Booktok Introduced Me to These 9 Must-read Fantasy Books

Last month, Publisher’s Weekly reported the publishing industry saw a 30.7% gain in print sales in the young adult/fiction category in 2021. This large influx of sales is undoubtedly due to the influence of social media, especially since the pandemic hit in 2020. Though no online app has proved to be more impactful to the recent rise in book sales than TikTok or BookTok—a niche on the app wherein TikTok users specialize in book-related content.

The same Publisher’s Weekly report noted the fantasy genre, specifically, saw their sales rise by a whopping 45.3% last year. Admittedly, BookTok has also resurrected my love for books. I owe so many of the fantastic books I’ve read in the past few months to the bookish app, coming from some of the most celebrated authors in publishing to some highly-anticipated debut authors.

Currently on my shelves sits a new and rich collection of fantasy books and mythology retellings; namely that are diverse, queer, or feminist. Unfortunately, I can’t list them all, but I can give you a glimpse into some of the stand-outs. Thus, here are 9 of the best fantasy/mythology books that were recommended to me on BookTok:

The Priory of the Orange Tree by Samantha Shannon

The Priory of the Orange Tree by UK-based author Samantha Shannon was published in 2019 but began gaining popularity on BookTok last year as users on the app were itching for more diverse/queer fantasy recommendations. Don’t be fooled, this book is a behemoth with 804 pages of epicic high fantasy, political and religious conflicts, talking dragons, a sapphic romance, coupled with diverse characters (specifically amazing diverse female representation).

Due to the size, Priory was initially thought to be a stand-alone fantasy; however, Shannon has hinted she has some prequels and sequels in the works. In which, I will be the first in line to pre-order anything she publishes that’ll expand the Priory universe.

Legendborn by Tracy Deonn

A Young Adult fantasy encompassing the lore of King Arthur, Tracy Deonn’s debut novel Legendborn is a thrilling yet heartfelt tale of the reclamation of one’s powerful roots to achieve liberation. Legendborn is Black Girl Magic™ at its finest but also explores complex themes such as grief, white supremacy, anti-Black racism, and a reckoning with one’s family and identity.

And for all of you who are fans of a great B-plot romance alongside your fantasy, Legendborn has the best utilization of the love triangle trope I’ve ever read. Lucky for all of us, the sequel Bloodmarked will release this November.

Circe by Madeline Miller

Thanks to BookTok, Madeline Miller’s 2018 novel Circe introduced many people to the elaborate world of Greek Mythology. Circe is a feminist retelling of Homer’s The Odyssey that seeks to humanize the titular character who was once only known as the cruel witch of Aeaea.

Notably, as is the case with Greek Mythology, there are some graphic scenes in this novel; at the same time, however, there are enticing action scenes, battles with monsters, confrontations with the gods, and several love affairs to keep you enthralled from cover to cover. Needless to say, Circe deserves the hype it gets. When it comes to Greek Mythology, Madeline Miller knows what she’s doing.

Good news! Circe is currently being adapted for a television series by HBO Max.

These Violent Delights by Chloe Gong

You had me at a Romeo and Juliet retelling set in 1920’s Shanghai, China. These Violent Delights—the debut novel of New Zealand author Chloe Gong—blends historical fiction, Young Adult fantasy, and angsty romance to deliver a gripping mystery that’s a sure page-turner. Check out the book’s sequel and final installment of the Violent universe titled Our Violent Ends.

A Thousand Ships by Natalie Haynes

Have you ever wondered what the events of the Trojan War—originally depicted in Homer’s The Iliad—were like from the perspective of the many women surrounding the infamous war? Natalie Haynes provides just that in her 2019 novel A Thousand Ships.

Switching points of view, Haynes depicts the lives of complex women like Penelope—Queen of Ithaca and wife of Odysseus—and Helen of Troy—as well as deities such as Thetis—a sea nymph and mother of Achilles, Calliope—the muse of epic poetry, and Eris—the goddess of strife. A Thousand Ships does the important task of giving women the sole platform to tell their own stories, which makes the depiction of the Trojan War feel all the more whole in this retelling.

The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller

Madeline Miller’s debut novel The Song of Achilles was nothing short of amazing. Miller spent 10 years writing this epic and the time and effort she spent crafting this story is apparent. The novel won the Orange Prize for Fiction in 2012, making Miller the fourth ever debut novelist to win the prize.

The Song of Achilles (a retelling of events and characters featured in The Iliad) blew up on BookTok almost 10 years after its publishing date. Alas, thousands of more people were introduced to the brilliant and gripping (love) story of Achilles and Patroclus. Through the lens of the latter character, readers intimately follow the two heroes on their journey from boyhood to manhood in an amazing feat of action, blazing romance, and inevitable heartache.

Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi

Tomi Adeyemi is a Nigerian, American novelist who has proven she’s a force to be reckoned with as an up-and-coming fantasy author. In 2020, Adeyemi was listed as the 100 most influential people of the year by TIME magazine.

Her debut novel Children of Blood and Bone is a Young Adult, Afro-futuristic fantasy that illustrates a cool magic system that combats political hierarchies which mirror our own such as colorism and patriarchy. Interestingly, Children of Blood and Bone demonstrates the best way to create futures free from oppression is through acts of seemingly unattainable revolution.

Good news! Children of Blood and Bone is being adapted into a movie series by Paramount.

The Silence of the Girls by Pat Barker

The Silence of the Girls by Pat Barker is another Trojan War retelling, this time from Briseis’—a concubine of Achilles—perspective. Again, a novel like this can be a difficult read because of the inherent sexism of a patriarchal-fueled war. Nevertheless, it remains important for women to be portrayed as multi-dimensional characters, having the good, bad, and ugly of our realities shown unabashedly. Check out the book’s sequel titled The Women of Troy.

The Book of Longings by Sue Monk Kidd

Another mythology retelling? Yes. This time, though, we’re venturing into Christian mythology with Sue Monk Kidd’s The Book of Longings. The story’s protagonist is a forgotten yet central character in the arc of Jesus Christ: his wife Ana. Similar to Circe, The Book of Longings humanizes a once one-dimensional female character of a highly influential piece of literature, breathing life into her by (re)telling her story with the fullness it deserves.

All in all, BookTok helped to expand and diversify my reading, so it was only fair that I pay it forward. Hopefully, this list provided you with new fantasy/mythology recommendations. And hopefully, you even saw some familiar titles and authors. Either way, treat yourself to the thrill that is becoming enthralled in women and/or queer-centered fantasy and mythology. I promise you won’t regret having taken the plunge.

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Ebony Purks is a graduate student at the University of Incarnate Word working toward getting her Master’s degree in communications. She is also a freelance writer, interested in writing about pop culture, social justice, and health; especially examining the many intersections between those subjects.