I get many strange looks when I say that I love winter. And I really do enjoy the winter. Whenever there’s snow on the ground, I feel this electricity around it, like some kind of magic. Of course, it’s probably just me reacting to the cold and trying my best to make the lack of daytime hours feel even more special, but I still feel the wonder and magic in the season. And considering all of the decorating and celebrating that many are doing (including here at Fountaindale with the Yule Ball @ Home), the sense of magic only increases. But another part of the winter/holiday season that I really enjoy: gives you a great excuse to stay inside, curled up with a nice mug of cocoa or tea and a great book. So this winter season, here are five titles that will spark that magic this winter season.
Shadow and Bone by Leigh Bardugo
In the nation of Ravka, Alina Starkov is a junior cartographer’s assistant in the army, while her best friend Mal is an expert tracker. When a perilous mission into the magically created Shadow Fold goes wrong, Mal is gravely wounded, and Alina manifests the rare ability to summon light. Immediately recruited into the order of the magic-using Grisha, Alina is taken under the wing of its intimidating and powerful leader, the Darkling, and heralded as the potential destroyer of the Shadow Fold. As she navigates Grisha’s politics and uncovers well-hidden secrets, she realizes that the fate of the nation rests on her shoulders, and she may be in grave danger.
World-building at its finest. To help create the world, Alina and Mal find themselves Bardugo pulls from world history, even using Czarist Russia as a model for Ravka’s royal court. Falling into the category of dark fantasy, the tone overall is a little darker than many would expect from similar fantasy books. But if you can embrace that, it would hard to not get pulled in when the twists and magic begin. A face-paced epic adventure, nodding to both a bit of romance and danger, will definitely have you wanting more from this world. Which is lucky since it is the start of an expanding universe called the Grishnaverse.
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The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern
Celia is a five-year-old with untrained psychokinetic powers when she is unceremoniously dumped on her unsuspecting father, Hector Bowen, better known as Le Cirque des Reves’ Prospero the Entertainer. Hector immediately hatches a sinister scheme for Celia: pit her against a rival’s young magician in an epic battle of magic that will, by design, result in the death of one of the players, though neither Celia nor her adversary, Marco, is informed of the inevitable outcome. What neither Hector nor his rival count on is that Celia and Marco will eventually fall in love.
From the first line: “The circus arrives without warning,” the tone is set and persists throughout the read. High tension and smartly portrayed characters bring the story truly to life (and if you chose the audiobook, Jim Dale’s reading is incomparable at this feat). Romeo and Juliet and other tragic romances are also woven into the story, balancing out the more thrilling plot about unbridled rivalry and how it affects far more than just those participating in it. Reading this called back to a time when I first started reading fantasy books and how magic and everything that comes with it could be beautiful, powerful and dangerous.
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Magic For Liars by Sarah Gailey
Private investigator Ivy Gamble does her work in the seedy underbelly of Oakland, California, alone and growing bored with adulterers and disability claims until the headmaster of the Osthorne Academy for Young Mages approaches her. A teacher at this magical school has died gruesomely, and the headmaster wants to know if it was murder. Ivy’s twin sister works at the school, though they’re estranged; Tabitha discovered her magic in high school, but Ivy doesn’t have that power. Despite her reservations, Ivy plunges forward into the world that never wanted her.
This book can harken to a particular boy wizard with a lightning bolt scar (even having a ‘Chosen One’ prophecy), with almost a hardboiled detective take. But there is so much more to this book than just the magic. Gailey does a wonderful job diving into various parts of life, touching on romance, high school drama/gossip, and sparking magic just out of the view of the “regular” world. And the real magic they are able to succeed at is framing a poignant drama about a family tragedy, wearing Sam Spade’s rain-soaked trench coat. A strong emotional narrative that will also resonate with anyone who has ever felt they don’t quite belong.
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Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi
Magic is gone in Orïsha. The power-hungry King Saran campaigned to have it eradicated 11 years ago, and anyone with the capacity for magic abilities (the Maji, who all have snow-white hair) are now second-class citizens. But Zélie holds tight to the old stories, and she’s secretly learning to fight, unwilling to take the unjust treatment of her people lying down. Meanwhile, Saran’s daughter, Amari, has escaped her cruel father’s palace with a relic containing the power to reignite magic among Maji, and after a chance run-in with Zélie and her brother, Tzain, the trio traverses the kingdom, hoping to use the relic to restore magic to every Maji. But Amari’s own brother, Inan, who’s convinced magic is too dangerous to permit, is hot on their trail.
Exploring the land of Orïsha was a joy and engaging beginning to a story that really ties into themes of community and justice. Zélie is a great protagonist that shows the growth of a person striving to make the world better as she discovers new and better ways to ensure her ultimate goal is successful. She often joins forces with others because the more who join the fight for a common goal, the more successful that fight will be. The pacing is fast and engaging, often pulling me into the late hours of the night just so I could know what happens next. And with writing that made it so easy to visualize the depth and beauty of not only the land of Orïsha but also many of the people, Tomi Adeyemi’s debut novel is fantastic, and it’s even better the sequel, Children of Virtues and Vengeance, is out now.
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A Darker Shade of Magic by V.E. Schwab
There’s Grey London, set in our mundane world’s Regency era; Red London, where magic flourishes along with the populace; and White London, where a desperate struggle to control magic has bled the city and its people. No one speaks of Black London, consumed by magic and presumed destroyed. Kell, adopted brother of Red London’s prince and one of the few Antari, who can travel between worlds, is a royal emissary and collector of forbidden artifacts from other Londons. When Kell is tricked into taking a dangerous artifact of Black London into Red, he falls in with the Grey thief Lila Bard, a cutpurse with a quick tongue and her own sense of honor.
The seemingly rag-tag band of characters are engaging enough, but Schwab also showcases a strong talent for creating a world that the reader would want to get lost in. With strong, fast-paced prose, this title is another one on the list to have a reader get lost in not one or two magical worlds but four (even if one of the worlds isn’t seen yet). And, something that I know I enjoy when I finish a good book, the story doesn’t just end with this title.