Life can feel pretty dark sometimes.
Although most of us have shared a common darkness over the past year, you don’t need a pandemic to raise its monstrous, fire-breathing head to force people to run indoors for safety. Sometimes, that monster looks like losing a job or a loved one or your good health. Sometimes, it looks even less scary than that. Either way, it brings darkness.
Most readers of fiction—whatever the genre—love to read to escape everyday life. Even if it’s just for a few minutes a day.
As our reader friends know, fantasy is a classic example of a genre written especially for people who love to find a book where they can escape the pressures, frustrations, or darkness of everyday life.
But not all fantasy books lead readers out of darkness. Some lead you deeper.
“Grimdark fantasy” (where plotlines are amoral and violent, and traditional roles of heroes and villains are obscure) has become quite popular in recent years.
There was a time when most fantasy books were more hopeful. Even if plotlines and villains were dark and violent, the protagonists were hopeful, and the stories usually left the reader with a positive feeling. Understandably, some authors and readers have reacted to this by moving to subgenres like grimdark.
Feeling like I’ve been under a dark cloud recently, I wondered if hopeful, uplifting fantasy books were still popular. Spoiler: I think they are.
Whenever I think of the theme of hope in fantasy books, I remember the wisdom of Samwise in The Lord of the Rings:
It’s like in the great stories, Mr. Frodo. The ones that really mattered. Full of darkness, and danger, they were. And sometimes you didn’t want to know the end, because how could the end be happy? How could the world go back to the way it was when so much bad had happened? But in the end, it’s only a passing thing, this shadow. Even darkness must pass. A new day will come. And when the sun shines, it’ll shine out the clearer. Those were the stories that stayed with you.J.R.R. Tolkien
Here are twelve uplifting fantasy books (“uplifting” according to most of their readers) published within the past ten years. These stories (listed in alphabetical order by Author’s last name), and their popularity among other fantasy readers, instill hope that there are still great fantasy stories being told to help lift readers out of dark times.
If in our imaginations we can find hope that “in the end, it’s only a passing thing, this shadow,” maybe hope will eventually translate into a new day that will shine clearer.
March 2021 Giveaway
Everyone on our mailing list as of March 31, 2021 will be entered into a draw to win a print edition of one of the books mentioned in this blog post (max. value $20 USD).
The Goblin Emperor
by Katherine Addison
Coming of Age Fantasy
by Josiah Bancroft
The Face in the Frost
by John Bellairs
The Last Namsara
by Kristen Ciccarelli
YA Epic Fantasy
The Ten Thousand Doors of January
by Alix E. Harrow
Tess of the Road
by Rachel Hartman
YA Medieval Fiction
The Night Circus
by Erin Morgenstern
Knight in the Nighttime
by J.S. Morin
Action & Adventure
by Naomi Novik
The Riyria Revelations
by Michael J. Sullivan
by Jo Walton
The Golem and the Jinni
by Helene Wecker
The Maidstone Chronicles
Of course. How can we forgot this hope-themed epic fantasy!
More Uplifting Fantasy Books
What others recent titles would you classify as hopeful or uplifting fantasy books? Please comment below.
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