Not including anything that can be easily classified into one or more major sub-genres of fantasy. So, no high fantasy, urban fantasy, dark fantasy, or YA fantasy (unless they defy genres). Do not expect any Harry Potter or Lord of the Rings or A Song of Ice and Fire.
Magonia by Maria Dahvana Headley follows the story of Aza Ray Boyle who suffers from a perplexing lung disease, one that has been a part of her existence for as long as she can remember. In the wake of sudden turn of events, Aza finds herself in Magonia and, much to her amazement, she can finally breathe.
The premise, the world building, the plot, everything in this story is a breath of fresh air (no pun intended!) Also, the book itself is gorgeous. Coming to the prose, as Neil Gaiman puts it in his own words, “she writes like a dream.” Neil Gaiman would know since Maria Headley edited Ocean at the End of the Lane (Trivia!)
Next one, by Neil Gaiman himself, American Gods. What I feel about American Gods is this, it’s an extremely unconventional story told in a very conventional American detective TV series way.
Shadow, our man, finds himself freshly out of prison but the moment he steps out (or even before he steps out) his musings start tangling with a storm brewing in the distant horizon as he “runs into” Wednesday.
Written with the same care, precision, and beauty that Neil Gaiman always weaves into his stories, American Gods is sufficiently genre defying in an ocean of mythical fantasy sagas. (It only took him ONE book, too!)
This one is a fantasy heist. Heist stories are a god’s gift to mankind. Heists in fantasy settings are the reason why sapiens are at the top of the food chain (doesn’t get better than this). Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo is a masterful work of political intrigue, character interaction, and a HEIST. (No Mistborn or Lies of Locke Lamora, apologies..)
Kaz Brekker can get most jobs done, no matter how dirty, no matter the risk. Breaking into the Ice Court, however, sets his bristling fingertips on metaphorical fire. The job is near impossible, the Ice Court has never breached, can Kaz and his ragtag team of misfits finally do what has never been done before? The dialogue writing in this book is commendable. Kaz is one BAMF.
Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern is one of its kind. The setting is just an arm’s length away from reality yet fantastical through and through. Full of deception, trickery, and magic. Lots and lots of magic. It’s a bizarre tale told in an equally bizarre way. One of the best blurbs in existence, so I’ll let the book introduce itself…
“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.” Goosebumps!
Poison Study by Maria V. Snyder starts with a female protagonist in imminent danger, running for her life in a new unknown country, quite unheard of, really. Then something new happens, she hones her super powers, no. She equips herself with a bow and arrow, no. She studies poisons, brilliant.
Study series, poison study and magic study in particular, is one of the most interesting YA fantasy series out there. It is also one of the few YA fantasy books that are written in non-standard vocabulary and still the prose is magnificent instead of jarring. Excellent read, give it a go.