Most people love a good series to get lost in, but sometimes it can just be a bit much. You need a break and to enjoy a story that’s all wrapped up within the space of one book. Here are 10 standalone suggestions for when you next feel daunted by the thought of a new series:
The Starless Sea
Author: Erin Morgenstern
Page Count: 512
Published: 5th November, 2019
There’s still time to ride the wave of current interest in The Starless Sea. Written by Erin Morgenstern, author of another popular standalone, The Night Circus, it has achieved rave reviews. If you want a book to make you feel complete, settle down in a corner with a nice drink and enjoy The Starless Sea.
Far beneath the surface of the earth, upon the shores of the Starless Sea, there is a labyrinthine collection of tunnels and rooms filled with stories. The entryways that lead to this sanctuary are often hidden, sometimes on forest floors, sometimes in private homes, sometimes in plain sight. But those who seek will find. Their doors have been waiting for them.
Zachary Ezra Rawlins is searching for his door, though he does not know it. He follows a silent siren song, an inexplicable knowledge that he is meant for another place. When he discovers a mysterious book in the stacks of his campus library he begins to read, entranced by tales of lovelorn prisoners, lost cities, and nameless acolytes. Suddenly a turn of the page brings Zachary to a story from his own childhood impossibly written in this book that is older than he is.
A bee, a key, and a sword emblazoned on the book lead Zachary to two people who will change the course of his life: Mirabel, a fierce, pink-haired painter, and Dorian, a handsome, barefoot man with shifting alliances. These strangers guide Zachary through masquerade party dances and whispered back room stories to the headquarters of a secret society where doorknobs hang from ribbons, and finally through a door conjured from paint to the place he has always yearned for. Amid twisting tunnels filled with books, gilded ballrooms, and wine-dark shores Zachary falls into an intoxicating world soaked in romance and mystery. But a battle is raging over the fate of this place and though there are those who would willingly sacrifice everything to protect it, there are just as many intent on its destruction. As Zachary, Mirabel, and Dorian venture deeper into the space and its histories and myths, searching for answers and each other, a timeless love story unspools, casting a spell of pirates, painters, lovers, liars, and ships that sail upon a Starless Sea.
Author: Neil Gaiman
Page Count: 248
Published: 1st October, 1998
There won’t be many who haven’t heard of Neil Gaiman. If you’re looking for a shorter read; give this book a go, or perhaps have a look at The Ocean at the End of the Lane for a novella-length alternative.
Life moves at a leisurely pace in the tiny town of Wall—named after the imposing stone barrier which separates the town from a grassy meadow. Here, young Tristran Thorn has lost his heart to the beautiful Victoria Forester and for the coveted prize of her hand, Tristran vows to retrieve a fallen star and deliver it to his beloved. It is an oath that sends him over the ancient wall and into a world that is dangerous and strange beyond imagining
The Goblin Emperor
Author: Katherine Addison
Page Count: 446
Publication Date: 1st April, 2014
Likened to a Tolkien-esque style with a narrative akin to the politics of A Song of Ice and Fire, The Goblin Emperor has been praised for its world building, heartwarming prose and original story.
The youngest, half-goblin son of the Emperor has lived his entire life in exile, distant from the Imperial Court and the deadly intrigue that suffuses it. But when his father and three sons in line for the throne are killed in an “accident,” he has no choice but to take his place as the only surviving rightful heir.
Entirely unschooled in the art of court politics, he has no friends, no advisors, and the sure knowledge that whoever assassinated his father and brothers could make an attempt on his life at any moment.
Surrounded by sycophants eager to curry favor with the naïve new emperor, and overwhelmed by the burdens of his new life, he can trust nobody. Amid the swirl of plots to depose him, offers of arranged marriages, and the specter of the unknown conspirators who lurk in the shadows, he must quickly adjust to life as the Goblin Emperor. All the while, he is alone, and trying to find even a single friend . . . and hoping for the possibility of romance, yet also vigilant against the unseen enemies that threaten him, lest he lose his throne–or his life.
Author: Naomi Novik
Page Count: 435
Publication Date: 19th May, 2015
Those who enjoy Naomi Novik’s novels, really enjoy them. Known for her Temeraire series, she also has two twists on traditional fantasy folklore, Uprooted and Spinning Silver. Read these for dark twists and beautiful writing, especially if you enjoyed Katherine Arden’s Winternight Trilogy.
“Our Dragon doesn’t eat the girls he takes, no matter what stories they tell outside our valley. We hear them sometimes, from travelers passing through. They talk as though we were doing human sacrifice, and he were a real dragon. Of course that’s not true: he may be a wizard and immortal, but he’s still a man, and our fathers would band together and kill him if he wanted to eat one of us every ten years. He protects us against the Wood, and we’re grateful, but not that grateful.”
Agnieszka loves her valley home, her quiet village, the forests and the bright shining river. But the corrupted Wood stands on the border, full of malevolent power, and its shadow lies over her life.
Her people rely on the cold, driven wizard known only as the Dragon to keep its powers at bay. But he demands a terrible price for his help: one young woman handed over to serve him for ten years, a fate almost as terrible as falling to the Wood.
But Agnieszka fears the wrong things. For when the Dragon comes, it is not Kasia he will choose.
Sixteen Ways to Defend a Walled City
Author: K. J. Parker
Page Count: 350
Publication Date: 9th April, 2019
Released in 2019, you could say this novel slipped a little under the radar for some. K. J. Parker, pseudonym for Tom Holt, also wrote the appraised standalone fantasy ‘The Folding Knife.’ Give Sixteen Ways a read if you are looking for something a bit less in your face when it comes to magic, with a humorously unreliable narrator and a good dose of military strategy.
This is the story of Orhan, son of Siyyah Doctus Felix Praeclarissimus, and his history of the Great Siege, written down so that the deeds and sufferings of great men may never be forgotten.
A siege is approaching, and the city has little time to prepare. The people have no food and no weapons, and the enemy has sworn to slaughter them all.
To save the city will take a miracle, but what it has is Orhan. A colonel of engineers, Orhan has far more experience with bridge-building than battles, is a cheat and a liar, and has a serious problem with authority. He is, in other words, perfect for the job.
Author: George Orwell
Page Count: 237
Publication Date: 8th June, 1949
Could George Orwell ever have known just how close to the mark he would be with this seminal work, all the way back in 1949? A true classic of sci-fi, with social and political commentary never more relevant than in today’s world. This is not just a book; it has influenced popular culture and beyond and is still referenced frequently, the term ‘Orwellian’ a common phrase to describe the modern realisation of aspects of the dystopia he predicted. Read it to marvel at it, read it because it’s on every list of books to read before you die. Read it because it might even change your outlook on life and society itself.
Nineteen Eighty-Four is a rare work that grows more haunting as its futuristic purgatory becomes more real. Published in 1949, the book offers political satirist George Orwell’s nightmarish vision of a totalitarian, bureaucratic world and one poor stiff’s attempt to find individuality. The brilliance of the novel is Orwell’s prescience of modern life—the ubiquity of television, the distortion of the language—and his ability to construct such a thorough version of hell. Required reading for students since it was published, it ranks among the most terrifying novels ever written.
The Left Hand of Darkness
Author: Ursula K. Le Guin
Page Count: 304
Publication Year: 1969
A household name in fantasy and science fiction, Ursula Le Guin wrote classics in both genres, including A Wizard of Earthsea and The Dispossessed. If you haven’t read any Le Guin and want to experience storytelling from a master author who inspired countless successful authors today (or if you enjoy her other work) then it makes sense to give The Left Hand of Darkness a read, especially in the current social climate. Amazingly, this was written in 1969, though to be ahead of the curve was never a one-off for Ursula Le Guin.
A groundbreaking work of science fiction, The Left Hand of Darkness tells the story of a lone human emissary to Winter, an alien world whose inhabitants can choose—and change—their gender. His goal is to facilitate Winter’s inclusion in a growing intergalactic civilization. But to do so he must bridge the gulf between his own views and those of the completely dissimilar culture that he encounters.
Embracing the aspects of psychology, society, and human emotion on an alien world, The Left Hand of Darkness stands as a landmark achievement in the annals of intellectual science fiction.
Author: Octavia E Butler
Page Count: 287
Published: June 1979
Another legendary name on this list, Octavia Butler has written more than a few important, thought provoking novels. Kindred is just as important today as it was in 1979, as well as simply being a time-travelling sci-fi page turner.
The first science fiction written by a black woman, Kindred has become a cornerstone of black American literature. This combination of slave memoir, fantasy, and historical fiction is a novel of rich literary complexity. Having just celebrated her 26th birthday in 1976 California, Dana, an African-American woman, is suddenly and inexplicably wrenched through time into antebellum Maryland. After saving a drowning white boy there, she finds herself staring into the barrel of a shotgun and is transported back to the present just in time to save her life. During numerous such time-defying episodes with the same young man, she realizes the challenge she’s been given…
The Last Astronaut
Author: David Wellington
Page Count: 400
Published: 23rd July, 2019
If you’re looking for a new first contact novel, The Last Astronaut could be the way to go. Atmospheric, tense, with a sense of discovery and the unknown, join the astronauts revealing the horrors aboard the pitch black and mysterious alien craft heading towards Earth.
Mission Commander Sally Jansen is Earth’s last astronaut–and last hope–in this gripping near-future thriller where a mission to make first contact becomes a terrifying struggle for survival in the depths of space.
Sally Jansen was NASA’s leading astronaut, until a mission to Mars ended in disaster. Haunted by her failure, she lives in quiet anonymity, convinced her days in space are over.
A large alien object has entered the solar system on a straight course toward Earth. It has made no attempt to communicate and is ignoring all incoming transmissions.
Out of time and out of options, NASA turns to Jansen. For all the dangers of the mission, it’s the shot at redemption she always longed for.
But as the object slowly begins to reveal its secrets, one thing becomes horribly clear: the future of humanity lies in Jansen’s hands.
Author: Blake Crouch
Page Count: 342
Published: 26th July, 2016
Fancy a fast paced, modern day alternate reality thriller? Read this. Don’t read too many reviews for his one or you run the risk of having the whole story spoilt.
Jason Dessen is walking home through the chilly Chicago streets one night, looking forward to a quiet evening in front of the fireplace with his wife, Daniela, and their son, Charlie—when his reality shatters.
It starts with a man in a mask kidnapping him at gunpoint, for reasons Jason can’t begin to fathom—what would anyone want with an ordinary physics professor?—and grows even more terrifying from there, as Jason’s abductor injects him with some unknown drug and watches while he loses consciousness.
When Jason awakes, he’s in a lab, strapped to a gurney—and a man he’s never seen before is cheerily telling him “welcome back!”
Jason soon learns that in this world he’s woken up to, his house is not his house. His wife is not his wife. His son was never born.
And someone is hunting him.