I have been a lover of Fantasy novels since I was young. I was first introduced to the works of J. R. R. Tolkien. Since then, my love of Fantasy has only grown and I’m often asked for some recommendations to ease friends & family in. More recently, I have also had people begin asking me about Fantasy books appropriate for younger readers too.
While I am not up on the latest Young Adult Fantasy, I do know what I read growing up, thus my writing this article. I consider these books to be a good introduction to Fantasy for both adults and young adults. Be warned though, I am just some guy on the Internet and not a replacement for responsible parenting. Now with that out of the way, let’s get started!
1. “A Wizard of Earthsea” by Ursula K. Le Guin (book 1 of the Earthsea Cycle)
Magic is deadly serious in the world of Earthsea. Every action has a very real consequence and if Sparrowhawk wants to survive, let alone become a great wizard, he’ll have to learn control and responsibility. I think that really is what I like the most about this book. It has a simple lesson at the center but it doesn’t get preachy and tells it in an a compelling way.
“A Wizard of Earthsea” is a standard-bearer of fantasy and one of the books I consider a must-read. Sparrowhawk is a well-written and sympathetic character whose journey from reckless youth to potential greatness is compelling. Le Guin makes all the big moments truly feel epic. The final showdown of the book is still one of my favorites more than 25 years after I first read it.
2. “The Dragonbone Chair” by Tad Williams (book 1 of Memory, Sorrow, Thorn)
I think we all know the trope of the orphan/farm boy who gets caught up in the epic events of his era and somehow rises to the occasion. In “The Dragonbone Chair,” that would be Simon except the nice thing about him is that Williams doesn’t make him a Gary Stu (male counterpart to Mary Sue) and he instead actually is thought of as rather a fool. Simon’s slow growth throughout the book (and later books) is one of several reasons I really like this and freshens up a tired cliche.
One of the other things that makes this novel worth reading is in a very short amount of time, Williams build a fascinating world where you come to sympathize with multiple sides in the brewing conflict. His presentation of the Sithi and Norns and their long slow defeat makes them much more well-rounded than the typical “other” races in fantasy.
Simon isn’t the only character worthwhile in this either as Prince Josua the younger brother to the King is given a great deal of time and attention. I’d say this is suitable for YA readers as well as adults.
3. “The Sword of Shannara” (book 1 of the Shannara trilogy) by Terry Brooks
The “Shannara” series started way back in 1977 and is still ticking along (36 books and counting!) although it seems like it might finally be wrapping up. I’m just focusing on the original here, which is rightly regarded as a classic.
This is a series where the protagonist is unknowingly the heir to a great legacy and power and an ancient evil is returning, which of course he is the key to defeating. “The Sword of Shannara” makes this more interesting than most by building an interesting world with a long backstory. Brooks also freshens up the fantasy races by changing it so they are based on the legends of those creatures rather than actually being them. A subtle difference it might seem but as the book, and later the trilogy (among others later on) go on, it adds more to the world-building and story.
There are several characters in the book that are memorable and Brooks does a good job keeping the action moving. The book is aimed for younger readers but can still be enjoyed by adults. If you are going to read the later series after this, here’s a recommended reading order from Terry Brooks himself.
4. “The Hobbit” by J. R. R. Tolkien
I already named dropped him right at the start of the article so he was bound to show up eventually! I am an unabashed Tolkien-fanatic and have been since I was a child and first stumbled across “The Hobbit.” If you’re looking for a book for a younger reader it has almost everything you could want: Sly sense of humor, adventure, violence that isn’t gory, memorable characters like Gandalf and Gollum, and sets the stage for “The Lord of The Rings” trilogy for when they’re older.
Chapters like “Riddles in the Dark” where Bilbo has to outwit Gollum in (you might guess) a contest of riddles with his very life on the line are some of the most influential in fantasy and still all these decades later still a great read. This was aimed at younger readers but there is still a lot to enjoy here for older people as well as it is better written than any YA fare you’ll come across today (my bias is showing, perhaps) and is a quick fun read.
5. “Magician: Apprentice” (book 1 of the Riftwar Saga) by Raymond E. Feist
Feist started the “Riftwar Saga” in 1982 and finished the whole “Riftwar Cycle” in 2013 with a total of 30 books. Like with “Shannara,” I’m just going to stick with discussing the original books. If you go past that, you can utilize this chronological reading order to help.
In “Magician,” a rift is torn open between two worlds and the Midkemians are attacked by the alien invaders known as the Tsurani. Into this mix is the orphan (what is it with orphans?) Pug, being trained to be a master magician who gets swept up into the war’s madness when he is captured by the Tsurani and sent back to their world as a slave.
Feist does several things really well. One is battle scenes and the depiction of a military oriented civilization. Pug’s transformation from awkward boy to powerful magician is also well-handled. This is a good one if you like more battles in your fantasy.
Well that’s it! Thanks for reading!