When it comes to genre, we consider ourselves equal-opportunity readers here at the Reading Group Center. Thrillers, romance, mystery, historical fiction—we’ll devour them all! But we understand how easy it can be to fall into a reading pattern, one that prevents you from branching out. Every once in a while, though, a book comes along that grabs hold and forces you outside your comfort zone. Smoke by Dan Vyleta is one such novel.
Wildly imagined and expertly plotted, Smoke is an adventure set in an alternate Victorian England where three boarding school students must band together to uncover a shocking truth about their world. Described as “stunningly inventive” by O, The Oprah Magazine, this fantasy novel has a lot to offer fans of all genres, including a gripping adventure plot, relatable young protagonists, and a richly imagined world.
Smoke is just one example of a fantasy novel that will appeal to all kinds of readers, even those who don’t typically enjoy the genre. If you fall into that category, here is a list of other fantasy novels that you’ll love, regardless of your usual reading preferences.
Smoke by Dan Vyleta
“Part Dickens, part dystopia and totally immersive; a book as eerie and atmospheric as its sooty muse.” —Entertainment Weekly
In an alternate Victorian England, those who are wicked are marked by the smoke that pours out of their bodies. The aristocracy are clean, proof of their virtue and right to rule, while the lower classes are drenched in sin and soot.
Thomas Argyle is the only son of a wayward aristocrat. Charlie Cooper is his best friend. When Thomas finds himself under the bootheel of a sadistic head boy in the treacherous halls of their elite boarding school, he and Charlie begin to question the rules of their society. Then the boys meet Livia, the daughter of a wealthy and powerful family. She leads them to a secret laboratory where they learn that smoke may not be as it seems, and together they set out to uncover the truth about their world.
“Every so often you read a novel to which the best critical response is simply ‘Wow!,’ followed by a sigh of pleasure.” —The Wall Street Journal
In Cold War England, Professor Henry Lytten, having renounced a career in espionage, is writing a fantasy novel that dares to imagine a world less fraught than his own. He finds an unlikely confidante in Rosie, an inquisitive young neighbor who, while chasing after Lytten’s cat one day, stumbles through a doorway in his cellar and into a stunning and unfamiliar bucolic landscape—remarkably like the fantasy world Lytten is writing about. There she meets a young boy named Jay, who is about to embark on a journey that will change both their lives. Elsewhere, in a dystopian society where progress is controlled by a corrupt ruling elite, the brilliant scientist Angela Meerson has discovered the potential of a powerful new machine. When the authorities come knocking, she will make an important decision—one that will reverberate through all these different lives and worlds.
“Morgenstern’s exquisitely realized world will have [you] wishing to run off and join the circus.” —USA Today
The circus arrives without warning. No announcements precede it. It is simply there, when yesterday it was not. Within the black-and-white-striped canvas tents is an utterly unique experience full of breathtaking amazements. It is called Le Cirque des Rêves, and it is only open at night.
But behind the scenes, a fierce competition is under way: a duel between two young magicians, Celia and Marco, who have been trained since childhood expressly for this purpose by their mercurial instructors. Unbeknownst to them both, this is a game in which only one can be left standing. Despite the high stakes, Celia and Marco soon tumble headfirst into love, setting off a domino effect of dangerous consequences, and leaving the lives of everyone, from the performers to the patrons, hanging in the balance.
“One of the most original works of visionary fiction since Peake or Carpentier. . . . For all its page-turning story, it is a poet’s novel, a serious piece of writing.” —The Guardian
Next to the colonial town of Essenwald sits the Vorrh, a vast—perhaps endless—forest. It is a place of demons and angels, of warriors and priests. Sentient and magical, the Vorrh bends time and wipes memory. Legend has it that the Garden of Eden still exists at its heart. Now a renegade English soldier aims to be the first human to traverse its expanse. Armed with only a strange bow, he begins his journey, but some fear the consequences of his mission, and a native marksman has been chosen to stop him. Around them swirl a remarkable cast of characters, including a Cyclops raised by robots and a young girl with tragic curiosity, as well as historical figures, such as writer Raymond Roussel and photographer Edward Muybridge. Fact and fiction blend, the hunter will become the hunted, and everyone’s fate hangs in the balance, under the will of the Vorrh.
The Stolen Child by Keith Donohue
“Utterly absorbing. . . . A luminous and thrilling novel about our humanity.” —The Washington Post
The double story of Henry Day begins in 1949, when he is kidnapped at age seven by a band of wild childlike beings who live in an ancient, secret community in the forest. The changelings rename their captive Aniday and he becomes, like them, unaging and stuck in time. They leave one of their own to take Henry’s place, an imposter who must try—with varying success—to hide his true identity from the Day family. As the changeling Henry grows up, he is haunted by glimpses of his lost double and by vague memories of his own childhood a century earlier. Narrated in turns by Henry and Aniday, The Stolen Child follows them as their lives converge, driven by their obsessive search for who they were before they changed places in the world. Moving from a realistic setting in small-town America deep into the forest of humankind’s most basic desires and fears, this remarkable novel is a haunting fable about identity and the illusory innocence of childhood.
“An insistently metaphysical mind-bender.” —The New Yorker
Kafka on the Shore is powered by two remarkable characters: a teenage boy, Kafka Tamura, who runs away from home either to escape a gruesome oedipal prophecy or to search for his long-missing mother and sister; and an aging simpleton called Nakata, who never recovered from a wartime affliction and now is drawn toward Kafka for reasons that, like the most basic activities of daily life, he cannot fathom.
As their paths converge, and the reasons for that convergence become clear, Haruki Murakami enfolds readers in a world where cats talk, fish fall from the sky, and spirits slip out of their bodies to make love or commit murder. Kafka on the Shore displays one of the world’s great storytellers at the peak of his powers.
“Spectacular. . . . The Buried Giant has the clear ring of legend, as graceful, original and humane as anything Ishiguro has written.” —The Washington Post
In post-Arthurian Britain, the wars that once raged between the Saxons and the Britons have finally ceased. Axl and Beatrice, an elderly British couple, set off to visit their son, whom they haven’t seen in years. And, because a strange mist has caused mass amnesia throughout the land, they can scarcely remember anything about him.
As they are joined on their journey by a Saxon warrior, his orphan charge, and an illustrious knight, Axl and Beatrice slowly begin to remember the dark and troubled past they all share. By turns savage, suspenseful, and intensely moving, The Buried Giant is a luminous meditation on the act of forgetting and the power of memory, an extraordinary tale of love, vengeance, and war.