Unless you’ve been living under a rock–in which case, welcome to 2020! it’s awful here–then you’ve heard about J.K. Rowling’s many controversies over the last couple of years. The author’s strong anti-trans stance, along with problematic racial stereotypes in her beloved books and an unwavering support for Johnny Depp… yeah, it’s a lot.
So what should you read instead if you have a hankering for fantasy and adventure? I’m so glad you asked!
‘A Deadly Education’ by Naomi Novik
For my money, Naomi Novik is one of the best fantasy writers working today. Her work is smart, nuanced, and versatile–and, in the case of her latest, A Deadly Education, darkly hilarious.
The first book in the Scholomance series follows El, a student at a Hogwarts-like school where there are no teachers and everything is actively trying to kill them.
This is one of my favorite books of the year, and I cannot wait for the sequel. It’s a clever reimagining of the “academy” genre with a hefty dash of Survivor and The Hunger Games. The book embraces diversity without tokenism–no “Cho Changs” here–and creates a complicated heroine who is anything but a Mary Sue.
‘The Enchanted Forest Chronicles’ by Patricia C. Wrede
If you weren’t lucky enough to grow up on these books, it’s not too late! Patricia C. Wrede’s classic fairy tale series follows Princess Cimorene, a feisty young woman in search of her place in the world. She finds it with Kazul, a dragon in need of a companion.
Eventually, her found family expands to include her future husband, a clever witch with too many cats, a socially awkward wizard, and a neurotic donkey.
Fair warning that the fourth book in the series is a bit of a bummer, as it follows Cimorene and Mendenbar’s son on a quest to rescue his father. Wrede actually wrote the fourth book first, so the others are technically a prequel. The series has a bit of a Magician’s Nephew problem, in that you can argue that the reading order and the publication order are at odds with each other. But don’t let that dissuade you from picking up these charming–and very short–books.
‘Carry On’ by Rainbow Rowell
Plenty of readers had issues with aspects of Harry Potter, like an adult man manipulating a little boy into fighting against Wizard Hitler. If you had thoughts about some of the more troubling aspects of the story, you’re not alone. Rainbow Rowell initially created the world of Simon Snow for her novel Fangirl, in which a young woman wrote fan fiction about a Harry Potter-esque fantasy series.
Rowell turned that fake fan fiction into a real novel, and the result is a contemporary queer fantasy that’s equal parts charming, hilarious, and harrowing. The second book, Wayward Sons, came out this summer, and the trilogy will eventually wrap up with Any Way the Wind Blows.
‘The House on the Cerulean Sea’ by TJ Klune
Speaking of charming queer love stories, The House on the Cerulean Sea is one of the buzziest books of the year. It’s a bit like Miss Perergrine’s Home for Peculiar Children and 1984 had a baby, but it’s ultimately a very happy story about the power of loving yourself and letting others love you.
It’s a wonderful antidote if you’re feeling powerless in the face of a crushing bureaucracy–or just feeling lonely during quarantine. I can’t recommend this one enough. It’s the perfect book to read while curled up with a soft blanket and a cup of tea.