Samantha Shannon on the Best Fantasy Novels of Recent Years
One of the world's most popular authors of fantasy fiction, Samantha Shannon returns to the world of her bestselling The Priory of the Orange Tree with A Day of Fallen Night, a mesmerising prequel that enriches the mythology and atmosphere of the original novel. In this exclusive piece, Samantha reveals her favourite fantasy stories of the past few years.
We are in a Golden Age of fantasy. For years, there has been an outpouring of imaginative works, introducing us to sweeping worlds, magic systems, and epic conflicts. Here are a few of my personal favourites.
The Final Strife by Saara El-Arifi
The Final Strife is the ambitious opening of the Ending Fire trilogy, which is set in a world with roots in Ghanaian and Arabian mythology. Plagued by sandstorms and a strict hierarchy based on blood colour, the Wardens’ Empire is a brutal place to live. The clear-blooded Ghostings are violently oppressed from birth; the blue-blooded Dusters are the working class, and the red-blooded Embers rule with an iron fist, using their magic, bloodwerking. My favourite element of this world is the tidewind, a ferocious sandstorm that chews through everything in its path – even flesh. While the magic and politics are intriguing, the heart of the novel is its flawed and endearing protagonist, Sylah. Stolen from her cradle, Sylah is an Ember, raised by defiant Dusters to end the hierarchy. After missing her calling, Sylah glimpses a chance at redemption in blue-blooded Anoor, who she must train to win the Aktibar, a series of ruthless trials. As the threats from all sides grow, so do their feelings for each other. Through Sylah, El-Arifi cleverly subverts the Chosen One trope and portrays drug addiction with care.
Godkiller by Hannah Kaner
One of the most confident debuts I’ve read in the last few years, Godkiller is a great first step into a fascinating world. The story follows the short-tempered but loveable Kissen, a woman who kills gods for a living after her family were sacrificed to one of them. When she crosses paths with an orphaned noble, Kissen also meets a god she cannot kill – Skediceth, god of white lies, who has somehow bound himself to young Inara Craier. Their journey brings them into the company of former knight Elogast, and this foursome embark on a quest to the ruined city of Blenraden. While Kaner embraces and excels in classic tropes, like the epic journey and the disillusioned knight, she also puts her own fresh spin on gods, their creation, and their undoing, peppering her world are peppered with shrines and worshippers and pilgrims. It’s also a loving ode to found family.
The Jasmine Throne by Tasha Suri
Inspired by the mythology and history of India, The Jasmine Throne follows the ambitious Princess Malini and her maidservant – Priya, a disguised priestess – as they join forces to overthrow the cruel Emperor Chandra, a religious zealot who burns women in a twisted form of worship. The first in the Burning Kingdoms trilogy, this book is an exceptional achievement by Tasha Suri, whose lyrical descriptions and polished worldbuilding make for an enthralling read. At its core is the sapphic romance between Priya and Malini. Their love is tender, but has teeth, with Suri allowing both women to be ruthless where necessary. The stakes climb with every page, and its two branches of magic – one that draws on fire, and one on flowers – are equally intriguing. Along with The Unbroken by C. L. Clark (see below) and She Who Became the Sun by Shelley Parker-Chan, The Jasmine Throne is part of the so-called Sapphic Trifecta.
The Unbroken by C. L. Clark
The Unbroken is a layered study of empire, influenced by the French colonisation of North Africa and driven by two intriguing women. One is Touraine, a hard-bitten soldier, abducted from her native Qazal as a child and raised to serve its conquerors in Balladaire; the other is Princess Luca, heir to Balladaire, whose aim is to secure her throne by quelling a brewing rebellion in Qazal. Luca needs Touraine to intercede with the rebels, but Touraine soon realises she has a personal history with their leader, and must question her enforced loyalty to Balladaire. The novel centres on the political dance between Luca and Touraine, which is laced with all manner of tension. Clark skilfully acknowledges and explores the power dynamic between the two women, complicated by their undeniable attraction to each other, which makes for breathless reading as they vie for the upper hand.
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