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July 6, 2023

6 Fantastic Fantasy Novels You Have to Read

by MK French

There are some really great fantasy novels coming out this month. I'm going to give you a rundown of all the best I've read so you can go ahead and pre-order what will become your next favorite book. There is a little of something for every fan of fantasy on this list - young adult, dark fantasy, folklore, and fairytales.

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Verushka by Jan Stinchcomb

book cover of dark fantasy novel Verushka by Jan Stinchcomb
July 2023; JournalStone; 978-1685100902
ebook, print (178 pages); dark fantasy

Devon Woodward was stalked from the day she was born by an entity from her grandmother’s time. Verushka is a half-human witch willing do anything to get what she needs from the Woodward family. Devon won't go quietly, but family conflict might sabotage Devon’s efforts to escape her fate.

A house fire sent four-year-old Devon and her family to a new home near a small town and the woods. There's an old woman with long white hair deep in the woods that no one else seems to know about, but she still has an effect. Devon's parents are upset in the aftermath, the stress driving a wedge between them that Devon can see but not understand. She has her own stress to deal with, as there's the mysterious behavior of her toy that miraculously survived the fire and moves around.

As the novel continues, we see flashes back to Devon's father's childhood, as well as her grandmother meeting Verushka in the first place. We even see Verushka's story, and understand why it's so important for her to get Devon to take her place in the other world of magic and sprites. Throughout the stories we have the creeping sense of something going wrong, of something else about to happen that will bring more horror into their lives. The tension rises until the fateful night Devon comes face to face with Verushka and must figure out what to do on her own. The last quarter of the book is especially tense, because we don't know what will happen next, or if Devon will survive it when she doesn't feel like she will. It's very well done, right to the last page.

Buy Verushka at Amazon

Resolved by Kandi J. Wyatt

book cover of young adult fantasy novel Resolved by Kandi J. Wyatt
July 2023; Indie; 979-8394599927
ebook, print (365 pages); YA fantasy

Siobhan wants to protect her ten-year-old daughter Mairead and isn't sure what to tell her about her father. Mairead is already straining against being overprotected, but the country is on the brink of civil war.

Resolved is the fifth book in the series Four Stars over Ardatz. (Uprooted, Blessed, Exalted, and Determined are the prior books, and the links will take you to my reviews.) We open with Siobhan as a single parent and queen, her daughter wanting to train when some of the nobility would rather she be more traditional and do things like needlepoint. You'd think after ten years of Siobhan training with swords as well as ruling the country they'd accept it better, but no. Then again, misogyny and conservatives don't change their beliefs when proven wrong in our world, so it makes sense that they wouldn't go away in this fantasy one. (Though they really should!) With rumors of continued incursions into her country and people attacked or branded, Siobhan is urged to see if the rumors are true. They are, and it's a dangerous, ruthless force.

Siobhan had internalized some of Hest's ways more than she thought. The old version of her never would have dressed as a boy to go into the field to investigate, but he did that. She went from all diplomacy to considering the soldiers and war, to considering the needs of the commoners and seeing the world for what it is, not just what it should be. She loves her daughter and her people and is willing to make any sacrifice to see them all safe. It's her resolve that we see in this novel and her decisions in the face of the incursions. She has grown a lot since the last book, and I don't envy her for the difficult choices she had to make. I don't know if this is the end of the series, but it's a strong ending if it is.

Buy Resolved at Amazon

Beauty and Deceit by Carol Beth Anderson

book cover of fairy tale retelling Beauty and Deceit by Carol Beth Anderson
July 2023; Eliana Press; 978-1949384192
audio, ebook, print (380 pages); fairytale

Aeryn's father lost his inventory to pirates, leaving her working hard to help her family. A mysterious faerie invites her to a competition where the winner becomes the wife to a Fae beast. Tor lives in a castle and is wealthy enough to provide for Aeryn's family, so she's willing to compete even though he appears like a demon from her nightmares. She's up against nine powerful faerie females, and Aeryn finds herself drawn to Wyatt, the castle gardener. If she wants to help her family, the choice is clear. But is it really?

Fairy tale retelling with a love triangle? I'm in. It's a Bachelor style competition for Tor's heart, and he has a deadline. Otherwise, the fairy that cursed him and turned his castle servants to stone will take over his estate and move it back to Faerie from Earth. Aeryn has gone from pampered rich girl to someone working at fabric crafts and foraging to make ends meet when her brother and sister won't and her father drinks away his sorrows. When the competition starts, there are the mean girl contestants as well as the quiet ones, and Aeryn gets to see that not only are fairies real, but they often behave in very human ways as well.

There are some touches that I laughed at like the bluebirds that are Aeryn's guide will twitter as a means to communicate with her. Even Aeryn's name is fun since it reminds me of Farscape. We have the usual shenanigans of a competition with magic and challenges to try to win Tor's heart, as well as the risk of losing everything. We know it's a fairy tale, but the trouble along the way to the ending does force Aeryn to really consider what kind of person she wants to be, as well as what she's willing to do to win. There's the big showdown as well as magical fights at the end so that the characters earn their happily ever after. It's a fun book, one I really enjoyed reading.

Buy Beauty and Deceit at Amazon

Immortal Longings by Chloe Gong

book cover of romantic fantasy novel Immortal Longings by Chloe Gong
July 2023; Gallery / Saga Press; 978-1668000229
audio, ebook, print (384 pages); epic fantasy

The capital twin cities San-Er of Talin hosts a set of games involving a fight to the death to win unimaginable riches. Princess Calla Tuoleimi had been in hiding since the massacre that destroyed the royal family of Er. King Kasa’s forces in San are looking for her, as she plans to destroy the monarchy. Her uncle always greets the victor, so if she wins, she gets her opportunity to kill him. Anton Makusa is an exiled aristocrat trying to keep his childhood love alive while she is in a coma. Entering the games and winning will give him the money to continue helping her. Calla and Anton forge an alliance with each other and King Kasa’s adopted son, August. All three of them have very different goals, and it might not end well.

Immortal Longings is the first book in the Flesh and False Gods Trilogy. In the world is magic mixed with technology and a gene that allows people to shift their consciousness to another body, depending on the strength of the gene and the person's qi level. That's a fascinating concept from the start and showcases our starring characters in early chapters. Jumping is outlawed, though the palace generally turns a blind eye to it because the nobility tends to be the ones with the gene. This means the body someone has at birth isn't necessarily kept, and it carries less meaning to people than keeping a consciousness intact. At the same time, jumping is legal during the games, and the callous disregard for lives is amplified. Calla is determined to put an end to royal rule, as the commoners are used as commodities, with no regard to their wellbeing. The Kingdom is ruled more like an empire, and she wants to put a stop to it. Anton is getting by, jumping from body to body and skimming funds where he can. Above it all is August, hoping to reach the Throne sooner than he should; he feels he'd be a just ruler, and would care for the people more than his adopted father. 

The games take place all over the city, which is crisscrossed with this world's version of CCTV. It's dangerous and violent, 88 people were given free rein to murder their way to the top in exchange for money. In addition to Calla and Anton planning to undermine the throne, there is an underground cult that serves as a thieves guild of sorts, and the threat of war returning. Along the way are additional threats to Calla, especially when her relationship with Anton changes. It is an enthralling story, with twists along the way that explains why Calla doesn't jump, why Anton's former girlfriend is so important, and the growing threat that August becomes. It ends in a satisfying cliffhanger; I know most cliffhanger endings are terrible, but this one is a great stopping point for the Trilogy and hints at more dangerous events to come.

Buy Immortal Longings at Amazon

The Weaver and the Witch Queen by Genevieve Gornichec

book cover of historical fantasy novel The Weaver and the Witch Queen by Genevieve Gornichec
July 2023; Ace; 978-0593438244
audio, ebook, print (432 pages); folklore

In tenth century Norway, Oddny and Gunnhild meet as children. Oddny wants a quiet life, and Gunnhild wants power. A visiting wisewoman makes an ominous prophecy involving Oddny, her sister Signy, and Gunnhild, so the three girls make a blood oath to help each other. Oddny's farm is destroyed by Viking raiders and Signy is kidnapped. Gunnhild had fled her home years ago to learn witchcraft, and her fate is linked to King Eirik, heir apparent to the ruler of all Norway. The childhood bonds that hold the women together are strong, and will be tested in ways they never could have foreseen.

The Weaver and the Witch Queen is loosely based on historical figures, but I didn't know that until I read the author's note at the end. I followed the story from the start, interested in how Gunnhild needed to leave a home where she felt continually targeted, learning witchcraft to feel a sense of power. Signy and Oddny had sisterly bickering before the raid on their home, which set into motion the very thing that the other witches had hoped to stop. Gunnhild and Oddny work together after Signy is kidnapped and sold into slavery, but their means of getting there are different. Oddny is a healer and weaver, working with different households and reinforcing relationships in the hird, while Gunnhild challenges and asserts herself whenever possible. At the same time, Gunnhild is harassed and thwarted by the three other witches hoping to stop her future from coming to pass. The more she doubts herself, the more events spiral out of her control and reinforces her doubts.

The life of women in that culture generally ran on prescribed rails, with distinct roles. Oddny had wanted to stay within those bounds, but this adventure forced her out of them. Gunnhild wanted power and safety in a different way, and pushed back against all the infighting. At the core of their sworn sisterhood is love, so that even as they sometimes go about their goal to get Signy back in different ways, there is still love between the two women. The end of the novel is in line with history, but still emotionally satisfying for the paths they chose throughout the novel. It's very well done, and breathes life into the limited knowledge we have about these figures.

House of Roots and Ruin by Erin A Craig

book cover of young adult dark fantasy novel House of Roots and Ruin by Erin A. Craig
July 2023; Delacorte Press; 978-0593482544
audio, ebook, print (544 pages); YA dark fantasy

Seventeen year old Verity Thaumas remained at her family’s estate with her older sister Camille. Their other sisters have scattered across Arcannia, but soon Mercy sends word that the Duchess of Bloem wants Verity to paint a portrait of her son, Alexander. Verity would love to, but Camille won’t allow it because Verity is still seeing ghosts, she just doesn’t know it. Leaving that night, Very has nowhere else to go but Bloem. She's captivated by the land and the impossibly handsome Alexander Laurent. Though a romance begins, Verity is plagued with nightmares, and the darker side of Bloem begins to show.

This is book two of Sisters of the Salt, following "House of Salt and Sorrows." In that book, four sisters out of twelve had remained at Highmoor. They all were cursed, a gothic retelling of "The Twelve Dancing Princesses." Verity thinks the curse is done, though she sees ghosts as vividly as the living and interacts with them. She thinks she can strike out and build a new life in Bloem, an area known for beauty, flowers and high society. There are oddities in the house, which at first seem to have very reasonable explanations. Of course in time Verity learns there is more to it, and the rush to marry has a very unsavory reason. She is never sure who to trust besides Alex, leaving her very alone in the large estate. The final third runs at a breakneck pace, and I couldn't put the book down. I stayed up far too late to finish it, because I had to know what happened next.

Born and raised in New York City, M.K. French started writing stories when very young, dreaming of different worlds and places to visit. She always had an interest in folklore, fairy tales, and the macabre, which has definitely influenced her work. She currently lives in the Midwest with her husband, three young children, and a golden retriever.

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