By Cinda Williams Chima
1. Sometimes you don’t want to be in the real world.

Sometimes you really need to get away—an alternate-world fantasy can make that happen.

Alternate World Fantasies

Girl of Fire and Thorns (Rae Carson)

Shadow and Bone (Leigh Bardugo)

The Kiss of Deception (Mary Pearson)

The Seven Realms series (Cinda Williams Chima)

The Thief (Megan Whalen Turner)

The Abhorsen Trilogy (Garth Nix)

2. The real world is great—but it would be even better with a dash of magic.

The last thing you want to see when you open a book is that fantasy map in the front. And, yet—that thread of magic can add sizzle to realistic fiction. What if there were people with magical secrets living in your neighborhood or going to your high school? What if a seemingly ordinary person like you had a magical legacy? Intoxicating.

Books That Put Magic Into the Real World

The Mortal Instruments series (Cassandra Clare)

The Heir Chronicles (Cinda Williams Chima)

Blue Bloods (Melissa de la Cruz)

Coldest Girl in Coldtown (Holly Black)

The Curse Workers series (Holly Black)

3. You like a good romance—but sometimes you want a little more going on when it comes to story.   

Whether you’re reading fantasy with a little romance, or romance seasoned with fantasy, power is hot, right? And fantasy fiction is full of powerful characters that will set your pulse racing. Vampires, werewolves, faeries, angels—and those who hunt them. Fantasy offers a whole new spectrum of romantic possibilities and more.

Romance-Laced Fantasy

The Infernal Devices (Cassandra Clare)

Beautiful Creatures (Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl)

The Kiss of Deception (Mary Pearson)

Hush, Hush (Becca Fitzpatrick)

Daughter of Smoke and Bone (Laini Taylor)

Huntress (Malinda Lo)

Wolves of Mercy Falls (Maggie Stiefvater)

4. You’re into book binges.

You know that great feeling when you find a fantastic new author and you dive into her world and you surface days later, blinking in the sunlight and speaking with an unusual accent or having picked up bits of 18th century thieves’ slang? How great is that? Epic fantasy stories often sprawl over three or four or seven doorstop books. Other series involve stand-alone stories set in the same magical system or world. That may mean waiting for the next installment, unless you stumble across a series that’s already well underway. Jackpot!

Series Fantasy to Try

Graceling, Fire, Bitterblue (Kristin Cashore)

The Seven Realms (The Demon King, The Exiled Queen, The Gray Wolf Throne, The Crimson Crown)

The Mortal Instruments series (Cassandra Clare)

The Abhorsen Trilogy (Garth Nix)

5. You want to be the one carrying the sword.

Face it: the average girl is not as physically strong as the average guy. But magic totally levels the playing field. Fantasy fiction these days features a plethora of kick-butt heroines and women and girls with agency. Who can resist a story about assassin nuns?

Books with Heroines Who Take Care of Business

Grave Mercy, et al (His Fair Assassin series) Robin LaFevers

Throne of Glass (Sarah Maas)

Graceling (Kristin Cashore)

The Beka Cooper series (Tamora Pierce—in fact, anything by Tamora Pierce)

6. You like reading fiction set in a diverse world.

Today’s fantasy features a diverse cast of characters, including people of color, characters with varying cultures, religions, sexual orientations (even recommendations on, gender identity, and characters with disabilities. Fantasy worlds can be a safe place for readers to get to know diverse characters without assumptions, prejudices and stereotypes getting in the way.  Of course, the inclusion of non-human characters and magical practitioners brings diversity to a whole new level. The disdain of the wizard, sorcerer or seer for the non-gifted is a form of ableism, right?

Fantasy with a Diverse Cast of Humans

Silver Phoenix (Cindy Pon)

City of a Thousand Dolls (Miriam Forster)

Prophesy (Ellen Oh)

Ash (Malinda Lo)

The Bane Chronicles (Cassandra Clare—in fact, anything by Cassandra Clare)

The Coldest Girl in Coldtown (Holly Black—in fact, anything by Holly Black)

The Seven Realms series (Cinda Williams Chima)

7. When it comes to diversity, why stop with humans?

You like to walk on the wild side. Admit it…life would be a lot more interesting with dragons or demons around.

Fantasy with Magical, Mythical Beasts

Seraphina (Rachel Hartman) dragons who live peacefully with humans—or do they?

Wolves of Mercy Falls series [Shiver, et al] (Maggie Stiefvater) werewolves

The Scorpio Races (Maggie Stiefvater) killer water horses

Rampant (Diane Peterfreund) killer unicorns

Scorched (Mari Mancusi) dragons behaving badly

8. You’d like to rewrite history, with a magical twist.

Some fantasists set their stories in alternate history settings. Think steampunk, for example.

Even alternate worlds are often built from details lifted from real life. For example, Leigh Bardugo’s world has a handshake relationship with Czarist Russia. Rae Carson’s borrows from Spanish culture and language. The Thief series uses elements of Greek mythology.

Some Alternative History Fantasy

His Fair Assassin series (Robin LaFevers) assassin nuns in medieval Brittany

The Heir Chronicles (Cinda Williams Chima) the War of the Roses grows out of a battle between two Wizard houses

Chantress (Amy Butler Greenfield) magic-infused British history

The Infernal Devices (Cassandra Clare) fantasy set in Victorian times

9. Transformation stories give us hope that we can be more than we are right now. Fantasy is all about transformation.

A common fantasy archetype is the farm boy (or girl) who discovers that she is the chosen one, the lost heir, the prophet, the heir to a legacy of magic. Even in mainstream fantasy, many of the characters are teens, because that’s when we make that transformation into adulthood and begin to wield power of our own. Is there anyone out there who never wished to be someone else, to discover powers and abilities they never knew they had?

Transformation Fantasy

Nearly all of the above

10. Fantasy fiction allows us to tackle tough topics in a safe place.  

Science fiction and fantasy worlds can be metaphors for the real world, in which issues such as racism, sexism, class differences and so on can be addressed without arousing barriers and defenses. That’s not to say that anyone wants to read fantasy that pushes an agenda—but theme creeps into any good story.

About the Author: Cinda Williams Chima grew up with talking animals and kick-butt Barbies™. These days, she daydreams on the page. She is the author of the New York Times bestselling Seven Realms series and The Heir Chronicles. Visit Cinda at or follow her on Facebook or Twitter @cindachima