Fantasy. It’s our genre: we love it! But… trilogies… quartets… quintets… septologies… decalogies… and all those other ‘ets’ and ‘gies’, they take so much time to read, don’t they? Well, our good friends over at Reddit recently held a discussion on the best fantasy ‘one-shots’ – that is fantasy novels without any kind of sequel / spin-off / etc at the time of posting. The kind of book you can pick up this busy holiday season, read in its entirety, enjoy and call it a day. That goes against the usual habits of geeks, such as ourselves, who like to know more and more about a world, its various systems, its characters and the other adventures that could be had there… but sometimes it’s just what we need.
Anyway, the topic brought up so many fantastic titles that we at Fantasy-Faction thought we’d do our own list of ‘One-Shot’ titles that we’ve enjoyed and hopefully give our readers a number of titles to pick up and squeeze in over Christmas or just generally add to their To-Be-Read lists (as if you need more, right?). We’ve tried to duplicate from the Reddit list as little as possible (I’ve compiled a list of titles mentioned in the Reddit Thread and listed them at the end of this article for those interested in what our friends over there came up with) and tried to make sure that there is a decent amount of variety in our list too.
So, here it is: a list of 20 ‘One-Shot’ titles we think you should read, in no particular order…
The Book of Lost Things by John Connolly
High in his attic bedroom, twelve-year-old David mourns the death of his mother, with only the books on his shelf for company. But those books have begun to whisper to him in the darkness. Angry and alone, he takes refuge in his imagination and soon finds that reality and fantasy have begun to meld. While his family falls apart around him, David is violently propelled into a world that is a strange reflection of his own — populated by heroes and monsters and ruled by a faded king who keeps his secrets in a mysterious book, The Book of Lost Things.
Taking readers on a vivid journey through the loss of innocence into adulthood and beyond, New York Times bestselling author John Connolly tells a dark and compelling tale that reminds us of the enduring power of stories in our lives.
Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman
Under the streets of London there’s a place most people could never even dream of. A city of monsters and saints, murderers and angels, knights in armour and pale girls in black velvet. This is the city of the people who have fallen between the cracks.
Richard Mayhew, a young businessman, is going to find out more than enough about this other London. A single act of kindness catapults him out of his workday existence and into a world that is at once eerily familiar and utterly bizarre. And a strange destiny awaits him down here, beneath his native city: Neverwhere.
The Eyes of the Dragon by Stephen King
A kingdom is in turmoil as the old king dies and his successor must do battle for the throne. Pitted against an evil wizard and a would-be rival, Prince Peter makes a daring escape and rallies the forces of Good to fight for what is rightfully his. This is a masterpiece of classic dragons-and-magic fantasy that only Stephen King could have written!
Guns of the Dawn by Adrian Tchaikovsky
A standalone, action-packed pseudo-Napoleonic historical fantasy adventure from the esteemed author of the Shadows of the Apt series.
Denland and Lascanne have been allies for generations, but now the Denlanders have assassinated their king, overthrown the monarchy and marched on their northern neighbour. At the border, the war rages; Lascanne’s brave redcoats against the revolutionaries of Denland.
Emily Marshwic has watched the war take her brother-in-law and now her young brother. Then comes the call for more soldiers, to a land already drained of husbands, fathers and sons. Every household must give up one woman to the army and Emily has no choice but to join the ranks of young women marching to the front.
In the midst of warfare, with just enough training to hold a musket, Emily comes face to face with the reality: the senseless slaughter; the weary cynicism of the Survivor’s Club; the swamp’s own natives hiding from the conflict.
As the war worsens, and Emily begins to have doubts about the justice of Lascanne’s cause, she finds herself in a position where her choices will make or destroy both her own future and that of her nation.
The War of the Flowers by Tad Williams
A masterpiece of the imagination, THE WAR OF THE FLOWERS is a truly epic novel which once again pushes the boundaries of fantasy fiction into new and unexplored territory.
In the great city, in the dimly lit office of an impossibly tall building, two creatures meet. Gold changes hand, and the master of the House of Hellebore gives an order: ‘War is coming. The child must die.’
In our own world, a young man discovers a manuscript written by his great uncle. It seems to be a novel – a strange fairy tale of fantastic creatures and magical realms. But it is written as a diary … as if the events were real … as if his uncle had journeyed to another world. For the young man, the fantasy is about to become reality.
The Barbed Coil by J.V. Jones
Tessa McCamfrey, young and rootless resident of Southern California, has never found much in life that interests her. All of that changes when she stumbles upon a ring that transports her to a distant time and place. There she discovers her unexpected talent: She can create luminous, magical illustrations that have the power to influence others’ lives. She becomes involved in the fate of kingdoms when her power is brought to bear against an evil king whose mind has been taken over by a golden crown called the Barbed Coil.
As in The Book of Words trilogy, J. V. (Julie) Jones imbues every one of her characters with personality, from the dashing mercenary Ravis, who becomes Tessa’s protector in this strange new world, to the sailors, innkeepers, soldiers, and others who populate her lush, involving story.
Sunshine by Robin McKinley
There are places in the world where darkness rules, where it’s unwise to walk.But the lake had been quiet for years. . . .She never heard them coming. Of course you don’t, when they’re vampires.
They took her clothes and sneakers. They dressed her in a long red gown. And they shackled her to the wall of an abandoned mansion – within easy reach of her fellow prisoner.
She knows he is a vampire. She knows that she’s to be his dinner, and that when he is finished with her, she will be dead. Yet when dawn breaks, she is still alive. And now he needs her to help him survive the day…
Good Omens By Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman
According to The Nice and Accurate Prophecies of Agnes Nutter, Witch(the world’s only completely accurate book of prophecies, written in 1655, before she exploded), the world will end on a Saturday. Next Saturday, in fact. Just before dinner.
So the armies of Good and Evil are amassing, Atlantis is rising, frogs are falling, tempers are flaring. Everything appears to be going according to Divine Plan. Except a somewhat fussy angel and a fast-living demon—both of whom have lived amongst Earth’s mortals since The Beginning and have grown rather fond of the lifestyle—are not actually looking forward to the coming Rapture.
And someone seems to have misplaced the Antichrist . . .
The Forgotten Beasts of Eld by Patricia A. McKillip
Sixteen when a baby is brought to her to raise, Sybel has grown up on Eld Mountain. Her only playmates are the creatures of a fantastic menagerie called there by wizardry. Sybel has cared nothing for humans, until the baby awakens emotions previously unknown to her. And when Coren–the man who brought this child–returns, Sybel’s world is again turned upside down.
The Broken Sword by Poul Anderson
‘The first great modern American fantasy’ Baird Searles
Thor has broken the sword Tyrfing so that it cannot strike at the roots of Yggdrasil, the tree that binds together earth, heaven and hell. But now the mighty sword is needed again to save the elves in their war against the trolls, and only Scafloc, a human child kidnapped and raised by the elves, can hope to persuade Bolverk the ice-giant to make Tyrfing whole again. But Scafloc must also confront his shadow self, Valgard, the changeling who has taken his place in the world of men.
Lions of Al-Rassan by Guy Gavriel Kay
AN EXHILARATING EPIC ADVENTURE OF FIERCE PASSIONS, DIVIDED LOYALTIES AND TRIBAL WAR
In the once powerful empire of Al-Rassan, King Almalik Cartada is on the ascendancy, adding city after city to his realm aided always by the notorious Ammar ibn Khairan – poet, diplomat, soldier and assassin. Cartada’s empire is threatened only by the ambitious Jaddite kings of the north who are eager to reclaim the lands they once held.
But the Jaddite lands are divided and their own celebrated military leader Rodrigo Belmonte and his war-band are forced into exile. Thus in the exquisite lakeside city of Ragosa, Rodrigo and ibn Khairan meet and serve – for a time – the same monarch. And observing the byplay between the two men, is the beautiful, brilliant physician, Jehane, who herself becomes a crucial player as the peninsula is swept to the brink of holy war…
The Brothers Lionheart by Astrid Lindgren, Ilon Wikland (Illustrator), Jill M. Morgan (Translator)
The Brothers Lionheart (Swedish: Bröderna Lejonhjärta) is a children’s fantasy novel written by Astrid Lindgren. It was published in the autumn of 1973 and has been translated into 46 languages. Many of its themes are unusually dark and heavy for the children’s book genre. Disease, death, tyranny, betrayal and rebellion are some of the dark themes that permeate the story. The lighter themes of the book involve platonic love, loyalty, hope, courage and pacifism.
The two main characters are two brothers; the older Jonatan and the younger Karl. The two brothers’ surname was originally Lion, but they are generally known as Lionheart. Karl’s nickname is Skorpan (Rusky) since Jonatan likes these typical Swedish toasts or crusts.
In Nangijala, a land in “the campfires and storytelling days”, the brothers experience adventures. Together with a resistance group they lead the struggle against the evil Tengil, who rules with the aid of the fearsome fire-breathing dragon, Katla.
The Builders by Daniel Polansky
A missing eye.
A broken wing.
A stolen country.
The last job didn’t end well.
Years go by, and scars fade, but memories only fester. For the animals of the Captain’s company, survival has meant keeping a low profile, building a new life, and trying to forget the war they lost. But now the Captain’s whiskers are twitching at the idea of evening the score.
Lord of Light by Roger Zelazny
Earth is long since dead. On a colony planet, a band of men has gained control of technology, made themselves immortal, and now rule their world as the gods of the Hindu pantheon. Only one dares oppose them: he who was once Siddhartha and is now Mahasamatman. Binder of Demons, Lord of Light.
Song of the Beast by Carol Berg
Brutal imprisonment has broken Aidan McAllister. Once the most famous musician of his generation, celebrated as a man beloved of the gods, his voice is now silent, his hands ruined, his music that offered beauty and hope to war-torn Elyria destroyed. Even the god who nurtured his talent since boyhood has abandoned him. But no one ever told him his crime. To discover the truth, he must risk his hard-bought freedom to unlock the mind of his god and the heart of his enemy.
War for the Oaks by Emma Bull
A pioneering work in the subgenre of urban fantasy…
Eddi McCandry has just left her boyfriend and their band when she finds herself running through the Minneapolis night, pursued by a sinister man and a huge, terrifying dog. The two creatures are one and the same: a phouka, a faerie being who has chosen Eddi to be a mortal pawn in the age-old war between the Seelie and Unseelie Courts. Eddi isn’t interested–but she doesn’t have a choice. Now she struggles to build a new life and new band when she might not even survive till the first rehearsal.
Wizard of the Pigeons by Megan Lindholm
Seattle: a place as magical as the Emerald City. Subtle magic seeps through the cracks in the paving stones of the sprawling metropolis. But only the inhabitants who possess special gifts are open to the city’s consciousness; finding portents in the graffiti, reading messages in the rubbish or listening to warnings in the skipping-rope chants of children. Wizard is bound to Seattle and her magic. His gift is the Knowing — a powerful enchantment allowing him to know the truth of things; to hear the life-stories of ancient mummies locked behind glass cabinets, to receive true fortunes from the carnival machines, to reveal to ordinary people the answers to their troubles and to safeguard the city’s equilibrium. The magic has its price; Wizard must never have more than a dollar in his pocket, must remain celibate, and he must feed and protect the pigeons. But a threat to Seattle has begun to emerge in the portents. A malevolent force born of Wizard’s forgotten past has returned to prey upon his power and taunt him with images of his obscure history; and he is the only wizard in Seattle who can face the evil and save the city, his friends and himself.
Miserere: An Autumn Tale by Teresa Frohock
Exiled exorcist Lucian Negru deserted his lover in Hell in exchange for saving his sister Catarina’s soul, but Catarina doesn’t want salvation. She wants Lucian to help her fulfill her dark covenant with the Fallen Angels by using his power to open the Hell Gates. Catarina intends to lead the Fallen’s hordes out of Hell and into the parallel dimension of Woerld, Heaven’s frontline of defense between Earth and Hell. When Lucian refuses to help his sister, she imprisons and cripples him, but Lucian learns that Rachael, the lover he betrayed and abandoned in Hell, is dying from a demonic possession. Determined to rescue Rachael from the demon he unleashed on her soul, Lucian flees his sister, but Catarina’s wrath isn’t so easy to escape!
The Last Unicorn by Peter S. Beagle
The unicorn wants to find other unicorns. Mage Schmendrick, whose magic seldom works, never as he intended, rescues unicorn from Mommy Fortuna’s Midnight Carnival. Only some mythical beasts displayed are illusions. Molly Grue believes in legends despite Robin Hood wannabe and his unmerry men. King Haggard and his Bull banish unicorns into sea.
Uprooted by Naomi Novik
“Our Dragon doesn’t eat the girls he takes, no matter what stories they tell outside our valley. We hear them sometimes, from travelers passing through. They talk as though we were doing human sacrifice, and he were a real dragon. Of course that’s not true: he may be a wizard and immortal, but he’s still a man, and our fathers would band together and kill him if he wanted to eat one of us every ten years. He protects us against the Wood, and we’re grateful, but not that grateful.”
Agnieszka loves her valley home, her quiet village, the forests and the bright shining river. But the corrupted Wood stands on the border, full of malevolent power, and its shadow lies over her life.
Her people rely on the cold, driven wizard known only as the Dragon to keep its powers at bay. But he demands a terrible price for his help: one young woman handed over to serve him for ten years, a fate almost as terrible as falling to the Wood.
The next choosing is fast approaching, and Agnieszka is afraid. She knows—everyone knows—that the Dragon will take Kasia: beautiful, graceful, brave Kasia, all the things Agnieszka isn’t, and her dearest friend in the world. And there is no way to save her.
But Agnieszka fears the wrong things. For when the Dragon comes, it is not Kasia he will choose.
Titles mentioned on the Reddit Thread
Lions of Al-Rassan by Guy Gavriel Kay
Tigana by Guy Gavriel Kay
Under Heaven by Guy Gavriel Kay
River of Stars by Guy Gavriel Kay
The Last Unicorn by Peter S. Beagle
Stardust by Neil Gaiman
Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman
American Gods by Neil Gaiman
The Neverending Story by Michael Ende
Princess Bride by William Goldman.
Good Omens by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett
The City & The City by China Mieville
The Anubis Gates by Tim Powers
Ash: A Secret History by Mary Gentle
American Elsewhere by Robert Jackson Bennett
Babel 17 by Samuel Delany
Alif the Unseen by G Willow Wilson
Warbreaker by Brandon Sanderson.
The Redemption of Althalus by David & Leigh Eddings
Mr Norrell and Jonathan Strange by Susanna Clarke
The Golem and the Jinni by Helene Wecker
Watership Down by Richard Adams
Worm by Wildbow
Havenstar by Glenda Larke
A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness
Villains by Necessity by Eve Forward.
The Golden Key by Roberson, Rawn, and Elliott.
Song of the beast by Carol Berg
Warbreaker by Brandon Sanderson
Uprooted by Naomi Novik
Sparrow Hill Road by Seanan McGuire
The Ghost Bride by Yangsze Choo
Fire and Hemlock by Diana Wynne Jones
To Ride Hell’s Chasm by Janny Wurts
War of the Flowers by Tad Williams
Sunshine by Robin McKinley
The Company by K.J. Parker
The Goblin Emperor by Katherine Addison
One For The Morning Glory by John Barnes
The Goblin Corps by Ari Marmell.
The Stone and the Flute by Hans Bemmann
The Once and Future King by T.H. White
Master of Whitestorm by Janny Wurts.
Enchantment by Orson Scott Card
We hope you’ve enjoyed both our list and the one from our Reddit friends. And, of course, as many people are active between our two communities, there’s undoubtedly still incredible titles that have been missed… so do let us know your favourite ‘One-Shot’ books before you head over to Amazon / your local bookstore to pick some of these up too! 🙂