10 Fantasy Books Not Set in a Medieval European World

When people think of fantasy, they tend to think of knights and castles, princesses and dragons, swords and sourcery. In general, people think of the type of world set out by The Lord of the Rings and its direct predecessors: one that’s stereo typically set in medieval Europe.

However, fantasy books can be set in all sorts of other settings. Here are ten books that might have dragons, but also have a different sort of setting.

1. American Gods by Neil Gaiman


American Gods is an epic mythological tapestry set right here in the present day United States. After Shadow is released from prison, he is offered a job by the mysterious Mr. Wednesday and encounters gods and goddesses as he travels across the US.


2. Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell by Susanna Clarke


Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell hit the fantasy world by storm in 2005, wracking up numerous awards for its wonderful writing and original approach to fantasy. What’s so different? It’s what’s sometimes referred to as “historical fantasy.” It’s set in a specific historical period of our world, regence era England, and is even written in a style similar to the novels of that period as it tells the story of two magicians fated to bring magic back to England.


3. The Emperor’s Soul by Brandon Sanderson


Don’t feel like picking up a humongously long fantasy novel? Try The Emperor’s Soul. This short novella is a breeze to read as it delivers an excellent tale of Shai, a captured thief ordered to craft a new soul for the emperor, while set in a land inspired by ancient Korea. This beautiful story is not to be missed.


4. The Cloud Roads by Martha Wells


And now for something completely different… The Cloud Roads is set in a world utterly unlike Earth, one that doesn’t even have any humans. Moon, a young shapeshifting creature, has never belonged anywhere, living as a restless traveler among all the other intelligent species. By chance, he runs into a stranger who promises Moon some answers, but Moon is getting into more than he relizes.


5. The Lions of Al-Rassan by Guy Gavriel Kay


The Lions of Al-Rassan is another book probably best termed as “historical fantasy.” Set in a world closely mirroring the Iberian Peninsula during the fifthteenth century, The Lions of Al-Rassan tells the story of three people from different cultures — Ammar ibn Khairan, Rodrigo Belmonte, and Jehane bet Ishak — whose lives become intertwined.


6. Throne of the Crescent Moon by Saladin Ahmed


Nominated for both the Hugo and Nebula awards, Throne of the Crescent Moon is the story of Doctor Adoulla Makhslood, who’s investigating deaths caused by ghuls in a fantasy world based on the Middle East.


7. Full Fathom Five by Max Gladstone


Taking place on a beautifully described and realized island, Full Fathom Five is clearly inspired by Hawaii, and the result is wonderful. Kai is a priestess at a firm which builds idols, vessels to store belief. When Kai starts investigating the death of an idol, she encounters a dark conspiracy.


8. Thirteenth Child by Patricia C. Wrede


I tend to think of this book as Little House on the Prarie with magic. Eff’s family moves to the frontier and dangerously close to the magical beasts that inhabit the wild lands.


9. The Golem and the Jinni by Helene Wrecker


The Golem and the Jinni deals with the immigrant experience of Eastern European Jews and Syrian Christans in New York during 1899. What makes it fantasy? The main characters are taken from the folklore of the cultures the book deals with (hint – look at the title).


10. Book of a Thousand Days by Shannon Hale


How could I have gotten through this list without a fairy tale retelling? Book of a Thousand Days takes a little known Grim’s tale about a princess and her servant locked in a tower and sets it in a world based on ancient Mongolia.

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  • Richard Mason

    I discovered some awesome books from this. Thanks so much for sharing. I would recommend a wonderful new book from Jacob Cooper called ‘Circle of Reign’. Really beautifully written with a great protagonist that you can relate to and story that drives forward with breathtaking excitement throughout. I really can’t recommend it highly enough. One of the best this year for me.

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