[Note from Frolic: We’re so excited to have author Adrienne Tooley guest posting on the site today. She’s sharing some of her favorite fantasy worlds. Take it away, Adrienne!]
When diving into a fantasy novel, the first thing I look forward to is getting to explore the world. Sometimes there’s a map I can refer to, dragging my finger down a road, over mountains and through streams, over borders and across oceans. Sometimes I rely on the text alone to guide me through. An immersive, sprawling fantasy world grips readers by the shoulders, shaking them into the story. A strongly built, carefully considered world will take the reader by the hand and lead them through twisting stone alleyways that lead to underground tunnels, or gnarled trees that bend to the heavens, their trunks carved with runes of the ancients.
Fantastic fantasy worlds transport readers, offering sweeping escapism, insightfully created governments and magic systems, monarchies and rebellions alike. Without a well-established world, a reader has no stakes.
Here are five of my favorite fantasy worlds—worlds that sucked me in and never let me go:
1. The Broken Earth Trilogy by N.K. Jemisin
The first book in N.K. Jemisin’s The Broken Earth Trilogy, The Fifth Season, opens on a continent called the Stillness. From page one, the world feels so familiar, yet so curious at the same time. It plays on the concepts and pieces of existence that we know, but turns assumptions on their head. It’s a world that unfolds slowly yet surely, drawing you forward with the promise of more. With glimpses of horror, sci-fi, and fantasy in equal measure, N.K. Jemisin propels the reader onward with hints and glimpses of the twists and turns in the road. And even still, there are moments that built so organically and authentically that as a reader I still never saw coming. This world excited and delighted me, and fully informed the characters and narrative in a masterclass of craft.
2. The Locked Tomb Trilogy by Tamsyn Muir
From the first line of Tamsyn Muir’s Gideon the Ninth, I was instantly transported into its weird, wonderful galactic empire. The world pieces itself together around the reader, there are loose threads hanging all over the place that allow for intrigue and mystery and thrilling reread after reread. With humor, lesbian necromancy, and vivid characters, GIDEON THE NINTH follows the Ninth House’s quest to become Lyctors and serve the Emperor. Even if most of those words mean nothing to you while reading the synopsis, they will be the end of the book, which is a huge way the world begins to build itself around you until you can’t remember a time where you never knew the ninth house.
3. We Hunt the Flame by Hafsah Faizal
Hafsah Faizal’s stunning debut We Hunt the Flame is set in an exquisitely detailed world inspired by ancient Arabia. From the first page the reader is thrust into the danger of the Arz, a dark forest encroaching onto the land of Arawiya. Faizal lays such stable groundwork for her world and character’s motivations that you hang on their every action. When Zafira and Nasir meet, an ancient evil stirs as their journey unfolds—and the prize they seek may pose a threat greater than either can imagine. The tension of a world being encroached on by an evil island and twisted trees keeps the pacing of this first installment in the duology at 100 throughout the entire book.
4. Crier’s War by Nina Varela
Nina Varela’s wonderful, sapphic debut Crier’s War, the first in a duology, is set in the Kingdom of Rabu, where humans and automae are at war. After the War of Kinds ravaged the kingdom of Rabu, the Automae, designed to be the playthings of royals, usurped their owners’ estates and bent the human race to their will. The politics of this world with Made vs. Unmade sets high stakes from page one and directly influence the romance between Crier, an automae, and Ayla, a human. With growing human unrest across the land, pressures from a foreign queen, and an evil new leader on the rise, the politics and court intrigue of this book lead Crier and Ayla to find there may be only one path to love: war.
5. Cinderella is Dead by Kalynn Bayron
Kalynn Bayron’s Cinderella is Dead takes a classic fairytale and turns it on its head. It’s 200 years after Cinderella found her prince and the fairy tale is over. In the Kingdom of Lille, their history book is Cinderella’s story—twisted and retold to benefit the monarchy. Teen girls are now required to appear at the Annual Ball, where the men of the kingdom select wives based on a girl’s display of finery. If a suitable match is not found, the girls not chosen are never heard from again. When Sophia meets Constance, the last known descendant of Cinderella and her step sisters, together they vow to bring down the king once and for all. This fresh take on a classic story will make readers question the tales they’ve been told, and root for girls to break down the constructs of the world around them.
*6. This is How You Lose the Time War by Amal el-Mothar and Max Gladstone
Okay, I couldn’t just choose five. This Is How You Lose the Time War by Amal el-Mohtar and Max Gladstone is about two soldiers, Red and Blue, on opposite sides of a time war, as they fall in love with each other via love letters. It’s an epistolary novel and yet through both women’s letters we see the world (throughout time) unfold through their gorgeous prose. It’s the most sapphic book I’ve ever read and it has so much to do with the world its set in—the warring factions, the war that sparks and then sustains a forbidden romance. I can’t rave about it enough.
About the Author:
Adrienne Tooley grew up in Southern California, majored in musical theater in Pittsburgh, and now lives in Brooklyn with her wife, six guitars, and a banjo. In addition to writing novels, she is a singer/songwriter who has currently released three indie-folk EPs. Sweet & Bitter Magic is her debut novel. Find her on Twitter and Instagram @AdrienneTooley or at her website adriennetooley.com.
Sweet and Bitter Magic by Adrienne Tooley, out now!
In this charming debut fantasy perfect for fans of Sorcery of Thorns and Girls of Paper and Fire, a witch cursed to never love meets a girl hiding her own dangerous magic, and the two strike a dangerous bargain to save their queendom.
Tamsin is the most powerful witch of her generation. But after committing the worst magical sin, she’s exiled by the ruling Coven and cursed with the inability to love. The only way she can get those feelings back—even for just a little while—is to steal love from others.
Wren is a source—a rare kind of person who is made of magic, despite being unable to use it herself. Sources are required to train with the Coven as soon as they discover their abilities, but Wren—the only caretaker to her ailing father—has spent her life hiding her secret.
When a magical plague ravages the queendom, Wren’s father falls victim. To save him, Wren proposes a bargain: if Tamsin will help her catch the dark witch responsible for creating the plague, then Wren will give Tamsin her love for her father.
Of course, love bargains are a tricky thing, and these two have a long, perilous journey ahead of them—that is, if they don’t kill each other first..