Rereading books is one of my big vices – I love digging into a book and catching all the subtle foreshadowing, finding the deeper meaning. It feels a little like being invited into the inner circle, where you can nod knowingly and smirk because you totally get it.
But there’s an entirely different joy in reading a book for the first time and being caught up in all the wonder, in having your breath taken away by an unexpected plot twist, or being unable to stop grinning at that perfectly-delivered line.
With the seasoned heart of a re-reader, I still wish I could go back and recapture some of that first-read wonder. These are the five books I’d love to go back and read (again) for the first time.
Kushiel’s Dart, by Jacqueline Carey
This was the first book I read that made me realize what the fantasy genre could be: full of intrigue and characters that felt real and relatable, cultures that were both familiar and unlike anything I’d read before, and a whole vast world to explore. Phèdre is a strong woman who finds true power in her femininity, which is still something you see so rarely, and she’s more than capable of taking care of herself and those she loves. Kushiel’s Dart—and its two sequels—are a stunning and high-stakes journey, but always grounded by small character moments that have the power to pull you deeply into the world.
The Lies of Locke Lamora, by Scott Lynch
And, as something like a counter-point, this was the book to make me realize that fantasy could be so much fun. All the world is a game to Locke Lamora, and the book pulls you along in his wild wake as he seeks to be the best at what he does and have the most fun while doing it. There’s still something so charming about a group of friends—the self-titled Gentleman Bastards—who are so gleefully devious, while still being unfailingly loyal to each other. This is a book full of excellent characters, and I’d love to be able to meet them all again for the first time.
The Traitor Baru Cormorant, by Seth Dickinson
This book has stuck with me like few other books have—two years after first reading it, I still remember the ending every once in a while and get chills. There are so many layers to both the plot and the characters, with the titular Baru playing a very dangerous game of divided loyalties—to the point where even she, at times, isn’t certain where her allegiance truly lays. I never would have expected a book that is about, at its most basic level, a fantasy accountant to be so thrilling and heart-wrenching. I will never not recommend this book.
The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making, by Catherynne M. Valente
I spent my fair share of time as a kid imagining being whisked off by fairies, so this book struck a chord with me right from the start. It’s a delightful take on the genre, both whimsical and dark without ever breaking that careful balance, without ever becoming too much of one or the other. September has the very best companions, chief among them a wyverary (that’s a half-wyvern, half-library)—the amazing characters in this story are definitely its strongest point. Valente writes a version of Fairyland I’d still love to explore, even as an adult.
Prince of Thorns, by Mark Lawrence
This was the book that helped me discover my love of grimdark fantasy, and in some ways shaped the way I tackled my own grimdark novels. I still find something so…endearing about a protagonist who wants so badly to believe himself to be the bad guy, even as he shows that he’ll do the right thing when it comes down to it. Still, various shades of grey morality permeate the series, and taught me to delight in exploring those grey areas as a writer.