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Top Ten Fantasy Crime Novels


 

Let’s face it: we love crime stories, and this holds just as true in the genre of fantasy fiction as it does in contemporary thrillers, mysteries, and non-fiction. Sometimes we’re hoping for the cop, the detective, or the private investigator to hunt down that rogue necromancer; sometimes we’re rooting for the clever thief to pull off that daring airship heist. All well-designed magical worlds have norms and rules…as well as characters who would break them.

My forthcoming novel, Jade City, is a gangster family saga that I’ve been calling “the Godfather with magic and kung fu,” and that author Ken Liu describes as “epic drama reminiscent of the best Hong Kong gangster films.” On the island of Kekon, magical jade is controlled by clans that bear resemblance in different ways to Triads, Yakuza, and Mafia organizations in our own world. The fun for me came in taking inspiration from modern day crime syndicates and throwing superhuman martial arts, Asian culture, and magical substance turf wars into the mix.

There are enough fantasy crime novels to keep any crime fiction and fantasy buff well occupied. It wasn’t easy to narrow down the field (I could easily have written a list just of fantasy heist novels, another list focused only on fantasy detective fiction, etc), but you’re unlikely to go wrong with these: ten of the top fantasy crime fiction novels.

 


 

So, there you have it: a mix of old and new, capers and noir, lawmen and lawbreakers. More than enough literary proof that where there’s magic, there’s magical crime. Spread the word about your favorite fantasy crime novels, and if my list isn’t enough for you already—there are over eighty books there by my count—check out the five honorable mentions I couldn’t resist including below.

Honorable mentions:
Finch by Jeff VanderMeer
Steal the Sky by Megan O’Keefe
California Bones by Greg van Eekhout
The Legend of Eli Monpress by Rachel Aaron
Death of the Necromancer by Martha Wells

With thanks to the Codex Writers forum and Twitter for recommendations.

 


Fonda Lee is the award-winning author of the YA science fiction novels Zeroboxer and Exo. Born and raised in Canada, Lee is a black belt martial artist, a former corporate strategist, and action movie aficionado who now lives in Portland, Oregon with her family. Jade City is her adult debut.

Strange the Dreamer

Strange the Dreamer cover

Strange the Dreamer

By Laini Taylor

Genre: Young Adult Fiction

Curriculum Subject: Adventure: Magic/Fantasy

Grades: 10 & up

 

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The dream chooses the dreamer, not the other way around—and Lazlo Strange, war orphan and junior librarian, has always feared that his dream chose poorly. Since he was five years old he’s been obsessed with the mythic lost city of Weep, but it would take someone bolder than he to cross half the world in search of it. Then a stunning opportunity presents itself, in the person of a hero called the Godslayer and a band of legendary warriors, and he has to seize his chance to lose his dream forever.What happened in Weep two hundred years ago to cut it off from the rest of the world? What exactly did the Godslayer slay that went by the name of god? And what is the mysterious problem he now seeks help in solving?

 

The answers await in Weep, but so do more mysteries—including the blue-skinned goddess who appears in Lazlo’s dreams. How did he dream her before he knew she existed? and if all the gods are dead, why does she seem so real?

 

In this sweeping and breathtaking new novel by Laini Taylor, the shadow of the past is as real as the ghosts who haunt the citadel of murdered gods. Fall into a mythical world of dread and wonder, moths and nightmares, love and carnage. Welcome to Weep.

 

PRAISE

★ “This has distinct echoes of Taylor’s Daughter of Smoke and Bone (2011), though ultimately it’s a cut above even that: characters are carefully, exquisitely crafted, the writing is achingly lovely, and the world is utterly real. While a cliffhanger ending will certainly have readers itching for book two, make no mistake— this is a thing to be savored.” —Booklist

 

★ “Gorgeously written in language simultaneously dark, lush, and enchanting, the book will leave readers eager for the next.” —Publishers Weekly

 

★ “It has all the rich, evocative imagery and complex world-building typical of Taylor’s best work…  This outstanding fantasy is a must-purchase for all YA collections.” —School Library Journal

 

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The Star Thief

Star Thief cover

The Star Thief

By Lindsey Becker

Genre: Juvenile Fiction

Curriculum Subject: Adventure: Magic/Fantasy, Mythology, Personal Development: Self-Discovery, Personal Development: Conflict Resolution

Grades: 3-7

 

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Honorine’s life as as maid at the Vidalia mansion is rather dull, dusting treasures from faraway places and daydreaming in front of maps of the world. But everything changes when she catches two brutish sailors ransacking Lord Vidalia’s study, and then follows a mysterious girl with wings out into the night….

 

Suddenly, Honorine is whisked into the middle of a battle between the crew of a spectacular steamship and a band of mythical constellations. The stars in the sky have come to life to defend themselves against those who want to harness their powers. Much to her surprise, Honorine is the crux of it all, the center of an epic clash between magic and science, the old ways and the new. But can this spirited young girl bring both sides of a larger-than-life fight together before they unleash an evil power even older than the stars?

When The Sea Turned to Silver

When the Sea Turned to Silver coverWhen the Sea Turned to Silver

By Grace Lin

Genre: Juvenile Fiction

Curriculum Subject: Adventure: Magic/Fantasy, Folk Tales/Fairy Tales/Classics: Heroes/Heroines, Family Life: Grandparents and Extended Family

Grades: 3-7

 

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Pinmei’s gentle, loving grandmother always has the most exciting tales for her granddaughter and the other villagers. However, the peace is shattered one night when soldiers of the Emperor arrive and kidnap the storyteller.

 

Everyone knows that the Emperor wants something called the Luminous Stone That Lights the Night. Determined to have her grandmother returned, Pinmei embarks on a journey to find the Luminous Stone alongside her friend Yishan, a mysterious boy who seems to have his own secrets to hide. Together, the two must face obstacles usually found only in legends to find the Luminous Stone and save Pinmei’s grandmother–before it’s too late.

 

A fast-paced adventure that is extraordinarily written and beautifully illustrated, When the Sea Turned to Silver is a masterpiece companion novel to Where the Mountain Meets the Moon and Starry River of the Sky.

 

PRAISE

A 2016 National Book Award Finalist

 

★ “Lin’s evocative language sweeps readers away, and the stories within the story are juicy and delicious.” —Booklist

 

★ “Lin’s stonecutter claims that storytellers ‘can make time disappear… bring us to places we have never dreamed of…feel sorrow and joy and peace’; the description is a fitting one for author-illustrator Lin herself, who has proven herself a master.” —The Horn Book

 

★ “The meticulous craft delivers what Lin’s fans have come to expect… This beautifully told companion to Where the Mountain Meets the Moon and Starry River of the Sky offers lyrical storytelling, bringing ‘us to places we have never dreamed of.'” —Kirkus

 

★ “Lin’s fans will not be disappointed: she again delivers a rich interweaving of ancient tales with fast-paced adventure, fantasy, and slowly unfolding mysteries told through captivating language with beguiling similes.” —Publishers Weekly

 

★ “A stunning addition to a deservedly beloved set of novels; recommended for all middle grade collections.” —School Library Journal

 

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The Adventurer’s Guide to Successful Escapes

 Adventurers Guide to Successful Escapes coverThe Adventurer’s Guide to Successful Escapes

By Wade Albert White

Genre: Juvenile Fiction

Curriculum Subject: Adventure: Magic/Fantasy, Adventure: Mysteries

Grades: 3-7

 

Anne has spent most of her thirteen years dreaming of the day she and her best friend Penelope will finally leave Saint Lupin’s Institute for Perpetually Wicked and Hideously Unattractive Children. When the big day arrives, a series of very curious happenings lead to Anne being charged with an epic quest. Anne, Penelope, and new questing partner Hiro have only days to travel to strange new locales, solve myriad riddles, and triumph over monstrous foes–or face the horrible consequences.

 

Packed with action, humor, and endless heart, this debut novel marks the first volume in an irresistible and original fantasy series.

 

 

PRAISE

 

“Tongue-in-cheek writing keeps the story funny and fresh. fast pacing—not to mention dragons and robots—will keep readers invested in this lighthearted new series.” —Booklist

 

“Ridiculous yet nail-biting action, this is a highly distinctive, smart take on the fantasy novel. Readers will find a humorous tale of adventure, friendship, and courage, all led by a brown-skinned protagonist.” —Kirkus Reviews

 

“The first in a fantasy adventure series with a unique crew of characters, this will tickle funny bones and leave readers awaiting the next installment.” —School Library Journal

Frostblood

Frostblood

By Elly Blake

Genre: Juvenile Fiction

Curriculum Subject: Action & Adventure; Fantasy & Magic

Grades: 7 & up

 

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Seventeen-year-old Ruby is a fireblood who must hide her powers of heat and flame from the cruel frostblood ruling class that wants to destroy all that are left of her kind. So when her mother is killed for protecting her and rebel frostbloods demand her help to kill their rampaging king, she agrees. But Ruby’s powers are unpredictable, and she’s not sure she’s willing to let the rebels and an infuriating (yet irresistible) young man called Arcus use her as their weapon. All she wants is revenge, but before they can take action, Ruby is captured and forced to take part in the king’s tournaments that pit fireblood prisoners against frostblood champions. Now she has only one chance to destroy the maniacal ruler who has taken everything from her and from the icy young man she has come to love.

 

Fast-paced and compelling, Frostblood is the first in a page-turning new young adult three-book series about a world where flame and ice are mortal enemies–but together create a power that could change everything.

The Sasquatch Escape

sasquatchThe Sasquatch Escape

by Suzanne Selfors

Genre: Juvenile Fiction

Curriculum Subject: Adventure: Animals, Adventure: Magic/Fantasy, Folk Tales/Fairy Tales/Classics: Animals

Grades: 2 – 5

 

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When Ben Silverstein is sent to the rundown town of Buttonville to spend the summer with his grandfather, he’s certain it will be the most boring vacation ever. That is, until his grandfather’s cat brings home what looks like . . . a baby dragon?

 

Amazed, Ben enlists the help of Pearl Petal, a local girl with an eye for adventure. They take the wounded dragon to the only veterinarian’s office in town — Dr. Woo’s Worm Hospital. But as Ben and Pearl discover once they are inside, Dr. Woo’s isn’t a worm hospital at all — it’s actually a secret hospital for imaginary creatures.

 

After Ben accidentally leaves the hospital’s front door unlocked, a rather large, rather stinky, andvery hairy beast escapes into Buttonville. Ben and Pearl are tasked with retrieving the runaway creature, and what started out as an ordinary summer becomes the story of a lifetime.

 

Suzanne Selfors delivers a wild journey filled with mythical creatures and zany adventures that are anything but imaginary.

 

PRAISE

★ “From the first dragon sighting, readers will be thoroughly entertained with this hijinks-filled adventure story. Ben and Pearl are fun-seeking characters, while Santat’s illustrations perfectly complement a story that mixes reality with the imaginary. Young readers will be anxious for future adventures in the Imaginary Veterinary series.” —Library Media Connection

 

“A solid, entertaining opener. Ben and Pearl are Everykids that readers will relate to, and the adults of Buttonville are often delightfully weird and clueless….More hijinks-filled adventure than mystery, this is sure to win an audience.” —Kirkus Reviews

 

“An entertaining story that will pique readers’ interest from the first dragon sighting….Santat’s characteristically dynamic illustrations complement a story that will have readers eager for the next book in the Imaginary Veterinary series.” —Publishers Weekly

 

“Funny, touching, and sure to please, this title is full of charm. Kids will relate to Ben and his troubles, root for the amazing animals, and enjoy Santat’s zany illustrations.” —School Library Journal

A Conspiracy of Princes

Conspiracy of PrincesA Conspiracy of Princes

An Allies & Assassins Novel: Book #2

By Justin Somper

Genre: Juvenile Fiction

Curriculum Subject: Adventure: Espionage, Personal Development: Self-Discovery

Grades: 7 & up

 

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The newly crowned Prince Jared, ruler of All Archenfield, has inherited a kingdom in crisis. The murder of his older brother has revealed a traitorous plot in his court, calling into question who, if anyone, Jared can trust as he ascends the throne. Now the realm is on the brink of invasion from the brutal princes of Paddenburg and Jared must travel to neighboring kingdoms in search of allies to defend his throne. Little does he know that an even more dangerous plot is hatching in the Archenfield court–one that threatens to remove Jared from power. One put in motion by the very people he left in charge.

 

The second book in Justin Somper’s Allies & Assassins series delivers another twisted tale of high-stakes betrayal and political machinations set amid a lush medieval background.

Dangerous Deception

dangerous deceptionDangerous Deception

By Kami Garcia & Margaret Stohl

Genre: Juvenile Fiction

Curriculum Subject: Adventure: Magic/Fantasy, Teen Life: Personal Development, Teen Life: Relationships/Sexuality

Grades: 7 & up

 

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From the world of Beautiful Creatures–a dangerous new tale of love and magic continues in the sequel to Dangerous Creatures.

 

After a disastrous car crash outside New York City, Ridley Duchannes-Dark Caster, Siren, and bona fide bad girl-has gone missing. Her wannabe rocker and quarter Incubus boyfriend, Wesley “Link” Lincoln, was driving, and when he comes to, Ridley is nowhere to be found. The only clue is the giant raven emblazoned on the hood of the truck that hit them, which can mean only one thing: Silas Ravenwood is back. And he has Ridley.

 

Determined to find her, Link reunites with old friends John Breed and Liv Durand, his New York bandmates, and the mysterious Lennox Gates-who has his own reasons for tracking down Ridley. Together they travel through the Caster Tunnels and the Deep South to New Orleans, where they uncover the truth about the infamous Ravenwood labs and exactly what Silas has been doing within those walls. By the time Link and his friends reach Ridley, she is no longer the Siren they know and love. She’s something new. This time, love might not be enough to save them.

 

In this sequel to Dangerous Creatures, the bestselling spin-off of the #1 New York Times bestselling Beautiful Creatures novels, coauthors Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl deliver an intoxicating blend of magic, suspense, and danger.

The Witch Hunter

witch hunterThe Witch Hunter

By Virginia Boecker

Genre: Juvenile Fiction

Curriculum Subject: Adventure: Magic/Fantasy, Adventure: Espionage, Personal Development: Character Development, Personal Development: Friendship, Personal Development: Self-Discovery

Grades: 10-12

 

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Your greatest enemy isn’t what you fight, but what you fear.

 

Elizabeth Grey is one of the king’s best witch hunters, devoted to rooting out witchcraft and doling out justice. But when she’s accused of being a witch herself, Elizabeth is arrested and sentenced to burn at the stake.

 

Salvation comes from a man she thought was her enemy. Nicholas Perevil, the most powerful and dangerous wizard in the kingdom, offers her a deal: he will save her from execution if she can break the deadly curse that’s been laid upon him.

 

But Nicholas and his followers know nothing of Elizabeth’s witch hunting past–if they find out, the stake will be the least of her worries. And as she’s thrust into the magical world of witches, ghosts, pirates, and one all-too-handsome healer, Elizabeth is forced to redefine her ideas of right and wrong, of friends and enemies, and of love and hate.

 

Virginia Boecker weaves a riveting tale of magic, betrayal, and sacrifice in this unforgettable fantasy debut.

 

PRAISE

★ “An explosive cocktail of high-stakes adventure… The first-person, present-tense narration is rendered masterfully; coupled with the cinematic vividness of the descriptions, the whole makes for a page-turning delight.” — Publishers Weekly

 

“Woven within the complex fantasy is a new understanding of friendship and a tenuous but sweet Romeo and Juliet–like love story that promises to blossom, along with the witchcraft, mystery, and bloodletting.”— Booklist

 

“Boecker’s first-person, present tense narrative creates a suspenseful mood by allowing readers to see Elizabeth’s secrets, doubts, and fears. Secondary characters are well realized and integral to the plot. The book has plenty of action—sword fights, battles with monsters, black magic, and betrayal—but there is also camaraderie and romance.”— School Library Journal

 

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