A Beginner to Expert Timeline of Fantasy Books to Read

Published on 10/16/2023

This past year, I have dived deep into the world of fantasy reading. Whether it was on a beach in Greece, on train rides to London, or in my cosy Rotterdam apartment, I have been reading countless fantasy series. A year ago, I would’ve told you that I wasn’t much of a fantasy reader, and now I live, breathe, eat and sleep fantasy.

Often people ask me where they should start with fantasy reading. When the ‘Fourth Wing’ hype was occurring earlier this year, a friend asked me if she would like it despite never reading fantasy books. So to help, I’ve created a beginner-to-expert timeline of fantasy books. If you’re thinking about reading fantasy, but not sure where to start, I’ve got you covered with these twelve series. These books are not ordered by how good they are, but how I think a fantasy beginner would adapt to them. They’re all excellent novels! Without further ado, here is your beginner’s guide to the latest popular fantasy books.

1. A Court of Thorns and Roses - Sarah J Maas

I think this is universally accepted as the entrance to fantasy reading, and I couldn’t agree more. ‘ACOTAR’ is adored by BookTok and book reviewers alike, and for good reason. It has really opened up the fantasy genre to new readers. And I’ll admit that it’s exactly what snagged my attention as well! A friend begged me to try ‘ACOTAR’ and I was initially hesitant, claiming fantasy just wasn’t really my thing - how wrong I was!

I am not claiming that ACOTAR is the best fantasy series out there, but it’s a great way to slowly enter the genre. It’s romance-focused which makes it a little easier to get into. Just like you, the protagonist is completely new to the magical realm, as a human, so you’re introduced to everything alongside her. It’s a five-book series, if you include the novella, which is questionable. But Sarah has hinted that more is coming…

Summing it up:

  • An ordinary girl who turns out to be anything but ordinary
  • A Beauty and the Beast retelling followed by a Persephone and Hades retelling
  • 500-year-old Fae men to lust after

“When nineteen-year-old huntress Feyre kills a wolf in the woods, a terrifying creature arrives to demand retribution. Dragged to a treacherous magical land she knows about only from legends, Feyre discovers that her captor is not truly a beast, but one of the lethal, immortal faeries who once ruled her world.

At least, he's not a beast all the time.

As she adapts to her new home, her feelings for the faerie, Tamlin, transform from icy hostility into a fiery passion that burns through every lie she's been told about the beautiful, dangerous world of the Fae. But something is not right in the faerie lands. An ancient, wicked shadow is growing, and Feyre must find a way to stop it, or doom Tamlin-and his world-forever.” - A Court of Thorns and Roses by Sarah J Maas

2. Divine Rivals - Rebecca Ross

This is another book beloved by BookTok, and I have to admit this is one of the instances where I don’t quite agree with their sentiment. This was far from my favourite fantasy book, but I do think it’s ideal for people easing themselves into the genre.

In the novel, the fantasy aspect is slightly removed, presented as mythology and far away magic, which will make it easier to grasp, but also makes it feel a little less intriguing in my opinion. It focuses a lot on the relationship between the two main characters, and it’s just very sweet, so ideal for readers who love a romance above all else.

Currently, there’s only one book, so ideal for low commitment, with the second (and final) instalment coming out in December.

Summing it up:

  • He fell first vibes
  • Two writers trying to reveal the truth about the ongoing war
  • A mysterious pen pal…

“After centuries of sleep, the gods are warring again. But eighteen-year-old Iris Winnow just wants to hold her family together. Her mother is suffering from addiction and her brother is missing from the front lines. Her best bet is to win the columnist promotion at the Oath Gazette.

To combat her worries, Iris writes letters to her brother and slips them beneath her wardrobe door, where they vanish―into the hands of Roman Kitt, her cold and handsome rival at the paper. When he anonymously writes Iris back, the two of them forge a connection that will follow Iris all the way to the front lines of battle: for her brother, the fate of mankind, and love.” - Divine Rivals by Rebecca Ross

3. Crescent City - Sarah J Maas

This series is quite deep in the fantasy realm, but it’s also a very modern world, which might appeal to fresh readers. They have technology, motorbikes, and even vibrators, so you won’t feel like you’ve been plunked down into the time of King Arthur.

Despite these modern occurrences, there is still a lot of fantasy, as in this modern world, you’ll find Fae, angels (yep), animal-type people, werewolves, vampires, and more. But it’s written with very modern language, a nice serving of smut, and a bombshell protagonist who knows she’s hot.

Read it after ‘ACOTAR’, please, but you can read it before ‘Throne of Glass’ if you want. There are currently two books in the series with a third coming out in January. Prepare for quite the cliffhanger…

Summing it up:

  • For once, a protagonist that isn’t described as petite or “ordinary” (yeah, sure!!), she’s curvy and opinionated, and I simply adore Bryce
  • A detective-style mystery
  • A surprising amount of drugs and partying

“Bryce Quinlan had the perfect life-working hard all day and partying all night-until a demon murdered her closest friends, leaving her bereft, wounded, and alone. When the accused is behind bars but the crimes start up again, Bryce finds herself at the heart of the investigation. She'll do whatever it takes to avenge their deaths.

Hunt Athalar is a notorious Fallen angel, now enslaved to the Archangels he once attempted to overthrow. His brutal skills and incredible strength have been set to one purpose-to assassinate his boss's enemies, no questions asked. But with a demon wreaking havoc in the city, he's offered an irresistible deal: help Bryce find the murderer, and his freedom will be within reach.

As Bryce and Hunt dig deep into Crescent City's underbelly, they discover a dark power that threatens everything and everyone they hold dear, and they find, in each other, a blazing passion-one that could set them both free, if they'd only let it.” - House of Earth and Blood by Sarah J Maas

4. Throne of Glass - Sarah J Maas

One of the biggest injustices in the reading world is that everyone talks about ‘ACOTAR’ and not enough people are discussing ‘Throne of Glass’! I absolutely adored this series and I can’t wait to reread it. I wish I could read it for the first time again, so I’m very jealous of anyone who gets to do that.

This isn’t a very complex fantasy series, but it’s definitely more layered than 'ACOTAR' and a little less romance-focused. It is very plot-driven and by the end has a huge number of characters to keep up with, so make sure to stretch those fantasy muscles first with something a bit easier.

But it’s not too difficult as the characters and writing are PHENOMENAL! So it’s easy to get sucked into. Books 1 and 2 are universally agreed to be the weakest in the series, but then it gets absolutely divine, so just hold on for that, it will be worth it.

Be warned: there and seven books and a novella, and the novels are big! I recommend reading the novella after book three, but there are a lot of disputes regarding this.

Summing it up:

  • Badass female protagonist who knows the best ways to kill someone but also loves dresses and chocolate
  • Deals with grief and identity, running from who you are
  • Many sexy characters to lust after, including a wicked witch

“In a land without magic, an assassin is summoned to the castle. She has no love for the vicious king who rules from his throne of glass, but she has not come to kill him. She has come to win her freedom. If she defeats twenty-three murderers, thieves, and warriors in a competition, she will be released from prison to serve as the King's Champion.

Her name is Celaena Sardothien.

The Crown Prince will provoke her. The Captain of the Guard will protect her. And a princess from a faraway country will befriend her. But something rotten dwells in the castle, and it's there to kill. When her competitors start dying mysteriously, one by one, Celaena's fight for freedom becomes a fight for survival-and a desperate quest to root out the evil before it destroys her world.” - Throne of Glass by Sarah J Maas

5. The Prison Healer - Lynette Noni

I’m usually a very quiet reader, but this book had me gasping out loud. I was kept on the edge of my seat throughout. I’ve put this one quite early on the timeline as there isn’t too much magic to consider, especially in the first book, so it eases you in very gently. Also, the plot is so well-paced and character-focused that you’ll find it easy to get sucked into this world.

I wish there were more than three books in this series, as I was devastated to finish the series. I think the real highlight of this series is the character of Jaren and the excellent tension, dialogue and relationship between him and the protagonist Kiva.

Summing it up:

  • Choosing between family and love, trying to work out your own beliefs and how they differ from your family’s.
  • Lots of sexual tension
  • Big reveals throughout, expect many gasps!

“Seventeen-year-old Kiva Meridan has spent the last ten years fighting for survival in the notorious death prison, Zalindov, working as the prison healer.

When the Rebel Queen is captured, Kiva is charged with keeping the terminally ill woman alive long enough for her to undergo the Trial by Ordeal: a series of elemental challenges against the torments of air, fire, water, and earth, assigned to only the most dangerous of criminals.

Then a coded message from Kiva’s family arrives, containing a single order: “Don’t let her die. We are coming.” Aware that the Trials will kill the sickly queen, Kiva risks her own life to volunteer in her place. If she succeeds, both she and the queen will be granted their freedom.

But no one has ever survived.

With an incurable plague sweeping Zalindov, a mysterious new inmate fighting for Kiva’s heart, and a prison rebellion brewing, Kiva can’t escape the terrible feeling that her trials have only just begun.” - The Prison Healer by Lynette Noni

6. Shadow and Bone - Leigh Bardugo

One of the joys of the ‘Shadow and Bone’ series is that it’s been adapted into a Netflix show, so you can watch it all unfold afterwards. Although there are naturally differences between the two, and the TV adaptation has combined the ‘Shadow and Bone’ and ‘Six of Crow’ series into one show. But definitely read the ‘Shadow and Bone’ books first!

This series takes a bit of wrapping your head around things, as it’s a completely new world. There’s a magical system that seems complex at first, but once you’ve got it, things don’t get much harder. So it’ll take a bit of initial effort, but don’t stress as things will become very clear by the end of the first book. Just prepare for some long terms like Etherealaki.

It’s a three-book series, and has an undercurrent of sexual and romantic tension (perhaps not with the same person heehee), and it’s very much a question of what is power and who is evil.

Summing it up:

  • A very hot villain, sorry, but it had to be said!
  • A powerful protagonist who didn’t realise what she was
  • A fight against evil

“Soldier. Summoner. Saint. Orphaned and expendable, Alina Starkov is a soldier who knows she may not survive her first trek across the Shadow Fold—a swath of unnatural darkness crawling with monsters. But when her regiment is attacked, Alina unleashes dormant magic not even she knew she possessed.

Now Alina will enter a lavish world of royalty and intrigue as she trains with the Grisha, her country’s magical military elite—and falls under the spell of their notorious leader, the Darkling. He believes Alina can summon a force capable of destroying the Shadow Fold and reuniting their war-ravaged country, but only if she can master her untamed gift.

As the threat to the kingdom mounts and Alina unlocks the secrets of her past, she will make a dangerous discovery that could threaten all she loves and the very future of a nation.

Welcome to Ravka . . . a world of science and superstition where nothing is what it seems.” - Shadow and Bone by Leigh Bardugo

7. Six of Crows - Leigh Bardugo

The only reason that this is after ‘Shadow and Bone’ is because I really want you to read that series first. One of the best aspects of this two-book series is that almost all of the worldbuilding is already out of the way, so it can focus almost entirely on the characters and a delightful heist plotline.

As a Dutch person, I’m definitely biased towards the setting of Ketterdam, which was based on Amsterdam. But this series is fun and electric, and has a much darker tone. It features very morally grey characters, which can be a relief after the perfect powerful protagonists. It’s really not too difficult and just very thrilling.

I preferred this series to ‘Shadow and Bone’, and to many other fantasy series on this list.

Summing it up:

  • The ultimate heist, very Ocean’s 11
  • Multiple romances and lots of sexual tension
  • Follow the thieves and thugs you usually don’t get to see in fantasy series

“Ketterdam: a bustling hub of international trade where anything can be had for the right price - and no one knows that better than criminal prodigy Kaz Brekker. Kaz is offered a chance at a deadly heist that could make him rich beyond his wildest dreams. But he can't pull it off alone.

A convict with a thirst for revenge. A sharpshooter who can't walk away from a wager. A runaway with a privileged past. A spy known as the Wraith. A Heartrender using her magic to survive the slums. A thief with a gift for unlikely escapes. Six dangerous outcasts. One impossible heist. Kaz's crew is the only thing that might stand between the world and destruction - if they don't kill each other first.” - Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo

8. The Cruel Prince - Holly Black

This is the second instance where BookTok and I aren’t on the same page - pun intended. The book community seems to be obsessed with ‘The Cruel Prince’ series, but it didn’t quite tick my boxes. I think it’s definitely well written, just maybe not my cup of tea

This is a very faerie book. Not in the way of the hulking Fae men you’ll find in ‘ACOTAR’, but the faeries of your childhood, only much darker. I put it quite far up the list as it requires you to just leave everything you know and embrace the whimsical. Green faeries, caps soaked in blood, salt on food, a tail stroking your leg, a curse, and so much more. You need to just release normality and go full absurdist, and then you’ll enjoy it. I think a big part of this series is also all the lore online about the protagonists, which is almost a book in itself.

But on the other hand, it’s not difficult to follow, so it’s halfway on our fantasy reading list. There are three books and various spinoffs.

Summing it up:

  • He has a tail but we still think he is sexy
  • Enemies to lovers
  • A surprising amount of political manipulation

“Of course I want to be like them. They're beautiful as blades forged in some divine fire. They will live forever.

And Cardan is even more beautiful than the rest. I hate him more than all the others. I hate him so much that sometimes when I look at him, I can hardly breathe.

Jude was seven years old when her parents were murdered and she and her two sisters were stolen away to live in the treacherous High Court of Faerie. Ten years later, Jude wants nothing more than to belong there, despite her mortality. But many of the fey despise humans. Especially Prince Cardan, the youngest and wickedest son of the High King.

To win a place at the Court, she must defy him--and face the consequences.

In doing so, she becomes embroiled in palace intrigues and deceptions, discovering her own capacity for bloodshed. But as civil war threatens to drown the Courts of Faerie in violence, Jude will need to risk her life in a dangerous alliance to save her sisters, and Faerie itself.” - The Cruel Prince by Holly Black

9. The Poppy War - R.F. Kuang

I really struggled with where to place this series, as in many ways, it could be at the end of the fantasy list, but also near the start, and here’s why.

In many ways, it’s a great series for people who aren’t sure about fantasy, as it’s very much based in the real world with the fantasy element being linked to religion. The characters draw their power from gods. It also draws a lot from the real history of China, namely the conflicts with the Japanese and Europeans.

But on the other hand, it has almost no romance in it, so it’s very much fantasy and military conflict. I saw this book described as “enemies to lovers” and it gave me a very incorrect picture going into it. Don’t expect much romance in this novel, or almost any! It also has quite complicated political events throughout, and the relationship with the gods is something to wrap your head around. There is complex world-building but it’s worth the effort.

So I’ve placed it ninth on this list of fantasy book recommendations, but I’ll also be the first to sing its praises! This series had me in a chokehold, I couldn’t put it down. It wrecked me emotionally, but was also one of the best-written series I have ever read. It is so carefully crafted, and you can tell how intimately the author knows the historical aspects.

Read this book, but be warned that no one in it is safe. Also definite trigger warnings for physical and sexual violence.

Summing it up:

  • Chinese history with a twist
  • The corruption of power
  • A friendship that prevails all else

“When Rin aced the Keju—the Empire-wide test to find the most talented youth to learn at the Academies—it was a shock to everyone: to the test officials, who couldn’t believe a war orphan from Rooster Province could pass without cheating; to Rin’s guardians, who believed they’d finally be able to marry her off and further their criminal enterprise; and to Rin herself, who realized she was finally free of the servitude and despair that had made up her daily existence. That she got into Sinegard—the most elite military school in Nikan—was even more surprising.

But surprises aren’t always good.

Because being a dark-skinned peasant girl from the south is not an easy thing at Sinegard. Targeted from the outset by rival classmates for her color, poverty, and gender, Rin discovers she possesses a lethal, unearthly power—an aptitude for the nearly-mythical art of shamanism. Exploring the depths of her gift with the help of a seemingly insane teacher and psychoactive substances, Rin learns that gods long thought dead are very much alive—and that mastering control over those powers could mean more than just surviving school.

For while the Nikara Empire is at peace, the Federation of Mugen still lurks across a narrow sea. The militarily advanced Federation occupied Nikan for decades after the First Poppy War, and only barely lost the continent in the Second. And while most of the people are complacent to go about their lives, a few are aware that a Third Poppy War is just a spark away . . .

Rin’s shamanic powers may be the only way to save her people. But as she finds out more about the god that has chosen her, the vengeful Phoenix, she fears that winning the war may cost her humanity . . . and that it may already be too late.” - The Poppy War by R.F. Kuang

10. Crowns of Nyaxia - Carissa Broadbent

What’s fascinating about this series is that it’s a human in a world of vampires, and yet she can completely keep up with them all. We get to see the world through the eyes of a human, but one who was raised amongst them and has learned how to protect herself. She is striving to become exactly like the rest of them, and the only way to do that is to win this tournament.

There are definite ‘Hunger Games’ vibes but it’s also more vicious and political, and of course **magical**. I don’t want to spoil anything, but fans of romance and smut will not be disappointed. I really loved how complex the relationships are within these novels, especially between Oraya and her adoptive father.

There are two books specific to this story, with a novella to be read in-between which introduces two new characters.

Also, it’s self-published, which is a huge accomplishment!

Summing it up:

  • Sexy and violent vampires
  • A tournament she must survive to win
  • So many gasp-worthy moments along the way

“The adopted human daughter of the Nightborn vampire king, Oraya carved her place in a world designed to kill her. Her only chance to become something more than prey is entering the Kejari: a legendary tournament held by the goddess of death herself.

But winning won’t be easy amongst the most vicious warriors from all three vampire houses. To survive, Oraya is forced to make an alliance with a mysterious rival.

Everything about Raihn is dangerous. He is a ruthless vampire, an efficient killer, an enemy to her father’s crown… and her greatest competition. Yet, what terrifies Oraya most of all is that she finds herself oddly drawn to him.

But there’s no room for compassion in the Kejari. War for the House of Night brews, shattering everything that Oraya thought she knew about her home. And Raihn may understand her more than anyone – but their blossoming attraction could be her downfall, in a kingdom where nothing is more deadly than love.” - The Serpent and the Wings of Night by Carissa Broadbent

11. Fourth Wing - Rebecca Yarros

I don’t think I have seen any novel receive as much attention as ‘Fourth Wing’ did this year. When a book is that hyped, you get a little concerned that it will be a disappointment, and somehow this book was even better than people described!

Fantasy novels in an academic setting are just on a different level. This novel is fast-paced with some of the best world-building I’ve ever seen. Dragons aren’t just horses to be ridden, they have their own minds, hierarchical structures and motives.

It’s quite a complex world, so I’d definitely recommend warming up your fantasy reading muscles first, but then you’ll have no trouble getting immediately hooked by ‘Fourth Wing’. There is also a smutty romance to keep you intrigued throughout.

This is intended as a five-book series with the second novel coming out in November.

Summing it up:

  • Dragons, dragon riders, betrayals, magical powers, and intense rivalry
  • Disability representation, as the protagonist has Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome
  • Very sex-positive, sometimes in a cringy way

“Twenty-year-old Violet Sorrengail was supposed to enter the Scribe Quadrant, living a quiet life among books and history. Now, the commanding general―also known as her tough-as-talons mother―has ordered Violet to join the hundreds of candidates striving to become the elite of Navarre: dragon riders.

But when you’re smaller than everyone else and your body is brittle, death is only a heartbeat away...because dragons don’t bond to “fragile” humans. They incinerate them.

With fewer dragons willing to bond than cadets, most would kill Violet to better their own chances of success. The rest would kill her just for being her mother’s daughter―like Xaden Riorson, the most powerful and ruthless wingleader in the Riders Quadrant.

She’ll need every edge her wits can give her just to see the next sunrise.

Yet, with every day that passes, the war outside grows more deadly, the kingdom's protective wards are failing, and the death toll continues to rise. Even worse, Violet begins to suspect leadership is hiding a terrible secret.

Friends, enemies, lovers. Everyone at Basgiath War College has an agenda―because once you enter, there are only two ways out: graduate or die.” - Fourth Wing by Rebecca Yarros

12. From Blood and Ash - Jennifer Armentrout

We’ve come to the end of our list! This is definitely the spiciest entry on the list, as this series had me blushing constantly. I felt like I was doing something illegal whenever I read it on public transport.

The reason I think this book is best for more experienced romantasy readers is that it has very complex world-building. There are so many different types of vampires, gods, lesser gods and more. I struggled to keep up at moments and I still don’t think I fully grasped it all. But it was fascinating and Jennifer is excellent at writing smutty scenes. Although it does rely on those scenes a lot, so if you don’t enjoy romance, then give this one a skip.

Summing it up:

  • He’ll kill anyone who touches her
  • The reveals keep coming!
  • Very sex positive, more so than other series

“A Maiden…

Chosen from birth to usher in a new era, Poppy’s life has never been her own. The life of the Maiden is solitary. Never to be touched. Never to be looked upon. Never to be spoken to. Never to experience pleasure. Waiting for the day of her Ascension, she would rather be with the guards, fighting back the evil that took her family, than preparing to be found worthy by the gods. But the choice has never been hers.

A Duty…

The entire kingdom’s future rests on Poppy’s shoulders, something she’s not even quite sure she wants for herself. Because a Maiden has a heart. And a soul. And longing. And when Hawke, a golden-eyed guard honor bound to ensure her Ascension, enters her life, destiny and duty become tangled with desire and need. He incites her anger, makes her question everything she believes in, and tempts her with the forbidden.

A Kingdom…

Forsaken by the gods and feared by mortals, a fallen kingdom is rising once more, determined to take back what they believe is theirs through violence and vengeance. And as the shadow of those cursed draws closer, the line between what is forbidden and what is right becomes blurred. Poppy is not only on the verge of losing her heart and being found unworthy by the gods, but also her life when every blood-soaked thread that holds her world together begins to unravel.” — From Blood and Ash by Jennifer L. Armentrout

There you have it: a complete romantasy reading list! These are some of the most popular fantasy books at the moment, with something for everyone. By easing yourself into fantasy, you can become accustomed to world-building and open yourself up to more complex and intricate storylines. But be warned, you will cry more than any other genre, and grow more attached to characters than you thought was even possible. There is something truly magical about fantasy books, and I can’t wait for you to experience it for yourself.

Any fantasy books you’d recommend? Where do you think they’d fit on this timeline?

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