It’s my personal belief that we flock to books because of the characters involved. The books that stay with us long after we finish reading are the ones with the characters that hold our hearts. But just because we love characters doesn’t mean we can’t wildly appreciate a daring, heart-racing plot or phenomenal fictional world building. In fact, these aspects tend to make our favorite books shine just a bit brighter.
But say you’re looking specifically for a great plot or a fantastic fictional world to immerse yourself in? Where do you go to find recommendations for those types of books specifically? Do you pour through the reviews on Goodreads or Amazon in hopes someone will have the key for you, or do you select a book from the shelf at your local library or in your own home and cross your fingers, hoping it meets the fix you’ve been desiring?
Well, look no further, friends, because I have a list of five (5) books just for you that features phenomenal world building! Just want to get away from earth for a little bit? Need an adventure in a land that feels far away from here? Any of these five books (and their subsequent sequels and books in their series!) should be just what the doctor ordered. 🙂
Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo
Synopsis: “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
Kaz’s crew is the only thing that might stand between the world and destruction—if they don’t kill each other first.”
OKAY, let’s talk about the Queen of World Building, Leigh Bardugo. Six of Crows is absolutely amazing for its characters and its heist plot, and it’s one of my favorite books of all time. But just as important as the characters and plot are the fantasy worlds it sucks you into.
Ketterdam is a hive of alleyways, waffle houses, gambling dens, and more. It reeks of danger — the need to keep checking your coin purse is with you, the pull of a high-stakes card game, the desire to taste all of the food from the street vendors or head into a restaurant to find out how delicious their waffles and pastries are. I remember my heart just pounding as I immersed myself in this world, how I felt ensnared by all of the details and tourist traps. And Ketterdam is only one place we get to see in this book.
You’re also transported to Fjerda, a land of ice and snow and frigid temperatures and even more frigid people. It’s a completely different vibe, but it’s every bit as captivating as the last. There’s raw beauty and the power of nature, and all play a vital role in the story.
Bardugo is an absolute genius, and I would highly recommend any of her books if you’re looking for some great world building.
Caraval by Stephanie Garber
Synopsis: “Scarlett Dragna has never left the tiny island where she and her sister, Tella, live with their powerful, and cruel, father. Now Scarlett’s father has arranged a marriage for her, and Scarlett thinks her dreams of seeing Caraval—the faraway, once-a-year performance where the audience participates in the show—are over.
But this year, Scarlett’s long-dreamt-of invitation finally arrives. With the help of a mysterious sailor, Tella whisks Scarlett away to the show. Only, as soon as they arrive, Tella is kidnapped by Caraval’s mastermind organizer, Legend. It turns out that this season’s Caraval revolves around Tella, and whoever finds her first is the winner.
Scarlett has been told that everything that happens during Caraval is only an elaborate performance. Nevertheless she becomes enmeshed in a game of love, heartbreak, and magic.”
Ahh, Caraval. <3 I just got to read this trilogy last year, and I’m so glad I bumped it up on my TBR and got around to it! It was one of my favorite series reads of 2020 — again, not just because of the characters (though I exist to make heart eyes at Julian) and the plot, but because of the world.
The absolute idea of Caraval is stunning. An island that’s basically a circus and a carnival, where magic coats every inch. There are fancy dresses and delicious foods from various street vendors, shops and castles, fortune tellers and tattoo artists, and so much more. Of course, the game of Caraval isn’t what it seems, which leaves an air of mystery, excitement, and intrigue over the world. Not to mention you don’t know who Master Legend, the creator of Caraval, is…
Rebel of the Sands by Alwyn Hamilton
Synopsis: “Mortals rule the desert nation of Miraji, but mythical beasts still roam the wild and remote areas, and rumor has it that somewhere, djinn still perform their magic. For humans, it’s an unforgiving place, especially if you’re poor, orphaned, or female.
Amani Al’Hiza is all three. She’s a gifted gunslinger with perfect aim, but she can’t shoot her way out of Dustwalk, the back-country town where she’s destined to wind up wed or dead.
Then she meets Jin, a rakish foreigner, in a shooting contest, and sees him as the perfect escape route. But though she’s spent years dreaming of leaving Dustwalk, she never imagined she’d gallop away on mythical horse—or that it would take a foreign fugitive to show her the heart of the desert she thought she knew.
Rebel of the Sands reveals what happens when a dream deferred explodes—in the fires of rebellion, of romantic passion, and the all-consuming inferno of a girl finally, at long last, embracing her power.”
Rebel of the Sands, another one of my all-time favorite books, has a fantasy world unlike anything I’ve ever read before. It’s desert meets old wild west towns meets oasis, gunslingers and cowboys and magical creatures hiding in the sand dunes deep in the night. It pulls you in with its coarseness and then shows you the diamonds in its rough, and I couldn’t stop reading because I couldn’t get enough of it. If you choose to only pick one book on this list to read, I’d beg you to pick this one.
Daughter of the Deep by Lina C. Amarego
Synopsis: “A wedding to end a war.
It’s been four years since the blood feud between the Branwens and Mathonwys started. Four years of sunken ships and loved ones lost, four years of wounds both seen and unseen. Keira Branwen is no stranger to duty. As the first mate of a legendary pirate ship, blessed by the sea-god Lyr, and heir apparent to her clan, she would sail to the Otherworld and back to keep her family safe.
But when the Council threatens banishment for her people, Keira is faced with a choice; she must either marry her father’s alleged killer, the sea-snake Ronan Mathowny, or curse her family to the deep.
But in the Seven Isles of the Deyrnas, secrets sleep just beneath the surface of the water. Her father’s death is still shrouded in mystery, and Ronan–her childhood friend, the man she once loved — is hell-bent on proving his innocence. As enemies become friends and friends become suspects, Keira must wade through the waters of doubt to expose the truth, save her family, and restore her father’s legacy.
But Keira soon learns that there are ties thicker than blood, and there is more than one way to sacrifice a life.”
I actually did a recent book review on Daughter of the Deep, so you guys know my thoughts on how amazing it is and how it was one of my top reads of 2020. However, I want to reiterate again that the world building in this book is divine! There aren’t many pirate stories I’ve read that made me feel excited to be out on the ocean. Most of the time when it comes to books involving pirates, I feel stuck on the ship and like there’s nothing to do. The way Amarego builds her world around the ocean and the pirate ships and the occasional land scenes is truly phenomenal, and I loved every second of it! Highly recommend if you’re wanting something beachy. 😉
Rook Di Goo by Jenni Sauer
Synopsis: “Cadet Elisandra Elis is haunted by the things she’s done.
Fighting on Taras, El has done things that go well beyond the call of war. So when she sees a chance to run, she takes it, joining the Aderyn. The ship is quite literally falling apart but the crew — a pilot with an easy sense of humor, a medic with a heart of gold, and a captain who makes her feel a lot of confusing things — make her question what it means to belong somewhere.
But when she’s faced with an opportunity to save her kingdom — and in turn the galaxy — El is caught between the planet she loves and the crew that has welcomed her as one of their own. Left to question just how much she’s willing to give up for the kingdom that broke her, she must decide if throwing her life away is worth it. Or perhaps she should just keep running; thus far, that’s what she’s proven to be best at.
It’s Cinderella reimagined in this science fantasy retelling about a disenchanted idealist looking for her place in the galaxy.”
And last but certainly not least on my list of recommendations is Rook Di Goo by Jenni Sauer! I also did a book review on this recently, but like with Daughter of the Deep, I wanted to reiterate how great of a read this book is. Sauer takes you to a variety of different planets and gives you a taste of many worlds in this novel, all of them different and flavorful. And when you aren’t visiting one of her many planets, you’re on the spaceship with her characters. Just like Marissa Meyer was a genius at making the spaceship in her Lunar Chronicles series a homey place to hang out, Sauer makes the Aderyn feel like a warm hug at the end of a long day. I was so impressed with her details and description, her ability to turn a “hunk of metal” into something I wish I could spend time in. Definitely check it out if you haven’t already!
What books do you love that have immersive, entertaining story worlds? I’d love to hear about them, so feel free to comment below!