The Fantastic Unknown: 10 Amazing Fantasies You’ve Probably Never Heard Of

Posted 3rd May 2022 by Sia in Blogathons, Lists, Recommendations / 5 Comments

tree wolf image by chic2view on 123RF.com

It’s Wyrd & Wonder again! That means a whole month of awesome people sharing their love of all things fantasy, and I’m ridiculously excited about taking part for the third year in a row!

I put waaay too much thought into what my first post for W&W should be, and it occurred to me that a month-long event celebrating the fantastic is a pretty good time to celebrate some books that don’t get enough attention. So behold: ten completely incredible fantasies you probably haven’t heard of! Let’s give them some love!

Inda (Inda, #1) by Sherwood Smith
Genres: Fantasy, High Fantasy, Queer Protagonists
Goodreads

Indevan Algara-Vayir was born the second son of a powerful prince, destined to stay at home and defend his family's castle. But when war threatens, Inda is sent to the Royal Academy where he learns the art of war and finds that danger and intrigue don't only come from outside the kingdom.

Of course I immediately break the ‘list of 10’ rule by beginning with a series, but it counts as one entry, okay?

How is everyone not screaming about this series?! Or did the rest of you scream about it in the early 2000s, when it was being published, and I just missed it???

EITHER WAY PEOPLE NEED TO BE SCREAMING ABOUT THIS SERIES!

It’s intricate high fantasy with all the politicking you could possibly ask for, against a sex-positive, queernorm backdrop, in one of the most fully-realised worlds I have ever read about. Inda, a noble-born second son who happens to be a tactical genius, is ostensibly the main character, but he’s surrounded by a truly incredible cast, many of whom are also POV characters, ranging from Inda’s older sister to the king. This series is just so rich and delicious, with layers and layers interweaving at every point; ancient history and international politics and magic and in-kingdom divides and war, grudges and feuds and secrets and enchanted lockets, pettiness and sweeping vision contrasting against each other, entwining and then coming into conflict.

IT IS LITERALLY FLAWLESS HOW HAVE YOU NOT READ THESE YET???

My review of book one!

Sea Change by S.M. Wheeler
Genres: Fantasy
Goodreads

The unhappy child of two powerful parents who despise each other, young Lilly turns to the ocean to find solace, which she finds in the form of the eloquent and intelligent sea monster Octavius, a kraken. In Octavius’s many arms, Lilly learns of friendship, loyalty, and family. When Octavius, forbidden by Lilly to harm humans, is captured by seafaring traders and sold to a circus, Lilly becomes his only hope for salvation. Desperate to find him, she strikes a bargain with a witch that carries a shocking price.

Her journey to win Octavius’s freedom is difficult. The circus master wants a Coat of Illusions; the Coat tailor wants her undead husband back from a witch; the witch wants her skin back from two bandits; the bandits just want some company, but they might kill her first. Lilly's quest tests her resolve, tries her patience, and leaves her transformed in every way.

Sea Change is a strange, beautiful book with a kind of dark fairytale vibe, about a young woman whose best friend is a kraken. When said kraken is kidnapped, she has to go on a series of quests to get him back. The writing is beautiful, but the adventures aren’t always; there’s some gore, and definitely some horror vibes…but in a beautiful way??? It’s impossible to describe, but gods, it’s amazing. I love it so much and I need more people to read and love it too!

Half-Witch by John Schoffstall
Genres: Fantasy
Goodreads

In Lizbet Lenz’s world, the sun goes around the earth, God speaks directly to his worshippers, goblins haunt cellars and witches lurk in forests. Disaster strikes when Lizbet's charming scoundrel father is thrown into a dungeon by the tyrant Hengest Wolftrow. To free him, Lizbet must cross the Montagnes du Monde, globe-girdling mountains that reach to the sky, a journey no one has ever survived, and retrieve a mysterious book.

Lizbet is desperate, and the only one who can help her is the unpleasant and sarcastic witch girl Strix. As the two girls journey over the mountains and into the lands of wonder beyond, on the run from goblins, powerful witches, and human criminals, Lizbet discovers, to her horror, that Strix's magic is turning Lizbet into a witch, too. Meanwhile, a revolution in Heaven is brewing.

Half-Witch is weird and wonderful, in one of the best and most unique ways I’ve ever seen. In this world, when you pray, God actually answers – unless you get Jesus or the Holy Spirit on the line instead! Witches exist too, and put would-be rapists through the literal wringer to squeeze out their vices and virtues for use in magic. In the middle of this odd world is poor Elisabet, who must team up with young witch Strix when her father is locked up for fraud. In order to get him out of prison, Elisabet and Strix have to cross uncrossable mountains in search of a very special book. There’s no way to describe this one in a way that does it justice; it’s so wry, so strange, so delightful! It plays with a bunch of old mythologies and philosophies, and ideas like the sun going around the earth, and there are goblins and pixie queens and Strix is just the best, okay? And honestly, so is Elisabet. Despite the age of the main characters, this isn’t YA, although I’d happily put it in the hands of a mature teenager. And everyone else’s, if they’d let me!

The God Eaters by Jesse Hajicek
Genres: Fantasy, Queer Protagonists
Goodreads

Imprisoned for 'inflammatory writings' by the totalitarian Theocracy, shy intellectual Ashleigh Trine figures his story's over. But when he meets Kieran Trevarde, a hard-hearted gunslinger with a dark magic lurking in his blood, Ash finds that necessity makes strange heroes... and love can change the world.

God Eaters is a book I’ve mentioned before, but damn it, it’s worth mentioning again! This one’s a story of love and revolution in a world reminiscent of the developing USA – kind of Wild West-y, except there’s no cowboys. There are Indigenous tribes who’ve been oppressed like the ones in our world; Kieran, one of the two main characters, is Indigenous, which is more than a little plot-relevant. As a death-witch assassin, he meets Ashleigh, an empath revolutionary writer, in a terrible prison for those criminals with various magical abilities. Kieran and Ashes aren’t planning on staying put, though, and in the process, they uncover a secret about gods and magics that could tear the whole world down. Hajicek’s writing is beyond beautiful, and this so desperately needs to be a classic that it’s not even funny.

You can buy it as a paperback via Amaz*n, or ebook through Lulu.com, or read it for free at Hajicek’s website.

Power and Majesty (Creature Court #1) by Tansy Rayner Roberts
Genres: Fantasy, Queer Protagonists
Goodreads

Aufleur is a city of honey cakes, decadent ritual... and a secret war fought by an army of beautiful monsters. The Creature Court die and bleed to keep the daylight folk safe, but no one even knows they exist.

Who will be the new Power and Majesty of the Creature Court: a man who was broken and exiled from their world, or the woman who knows nothing of their ways? Neither of them wants to rule, but Ashiol is determined to train Velody to take his place, so that he can finally escape his destiny.

Winner of the 2011 Best Novel Ditmar, and the 2011 Best Fantasy Novel Aurealis Award.

I’ve said it before and I’m saying it again: Folx. FolxThere are no books like these books. There is no story like the story they tell. They are defiant, they are feminist, they are queer, they are blood and hope and skysilver. You have never seen magic like the Creature Court’s magic. You have never seen the clash of savagery and kindness like Roberts writes it. You have never seen dressmakers become kings and poets shatter death like mirrors, you have never seen mice fight the sky and win, you have never seen flowers and honeycakes save the world and red-red jewels try and break it again. You have never seen a trilogy usurp the conventions and your expectations as thoroughly as these books do.

How they are not on literally everyone’s shelves continues to be completely beyond me!

Hunger Pangs: True Love Bites by Joy Demorra
Genres: Fantasy, Queer Protagonists
Goodreads

In a world of dwindling hope, love has never mattered more...

Captain Nathan J. Northland had no idea what to expect when he returned home to Lorehaven injured from war, but it certainly wasn't to find himself posted on an island full of vampires. An island whose local vampire dandy lord causes Nathan to feel strange things he'd never felt before. Particularly about fangs.

When Vlad Blutstein agreed to hire Nathan as Captain of the Eyrie Guard, he hadn't been sure what to expect either, but it certainly hadn't been to fall in love with a disabled werewolf. However Vlad has fallen and fallen hard, and that's the problem.
Torn by their allegiances--to family, to duty, and the age-old enmity between vampires and werewolves--the pair find themselves in a difficult situation: to love where the heart wants or to follow where expectation demands.

The situation is complicated further when a mysterious and beguiling figure known only as Lady Ursula crashes into their lives, bringing with her dark omens of death, doom, and destruction in her wake.

And a desperate plea for help neither of them can ignore.

Thrown together in uncertain times and struggling to find their place amidst the rising human empire, the unlikely trio must decide how to face the coming darkness: united as one or divided and alone. One thing is for certain, none of them will ever be the same.

True Love Bites is as sweet as it is diverse, featuring an OCD vampire and a disabled werewolf getting tangled up in a quest to save the world. It’s enormously feel-good, with plenty of twists and turns to keep things interesting, and bonus supernatural/human politics. When dipping into this book to skim it before adding it to this list, I ended up losing hours: the next thing I new the day was halfway over. Once it sinks its teeth into you, it’s not letting go until you’re done!

The Pyramids of London (The Trifold Age, #1) by Andrea K. Höst
Genres: Fantasy, Queer Protagonists
Goodreads

In a world where lightning sustained the Roman Empire, and Egypt's vampiric god-kings spread their influence through medicine and good weather, tiny Prytennia's fortunes are rising with the ships that have made her undisputed ruler of the air.

But the peace of recent decades is under threat. Rome's automaton-driven wealth is waning along with the New Republic's supply of power crystals, while Sweden uses fear of Rome to add to her Protectorates. And Prytennia is under attack from the wind itself. Relentless daily blasts destroy crops, buildings, and lives, and neither the weather vampires nor Prytennia's Trifold Goddess have been able to find a way to stop them.
With events so grand scouring the horizon, the deaths of Eiliff and Aedric Tenning raise little interest. The official verdict is accident: two careless automaton makers, killed by their own construct.

The Tenning children and Aedric's sister, Arianne, know this cannot be true. Nothing will stop their search for what really happened.

Not even if, to follow the first clue, Aunt Arianne must sell herself to a vampire.

This one is for those who really love intricate, detailed worldbuilding, because Host goes hard. A Roman empire that never fell and an Egyptian one fuelled by the influence of weather-controlling vampires; steampunk-esque technology powered by mysterious crystals; dragons under the earth and gods being extremely possessive of the souls they lay claim to! And that’s without even getting started on the murder-mystery plotline, which involves one of the oldest vampires around and one of the most sacred spaces in Britain; or the divine politics as not-Scotland struggles to find a divine patron; or the sphinxes that are out to kill for who-knows-what reason! There’s so much going on, and yet Pyramids of London has never felt over-full to me in all the times I’ve read and reread it. It’s casually diverse in a whole bunch of ways – one of the POV characters is queer and another has a prosthetic arm – Britain is a matriarchy, there are spirit-hares and sneakily-moving automatons – what more could you possibly want???

Water Horse by Melissa Scott
Genres: Fantasy, High Fantasy, Queer Protagonists
Goodreads

For the last twenty years, Esclin Aubrinos, arros of the Hundred Hills, has acted jointly with Alcis Mirielos, the kyra of the Westwood, and the rivermaster of Riverholme to defend their land of Allanoth against the Riders who invade from Manan across the Narrow Sea. He has long been a master of the shifting politics of his own people and his independently-minded allies, but this year the omens turn against him. The Riders have elected a new lord paramount, hallowed servant of the Blazing One, a man chosen and fated for victory.

The omens agree that Nen Elin, Esclin’s stronghold and the heart of Allanoth, will fall when a priest of the Blazing One enters its gates. Esclin needs a spirit-bonded royal sword, a talismanic weapon made of star-fallen iron, to unite the hillfolk behind him. But the same vision that called for the sword proclaimed that Esclin will then betray it, and every step he takes to twist free of the prophecies brings him closer to that doom.

This is not an older book – it was released just last year – so I don’t understand how it seems to have slipped under everyone’s radar. Scott’s prose is always beautifully elegant, and here she draws from Irish myth to spin out a High Fantasy that’s entirely her own, following the alliances and conflicts of three kingdoms – two of which just want to be left alone, and one which is determined to conquer the rest and place their solar divinity in ascendance over everyone and everything. Scott never waters down her intrigue or talks down to her readers; it’s not nearly so simple as rooting for the good guys and booing the enemy – it’s more complicated than that (although you won’t catch me siding with the raiders, no matter how much I appreciate their healing). There are magical harps and portentous swords, water magic and goddesses of darkness, a half-blind trickster king and a polyamorous queen – I’m not going to lie, the normalised queerness is a big draw, and I love how it’s handled here. But I also loved the sentient forest and the mound-forts, the bards and the politics, the complexities of war and pride.

Who am I kidding: I love everything about this book. It’s just all around epic!

Evensong's Heir (Songbirds of Valnon, #1) by L.S. Baird
Genres: Fantasy, High Fantasy, Queer Protagonists
Goodreads

For centuries in the Temple of Valnon, young men have paid a tremendous price to be chosen as Songbirds. Every twelve years, a new Lark and Thrush are castrated for their heavenly voices, but few men have ever been capable of claiming the title of Dove: the holy avatar of Saint Alveron himself. In the six hundred years since the Temple's founding, Willim is only the third to buy the Evensong with his blood. A virtual prisoner of the Temple for the duration of his term, Willim pays little heed to anything but his duty to sing for Valnon. That all changes with the murder of the Songbirds' loyal bodyguard and Willim's rescue by Nicholas Grayson, a sell-sword who brings whispers of Temple scandal and ancient prophecy in his wake.

Plagued by ghosts and nightmares, betrayed by a fellow Temple Bird and forced into exile, Willim struggles to unravel the tangled history of his title in the hopes of understanding what it truly means to be Valnon's Dove. With his friends scattered and Valnon poised on the brink of war, Willim's only hope lies in summoning the ancient power of his saint: to Sing Down from Heaven a music that can fell an army in its tracks, or wipe a city from the surface of the earth. But the song of Saint Alveron is as unpredictable as it is powerful. Whether Willim's Song will bring salvation for his city or the destruction of everything he holds dear, only Heaven knows.

Look, I know that cover is…A Lot. I know. But I’m pleading with you to ignore it, because Evensong’s Heir is one of the best books I’ve ever read in my life, and I promise you it’s not kinky smut – or whatever else the cover makes you think of – at all. This is High Fantasy in a kingdom where music is everything – and the ways Baird’s woven that into the fictional culture are just incredible – and the most sacred individuals are holy singers who take on the role of ancient saints. When the church is attacked, those singers flee, seeking either refuge or the secret or trick of ancient holy song-magic.

And the whole thing is just unutterably beautiful. The prose is breathtaking, the worldbuilding is fantastic, the cast is wonderful. Baird writes magic that sends chills down your spine and makes the hair on your arms stand up, and characters so real you forget that they’re fictional. Evensong’s Heir is deep and powerful and breathtaking, and seriously, you need to read it.

The One Who Eats Monsters (Wind and Shadow, #1) by Casey Matthews
Genres: Fantasy, Contemporary or Urban Fantasy, Queer Protagonists
Goodreads

Long ago, before history broke in half, elder gods exiled the vengeful deity Erynis to a far corner of Earth. When Ryn is found weakened after saving the life of an innocent villager, the U.S. military mistakes the battered immortal for a feral teenager and places her in New Petersburg, a decaying city full of monsters.

In her clash with the city’s demons, Ryn is confused by her intense emotional connection with Naomi Bradford, a senator’s daughter she has sworn to protect. But while her claws can kill anything that dies (and a few things that cannot), she must also contend with the human race. They lie, they speak in riddles, and to protect her friend, the immortal must navigate the senseless rules of their flawed civilization. Worse, they are fragile—and giving her heart to one makes Ryn afraid for the first time in her eternal life.

Fuck hunting monsters; Ryn is an ancient divine being who straight-up eats them. I always pitch this one as ‘feral primordial goddess falls in love with a human girl’ and I still think that should be all you need to hear. Usually immensely old/teenager pairings strike me as weird at best, but here it works because said goddess is so very, very bad and inexperienced at being human that, in terms of human life experience/development, she and the girl she falls for are kind of at the same level.

Matthews has created a whole eco-system of spirits, benign and definitely-not, and the worldbuilding here is unbelievably unique and fascinating. I also dearly love how Ryn really feels alien and Other, in a way that’s pretty rare in fiction and is utterly convincing.

I do need to warn you that parts of The One Who Eats Monsters are pretty dark, although the worst of it happens off-page or is only referenced in passing. But this is also a really, really beautiful book, one I treasure so much. And like all the others on this list, it really deserves more love!

You can read my full review of it here, if you’re interested!

Have you read any of these? Will you? What are some of your less-well-known favourites???

Tags: , , ,

5 responses to “The Fantastic Unknown: 10 Amazing Fantasies You’ve Probably Never Heard Of

    • Thank you!

      And me too. Although we did get the novella The Towers, The Moon which is a novella-length sequel set between the main books! Have you read it?

Leave a Reply

(Enter your URL then click here to include a link to one of your blog posts.)

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.