects all his children with the phage to eradicate the potential nanobot infestation. Mae calls the U.S. Army and sends a sample of the phage to her lab.

Jack puts together all the missing links. The corrosion of the memory chip in Eric's MP3 player as well as Amanda's rash were caused by gamma assemblers. The MRI's strong magnetic field detached the assemblers from her. These assemblers were most likely brought home by Julia. Knowing this, Julia called in the Xymos special team to scan Amanda's room. The person who Jack spotted in Julia's car was in fact the cloud of nanobots.



Prey is a novel by Michael Crichton based on a nano-robotic threat to human-kind, first published in hardcover in November 2002 and as a paperback in November 2003 by HarperCollins. Like Jurassic Park, the novel serves as a cautionary tale about developments in science and technology; in this case, nanotechnology, genetic engineering and artificial intelligence.


Rise of the Ice Wolf

The Rise of the Ice Wolf (The Ice Wolf Trilogy)
The Rise of the Ice Wolf (The Ice Wolf Trilogy)

At a time when heroes were myths lost in legends, when honor was only a word, a young man rises. Rises because it was foretold, and claims a title long forgotten. Altair, the Ice Wolf of the North, battled the inherently evil Verlena, and managed to slay her, sacrificing himself in the process. A thousand years later Melor Helion taps the power of Verlena's soul to overtake every nonconformsit in the land. She is the Tael king's puppetmaster and uses his army to wage war and grab wealth. Alden is searching for his destiny, unaware he is the direct descendant of Altair. An ancient, ageless mystic reveals to him his destiny. He is reluctant to believe the fate of the world rests on his shoulders.

The legendary Ice Wolf once saved the world from descending into darkness. Will Alden accept the destiny lying before him, or will he fade from the world, another name forgotten in history? To rise as a hero. To rise as the Ice Wolf.

So it was, and so it will be again.


Tigana Synopsis

Literary Omnivore

Tigana is set in the Palm, a fantasy peninsula based on Renaissance Italy. The nine squabbling provinces have been conquered by two invading tyrants-Alberico of Barbadior controls the eastern Palm, while Brandin of Ygrath controls the western Palm. In battle, Lower Corte, one of the provinces under Brandin's rule, killed Brandin's beloved son. In retribution, Brandin has utterly crushed Lower Corte. When Devin d'Asoli, a young singer, meets the new harpist in his company, he learns just how thoroughly. Lower Corte was once a shining beacon of culture and honor that went by another name, a name that Brandin, a sorcerer, has erased from the world. Upon discovering that he himself is from this province, Devin joins a delicately planned rebellion as the chess pieces finally begin to move-all in the name of Tigana.

In synopsis, Tigana may sound like a traditional fantasy novel-a Young Farmhand discovers his Heritage and sets out on a Quest. But, while Devin is certainly the protagonist that the audience is meant to identify with, the focus is on a small band of rebels, headed by Alessan, the Prince of Tigana. (I was pleased to note that Kay is comfortable enough in Tigana to only mildly reference Elessar with Alessan's name and otherwise come into his own apart from Tolkien.) The third-person limited narration limits itself to the rebels, Dianora (a Tiganese activist as well as the jewel of Brandin's harem), and Alberico. While the narration often fudges by jumping quickly into another character before continuing with the one it started out with, it gives a whole, realistic picture of this conflict, which was born the day the name Tigana was wiped from this earth. And it's a complex conflict-the rebels don't agree with each other about the best course of action, some of them do fool-hardy things for the cause without consulting each other, and Alessan, even on the eve of the climactic battle (oh, come on, you have to have one of those), wonders if what he's doing is right. I need hardly tell you that Dianora, a woman who hates Brandin for what he's done to her people and who also loves him desperately, is a conflicted woman indeed.

Each character is a well-developed human being with their own reasons for being involved in the conflict-Erlein the wizard is forced into it, Catriana is making up for the sins of her father, Devin does it for the lost memory of his mother, and Rovigo does it because it's the right thing to do. I never felt like any of these characters were simply going through the motions; even Brandin and Alberico are humanized to a degree, although Alberico is certainly a greedy man in the wrong. I do have to say that the end of Dianora's story let me see right through the magic trick briefly; I felt cheated by what happened, after all the time we spent with her. I thought it might improve upon rumination, but it hasn't. Save this misstep at the end, Kay has done a magnificent job of creating living, breathing, and wholly believable human beings fighting for what they believe in. Still, Dianora deserved better.

Tigana is long-hence why Memory decided it was ripe for a Read-Along-but it doesn't drag. Between Dianora's story and the rebels' stories, there's a lot of ground to cover, and Kay gives it the time it deserves and not a moment longer. While the narration fudging on whose limited third-person perspective we were supposed to be following occasionally made me frown, it's otherwise smooth. The only time the narration jumps around is during the climactic battle scene, when it adds to the tension instead of disorienting the reader. In fact, Kay plays with tension wonderfully here, especially with Dianora-I had to flip ahead to find out what happens, although I tried to stop myself. The Summer Tree was enjoyable, but Tigana is stunning.


Tigana: Anniversary Edition
Tigana: Anniversary Edition

One word comes to mind when reading this novel: beautiful. This is Kay's most critically acclaimed (and best reviewed bar none) book to date -- and this is saying a lot since Kay has yet to write a mediocre book. Kay is a master storyteller and unlike many of his peers, is able to deliver a (complete) compelling tale between two book covers. Tigana is, in my opinion, his best work to date though some will argue his Lions of Al-Rassan is better (it's a duology, however). Tigana at it's core is a story about love, betrayal, and redemption -- all themes that Kay develops a rich plot and setting around. So why should you read this book over everything else? Kay has a remarkable ability to create real characters with real, complex motivations. The characters are real and the plot, raw and powerful. You won't get any sort of ham-fisted storytelling in a Kay book, but rather a gently flowing plot that's pure joy to lose yourself in. The one word that comes to mind when you read Tigana is "emotion." As a "manly man", there are few books that have brought me to tears and Tigana is one of them. So read Tigana and weep with joy.


The Wheel of Time

The Wheel of Time, Boxed Set I, Books 1-3: The Eye of the World, The Great Hunt, The Dragon Reborn
The Wheel of Time, Boxed Set I, Books 1-3: The Eye of the World, The Great Hunt, The Dragon Reborn

No epic fantasy series evokes as much passion as does The Wheel of Time. It's got a legion of fanatical fans as well as a legion of critics. So why am I casting Robert Jordan's WOT so high on this list? Well for one, when you mention epic fantasy, it's simply impossible NOT to mention Robert Jordan in the same breath. This guy helped to pioneer the concept of the big fat fantasy series. With a story that spans over 13 books and even the death of the author (it's still being finished with the last book to come out this year by Brandon Sanderson), the Wheel of Time is truly an epic.

Yes, there are problems with the novels. As so many of you kindly love to point out, Jordan completely loses control of the plots around book 6 and the series spirals out of control for another 5-6 books. Yes, there are too many characters to keep track of. Yes, women are portrayed as two dimensional characters. Yes, Jordan spends too much time detailing every single little detail.

But the fact remains that the man has created a massive world with a huge plot and an unforgettable story. There are better writers writing fantasy these days, there are more clever epic fantasy series with realistically portrayed characters, there are series that do new things with the fantasy genre. But give Jordan's Wheel of Time series the credit it's due: it's changed the face of epic fantasy for good or for ill. So on that premise, the series should be read.


Memory Sorrow Thorn

To Green Angel Tower (Osten Ard)
To Green Angel Tower (Osten Ard)

There are writers who like to write pulp and there are some writers who like to write fiction. Williams is the latter. Memory, Sorrow, T

This series has mad pretty much all the other fantasy lists. It's a good series that many people don't have the patience to read. And that's a right shame. If you stick with the story, a rich fantastical tale will unfold. It just takes TIME.

Tad Williams has recently completed another epic fantasy, Shadowmarch. My feeling is that while Shadowmarch has a lot more action and fantastical elements to it (fairies, gods, half gods, strange magic), Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn is a deeper fantasy tale with a lot more under the hood than Shadowmarch. That's not to say that Shadowmarch is not a great epic fantasy series -- it is -- but I like Memory Sorrow, Thorn better. Still, if you find Memory, Sorrow, Thorn too slow, then look at Shadowmarch -- you'll like it better.



Assassin's Apprentice (The Farseer Trilogy, Book 1)
Assassin's Apprentice (The Farseer Trilogy, Book 1)

Young Fitz is the bastard son of the noble Prince Chivalry, raised in the shadow of the royal court by his father's gruff stableman. He is treated like an outcast by all the royalty except the devious King Shrewd, who has him sectetly tutored in the arts of the assassin. For in Fitz's blood runs the magic Skill--and the darker knowledge of a child raised with the stable hounds and rejected by his family. As barbarous raiders ravage the coasts, Fitz is growing to manhood. Soon he will face his first dangerous, soul-shattering mission. And though some regard him as a threat to the throne, he may just be the key to the survival of the kingdom.

Filled with adventure and bloodshed, pageantry and piracy, mystery and menace, Assassin's Apprentice begins the story of a bastard of the royal house, a young man who is trained in the mystic arts of the assassin and who may become the savior of his kingdom.


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