When pressed to pick a genre that I love the most, I never really have to hesitate: It’s fantasy all the way. Whether it’s high fantasy, urban fantasy, political fantasy, it doesn’t matter, I’m incredibly into it. I’m the girl who still believes in unicorns, who owns her own Harry Potter wand, and who sometimes builds entire magical systems for fun. There’s something completely inspiring about watching an author build an entire world from whole cloth, following a character on an epic journey that you yourself will probably never be able to go on. It’s pure fun and potential escapism, and I love every single moment I spend reading an epic fantasy series.
However, if I’m to be completely honest, reading fantasy can be exhausting. There’s not only the endurance run of starting a new series and catching up so you’re not spoiled for the next book (an issue, I assume, for Harry Potter late adopters), but there’s also the agony of waiting for the next book to arrive (an agony that George R. R. Martin fans are definitely feeling these days).
What about those intrepid fantasy authors who compiled all of their magical ideas into a single standalone novel? Well don’t worry, dear reader; I compiled a list of 15 standalone fantasy novels for those times that you don’t want to commit to an entire series. These novels are full of magic (of course), mystery, and a whole lot of fun. Put on your robe and wizard hat and crack one of these open, they may leave you wanting more, but it’s for the best that the authors held strong as standalone.
1. Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell by Susanna Clarke
It’s the year 1806, and most people believe that magic has been long gone, until a reclusive gentleman named Mr. Norrell appears and reveals his magical ability, gaining him a small measure of unwelcome celebrity. Soon he has taken on a student, the wild and adventurous Jonathan Strange, and the two embark on an adventure that takes them through the Napoleonic Wars and straight into the magical realm of the Raven King. Given the sheer size of the book, there’s obviously more to the plot, but if you are a fan of witty 19th century history, you’ll absolutely be a fan of this. An added bonus is that if you’re unable to finish this whale of a book, you can always tune into the BBC miniseries!
2. Sunshine by Robin McKinley
This is a light urban fantasy that reads like a paranormal romance, but goes so much deeper than that. Set in an alternate universe where humanity is living in the aftermath of the “Voodoo Wars” (a war between humans and supernatural creatures), the action of the story centers on Rae “Sunshine” Seddon, a baker who just so happens to get abducted by vampires. This traumatic experience reveals Sunshine’s latent magical powers (an ability to control, you guessed it, sunshine!) and sets her on a path to truly discover who she is. This standalone novel might end up leaving you hungry for more, and not just thanks to the loving descriptions of the heroine’s special cinnamon rolls.
3. The Book of Lost Things by John Connolly
It’s the beginning of WWII, but 12-year-old David doesn’t seem to care. Hiding out in his attic bedroom with nothing but his books for company, David mourns the loss of his beloved mother, turning to the fantasy of what lies in the books around him for company. One day, he’s drawn into the strange world of The Book of Lost Things, where traditional fairy tale characters are twisted into almost unrecognizable figures, and David must find the king of the realm before he is caught by the sinister and terrifying Crooked Man. This book is an adult fantasy in young adult fantasy clothing and well worth the read.
4. The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern
Centering around a mysterious circus where everything is in black and white, The Night Circus tells a tale of two magicians who make a bet to see which school of magic is superior. Celia and Marco have been trained since childhood to perform their own branches of magic, and using the circus as their medium the two end up manipulating not only the circus, but the lives of the people within it. If you are a fan of Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell but don’t want to invest in another giant book, The Night Circus is the book for you.
5. Little, Big by John Crowley
Little, Big centers on Smoky Barnable, a man who travels on foot from The City to the unplottable town of Edgewood, where is has been prophesied to marry a woman named Daily Alice Drinkwater. That story kicks off a story of four generations of a family that lives in a house that is also many houses that exists on the edge of nowhere. It’s a quirky, magical book that seems at the same time magical, but also incredibly mundane. Confused? Well, don’t worry, there’s luckily only one volume you’d need to get through to understand it.