Recommendations of adult fantasy books for adult fans of middle grade fantasy

I make a sincere effort to look at the grown-up science fiction and fantasy section of the bookstore.  And then I go off an buy a middle grade or YA book.  But I am trying, this year, to crossover into the adult realm a little more, and it is hard for me because I have never liked a single book in which the female character is shown on the cover wearing a tank top and holding a weapon (although, on reflection, I don't think I've never actually read such a book).

Earlier this week I wrote about the reason why I put down, unfinished, my first adult book of the year- City of Dark Magic.   Lots of folks kindly left recommendations, and I thought it would be fun (and maybe useful, to others who share my reading tastes) to make a list of relatively current fantasy books published for adults that are the sort of thing that adults who turn to kids' fantasy for their own reading pleasure (I know for a fact there are at least ten of us) would enjoy.

In my mind, these sorts of book are strong on character, and the characters are smart, often witty, and (if they are central characters) likable.  They are welcome to have hot and steamy romances, although subtle smoldering is preferred.  These books are strong on setting, with lots of lovely details about place, and/or fascinating twists of world building (such as alternate histories) that really make the territory of the book an undiscovered country.

I'll start with some recommendations of my own, with the "relatively current" caveat meaning I'm not going to mention Diana Wynne Jones.  I'm not going to mention Ursula Le Guin either, although Lavinia is, as was noted in the comments, fairly recent and utterly worth reading (note cunning mention of both of them).  If anyone wants a list of older books, Rachel Neumier has a nice one here.

Contemporary books I'd Recommend:

House of Shadows, by Rachel Neumier

Anything by Patricia McKillip, perhaps The Alphabet of Thorn, or Ombria in Shadow, to start with.

Resenting the Hero, by Moira J. Moore (I have Angie to thank for introducing me to this lovely series!)

Among Others by Jo Walton (though I found it too depressing for my personal taste) (recommended also by Jessmonster)

Cold Magic, by Kate Elliott, is almost one I can recommend, but it didn't quite work for me personally--my review)


Ok.  This is why I need help if I am ever going to read any current adult fantasy.   That is all I can think of that's on my own shelves.

The recommendations I got on my first post:

From Tanita:

Wearing the Cape, by Marion G. Harmon
The Iron Butterfly, Chandra Hahn
Dignity,  and Fealty, by Eva Caye
The Demon's Librarian, Lillith Saintcrow
The Ladies of Mandrigyn, Barbara Hambly

From Jennifer:

 Deborah Harkness' Discovery of Witches

Patricia C. Wrede's adult fantasy novels, the Lyra books, with particular mention of  The Raven Ring.

From Cecelia:

The Silvered, by Tanya Huff (and here's her review of it)

From Jessica:

 Naomi Novik's Temeraire books

From Sondy:

Patrick Rothfuss' The Name of the Wind and Wise Man's Fear  (agreed--these are good ones)

Coronet of Steel, by Sherwood Smith

Mercedes Lackey's Five Hundred Kingdoms series

New Recommendations from the comments to this post (thank you all very much!)

From Ana: Terry Pratchett's Discworld series (and I can second this from my own experience-I started reading these last year, with great enjoyment)

From Melissa:  Neil Gaiman--Neverwhere and Stardust.  (I have not read these.  Yet.  But I did read Anansi Boys, and enjoyed it).

From Monica:  Good Omens, which nicely combines the two authors above!  (another that's on my tbr pile already....)

Maureen suggests several authors--
Sharon Shinn (agreed)
Leona Wisoker (a new one for me)
Ellen Kusthner (Swordspoint in particular)
Midnight Riot and sequels, by Ben Aaronovitch
The Rook by Daniel O'Malley
Martha Wells, in particular the Wheel of the Infinite
 Sylvia Kelso's Amberlight
 Theodora Goss's short fiction, also Catherynne Valente's

Aurora Celeste suggests Jacqueline Carey

Deva Fagan suggests The Curse of Chalion, by Lois McMaster Bujold,  the Sevenwaters series, by Juliet Marillier, and Kristen Britain's Green Rider series, and brings up Brandon Sanderson...

who is seconded by KT, who also recommends the Riyria Revelations by Michael Sullivan

Maria recommends Guy Gavriel Kay's Tigana, and his subsequent books would also count as well, which reminds me I am behind on him too.  Plus The Wheel of Time series, but I think that ship may have sailed without me (though Becky recommends it too...).

Maria's just reviewed and recommends Wool, by Hugh Howey (her review), also that seems more sci fi, and she also suggests Sherri Tepper, an author I love (except when I don't), although she's more sci fi than fantasy, which segues neatly into....

Suggestions beyond fantasy, qua fantasy--

Ready Player One, by Ernest Cline
Redshirts, and Old Man's War, by John Scalzi
Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore, by Robin Sloan
James Schmitz' collections and his novel, Witches of Karres.
 Lois McMaster Bujold's Miles Vorkosigan series

And more recommendations--

Small Review-- Jane Lindskold's Wolf series, and James Clemens' Banned and the Banished series

Kristen Evey--  Maria V. Snyder's Poison Study series

Anamaria --  The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey

Beth--Wen Spencer: A Brother's Price for a stand alone, and two series- Alien Taste and  her Tinker books.

And on my own tbr pile, I have The Magicians, by Lev Grossman (which I've started), Norse Code, by Greg van Eekhout, and The Accidental Sorcerer, by K.E. Mills.   And A Game of Thrones.  I am curious, though trepidatious, about that one.

(If I do end up reading Norse Code, it will be my first ever book whose cover shows a woman wearing a tank top and holding a weapon!)

And speaking of which, Rachel also suggests  the Mercy Thompson series by Patricia Briggs, with the caveat that Mercy more often is holding a wrench....

There are more recommendations in the comments for older books, which is nice too, but having decided to read Contemporary, I'm not putting those in this list.  Once I've read all of these, I can go back and make a list of the older ones....

SO--THANK YOU all for stopping by (so very nice to see so many blog friends!) Thanks to your recommendations, I have now become determined to read, or at least make a good faith try to read, 1 contemporary adult speculative fiction novel a week during 2013.   Starting with the ones already in the house.


  1. I definitely second Temeraire. Also Terry Pratchett's Discworld series - I know its length is often daunting for new readers, but the novels are all stand-alones and there are useful charts about where to start.

    1. I just started Discworld this fall, and am enjoying it lots!

  2. Does it have to be fantasy? Because a good dystopian is Ready Player One, by Ernest Cline. How about Neil Gaiman's stuff, especially Neverwhere and Stardust? And although I've not read them (yet), I've been curious about Felix J. Palma's books Map of Time and Map of the Sky.

    Two side notes: Discovery of Witches is better than Twilight, but still too long and there are too many diversions into wine and history for it to be truly enjoyable. And Game of Thrones is a huge time commitment. Everyone I've ever talked to says that it just takes over their reading.

    1. I loved Ready Player One (though I did the audio book and some of the side trips to describe all the 80s stuff got a bit tedious - and I'm an 80s kid)

      I ADORE Neil Gaiman's adult books. Neverwhere and Stardust are awesome - as is American Gods.

    2. And my husband just came home from "the hardware store" with a Gaiman anthology....so now there are three adult Gaiman's in my home that I haven't read. As well as a new stud finder, which is just too full of double entendre to be worth mentioning, but which was very useful in today's fun with mirror hanging.

  3. I did like the first book in The Game of Thrones series. My problem is that this series and other adult fantasies are so long. I have so many books to read so like to read the shorter MG and YA fantasies that I can get through quicker.

    I'm enjoying hearing your thoughts on adult fantasy. I may try to get some audio books of adult fantasy as a way to try to read them while I walk.

    1. I've read the whole Game of Thrones series (at least what is out so far!)

      Definitely massive tomes. It's easier to read as an ebook so that you can click on the names and hit up the wiki site to keep track of all the characters.

    2. I agree with Natalie, I really enjoyed the first book but the length of some of these books gets daunting.

    3. Well, I guess this particular series is just going to keep getting longer, so I might as well at least start....The Wheel of Time, though, just seems wayyyyy to long. I regret having wasted my first maternity leave re-reading David Eddings and Piers Anthony.

    4. Ahh... David Eddings! I loved those series too! The Belgariad and Mallorean... fond memories of them. They are still on my shelves.

  4. I second Terry Pratchett's Discworld recommendation. Adore them. Also, Good Omens by Pratchett and Neil Gaiman is fun. And from Neil Gaiman alone, American Gods is awesome. And I very much liked Lev Grossman's THE MAGICIANS and its sequel.

    Two fun more recent fantasy I listened to (I do the bulk of my adult reading via audio books when I run) were John Scalzi's Red Shirts and and Robin Sloan's Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore.

    1. Red Shirts was wonderful!

      Also try his Old Man's War book (science fiction, not fantasy) I plan to read the rest of that series.

    2. Oh yes, I want Red Shirts! Mr. Penumbra I hadn't heard of, but it does sound interesting.

  5. Actually, I guess the Sloan isn't ...quite...fantasy, but sort of.

  6. Sharon Shinn has both YA and adult books, which I generally enjoy. I've liked Leona Wisoker's books. Ellen Kushner, especially Swordspoint. Rachel Neumeier is sort of a YA/adult crossover writer--speaking of which, she has a post that might be helpful. Midnight Riot and sequels, by Ben Aaronovitch. The Rook by Daniel O'Malley. Martha Wells, whose Wheel of the Infinite I adore.

    I liked Sylvia Kelso's Amberlight, but I suspect not everyone will and I couldn't get through the sequel. Lavinia, by LeGuin, is newer and amazing.

    I love Theodora Goss's short fiction, also Catherynne Valente's. While they've both done nice longer projects, I started by reading their Clarkesworld stories and I still really love several of them.

    The Winter Prince, by Elizabeth Wein. Very upper end of YA, so easily adult as well.

    Robin Hobb I have all kinds of mixed feelings about, but she ought to go on the list anyway.

    I'm sure I will think of others.

    1. Second Sharon Shinn. She's great. If you're ok with sex Jacqueline Carey is amazing (and I count her as current since she's still writing sequels to her series).

    2. I guess Robin Hobb could indeed go on the list. But my feelings are perhaps even more mixed than yours, so I'll hold off putting her on until someone really truly champions her!

  7. I second Naomi Novik's Temeraire books, especially the first, which is one of my favorite books of the past decade. Also Ready Player One, recc'd above, which was one of my favorite reads of last year, especially as a child of the 80s myself.

    Just recently I've started Juliet Marillier's Sevenwaters series, and loved Daughter of the Forest and Son of Shadows, the first two. There is some triggery stuff in the first third of DotF but you can tell it's coming and skim that scene if it's too much. Both of those have slow burn romances and rich characters, imo. I am eager to start on the third in the series.

    I enjoyed the first two books of Kristen Britain's Green Rider series, which is pretty standard fantasy -- though I must admit I have the third on my shelf and have not motivated myself to read it. But if I remember correctly, it felt a bit like Tamora Pierce.

    I have a list of adult fantasy I want to try myself, including The Name of the Wind, and also something by Brandon Sanderson, who everyone keeps recommending to me.

    I look forward to hearing about anything you find that you do enjoy! I would like to read a bit more adult sff myself...

  8. How about anything by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchell Discworld. They are both brillant writers. I know your are familiar with Gaiman's books for younger readers, but Pratchett has also done some nice MG books particularly his Johnny Maxwell trilogy.

  9. If you're veering over into sci-fi, I recommend James Schmitz' collections and his novel, Witches of Karres.

  10. Okay - so some more titles that didn't get mentioned up there....

    I adore Sheri Tepper. Definitely feminist, and mostly dystopian / post-apocalyptic. Try The Gate to Women's Country first. It's a stand alone. If you like her style, she has a bunch of wonderful books.

    Guy Gavriel Kay's Tigana is a masterpiece. I also loved his Tapestry series.

    If you're up for a great self-published post-apocalyptic, try Wool. I'm always leery of self-pubs, but several friends recommnded it and I absolutely loved it. http://www.mariaselke.com/2013/01/sci-friday-wool.html
    I think this one would also be great for teens. Adult protagonists, though, which cuts down the angsty teen vibe a lot. Nice change of pace for me.

    Older (sort of) fantasy - try the Wheel of Time series. The first book in the series came out in 1990 and the final book just came out this week!

  11. I second, third, fourth and fifth Discworld, Neil Gaiman, Lev Grossman and Deborah Harkness. I was skeptical with the Harkness because I did NOT want another vampire book, but the beginning, with the MC Diana in Oxford, hooked me and made me want to get a PhD at the same time. I would also add Charles De Lint, who is one of my favorite writers ever. He writes urban fantasy and has lately crossed into writing YA as well as adult. If you want to put a toe into his world, Dreams Underfoot is a short story collection. I also recommend Jack the Giant Killer.

    1. Thanks Debra for the encouragement viz Harkness--I was feeling doubtful1

  12. I really loved the Riyria Revelations by Michael Sullivan. The first is called Theft of Swords. A bonus is that it's a complete trilogy.

    Also, I would second the Brandon Sanderson rec. I've only read Elantris (Mystborn is the more popular of his), but I thought it was very well done.

    I love that both of these have strong females that aren't totally annoying (they have their moments but are generally strong additions instead of whining sex figures), which has been rare in most adult fantasy I've read.

  13. I am really enjoying the Wheel of Time series by Robert Jordan.

    1. Did you get the latest book? My copy just arrived!

  14. I love Jane Lindskold's Wolf series. The second and third book are probably my favorites, but the whole series is great. (You do need to read them in order, but each ends as a standalone). I love the characters. Starts with Through Wolf's Eyes.

    I also like James Clemens' Banned and the Banished series. Strange apostrophe placement aside, it's a Lord of the Rings type quest fantasy with pretty much non-stop action, a large cast and inventive creatures. Starts with Wit'ch Fire.

  15. Does science fiction for adults belong on this list? I know you're a little skeptical, but Lois McMaster Bujold's Miles Vorkosigan series really is excellent. Some of the earlier ones involve a tedious amount of running around space stations shooting laser guns and what not, but generally, they're wonderfully character driven, and sticking with the series does pay off. You can start with the omnibus of the first two books, which gives you the backstory of Miles, Cordelia's Honor.

  16. Have you ever read Maria V. Snyder? Her Poison Study series is fantastic! Although, TBH I lost steam by the third book. You CAN just read the first book on its own though. :)I also second Juliet Marillier and Neil Gaiman.

  17. Oh dear, I am late to this party. I liked The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey, though.

  18. Game of Thrones is long...and depressing. I'd recommend reading it in small chunks with healthy breaks for happier fare. And, ditto on the American Gods recommendation.

  19. Wen Spencer writes good character and plot driven fantasies. I recommend "A Brother's Price" for a stand alone; my son and I are both fans of her Alien Taste series, and my sister and I really like her Tinker books.

  20. Someone on Twitter just reminded me of the Dragon's Gate cycle series. Of course, since that also came out in the 90s it is hardly new.

    1. Oh goodness, I'm not ready to tackle the 90s yet! I really didn't read much then, and the thought of catching up is daunting!

  21. Oh yay, lots of recommendations to check out! How awesome! :)

  22. I agree that adult fantasy is inexplicably not very appealing but I did love the Deryni series by Katherine Kurtz. Some of the later ones contained too much torture for me but I was sad that she concluded mid-series (unless I missed later books). Her combination of medieval history, religion and fantasy was wonderful.

    1. I enjoyed these lots back in the day myself, but they did get somewhat depressing toward the end of the series. Especially because you knew who would die from the family tree!

  23. Forgot to mention the fantastic Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell, by Susanna Clarke-historical fiction with a fantasy twist. Often described as Harry Potter meets Jane Austen :)

    1. I tried that one--it was too weighty for me....

  24. I'm going to use your site as one of my sources on what best next middle grade book I'm going to read. I think 2013 is going to be my middle grade reading year (or something like that). I'm going to plow through the titles as well.

  25. Wish I had any suggestions, but I read very little adult literature any more. I'm mostly just stopping by to say I'm super glad for the suggestions - I need to add more adult spec fic to my reading pile!

  26. (Found this page google-searching for a book for a friend. Read it long ago, thinks the title was Butterfly, & it was "a perfect blend of SF&F.) Seconding Bujold, including her fantasy books: Curse of Chalion & Paladin of Souls especially.

    Tamora Pierce straddles YA & adult SF&F, I think.

    My Barbara Hambly rec would be The Silent Tower, & its sequel, The Silicon Mage.

    Andre Norton is classic, but you have to like her style. My fave is probably Year of the Unicorn, which had absolutely no unicorns. (I was unicorn-nuts when I read it, so it had to be good to overcome my disappointment.)

    1. Thanks lots for the recommendations! As soon as I've read more of the contemorary ones, I'll come back to these.

  27. The cover of NORSE CODE is a little, er, different from the one I envisioned. For one thing, she mostly wears a coat in the book, since it's Fimbulwinter, and she's a sensible woman. :-)

    1. I am actually rather relieved to hear this. But I will count as shoulder-bearing anyway, just so I feel edgier.

  28. Somehow I convinced myself you had already read Curse of Chalion, but if you have not, I would urge you to put that high on the list. Really fantastic book, one of the best adult fantasy I've read (I also am very fond of Paladin of Souls, the sequel).

    And thank you for updating with the whole list -- I am going to refer to this as well!

    If you have the inclination, I am curious which Sheri Tepper books have worked for you? I have a strong affection for her True Game series, and the Marianne books, and for Beauty, but have been hit or miss with her more recent books.

    1. Viz Sheri Tepper--Grass, and The Gate to Women's Country, are the one's I've re-read most, and I also very much like The Family Tree (which is the most mg friendly of her books).

      I'll add Curse of Chalion to the list...

  29. Don't know if I'm sticking to the "relatively current" criterion, but I'm pretty sure you would love:

    Barbara Hambly. You might try BRIDE OF THE RAT GOD, THOSE WHO HUNT THE NIGHT, STRANGER AT THE WEDDING, and DRAGONSBANE. I think if you don't like those, you definitely aren't going to fall in love with Hambly!

    Doris Egan, the trilogy starting with GATE OF IVORY. Egan never wrote much, but this is a wonderful trilogy that never got the attention it deserved.

    Gillian Bradshaw. In my opinion, anybody who loves fantasy should think of trying historicals, and in particular I think this author would appeal to you.

    And I second the vote for CURSE OF CHALION.

    Now, 'scuse me while I go browse through this whole list . . .

  30. Also! For Woman-With-Weapon books, you really should try the Mercy Thompson series by Patricia Briggs! If you don't love those, then I think you're pretty safe giving the whole UF/Paranormal subgenre a miss.

    Besides, Mercy is usually holding a wrench, not a sword.

  31. Whew, lots of good suggestions here! Yes on Neil Gaiman, and YES on Terry Pratchett. I'd also recommend Juliet Marillier--she has some wonderful fantasy novels with interesting worlds and strong heroines.

  32. Wow! What a list, just what I was looking for! I was annoyed with all the YA paranormal books I kept coming across! A great big thanks to all who shared their favorites. Now I just have to figure out which one I want to read!


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