I could write a whole intro about how the past weeks have been pretty crazy, but even if you live under a rock, you know what’s going on. While some awesome people are fighting the Corona pandemic at the frontlines, the best thing the rest of us can do is stay home. The degree of lockdown varies in every country, but social distancing and even isolation is definitely a thing happening across the world. So, most of us got a lot more time on our hands all of sudden.
Of course, reading won’t solve our loneliness, disappointment at cancelled plans, or our anxieties about our health, our loved ones, or our job security. It can, however, distract us from endlessly scrolling the news and taking our mind off these bizarre, trying times. Without further ado, here is a list of books that might provide the escapism you need right now.
Watership Down by Richard Adams
A classic, but a very adventurous one. It was my favourite read of 2018 for a reason. It’s about a group of bunnies leaving the safety of their warren to find a new home. They travel across the English country side, yet this seemingly small scope is delivered in an epic way. There is a lot of lore, likable characters, and for those who want a bit more depth, it also has something to say about society and leadership. Even if you’re looking for something a bit light, though: it’s an epic tale filled with both tense and heartwarming scenes.
The Nevernight Chronicle by Jay Kristoff
Admittedly, this series, starting with Nevernight, isn’t for everyone. It’s pretty vulgar (there’s both sex and graphic death scenes), the prose is somewhat flowery, the humor is dark and snarky, and some people will find the heavy use equally snarky footnotes to be a bit too much. If none of this sounds like a problem, however, then Nevernight will be right up your alley! It’s about a girl named Mia whose family has been murdered. She wants to take revenge on the ones responsible, so she enrolls in a sort-of assassin boarding school. Becoming an assassin through this school is not without its many casualties, however, as the teachers do not shy away from testing their students. Admittedly, most of the characters are assholes, but they still manage to be flawed and especially Mia is sympathetic. I also like her relationship to Mister Kindly, a somewhat mysterious shadow creature that accompanies Mia from her childhood. One note: I’m only halfway in Godsgrave, the second book, so no promises about the rest of the series.
The Dark Tower by Stephen King
I don’t think I’ve ever read anything like The Dark Tower series. It’s a fantasy, but it has elements of science fiction, horror, and western weaved into its narrative. In essence, it’s about Roland Dechain, a gunslinger (sort-of knight-errands, but with guns — Roland is the last) on his quest for the titular Dark Tower. This is a very simplified description, but his journey takes up seven whole books! The first book, The Gunslinger, can be a bit — odd on your first read, and Roland might not seem to be a very interesting character. Starting from The Drawing of the Three, however, more characters are introduced and Roland is allowed to grow as well. The lore also expands with every book, eventually including multiple worlds and universes. There are some references to some of King’s other works, especially ‘Salem’s Lot and It, but I think they can be read on their own. I must warn you though, you will get attached to these characters when you journey for the Dark Tower along with them.
The Memoirs of Lady Trent by Marie Brennan
If you want a cosy read involving dragons, you can’t go wrong with The Memoirs of Lady Trent series. Starting with A Natural History of Dragons, this book series is about a young lady who lives in a world that is quite similar to ‘our’ Victorian era — except that there are dragons! The young lady, Isabella, is determined to study these amazing creatures, even if she must battle gender norms and societal expectations to do so! Though the dragons are more animal-like in this world, Isabella’s fascination with these creatures is amazing and she becomes quite easy to root for her, even with all her flaws as a character. The novelty admittedly wears a bit off in subsequent installments, but it’s still a rather fun series to read.
Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman
I could recommend many titles by Neil Gaiman (The Ocean at the End of the Lane being personal favourite of his), but I decided to go for a book that has a sense of wonder. Stardust applies, but I think the setting of Neverwhere is a bit more original. It’s an urban fantasy; the main character is arguably a little bland, but the world he explores below the London he knows is very fascinating, filled with remarkable species and colorful characters. Once you’re finished, there’s also the short story called How the Marquis Got His Coat Back, that’s a nice and entertaining additional read.
Circe by Madeline Miller
I’ve read this book last year, and if you enjoy Greek mythology, this one is a must. Circe explores one of the lesser known characters in the myths, the titular witch on her island. Though most of the story takes place on this island, it never gets boring: Circe proves to be a crossroads of sorts to other important characters in the Greek myths. Several of these characters make their appearance, but they are not the focus. Circe is. It helps that Miller portrays her as a sympathetic yet flawed character, who grows from a somewhat naive girl to a strong woman.
Mistborn by Brandon Sanderson
With three hefty tomes, this is quite a book series to sink your teeth into — that is, if you like slow burns. Starting with The Final Empire, this series starts out with an interesting concept: what if The Big Bad of a fantasy story has actually won? Mist covers the land, ash falls from the sky, and The Lord Ruler oppresses the masses along with the nobility. Most of the ‘normal’ people are known as Skaa and are forced into slavery, but some manage to make a living as thieves. One of these is a man named Kelsier, who is determined to overthrow the Lord Ruler and end his tyranny. The young and paranoid street urchin Vin somehow gets involved as well. If this sounds all rather bleak, I can see why you’d think so. Yet, there is also a recurring theme of hope in these series. Finally, Sanderson has created a captivating world and a wonderfully detailed magic system.
Temeraire by Naomi Novik
I will forever keep recommending this series! It’s the Napoleon wars, but with dragons! It’s quite different from Novik’s more known works Uprooted and Spinning Silver, as it’s obviously more historically based. Starting with His Majesty’s Dragon, it’s about William Laurence, a British navy captain who discovers a rare dragon egg on the enemy ship he has captured. The egg is about to hatch, however, and the hatching is to be harnessed. Unexpectedly, the young dragon picks Laurence as his handler, so the navy captain is forced to abandon his navy career and his marriage to become an aviator. The best thing in this series is the growing bond between Laurence and his dragon, Temeraire. The incquisitive and somewhat rebellious nature of Temeraire is a wonderful foil to the propper and straight-laced Laurence, as well. Finally, Novik has managed to insert the dragons naturally into ‘our’ world, which is very fascinating to see. Not all books in the series might be equally strong, but this is definitely a wonderful series to read nonetheless.
Lancelot by Giles Kristian
A very recent read. If you want something that doesn’t punch you in the gut, then you might want to avoid this one. If you want something slow and character driven, then Lancelot might be worth a try. In legend, Lancelot is known to be the strongest knight who commits adultery with Guinevere. In most retellings, he’s a rather bland character. By placing Lancelot in the lead of an introspective story, starting from his childhood, Kristian has fleshed him out into a flawed yet sympathetic character. He’s groomed to help Arthur fight the invading Saxons, but his love for Guinevere — whom he knew as a child — defines his life, which ultimately makes his story tragic because he can’t be with her. The beginning of the book can be especially slow, and there are several time skips to make up for this. There’s some action and battle scenes, but they are not the focus. Furthermore, Arthur is not that likable as a character in this version, which makes you wonder why Lancelot wants to follow him so much. That said, if you want to delve into a time with warriors in glorious armors fighting Saxons, try this one. There’s going to be a sequel about Galahad later this year, too!
I hope you found something to your liking into this list, so you’ll have another title to escape into for the time being. It’s no coincidence that most of these contain some fantastical elements. At the very least, perhaps it can make social distancing a little more bearable. Take care of yourself and your loved ones, and stay safe in these bizarre times!
And finally, stay home!