14 Great But Lesser-Known Fantasy Novels for Lil' Nerds

By Bri Buckley in Daily Lists, Miscellaneous
Friday, February 25, 2011 at 8:02 am
7) The Red Pyramid by Rick Riordan
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Written by the same author that gave us the Percy Jackson and the Olympians series (if you saw The Lightning Thief, please just pretend you didn't), this book expands on the idea of ancient mythos adapting to changing times, this time focusing on Egyptian mythology. This book explores the dynamics of a fractured, interracial family in the context of a larger family plot - because the Egyptian gods are a large, divine family as well. One of the things that makes Rick Riordan's mythological adaptations so appealing is that he doesn't shy away from the complications of the myths - families are messy. Carter and Sadie Kane are two estranged siblings who are thrown together again after watching their father vanish in the middle of summoning a mysterious firey being. In their journey to find him, they learn about their family's connection with the House of Life, an ancient Egyptian order of magicians. With assistance from a cat named Muffin, a basketball-playing baboon, and an albino crocodile, brother and sister work together to thwart the rise of an all-powerful god.

6) Wild Magic by Tamora Pierce
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This book is perfect for anyone who's ever wished they could speak to animals. In the kingdom of Tortall, there are many people who have the magical Gift. Daine, a young girl with a tragic past, has something different, unique and very powerful. This gives her the ability to communicate with all kinds of animals, and helps her get a job as an assistant horse handler for Tortall's special cavalry division. Her powers have a dark side, though, one that she tries to hide from the new friends she's made. Featuring some appearances from a few characters in Tamora Pierce's first series, The Lioness Quartet, it's perfectly acceptable to start reading about Daine and her adventures first. Be sure to continue on through the rest of the Tortall series, though, because each one is better than the last.

5) Being of Two Minds by Pamela F. Service
What does the teenage prince of Thulgaria have in common with an average American teenage girl? They've both been afflicted with fainting spells for their entire lives. And though their respective parents have tried all kinds of medical specialists, the fainting episodes remain unexplained and uncontrollable. But Rudolf and Connie don't want to be cured, because what their parents and doctors don't know is that the two of them share a psychic connection when they're unconscious. When Connie faints, her mind acts as a sort of passenger to Rudolf's, they share experiences together, and vice versa. Neither of them wants to lose such a friendship, and when Thulgarian politics threaten Rudolf's life, Connie knows that she's the only one who can help him. This book is a short and fun read but it's out of print, so if you happen to see it in a used bookstore, I suggest you snag it while you can.

4) The Dark Lord of Derkholm by Diana Wynne Jones
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You might know Diana Wynne Jones as the author of Howl's Moving Castle, which was adapted for Hayao Myazaki's animated film. She's got a lot more to offer - The Dark Lord of Derkholm takes place in a magical world that has been appropriated by an off-worlder called Mr. Chesney, who uses it to run a yearly formulaic fantasty-tour service for other people from his world. Mr. Chesney requires the magical inhabitants of this world to fulfill the archetypal fantasy roles that he has laid out for them. This year, the part of the Dark Lord has been assigned to the easygoing wizard Derk, who enlists the help of his multi-species family to play the part to the best of their abilities. This wonderfully entertaining book takes a long, knowing glance at high fantasy and gently tweaks its nose, turning certain conventions of the genre on its head and standing firmly on its own. If you finish this book and want more, then be sure to get your hands on its sequel, Year of the Griffin. Consider going the distance and reading her Chrestomanci books as well.

3) The Hero and the Crown by Robin McKinley
Even though she was born a princess, Aerin couldn't feel any more alone in her own kingdom. She looks different from the rest of her people, and she doesn't have the same kind of magical gift that many of the other members of the royal family inherit. Rumors abound that her mother was unfaithful, and that she isn't even really of royal blood. Despite all of this, Aerin is determined to go her own way, reading a history of the kingdom and the dragons that periodically drop in for some firey village-ravaging. After working for years to prepare, Aerin decides that she's going to go slay a dragon - by herself. Too bad she doesn't know that taking on this fearsome creature is really only the start of her adventures. Once you finish this, you'll want to move on to The Blue Sword, where you find out just how awesome Aerin really is.

2) The Book of Night with Moon by Diane Duane
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Have you ever wondered what cats get up to when their owners leave for work? I'll bet you never considered that they were actively maintaining the fabric of time and space. But in this book, that's exactly what housecat Rhiow and her fellow feline team members do every day. As wizards, their job is to maintain the inter-dimensional portals of New York City, which are located in - where else? Grand Central Station. Everything seems to happen at once - from the addition of a new team member to one of the main worldgates malfunctioning, and Rhiow and her team discover that an ancient evil is stirring in the depths of the network. The price for putting it down again is higher than any of them ever imagined. It's written by the same author that brought you So You Want To Be A Wizard and is set in the same world.

1) The Amazing Maurice and His Educated Rodents by Terry Pratchett
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You've heard the fairy tale of the piper who lured a plague of rats from a small town? That's a pretty sound business model - the piper provides a service, and the townspeople pay up. It takes a smooth-talking feline named Maurice to see the advantage of providing the plague of rats as well. This story takes place in a small town called Bath on the Discworld. Maurice, the young piper, and the gang of rats they travel with decide to pull one last job before breaking up the band and going their separate ways. What they find in Bath is nothing like they've ever encountered before, and requires the strange partnership to stay together long enough to survive it. Amazing Maurice exemplifies the best of what Terry Pratchett serves up in his wonderful characterization, dialogue, and believable conclusions. The greatest thing about all of Pratchett's books is that he always has something important to say through the development of the stories. If you get your nerdlings to read this, hopefully they'll make their way through the rest of Pratchett's awesome works.

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