What exactly is fantasy, in terms of book genre? Medieval castles? Heroic knights? Fair maidens? Fire-breathing dragons? In reality, this genre holds so much more. In terms of proper definitions, fantasy is a genre of fiction that features some sort of magical or otherworldly aspect to its story and setting. The same goes for science fiction – both fantasy and science fiction have some shared aspect to the stories in their category, with the difference being that sci-fi has more of a technological or futuristic aspect. Despite the key difference between science fiction and fantasy, the two genres are often beloved by the same fans due to their similarities in themes and worldbuilding.
Now, the reason I bring all this up is because due to the recent ridiculousness that was the COVID-19 pandemic, life may well feel like we are living in a fantasy world or a dystopian future. So for my fellow bookworms that need to be brought back to reality or need an escape from reality, I have composed a list of my Top 6 Fantasy and Science Fiction Books and Book Series, not in any particular order, I would recommend reading.
Honorable Mention: Divergent series
I didn’t put the Divergent series on the list itself because I have very mixed feelings on it. I liked the first book a lot. The book’s very unique premise was about a dystopian city where the people are divided into factions based on their primary traits and values: selflessness, intelligence, bravery, honesty, and peace. And if someone has more than one trait, they’re labeled as divergent and considered a threat. But in the latter two books, when they brought in this outside rebel force that actually wants divergents to appear, things started getting a little too crazy for me. I still wanted to mention it; however, because I think that despite its flaws, it’s still worth a read.
Harry Potter series
A lot of people likely expected this series to appear, so let’s talk about Harry Potter first. This seven-part series by J.K. Rowling is one of the most well-known and beloved fantasy book series in the world, and for good reason. If, by some slim chance, you haven’t read Harry Potter or seen the film adaptations, the series follows the titular main character on his journey to learn to become a wizard alongside his fellow Hogwarts students, while also battling the dark wizard Voldemort and his followers. And if we’re being completely honest, that general plot summary does not do the series justice. With a wide cast of memorable characters, a well-developed world filled with lore, and a fantastic story that features a hint of the real problems of growing up along with all the magic, the Harry Potter series has more than earned its fame. Myself and my mother have decided to revisit the books recently, and we are having tons of fun picking out all the details that were left out of the eight-part film series. While the films are very faithful adaptations overall, I still give the edge to the books over the movies, as the books feature numerous additional details that added to the story, but sadly couldn’t make it into a movie’s 2-3 hour run time. I read the books when I was younger, and the revisit was definitely worth it. And if you somehow have yet to read them, there’s no better time to start than now.
Frank Herbert’s Dune may be a bit older than some of the other books on this list, but in my opinion, it still stands as a fantastic novel. Set primarily on the desert planet of Arrakis, Dune takes place over the course of several years and deals with themes of destiny, leadership, glory, and honor as its story unfolds. The book also features a large focus on politics and relations between the Atreidies and Harkonnen houses, respectively the protagonists and the antagonists, with each other and with the emperor and his court. This is coupled with heavy symbolism that could take hours to dissect. This can make Dune hard to understand at times, but if you’re up for the challenge, I highly recommend giving it a read – especially because politics are everywhere right now, and it gives valuable insight as to what goes into ruling a nation.
The Hunger Games
It’s hard to bring up dystopian science fiction books without talking about what could be the king of the genre. Suzanne Collins’ trilogy took the world by storm when the first installment was released in 2008. And the popularity still holds up today, with a prequel to the trilogy, A Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes, being released in 2020. And with a dark story and premise and an awesome main heroine, it’s clear to see why the hype hasn’t died down. But I digress: why do I like The Hunger Games? Main protagonist Katniss Everdeen is awesome, and that just might be an understatement. I also like the other side characters, as well as the effort Collins put into building the world itself; she really put a great deal of effort into making the world of Panem and the people who inhabit it come to life. The novels also utilize the idea of “Bread and Circuses.” With food in abundance and the titular Hunger Games as a greater-scale version of Super Bowl Sunday, but with less football and more death, the people of The Capitol will have less of a reason to rebel as the people in the Districts. The Hunger Games is definitely worth a read (or reread) if you are older and can handle the massive amounts of death and mayhem. I especially recommend it now. Because the pandemic can feel like a dystopia at times, The Hunger Games serves as a reminder as to what a real dystopia can look like.
Almost everyone is at least a little familiar with the legendary vampire Dracula, but I can’t say for sure if many people today ever read Bram Stoker’s famous novel. I have read it for high school, and it is dark. However, that’s part of why it’s so well written. In addition, as Dracula is one of the first portrayals of vampires in fiction, Bram Stoker implemented actual beliefs about the bloodsucking immortals that existed at the time. In other words, he added historical vampire mythology to make the story all the more terrifying. And if you’re as much of a mythology fan as I am, that is definitely a perk. I must also praise the main characters as well: five people, who all had experience with Dracula before, led by Abraham van Helsing, the legendary vampire hunter himself. I would definitely recommend Dracula if you like vampires but were incredibly annoyed by Twilight’s love triangle. It could also be useful to read to further advance any studies into Victorian literature, if you happen to be taking that class.
The Redwall series by Brian Jaques, might seem a little odd to some, as it was written for ages ten to twelve. However, I started reading the series recently, and I can promise that it’s good enough for college students like myself to enjoy it. In many ways, Redwall is similar to The Lord of the Rings. The series revolves around the titular Redwall abbey, a community of anthropomorphic woodland creatures dedicated to peace, but they can fight if necessary. Each book in the series revolves around a villainous horde attempting to seize control of Redwall, the main characters having to venture outside Redwall for one reason or another, or some combination of both. Adventures and epic battles ensue until the heroes eventually emerge victorious. The series spans several years, with each new book revealing something about the setting and characters. I’d definitely recommend this amazing saga, particularly if you’re interested in reading The Lord of the Rings, but aren’t sure if it would be your cup of tea. College can be stressful, so you might want to read a simpler book to help relax. But at the same time, fantasy books also need to have adventure and an interesting world to draw you in. Thankfully, Redwall covers both of those pretty well, in my opinion.
The Lunar Chronicles
I’ve saved a personal favorite of mine for last. I’ve mentioned how fantasy and science fiction can go hand in hand, and from my experience, very few books pull this off better than Marissa Meyer’s The Lunar Chronicles. The main concept of this series is classic fairy tales, but with a sci-fi twist. The four books are respectively based on Cinderella, Little Red Riding Hood, Rapunzel, and Snow White, and all four books are tied together by an overarching plot involving an invasion from the Lunars, a race of people who evolved mind control powers after living on the moon for generations. I would say more, but I won’t spoil it. All I will say, I’d recommend this series now because it can be both nostalgic and refreshing to see a new and exciting twist on the stories we grew up hearing.
Most of these books are available in the Holy Family library. The only exception is the Divergent series; only the first film is available. However, the books themselves can easily be found on Amazon. This list doesn’t even begin to cover the numerous fantasy and science fiction novels and novel series out there. I could have easily made a top 100 lists. Anyway, even though things are slowly but surely getting back to normal, this pandemic isn’t over just yet. Until we truly get back on track, I hope that these six books provide you at least some entertainment and a glimpse into a true fantasy world.
My name is Julia Furman J, and I am a third-year student at Holy Family University. I am an English major, with a minor in Creative Writing. I plan on studying library science after graduating, but writing is my true passion.