What are the perfect “gateway” books to give to someone who’s new to fantasy? It depends on who you’re recommending to!
I love so many fantasy novels which won’t end up on this list – but I strongly believe that when recommending, you want to stick with books that are quick reads, immersive, and which align closely with other genres your friend already loves to read.
MODERN CRIME/MYSTERY READER:
Jade City by Fonda Lee. It’s like a fantastic mash-up of 70’s crime family stories and the very best martial arts movies. It’s got everything; intrigue; incredible cars; multi-generational family tensions; international and national power struggles; political corruption; action scenes that amaze; interesting, flawed characters; and gloriously described magic. I think this book would definitely pull a crime reader into exploring more in the fantasy genre!
HISTORICAL ROMANCE READER:
Paladin’s Grace or Swordheart by T. Kingfisher. Either of these books are well-written, deeply enjoyable slow-burn romances; both also contain delightful fantasy elements. These books are the best kind of fantasy, where the world-building and magical elements are an integral part of the society, but the real focus is on the story, and the fantasy trappings never overwhelm the reader.
Witchmark by C.L. Polk. This fantasy, with its well-drawn characters, unique world-building and society, would also be perfect for a current reader of historical romance. The world Polk creates feels a bit like a magical post-World War I England; and the central romance of Miles and Tristan is both hopeful and engaging. The magic of this world is built seamlessly into the story and helps the novel explore some wonderfully interesting issues of power and control.
City of Stairs or Foundryside by Robert Jackson Bennett. Either will do. Bennett is in my opinion one of the best fantasy writers out there at the moment; and both his books contain enough spycraft, heists, battles, incredibly-described chase scenes through massively interesting locations to keep the most dedicated action/adventure reader engaged. And the detailed magic systems and fascinating characters are just an added bonus!
“LITERARY NOVEL” READER:
Probably The Ten Thousand Doors of January by Alix Harrow. Literary readers, in my experience, really love well-written prose and stories that focus on explorations of deep questions of identity or the human condition. This novel has both — in spades. And on top of that, it manages to be a wonderfully engaging fantasy story as well. What is the power of a story to shape or change the world? Reading this novel will help you find out.