So, you say you don’t read fantasy.
Perhaps you’d like to try it, but you just can’t see yourself cracking open those gilded grimoires, hanging out with vampires, or frolicking through unicorn-infested forests with a bunch of elven maids.
That’s perfectly all right, and we’ll ignore the fact that you might be basing your opinions on a few clichés hardly representative of the genre as it exists today.
Still, to each his own, and it would be quite unfair to hand you a stack of sword-and-spell novels and expect you to dive right in.
However, if you’re still interested in playing with magic, we have a few recommendations of the short story variety to give you a little taste. You might be surprised at how much fantasy a non-fantasy fan can enjoy.
1. ”Rampion,” by Alexandra Duncan
Though technically a retelling of a classic fairytale, Rampion has a tone and setting all its own. It includes all the good stuff: witchcraft, cultural tension, and forbidden love. However, it’s told from the perspective of a blind man. Typical fantasy world descriptions are born anew as the narrator highlights stimuli for the other four senses. Layered heavily with historical allusion and complex emotion, this Rapunzel is no bedtime story.
2. “Snow, Glass, Apples,” by Neil Gaiman
Another classic folktale retold, but don’t worry—you’ll be surprised by this tale even if you’ve seen its Disney counterpart. Gaiman revisits Snow White from the “evil” stepmother’s point of view, casting the princess you think you know in a different light. It’s a dark, haunting, and refreshing story.
3. “Trinity,” by Nancy Kress
Some might argue that this one falls squarely in the realm of science fiction, but spiritual themes push “Trinity” closer to fantasy. The relationship between technology, spirituality, and faith drives the interaction between the story’s three siblings, demonstrating precisely why we’ve become so fond of the term “speculative fiction.”
4. “Tragic Life Stories,” by Steve Duffy
There comes a time in almost every writer’s process when the characters begin to take on a life of their own. Typically this is a good sign, since characters should be believable, substantial, and relatable. Most of us, hopefully, have never had our characters force themselves into corporeal existence to haunt us, or worse, punish us for the suffering we’ve written into their lives. No, that would be simply tragic.
5. “Hurt Me,” by M.L.N. Hanover
Most ghost stories feature a malevolent spirit inflicting terror on helpless victims. This ghost story takes that power dynamic and turns it on its head. While just as gritty as most haunting tales, this has a little more heart.
6. “The Final Verse,” by Chet Williamson
Stories about music can be lovely. They can also be little more than song lists, leaving much to be desired in the way of character and plot. Thankfully, The Final Verse falls into the former category, with a narrator on the hunt for the last verse of a deeply haunting folktale. The search leads this musician deep into the mountains of North Carolina, taking a grisly turn as the song unfolds.
7. “A Thousand Flowers,” by Margot Lanagan
Yes, this is a unicorn story. No, it does not involve glitter and rainbows. Put aside all your preconceived Lisa Frank associations for a moment, and give this story a read. You might also want to give up your assumptions about biology, love, and courtship. This is a fantasy story, after all, and suspending your disbelief for a spell will definitely be worth it.
8. “The Goldfish Pool and Other Stories,” by Neil Gaiman
This is a shining example of Gaiman’s ability to find magic in the mundane. In this story specifically, he finds magic in a jaded representation of Hollywood. This does not read like a fantasy story, despite the supernatural nuances throughout.
9. “Are You Trying to Tell Me This is Heaven?” by Sarah Langan
This is a good old zombie story about a man in search of his daughter. It is graphic and harsh, and probably not something you want to read while eating lunch. But those who typically shy away from blood and guts may find this tale has more soul than it has gore. It also features a fascinating twist that departs from the usual zombie lore.
10. “The Dog King” by Holly Black
This story takes place in a kingdom where werewolves are a far cry from sensitive, lovelorn teenagers. The king and his people amuse themselves by watching dog and wolf fights. No one knows why the king keeps one wolf as a pet, or why there is a young nameless boy free to wander the castle. Part monster myth, part royal scandal, this one is a sheer delight to read.