Since we’ve all been unable to step outside the limits of our homes for the past six months or so due to Covid–and more recently due to the Californian wildfires–I’ve been reading a lot of high-fantasy lately to mentally transport myself to other places. Just mentally, since I highly doubt I’d be able to survive more than a day in any fantasy book. I’d probably get eaten by a monster of epic proportions, or suffer as a small-town villager ravaged by the main antagonist.
So maybe I wouldn’t want to actually travel there physically. But I’ve definitely loved immersing myself into various fictional worlds. Here are a few of the fantasies I’ve been loving lately:
Everless by Sara Holland
“Maybe I am a mystery— a secret— that needs unravelling…”
Sara Holland’s Everless takes place in Sempera, where time is money, literally. Blood is traded in the form of blood-irons as currency, and the poor lead short lives with time bled and heavily taxed from them by the nobility. With the wedding of the Queen’s daughter, Ina Gold, on the horizon, Jules journeys to the Everless estate to find work as part of the wedding staff. At Everless, Jules unravels secrets of her past and discovers things about herself that could change the future of Sempera.
Everless and its sequel Evermore are some of my favourite underrated fantasies. Recently, I reread both books and found them to still be just as good reads the second time, even with remembering each and every plot twist and reveal. Holland’s writing style is fast-paced and definitely kept me intrigued with well-timed reveals of crucial information that it was hard for me to put the book down. I found myself really interested in the later relationship that develops between Jules and one of the other servant girls at Everless, Caro, as well as the glimpses into the past that are divulged in the sequel Evermore. This duology has been one of my favourite reads this year and I’d love to find out more about this world if the chance should arise for Holland to write an in-universe spin-off.
Spin the Dawn by Elizabeth Lim
“Seize the wind. Don’t become the kite that never flies.”
Mulan meets Project Runway in Elizabeth Lim’s Spin the Dawn, weaving together a deeply rich fantasy world inspired by East Asian culture. Maia’s biggest dream is to become a tailor, but problem is: she’s a woman, and women can’t be tailors. When her aging father is summoned by the to compete with twelve others to be the new Imperial Tailor, she poses as a man in her father’s stead. But the competition proves to be more difficult than she’s ever imagined, sabotage lies around every corner and it seems that Edan, the Magician, has seen through her disguise. The final challenge: the seemingly impossible task to create Amana’s three legendary dresses for the Empress-to-be.
Spin the Dawn is not just another medieval knights-and-princesses fantasy. Its unique world-building allows for a truly immersive experience and is rich with magic and unexpected delights. I also loved the cast of characters, each side character also has a compelling story that is interesting in itself, as well as where it intersects with Maia’s arc, especially the Empress-to-be Lady Sarnai. The book also ends on a cliffhanger that leaves open the perfect amount of plot threads for its sequel: Unravel the Dusk. My main criticism of the series would be that at times it feels like the only character who exists is Maia and there’s not too much outward-looking at the rest of the cast later on including Edan and Ammi, who we are introduced to in Spin the Dawn but get a larger look at her in Unravel the Dusk. However, it is written in first-person point of view so that is understandable. I hope the author decides to expand this series to give us a wider look at the other members of the cast.
Mirage by Somaiya Daud
“You do not kneel or bend, I told myself. To anyone. You continue.”
Mirage takes place in a fantastical star system with a Moroccan inspired world. Ordinary girl Amani lives on a small moon, dreaming of the day she can leave her home. But that day comes sooner than she thinks when she’s abducted by the empire that controls the star system. Upon discovering her physical similarities to the hated Princess Maram, she’s forced to act as the Princess’ body double in public, to protect the real Princess from assassination attempts. Even though Amani is dressed and treated like royalty in her new life, one step out of line could spell out certain doom for herself and her family.
While I haven’t read the sequel, Court of Lions, yet, I definitely can vouch for Mirage. I loved its fantasy elements mixed in with a touch of otherworldly sci-fi. Maram, the princess, is one of my favourite characters and I can’t wait to see what the rest of the series has in store for her. Mirage also leaves off with quite a few unanswered questions, so you might also want to be prepared to pick up the second book rather quickly after the first. For me, since I did read Mirage approximately when it first came out, I have been stewing on those questions for quite a bit of time. I’m presently really pumped to read Court of Lions, and any other potential sequels!